Exploring Uncertainty

"What happens when makers eschew certainty of outcome, instead embracing chance, volatility and impermanence in their work? Wood artist Nic Webb, and silversmiths David Clarke and Hazel Thorn discuss with session chair Lottie Davies, Taylor-Wessing Prize-winning photographer and BAFTA-nominated short film artist."

The sugar crystals took 6 months to form on this silver object by David Clarke.

The sugar crystals took 6 months to form on this silver object by David Clarke.

Hazel Thorn creates her own material through fusing rods of silver and gilding metal, creating an alloy, seen as the the third green stripe.

Hazel Thorn creates her own material through fusing rods of silver and gilding metal, creating an alloy, seen as the the third green stripe.


This was another great event held at Collect on Friday. It invited three artist makers with different forms of using unusual and "destructive" methods to give an insight into how it can help make something new and exciting. 




Nic Webb was pointing out the difference he found between the work he makes and other artists using natural materials like Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy's work is fleeting, to be experienced but only for a time as it is left to the elements meaning that without photographs many people would never see his creations.

By making an object you see the effect of a person on a material, having some degree of control in order to leave a tangible record of their existence and ideas.

Webb likens it to the Castillo Caves where the hand of the pre-historic artist is traced in pigment for future generations to see. It is good analogy for an artist maker who harnesses the powerful, primeval force of fire to scorch out his designs.

It is this fine line between chaos and control that allows the most exciting work to be created. Our idea of beauty is often formed through the unpredictability of nature.



Nic Webb


For Nic Webb his chisel is the force of the flame and his paint is the blanket of soot it creates. He says the decisions he makes are like sailing close to the wind. Go too far and you have lost the power but on riding on the edge you can control your manoeuvres and use the natural forces around you.




Hazel Thorn gave a really thorough account of her making process which I really enjoyed hearing. She explained the many steps where she will make decisions on how to form her piece. Although appearing random she plans the outcome through instinct, using ongoing analysis and careful thought allowing a piece to "grow" to her design.

Hazel says how daunting a fresh sheet of silver can be, but she is able to lose that pristine preciousness through her approach where she literally cuts her material into pieces. Then it is almost like a series of repairs, each twist and turn as the material is altered is not a limitation but an opportunity she can work with.

Hazel also highlighted how important the hands on aspect of her making process is.  The incidents that occur such as when she unintentionally overheated a piece creating a new shape, means she has discovered something about her material. She can then choose whether to use this in her work having learned how to allow or deny it to happen.






David Clarke's work often provokes a big response. A skilled and talented silversmith with his graduate designs flying out to the V&A and Goldsmith's collections he eventually grew bored of making work he found repetitive. 

“It’s the level of perfection in silversmithing that I really moved against – the belief that you should polish every joint until the process becomes invisible,” he says. 


He insists on being called a silversmith rather than an artist. This recognises his understanding of this material through his working life so far devoted to learning and practising the skills to create with it. Through this he has earned the right to challenge it and push it. Like a close family member or old friend who can call you out on something you've done wrong when no-one else would dare, push you beyond your limits, and even make jokes at your expense. Just like your best buddies you both know how much you love and appreciate each other and would only ever want to bring out the best in both of you.

He goes against the conventions of a precious and revered material by fearlessly devouring or engulfing the silver using other materials, like baking it in salt or with lead. His work is a lesson to lighten up and enjoy a wonderful material for everything it is. It also serves as a memento mori reminding us of the fragility of a fleeting existence, to live life and enjoy it as it comes as we don't have the control we believe we have.