Stories and Thinking Hands: A Masterclass with David Poston, Milton Keynes Arts Centre, 28th November 2015

I first became aware of David Poston’s work was when I was still at art college, I took a trip to the Craft’s Council’s flagship show, Collect. His sculptural bracelets made from recycled treacle and golden syrup tins really caught my eye. I still remember them in the glass case now a colourful, positive image of what jewellery could be. This memory along with memories of seeing Peter Chang and Adam Paxon’s works for the first time are burnt into my creative retina. I have always been drawn to colourful things.

David Poston, unlike the other two is not primarily known for the use of colour in his work. It is his forged titanium pieces that are his best known works. Just not the works I know him for. This opportunity to spend a day with such a well known figure of the contemporary jewellery world was one not to be missed so I called up and booked my spot. The day was part workshop and part exhibition tour as the masterclass was running in conjunction with David’s touring exhibition “A Necklace for and Elephant and Other Stories – The working lives of David Poston”.

It has taken a while for all the information and discussion from this masterclass to sink in and percolate and for me to draw conclusions and thoughts from them. The day was one detailed and thought provoking conversation between David and the six students in the class. The morning (and much of the afternoon) was spent primarily in a show and tell discussing and critiquing our work. Topics of discussion ranging through the nature of creativity, how pieces develop, to techniques, suppliers, skills, selling work and pricing. The quality of the work participants had bought with them was very high but nonetheless they were works in transition and their authors looking for their next step, investigating their creative process. I’m not going to go over the participants work here but will list websites below so you can see their work for yourself. Needless to say looking at the work of others and discussing their process is as important as discussing your own, their learning is your learning.

After a healthy lunch supplied by MK Arts Centre we went round David’s exhibition with him and had much opportunity to ask questions and discuss the methods and techniques he uses. Primarily laser welding and forging titanium. There is only one he does not divulge and that is how he makes his little, numerous and beautifully tactile looking silver beads. They look old, like they have been dug up with an ancient horde. Their creation is a very logical process apparently, that’s all he would say. He also asked us which was our favourite piece and which one we liked least. For me it was not so much a favourite piece but the “Touching Table” where pieces were attached to bungees so that you could actually handle and try them on, feel the difference between the materials. My least favourite piece was “Does My Neck Look Big in This” a necklace made from found plastic sizing cubes, you know the ones you get on hangers in shops. Not because I particularly disliked it as a piece but perhaps because it’s story is so obvious or it didn’t quite fit with the other work in the show it seemed out of context.

David Poston is big on logical progression and problem solving, he is very much an engineer. He is also a craftsman and story teller, each one of his pieces sparks a story either about the process of making the piece or the circumstances that gave him an idea. I won’t go into detail about his many working lives – go and see his exhibition it is in Birmingham in January and The Dovecote in Edinburgh in February and March 2016, well worth a look and get the catalogue it is comprehensive and it tells many of his stories far better than I can.

The learning I took away from the day was detailed but can be distilled down to one word, integration. There was much discussion about how jewellery makes the wearer’s body feel, not just to show off skill or wealth but to invest in the wearer’s experience. An experience that can be very private if we just stop showing off for a moment. Think, how do the rings on your hand feel when they are in your pocket? A necklace under a scarf. There was much talk about the body and how jewellery interacts with it. However, on reflection we all forgot about clothes in this equation, jewellery has to interact with clothes too, and the tasks of everyday life.  An example would be this; David is (as other jewellery designers including myself are) somewhat dismissive of the pendant as a way of wearing something. At college a pendant was considered facile design, not worth doing, a thing on a string. It was only when I was wearing a cowl necked jumper that I thought, no the pendant has its place and is a successful design result when used in the right way. I am going to come out in defence of the pendant, I admit it has been done to death so you will have to try very hard to break new ground using it as a design solution. However, it has it’s place.   The theme of the day was certainly that jewellery design needs to be integrated with itself (how it opens, closes and sits) and the life of its wearer which includes the body and the way we clothe it.

We also discussed the machine tool vs the hand tool, and I’m not talking 3D printing or anything hi-tech. Even the reliable pendant motor is a machine tool. David’s position is that the hand tool is slower and therefore the brain has time to make a conscious decision every time it is used. That way every file pass is a small decision in the making of the final piece.

For a while now I have been looking for a way of creating more paintable surface area, flow and integration in my work. So a day with David Poston gave me much to consider. I decided to make a cold forged ring with only a silver bar, a hammer, anvil, mandrels and torch to anneal. This “thought process” ring was a Christmas present to self, my conscious thinking hands experiment that came directly out of this masterclass. I worked straight from the source sketch, moving the metal and making those small decisions with every hammer stroke to make a ring. While not a new direction it is an interesting new development and one I will pursue.

Student websites:

Amanda Dennison

Mary Hart

Sandra Bornemann

Milton Keynes Arts Centre

 

 

 

“Icons of Formula 1″ and “Over Easy Rider”: First Custom Painted Jewellery

New skills are always inspiring, particularly when you know where you want to go with them and just require a bit of practice and experimentation to get there. My last post covered the course with Simon Murray and learning airbrushing and custom painting. Since then I’ve been busy applying my new found knowledge to a few projects.

 The first is the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s exhibition “ICONS: Jewellery for the the Famous and Infamous” up at the National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford. The second I’ll cover in another post.

 I had two ideas for this exhibition one was successful the other was not but I completed both pieces. The successful idea was “Icons of Formula 1” a necklace of miniature custom painted helmets signifying the greatest drivers in F1. Racing drivers often adopt a distinctive helmet design so they can be recognised on track, these designs become iconic in their own right and in many cases stand for the driver with no further explanation needed. My favourites are the graphic bi-coloured helmets from the 70s and 80s like those of Prost and Villeneuve.

 The challenges for this piece were ones of scale and simplification and I had to adapt the designs to fit a spherical fake pearl bead rather than an asymmetrical helmet.

 The design was finished off with what will become my signature “R” clip clasp. In titanium and silver. Heat treated to give the impression it has been used near a hot engine. I like this utilitarian looking clasp, it echoes clasps used in motor-racing and has been a while in development. This is the first iteration of it’s design. No doubt it will change and improve in the future.

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace, Poppy Porter 2014 – clockwise from top: Graham and Damon Hill, Moss, Lauda, Mansell, Senna, Vettel, Schumacher, Prost, Alonso, Fangio, Hamilton, Gilles Vilneuve.
Photo:Ray Spence

 The second piece is the one that did not make it into the exhibition (feedback indicated I had not presented the idea clearly enough – there’s a lesson there).  “Over Easy Rider” references the iconic 60′s film “Easy Rider” and imperial Faberge eggs. An odd combination but one that is inspired by a custom paining technique that resembles the guilloche enamel that was used extensively on Faberge eggs. Plus it makes a good pun, I love a good pun in a title!

 I’ve painted the egg on one side with stars and stripes like Henry Fonda’s “Captain America” Chopper, the other is painted with hot rod flames like that of Dennis Hopper in the film except these are done in the guillochet enamel style. The neck piece then references Dennis Hopper’s tasselled suede jacket with wooden beads to add colour and complete the 60′s counter-culture feel of the piece. I’m going to be wearing this piece when I go up to visit the exhibition and symposium in June.

Stepping Up as the New Editor of Findings

I am looking forward with equal measures of trepidation and enthusiasm to becoming the next editor of Findings Magazine.  Findings is the bi-annual journal of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery and I will be responsible for ensuring that the quality of content overseen by the outgoing editor Muriel Wilson is maintained.  Findings is the ACJ magazine for members. It reviews shows, technical innovations, materials and subjects of interest to makers, collectors, galleries and museums.

Last Friday Goldsmiths Hall saw a celebration of Muriel’s contribution to Findings since it’s inception fifteen years ago. I am learning fast from her during the change over not only the amount of work needed to put the magazine together but the subtle skills required to persuade people to write features, articles and reviews.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for all her hard work as editor and assistance during the handover.

This new challenge is a wonderful opportunity to widen my knowledge of the world of contemporary jewellery and get to know so many creative people.  I will be looking for ideas for content so if you have an idea for an article or feature do get in touch! info@poppyporter.co.uk

 

Selected for the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 Stain-less exhibition

The Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 exhibition will be on the theme of Stain-less.  It will be held in Sheffield later in the year as part of the City’s Galvanize festival and  part of the centenary of the invention of stainless steel.   The email came through this week that I’ve made it through the rigorous selection panel and have been selected as an exhibitor.

I submitted two proposals interpreting the theme of Stain-less, sister pieces based on two passages from William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”.  I’m hoping this is not foolhardy given the time I now have to make them before the deadline!  The two passages I have chosen both refer to staining, I am intending the pieces to be somewhat ambiguous and explore questions as to what should be considered “a stain”.

From “Songs of Innocence”

“And I made a rural pen, And I stain’d the water clear, And I wrote my happy songs, Every child may joy to hear.”

From “Songs of Experience”

While the Lilly white shall in Love delight, nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.”

Stain-less Proposal 1

Stain-less Proposal 1 – “Songs of Innocence – The Water Clear”

Stainless Proposal 2

Stainless Proposal 2 -”Songs of Experience – The Lilly”