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To avoid personal injury I have finally tidied the studio. It had moved from creative chaos to health hazard so something had to be done. It looked so lovely when I finished that I thought I would take the opportunity to take a few quick photos and talk a little bit about my space and what I do there.
I moved this shelf to make use of the wasted space behind the door. It houses my jewellery making books, my collection of vintage scissors and my radio – on constantly unless they play Morrissey in which case it is switched off. Immediately. I added some more hooks along the edge of the shelf to hang finished pieces to keep them safe while they wait for labels. To the left is where I do all my hammering, forming and stamping on my lovely big anvil and a vintage cobblers anvil which I use sometimes to texture the silver. You can see all the little blue boxes of letter stamps on the bottom shelf. There are also two strong desk lamps which are essential when I am using the teeny tiny 1mm high alphabet.
My inner obsessive likes to keep all my various treasures and trinkets stowed away in these beautiful vintage tins. I can’t bring myself to add ugly labels so sometimes it’s a bit of hunt to find the tin I’m after.
My soldering bench has had a good scrub down and re-organise. From left to right there is a potters banding wheel on which I have heat proof mats and wire meshes to solder on. Then my red flame torch. I use a plumbers bullfinch torch which has a really big powerful flame. Then an enamelled tin bowl that holds water for quenching hot metal, it’s sitting on top of a vintage glass plate stand. Then there is the sonic cleaner – this cleans the muck and grime of vintage things without using chemicals and most importantly without removing the ‘age’ from the piece. Next to that is my pickling pot – it sits on an old coffee machine to keep it warm when I’m working. Heating the pickle helps it work faster. At the front on the right hand side you can just see the cone of borax sitting in it’s dish. This is ground with water to make flux for soldering. Yesterday I added the bar on the wall above to hold all my tweezers and various soldering tools.
This mirror stays in the studio to keep it safe. I bought it at a car boot sale for 20p and I absolutely love it. It’s old and battered and every time I touch it a bit falls off but I think it is beautiful and it’s one of my favourite ever vintage finds.
The window sill next to where I sit quickly fills up with all sorts of odds and ends, unfinished projects, experiments and such. Here are a few half finished entomolgy pendants, a sticks and stones ring waiting to be burnished, a couple of half finished pieces from the collection I made for Debbie Bryan Heritage, a glass dome from a old style car headlamp, two tiny Victorian porcelain doll heads and a vintage wooden needle case that belonged to my great granny.
The summer holidays are sometimes a bit of a challenge. I want to be in the studio making but that’s hard with Matilda trying to ‘help’ me. I have been working into the evenings to try and gain some hours but since the summer is finally taking hold it’s quite nice to be spending my days having water-fights in the garden and making dolly clothes.
This morning I woke up early and couldn’t sleep. There are so many things on the horizon that my mind was whirring so I was at the computer by 6.30 with a list of things to do while the family slept upstairs. When I manage to see it I love the cool early morning sunshine so I have been working away with this song in my head and thought I would share it…
It’s nearly a month since the jewellery making day at The Debbie Bryan Studio & Shop. Looking back at the images now I’m reminded of what a really lovely day it was. Despite the hot weather (remember that weekend of sun?) and the noise (10 ladies with hammers are quite deafening) it was a really creative and inspiring experience. As a maker it was really interesting to introduce people to the techniques and methods behind my work and see how they responded. I am very used to talking about themes and materials in the final pieces but this was the first time I really explained the processes and steps I go through to get to the finished piece. All the participants were really open to new techniques and eager to get their hands dirty and once the safety glasses were on and the ear plug in they made some fantastic pieces. It was fascinating to see how using my familiar tools and methods every one managed to create something unique and personal and completely different to my own work. In both classes – stamped bracelets in the morning and recycled necklaces in the afternoon- every person made a beautiful and wearable piece and it was enormously satisfying to see them all going home wearing their creations.
So, thank you ladies for an wonderfully inspiring, inventive and enjoyable day. I am really looking forward to the next one.
Some of the lovely comments left on the day…
‘Fantastic workshop. Very easy to learn and great fun’
‘Thanks for a fun and informative workshop. I’m looking forward to showing off my bracelet to friends and whoever else will look’
‘Really enjoyable – loved learning all the new techniques’
‘Really great fun to go home with a unique piece of jewellery – what’s not to like? Thanks Alys’
So, at last, the drama and chaos of moving house are fading and I can finally get back to work. The new studio is just about set up (there will be more on this soon) and is at least functional and after three frustrating weeks we have proper, full speed internet being piped directly to the house. No more squinting at emails on a tiny phone screen, no more visits to the library to see the internet full size and keep the website going. It is so so so so nice to be able to sit here, watching the drizzle fall in my tiny garden and finally be working again.
This seems to be the place to send out a big thank you to everyone who has helped us move and also to those customers, shops and galleries and all the countless others who have been so patient with me while things have been manic.
Normal service is now resumed. Thank you.
The third in my series about tools and techniques. Pliers. These are the five I use most often but I am always picking up new pairs here and there at DIY shops and car boot sales. You can find vintage and second hand ones for pennies, especially if you value those which have a bit more character but if you do go for a vintage pair -make sure you check the closing mechanism and try how they feel in your hand – the joint can stiffen with age and might need a bit of maintenance before they are comfortable to use.
From left to right.
1. Half round pliers. For bending rings and curves, these ones have one curved surface to bend against and one flat smooth face so as to not mark the metal.
2. Flat nose. With a slightly tapered end, I have four or five pairs of these because they are so useful but I always mislay them somewhere. It’s good to have at least two pairs though, one for each hand. It makes jobs like opening jump rings or making bead links so much easier.
3. Side cutters. These ones are DIY rather than jewellery pliers so they are a bit more heavy duty. The don’t leave a flat end to the wire when you snip it but they go through just about anything – even stainless steel pin wire.
4. End cutters. These are made for jewelers so they are a bit smaller, they leave the cut surface flatter and are good for getting into difficult spots such as cutting down a rivet ready for hammering.
5. Round nose pliers. Designed for making loops and bends in wire, again I have a few pairs of these and couldn’t be with out them.
6. Large round nose pliers. As above but with a thicker diameter. These are a vintage pair I picked up at a car boot sale.
This is the second in my mini series about my tools. The tools I use shape my designs and my creativity so this string of posts will help you see into the studio and find out what I work with. If you are thinking of taking up jewellery making it should give you a good idea of what you will need too. You can read the first in this series here.
Top: Piercing saw
Bottom: Tin snips
When it comes to cutting metal these are really my only two weapons of choice. A piercing saw is absolutely essential for any kind of small scale metal smithing. For those who don’t know, it has two clamps at either end into which you fasten a thin, serrated metal blade, I usually use a 2.0 grade blade. Mine has a third nut at the top which adjusts the tension and means you can use different length blades. I have had this saw for almost ten years – one of the first tools I bought when I started getting into jewellery. It is brilliant for cutting through thicker sections of metal, working around intricate shapes or getting into tight spots. It will also cut wood & plastic. I am hankering after one of these but this one should last me another ten years.
The tin snips are basically just a pair of seriously heavy duty scissors. I have a few different pairs but I have had this pair for about ten years as well. They are battered and in need of a sharpen but it’s funny how fond you can get of the items you use frequently. I use them every single day, for cutting sheet metal into nice, almost straight lines. You can get curved ones for cutting rounded shapes but I have always managed fine with the straight edged ones.
the view from my window today
I love days like this. The cold rainy weather is outside and it makes my little attic studio feel all the more snug and cosy. It helps me drift off into my own little world, the one where the radio keeps me company and I happily potter about finishing off a couple of commissions and playing with some new designs. Before I know it it’s four o’clock and I have to brave the weather to collect Matilda from nursery. For now though I will enjoy the calm before the storm.
Tools!! It does occur to me that perhaps my love of making things is an excuse to indulge my love of tools. Here is the first of a series of posts about what I use to make what I make. And where else could I start but with hammers. I have far more than I need and am still collecting, but each one is different with it’s own character and it’s own uses. Especially the vintage ones. They have their entire working life imprinted into them and it feels like every time I use them this history is infused into the jewellery, they add texture, personality and for me a sense of integrity and reality to my work. They are objects which were made for a hard and heavy industrial life and now enjoying a gentler retirement with me in my studio. Here are a few of the ones I use most often.
Left to right.
1. vintage cross peen hammer. I use it for adding all the letters and numbers to my jewellery.
2. heavy vintage claw hammer. Good for shaping and forging thick sections of silver or brass
3. vintage tiny cross peen hammer. I use this one for flattening off rivets
4. ball peen chasing hammer. This one has a lovely weighted handle and a soft, smooth mat surface on it’s flat end. Perfect for planishing silver or brass to a perfect but not too shiny finish.
Left to right.
1. brass/nylon hammer with aluminium handle. Tiny and light it is good for when I don’t want to leave marks on the metal and for very delicate jobs like adjusting claw settings.
2. vintage blacksmiths hammer. Possibly my favourite, this one has a fantastic texture to the flat face and is the one I use most often for adding a texture to silver work. Despite having a wobbly head this one is really well weighted.
3. tiny ball peen hammer. Used for finishing tube rivets on the sparkler and button rings. The rounded end finishes the open ends nicely and is just the right size.
4. nylon hammer. replaceable nylon heads. I use this for round off rings and for when I need to reshape something delicate but don’t want to leave any hammer marks. The nylon ends can be unscrewed and changed when they wear out.
5. jewellery planishing hammer. The first jewellery hammer I ever bought. It has polished faces to give a bight mirror surface to the silver.
This idea evolved from the now discontinued Family Album collection. It used vintage watch cases to display reclaimed vintage photos and was inspired by Victorian mourning jewellery. I am so drawn to old photographs, they hold so much character and each one has it’s own story. They capture a world which is filled with nostalgia and half memories even though I have only ever experienced it second hand. I don’t like to keep a collection going for too long so I decided to start working on new ideas and phase the Family Album collection out but my fascination with old photographs has pulled me back in.
This pieces uses an original photograph of two brothers see through a vintage glass chandelier drop. The picture is glued and then varnished on to the back of the glass and I then added a vintage silver and turquoise earring and a few vintage beads to finish it off.
I love the refractions of the images shown through the crystal and the way it distorts the image. In this piece I used the original photo but I think it might work better with a photocopied image which could be molded to the shape of the crystal and also sanded to give a smoother finish on the back.
I have been asked a lot over the last few years about workshops and tutorials on reclaimed jewellery and it’s one of those things at the bottom of the to-do list that I never quite got round to. But I think this could be a really nice project for a class. Not to technically demanding but with plenty of scope to expand on the theme and make something uniquely personal and very beautiful. Watch this space – if and when it happens you’ll be the first to know. xx
In the last week I’ve had a couple of contented studio sessions experimenting with recycling silver. Silver is a lovely material to work with and to wear but when buying from suppliers it’s hard to discover the provenance of the materials – a certain percentage will always be recycled because as a precious material it is never thrown away but the rest of it will be freshly mined which can have horrible implications for the environment and local communities and is something I’m keen to remove myself and my work from. Of course much more freshly mined silver is used in industrial processes than in jewellery making but even so, when I look at a piece of jewellery I’m wearing or indeed making I’m happier knowing that it’s making as little negative impact as possible. 100% recycled bullion is available from an American supplier, Hoover and Strong, who make a range of wire, sheet and findings in recycled precious metals as well as conflict free diamonds and fair trade gemstones but, as a small scale maker, the cost of buying, shipping and importing would add a massive overhead to all my silver work.
So, can I recycle it myself? I was looking for a low energy, simple process to reuse my scrap and recycle old and broken silver. It’s been something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long time but I came across a page on charcoal casting in The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight one of my metal working bibles and it inspired me to get started. I’m really pleased with these first cast rings - it’s a slight departure from my other collections (I’m fighting the urge to stamp words into them) but I really love the random nature of the casting process and it’s simplicity and unpredictable results.
It’s a new process for me and i’m only just starting out but I thought it might be interesting to show you how the silver goes from scrap and broken silver into brand new rings.
- I carve the shape I want to cast into a block of charcoal.
- I cut the scrap into small pieces and coat it in a weak borax flux solution
- The pieces are arranged into the carved channel
- The silver is heated to 893°c. When the charcoal burns it is supposed to ‘purify’ the silver, preventing oxidisation but I found fluxing the pieces first helps them flow into a smoother shape. Especially as I start with quite jagged pieces of scrap. At this point it can all go horribly wrong – I use a soldering pick to manipulate the silver a bit if it’s going the wrong way and keep moving the flame away from the metal so it doesn’t over heat and ball up.
- The ring is quenched in cold water
- The ring is pickled in safety pickle. Not a very eco product but I’m using up what I have left and then going to see how I get on using citric acid which is a more natural product although slower to work.
- The ring, formed but unfinished
- The shape is evened out on a ring mandrel with a polythene headed hammer to not mark the silver. Usually I like to use old hammers specifically to leave their marks and textures onto the silver but in this case I want to leave the cast shape as natural as possible.
- Any rough or spiky bits are filed away – for this I use a combination of round, flat and half round fine files. I don’t want to alter the shape of the ring – just make sure it is smooth and comfortable to wear.
- The file marks are sanded off using a high grade wet and dry paper.
- The ring is burnished using a steel brush on a flexi-shaft drill
- The finished ring