Ellis Cameron: techniques and skills in silversmithing and jewellery

ellis sb image

My first month back in the S&J Department at Glasgow School of Art has been a very busy and enjoyable one.

I started back straight into the deep end on the first day, where we were shown how to make tubing from a sheet of copper, and this tubing was then to be turned into a small object. We get shown a new technique every Monday, which will be great, as hopefully it will vastly improve my making skills quite quickly; and obviously broaden the range of techniques I know.

Tubing

ellis copper tubing

As for a fairly short synopsis on tubing, I’ll do my best/

  • The sheet of metal is cut into a long strip and tapered slightly at one end.
  • It is then heated (annealed) and is forced to curve together, using a mallet, a wooden block, and a circular steel rod which the metal forms around.
  • The metal is then ‘drawn down’; the tapered end is fed through lots of small holes on a steel plate, and pulled through each one until the seams of the metal are closed together.
  • The metal is then soldered together along the seam to form tubing.
  • To make the tubing into a shape (I chose a square) the metal is then cut into 4 sections and soldered together.

ellis copper tubing square

It might sound quite simple in parts but it took a lot of time and effort to get the piece looking nearly perfect. Some of the stages can take a lot longer than would be imagined and it was difficult going straight back to making on Day 1. It definitely was the best course of action though, as it got me comfortable being in the workshop again straight away.

Moving on up

A a third year student, I’m also now the proud owner of my own bench. Last year I shared a round bench with seven other people, so although I had my own ‘section’ of the bench, it wasn’t properly ‘mine’, so to speak. This year I am so pleased that I have my own, separate desk, complete with a handy little cupboard for storing all my tools. It feels very homely already.

Ellis silver scraps

As well as learning new techniques, we’ve been given a 4-week project brief, called ‘Ingot to Object’. For this brief, we were all given scrap silver to the weight of 10g; and shown how to heat it so it forms solid sheet or metal which can be drawn down into wire. We then use this metal to create a ring.

ellis silver me,ted down ready t turn into sheet or wire

The narrative is really open, so I can look at whatever I want to – and the emphasis is on the technical making of the piece.

Research

For this project I decided to look at the literal meanings of ‘scrap’.

As I looked at mainly organic forms last year and a lot of my work was monochrome, I really want to push myself this year, looking at things I’m not comfortable with and not looking at what I feel ‘safe’ with. I want to do this to try and get stronger and stronger pieces.

ellis sb image

I began looking at the idea of rubbish and ‘the forgotten’. As I looked at rubbish last year for my exhibition project I didn’t want to touch too heavily on litter, so I began focusing instead on broken glass, as it has similar visual and narrative qualities to the scraps of granulated silver we were given. As a stroke of serendipity, as I began thinking about all of this I stumbled upon a pile of broken glass outside the Haldane Building, which I then photographed and collected in order to study further.

I always find that having something visual in front of me to work from gives me the best start to a project, so I began looking and studying the collection of glass through, sketches, paintings, collages, photographs and prints.

ellis sketch

Once I felt I had enough visuals to work from cohesively, I started to create samples in metal which led on from my visuals, intending my samples to lead my sketchbook work in the right direction.

Sampling and development

I began reticulating (heating until the metal disintegrates/bubbles, changes form) copper samples, in order to echo the shapes of glass I had been studying, and the tarnished effect on top of some of the glass pieces.

ellis developed idea

I found these samples helpful in establishing a shape but I felt that the colours of the glass had played such a large part in my research and the way in which the light interacted with them, that colour really needed to be involved in my designs.

I concentrated then on enamelling some of my samples in greens, yellows, whites, browns and greys, to represent the colours in my research.

ellis enamel sample

In order to resolve this further, I began to incorporate tiny pieces of the found glass in the enamelling too, as I felt this gave the found objects closure, in that they had once been used, were deemed ‘valueless’ once broken, and now once again had a use.

These samples had helped me establish shapes and colours, so I then focused on creating the design’s form.

I collaged sections of my mono-prints of the samples I had made, and combined them to form ‘ring’ shapes. From the 21 collages, I took 9 of them forward to create first in card, and then in clay. This helped me understand the shape of the ring more fully, in a 3-dimensional manner.

Finalising ideas and design

I then drew and annotated these 9 designs, discussing the forms both aesthetically and in narratives, before settling on three of the models which I felt best represented my ideas.

ellis sb image

I picked these three ideas apart further, before settling on one of the three designs.

I then developed this design further, keeping the aspects which fitted the narrative and aesthetic and including aspects from the other two designs which I felt strengthened the piece. This is how I came to my ring design.

lellis layering up pieces ready to solder

From this design, I made a few small changes, making a paper model of the ring, which was slightly too geometric for the design, but showed how it would look 3-dimensionally, as well as sketching out how it would look physically, by layering up some of my samples into the drawn shape.

Developed ideas

I found at this point that the pieces of reticulated metal met more successfully with the idea of evoking the shattered glass, as the pieces were so rough and raw. The enamelling better reflected the glass fragments previous form; some alien glass structure, shiny, beautiful and formed. So I decided to strip back the ring design, so that the piece would just be reticulated silver, which would then be soldered together, and I would create a separate enamelled ‘context’ for the ring.

ellis ring on emamel

The ‘context’ would consist of a square sheet of enamelled copper, using the blank, basic square form as a nod to how I the previous state of the glass is unknown and void to me. I felt this best reflected my research. It’s funny how sometimes you have to try and step back from a design in order to realise its next steps.

ellis silver ring

I’m currently in the middle of making the final piece from my scrap silver and I will make sure to record images of the piece when I am finished. I’ve also been enamelling the copper sheet for the ‘context’ of the ring too, so my work is now about finishing those off, cleaning them up really well and recording them visually through drawings and photographs.

Ellis Cameron

Accompanying photographs are © Ellis Cameron

Note: Our weekly Young in Argyll feature writer, Ellis Cameron, is now in her third year at Glasgow School of Art as a talented Silversmithing and Jewellery student. With readers’ and our own clear enjoyment of the pieces she has occasionally written on the process and results of her work and conscious of the demands on her time at art school now, we suggested that she now write on a monthly basis and focus on her first hand accounts of how she approaches the work she’s doing and how her final designs emerge. As a skilled photographer she has always illustrated her own work and this is particularly telling as she opens up her creative process to the rest of us.

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4 Responses to Ellis Cameron: techniques and skills in silversmithing and jewellery

  1. An interesting and informative breakdown of the design process. Just incredible the research and background work involved before manufacture. I have been recently reserching renowned designers Ola Gorie and Georg Jensen’s silver jewelery, sometimes the simplest of forms are the most aesthetically pleasing but great to see that their form and design has derived from much more than a couple of sketches, thanks.

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    • Delighted you enjoyed this. We think it’s terrific.
      Personally I love Jensen’s design and you’ve now prompted an adventure to learn about Gorie, whose work I don’t know.
      Thank you.
      Lynda

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  2. Yes Lynda, Georg Jensen’s work is superb and much sought after as yours may be some day too hopefully. Ola Gorie, an Orcadian, too has produced some interesting work with a Nordic influence, maybe not everyones cup of tea however, I am keen plus she’s Scottish and thats a great starting point for me when purchasing or researching designers. All the best

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    • There’s a lot of great design work going on in Orkney, strategically encouraged and supported.
      In looking at Ola Gorie’s work [ http://www.olagoriejewellery.com ], I’ve discovered that a favourite silver ring of mine that l’ve had for a very long time – bought in Perthshire – is known as a ‘broch ring’.
      So I’m off to read on this.

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