Plannishing in Plockton
The best part of working in the Crafts Team at HI-Arts is that I get to know the work of so many great makers from throughout the Highlands and Islands.
Early on in my job we featured the work of Plockton based Jewellery Designer/Maker Gilly Langton as part of the Makers of the Month section on our website. I love Gilly’s work and have been lucky enough to get to know Gilly quite well from meeting her at Makers’ Days and through her role as a mentor in the HI-Arts Making Progress Scheme, so when Gilly sent through details of her jewellery making workshops this summer I was really keen to go and take part.
The added bonus of Gilly’s workshops is that they take place in Plockton, a beautiful coastal village on the West Coast (about 2 hours from Inverness). My colleague Fiona had also signed up to come to the workshop, so we set off late on Thursday afternoon and headed west.
After a really lovely evening in Plockton on Thursday, we woke up early on the Friday morning and had a good wander around the village. Plockton is a really friendly place, and you realise that everyone knows everyone – it turns out that the girl who ran our B& B (also called Fiona) was also coming to the course and Gilly had even signed up a recruit for the course in the pub the night before (Janie from Cromarty!).
Gilly is originally from Chorley (near Manchester) and came to Plockton about 5 years ago for a residency at Plockton High School – understandably Gilly fell in love with Plockton and made the massive decision to move from the north west of England to the north west of the Highlands. Gilly runs her studio from her house in Plockton (see recent video footage of Gilly at work: http://www.vimeo.com/12766044) , but has kept her relationship with the High School and now runs her jewellery making workshops from the CDT department of the school.
On entering the school, what struck me was how great the workshop facilities at the school seemed to be – I have to admit that I haven’t been in a large workshop like that since my days at art college in Birmingham (I studied Furniture Design), so to have access to so many fantastic tools and workbench space I was like a small child in a sweet shop.
Gilly made us all feel very at home with a lovely cup of tea and some homemade flapjacks and she explained how the day would go; she said that she would familiarise us with some of the tools we would be using and then would show us six different techniques she uses as part of her jewellery making process. Gilly also showed us a range of her own jewellery which was particularly useful, as she explained the techniques used to create them as she went along. Also a great inspiration were the jewellery design books (the type of design books I aspire to have lying about on my coffee table) which she showed us, it really opened all of our eyes to the fantastic contemporary jewellery that is being made by makers in the UK and beyond at the moment.
We were then let loose on our own to experiment with the tools and try out some of the techniques shown to us using copper as a working material. Gilly explained that copper was a good material to start experimenting with as it is very supple and is hardier and obviously a lot less expensive than silver, so you felt you could make mistakes without worrying about wasting too much of the material.
I decided early on that I enjoyed how much you got to hammer things when making jewellery! Using a range of hammers (Jobbing, Plannishing and Hide Hammers) with a Doming block and punches, it was really interesting to see how the metal could be manipulated. I also enjoyed using the Ring Triblet to form links and ovals which could be used to form a larger structure.
It became apparent very early on how important it is to understand the make up of the material you are using and how it will react to different processes and how the design of the work almost comes from understanding these processes. I know it sounds silly, but I have always been someone who has been over dependant on a sketch book and working through my designs for things on paper, this felt like a very different way of working and I felt a little regretful that I hadn’t spent more hours at college experimenting in the workshop rather than sketching in the studio.
This was not a time for regret though, after a fantastic lunch (with the best homemade chocolate cake I’ve ever had) we were all encouraged to concentrate on one piece of work that we could finish by the end of the afternoon. Gilly had supplies of silver with her which we could purchase to work with. I have to say that by this stage everyone was so focused on what they wanted to make, that there was quite a level of excitement in the workshop. Gilly was great at coming through the group and spending time with us individually to work through our designs and the processes we would have to go through to make our pieces.
As someone who likes to wear quite large jewellery I thought I would stick to using copper and was keen to create something using lots of circles and domes as I had enjoyed making them in the morning and thought it best to stick to a couple of techniques rather than try anything too ambitious. What I hadn’t considered is how difficult soldering is!! We had been shown this by Gilly in the morning and she had made it look relatively simple – I failed to remember that Gilly has had over 15 years practice over me! Anyway, my soldering skills (or lack thereof) didn’t dampen my spirits and I was pleased to finish the day with a piece that half resembled what I had sent out to make.
The other women in the class had made a fantastic range of jewellery and had had the confidence to work in silver – out of the day a total of 6 rings, 3 necklaces, 2 bracelets and one copper creation (that’s mine) were made.
I would like to say a massive thank you to Gilly for such a great day, it really was inspiring and also thank you to the other women on the course, it was a great group of people and really good fun working alongside them all!
Gilly was kind enough to give us all a printed list of the tools and materials we would need to purchase to set up our own small workshop at home. If I knew I could master the skill that is soldering, then I might well consider converting my shed at the bottom of the garden in to a workshop and spend my weekends hammering metal to my heart’s content.
Avril Souter, July 2010