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Adventures in Silver Smithing - Welcome to my blog!

Updated: May 2

I started learning the art of silver smithing this year and have become hopelessly addicted. Attending my first class has sent me down numerous rabbit-holes of discovery - join me as I learn this fantastic art-form.

So who am I?

Well. I think I am probably not unique in being a fortysomething 'creative type' who has spent most their life trying to fit into different 'art' boxes. I took Art & Design at Scottish Higher level, could never (and still can't) draw hands and got gradually more and more disenfranchised as those born with the natural ability to recreate a bottle, skull and apple in paint convincingly were encouraged on to bigger and better things. I was arty, without the natural ability. I loved music, emotion, subjectivity and impressionism, but school had ingrained the need to succeed and, on reflection, I think it reinforced a latent inferiority complex - if I couldn't match the realistic output of the top achievers in my class then I was a failure. Until recently, that feeling has, sadly, persisted in so many projects not being finished as I judged them to be not good enough to merit completion.

And then I found silver-smithing! The ability to form, work, melt, bend, pickle, heat and repeat was a huge moment of realisation for me. On a three-day course at the Central Scotland School of Jewellery, I found myself feeling my most Zen in a long time as I plodded from bench, to pickle and back again. I came away with the basics, a number of twisted silver and sea-glass rings and a not insignificant desire to learn as much as I could, making up for lost time.

For context, I am lucky in that I work full-time with adult and nearly-adult kids. I've been able to buy many of the tools I need over two to three months. I'm learning patience, and I am now truly appreciating why the instructor on those first three days said 'you can spend whole days sanding, buffing and polishing pieces' - my first experiment with a rotary buffer, Dialux and a sterling silver ring created a few more days of sanding, and buffing with the impressive abrasions I created. It's teaching me patience, when to be gentle, and when to apply force. Blowtorch control is an art-form in itself, with using too low a flame meaning you'll heat everything up magnificently without getting your hard solder to flow, and risk undoing previous solders. Too high a heat and you blow a hole in your piece or melt the delicate prongs in an instant. It's an almost primeval balancing act of heat, will and shaping atoms.

Early steps...

What I lack in 'on paper' design skills (no book of intricate watercolour sketches coming from this jeweller!) I make up for in getting lost in the creative process, and I'm never short of an idea or two to turn into new pieces. My first few attempts at creating a prong setting for a white topaz 4mm cabochon were hilarious and resulted in a couple of piles of blasted, pre-made 4mm sterling silver bezels and wire before I got it right. Even then, one of my prongs was hilariously misaligned, but I managed it, having taught myself through watching YouTube videos. I also had some lovely piles of silver to melt into usable blobs - watching silver reach melting point and the disorganised scrap pile suddenly popping into a white-hot glowing sphere never gets old.

When I got involved in metal-working, I honestly thought it was a bit niche and daft. Turns out I was completely wrong and soon discovered the chap across the road has an impressive home jewellery desk setup, complete with gas canister blow torch and foundry setup in their garage. I was amazed! I never knew he made silver jewellery, and some beautiful, complex pieces at that. I've not spoken to a lot of jewellers yet, but I do get the sense that there is a solitary element to the art. I get it - creating fine dust and making repetitive rasping noises as you dutifully create a high polish on a piece is not exactly the most sociable of activities when your family members are trying to watch the telly. This encounter with a surprise jeweller prompted me to research silver smithing in Scotland and have just bought a Victorian book studying the Hammermen Guild for my local area, long defunct. It's quite satisfying to start slotting into a bit of local history stretching back to the 16th century and earlier.

Iteration and evolution

My plans for this year are to continue learning, attending occasional courses and to progress from my current homeworking computer desk doubling-up as jewellery station to a small bench area at the other end of the study. It's a hobby of increments for me, but I am in the process of completing my registration with the Edinburgh Assay Office (nobody else has my combination of initials registered with them, given me free rein of the cartouches available) and then I can get this website finished and start thinking of moving away from the Etsy store that I currently use for costume jewellery - that's the dream, but I enjoy upcycling broken jewellery and creating wire and sea glass pieces too.

So, there's a lot to learn! Lots to blog about and plenty of pictures to share as I go. Hopefully you can join me on my journey. If there are any other self-taught jewellers out there starting their journey too, get in touch or comment. A journey is always more enjoyable when shared.

overhead shot of jewellers desk with metal ruler, tools, heat resistant block, punches in wooden blocks and various metal rings
Not my studio - this is much too organised!

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