I didn't come to jewellery from a standard art background, I was more interested in music, writing and finding the ideal pink to brown hair colour ratio at school. Jewellery was a love I inherited from my Gramma, whos big and beautiful, gold jewellery collection I would pour over whenever I visited her. I adored the bright colourful stones and the polished, richness of the gold that surrounded them. I tried my hand at many weird and wonderful jobs including journalism,cheffing, sales and there was even a stint as a Loch Ness monster extraordinaire one summer, before I finally found my calling with jewellery design at 23. I enrolled in a metalworking course at college and knew straight away that jewellery was for me. But around 6 months into the course I hit upon a pretty major stumbling block – I didn't approach design from a normal viewpoint. In layman terms, I design 'in my head' and find drawn design an obstacle to my creative process. For me, design ideas slowly transpire over a period of weeks whilst I consider their form and often they will just come to me fully formed from nowhere. It's not that I don't consider the comfort or wearability of my jewellery before I make it, it's just something that I find easier to tackle as it comes up rather than painstakingly planning out it's every last detail. To me the most beautiful and eclectic pieces are made when materials are allowed to react organically. I've been captivated by clashing colours and unusual textures since I was a wee girl and this certainly shows in my work where I try to create juxtapositions between the beauty refracted in faceted gemstones and that of the rough, industrial feel of raw, molten metal. However, this is quite different to how design is taught and after some frustration, I took a leap of faith and dropped out of college to teach myself and embrace my own way of designing. This was 7 years ago now and it has been through online resources such as YouTube and different online jewellery forums that I've been able to continue learning new skills and develop experimental techniques within my work. It's this ongoing and never-ending learning that I love the most about working with jewellery, there is always something new to discover and a new technique to hone.
Recycling and using materials from sustainable and ethical sources has always been important to me. The process of mining and creating precious metals and stones is a very traumatic one, workers often risk their lives in incredibly unsafe conditions, with little access to safety equipment or training. All this for a terrible wage at the end of the week. If I was going to make a living from using these mined materials, I wanted to do so in the least harmful way possible which is why I decided to become a Fairtrade Goldsmith. The Fairtrade standards for gold ensure that the gold has been extracted, processed and traded in a fair and responsible manner. This includes mandatory use of protective gear, health and safety training for all miners, safe responsible use of chemicals and freedom of association. Fairtrade and Fairmined gold miners are organized in cooperatives or associations which are owned and democratically governed by the miners. It also offers mining organizations and their communities a better deal. Miners get market access and a fair price for their gold. So for me, it was a no brainer to register and it gives me access to the Fairtrade gold that is not regularly available through normal avenues. Unfortunately though, this only extends to gold and as the majority of my work uses silver, I made the choice to only use recycled silver where I can. Most of the silver I use in my work is sterling that I have melted down from scrap and old jewellery and then hand draw into wire or sheet. The process for this is intense and involves a lot of physical, hard work. I also buy in 'Eco-Silver' from my metal merchant, for jobs that require components I can't draw myself. As for sourcing my gemstones, I use smaller companies who only deal with ethically and responsibly mined stones.
A large part of my work at the moment involves re-purposing customers old jewellery into new, wearable pieces. Often they will inherit bits and bobs from family that won't be in their style and they lie dormant in the back of a drawer somewhere for 15 years, never being worn. A guilt will set in at some point and that is usually when I'll get an e-mail asking if I can transform their goodies into something lovely. The stories behind these pieces are often emotionally charged and bittersweet. It's an honour to be part of the story that unfolds as I work old pieces into new jewellery and is probably my favourite part of my work – connecting with the customer and helping them to see what might be possible, whilst still honouring their loved ones memory. For many people, the relief and joy at finally being able to wear something with such history and meaning can be overwhelming and sometimes the final part of the grieving process for them. It's lovely to be able to do this.
I run asterlingidea primarily online meaning that other than a local shop in Kirkcudbright run by an artists collective that I am part of, I don't sell in galleries. It's an unconventional way to run a jewellery business but for me it has worked very well. Not only as it meant that I have an international audience that I would not have otherwise had, but it's allowed me to connect to my customers through social media in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do by selling in shops and galleries. By not selling in these places, I don't feel the need to compromise my work or designs. Meaning, I create from heart without worrying about the saleability of my work in a certain outlet. My jewellery is not for everyone, it's not fine or entirely conventional, some people find it bulky and ugly. But the uncontrollable bumps and ridges, unusual textures and contradictions ; I find these things the most beautiful in jewellery, and in life.