Monday, 4 May 2015

Acrylic Jungle

Ever since Tatty Devine began making their brilliant bold and quirky necklaces, lots of other designer-makers have embraced laser cut acrylic - and who can blame them?  You only have do the design once, it's minimal work and can be endlessly repeated - in wood, metal, fabric and lovely shiny, or metallic, or glittery acrylic.  For someone whose making process is very labour-intensive, with each piece being a one-off and hard to repeat exactly, this sometimes seems like a very appealing way to work.
Mexican Embroidery - my favourite Tatty Devine design.

But now suddenly,  SO much laser cut stuff is about.  And has the seductive nature of producing a beautifully clean-edged piece that looks so good on its own maybe overcome creativity and originality in some cases?

I have been resisting using it for just that reason.  Resisting it until I can think of some original and personal way to use it, something that doesn't look like a lot of the other things around.

Back in the summer of 2014, I started hatching ideas for necklaces based on a variety of inspirations.  One was a lot of richly coloured necklaces on sale in the V&A Shop a few years ago, which were strung together from fabrics, chains, tassels and lots of different sized beads.  I loved their mix of elements and their asymmetry. I made quite a few designs, using beads, charms, recycled elements and old plastic animal toys found in a local street market, which I bling-ed up with fabric and little jewels.

My favourite, and the one that looked most like what I was aiming for, featured a tiger and lots of floral beads and hanging glass leaves and was inspired by the naive and incredibly decorative jungle paintings of the 19th century artist, Henri Rousseau.

The necklace looked different and unusual, but I couldn't produce any more like it as I wasn't able to find any more leaves and tigers.  Then the brain kicked into gear - could this be achieved using acrylic?  The combination of other materials and semi-precious beads with acrylic pieces would definitely be a way of making the jewellery look different to anything else I've seen around.

I produced some sketches of the leaf and flower shapes that I wanted, using Rousseau's foliage as a very loose inspiration.  The tigers were based on my original little plastic tiger.  The ability to have shapes cut inside the shapes was also an exciting possibility - even the holes could be added in this way, saving having to drill them all individually.  I wanted to choose loads of colours, but found that the cutting process was going to cost a lot more that I had expected, so had to rein in my greedy little magpie tendencies.  I also wanted to produce necklaces in one-colour options too, in case people didn't fancy wearing bright multi-coloured ones.

Eventually, the shapes came back, still in their square sheets, and I spent ages popping them out and peeling off the plastic coating, then laying them out to form the complex jungle necklaces.  This design process takes a long time, as the composition of each necklace is as vital to me as the composition of a painting or photograph.  It's important that the colours, shapes and beads flow and balance.  Pieces are swapped or removed and colours changed many times before they are finally attached.  Even then, there are often still changes to be made as the necklace looks different hanging on and moving with the body.

I'm so happy with the finished pieces and also delighted to be able to make earrings too.  I love earrings (I have dozens of pairs!) but have found it hard to make them in the other materials I use.

The necklaces and earrings are on sale during the month of May at one of the Brighton Artists Open Houses on the Fiveways trail (for details, click here) and most of the following necklaces are in the Shark Alley shop.

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