Cambridge Open Studios - Emma Mitchell

For the next 2 weeks in the run up to Cambridge Open Studios we will be featuring a selection of just some of the 240 artists taking part. Today we meet jewellery maker Emma Mitchell of Silver Pebble and find out what inspires her delicate silver pieces.

Emma Mitchell

Please tell us how you started making jewellery?

In the late nineties I was working in London and would visit galleries during my spare time and gaze at the jewellery to work out how it was made. I was working within a stone's throw of the Bead Shop in Covent Garden, so I began to visit during my lunch hours to buy supplies and I taught myself how to make my first beaded pieces. Friends began to notice the jewellery I made for myself and so I got my first small commissions.

Emma Mitchell

Do you make jewellery full time? Have you changed career path or is it something you've always done?

I have just under two days childcare a week when I make my commissions and pieces for fairs, for Primavera and my Etsy shop. I trained as a Molecular Cell Biologist and until my first daughter was born I was working as a technology consultant on the Cambridge Science Park but that kind of work had little or no flexibility and I wanted to be a hands-on Mum, especially after she was rather unwell during her first year. I was already making jewellery on a small scale for a few craft fairs a year so I decided to focus on my jewellery making whilst my children were small.

Have you done any formal training?

In 2008 I attended a training course on how to use Artclay silver. Then in 2010 I travelled up to North Yorkshire to be taught how to enamel silver clay pieces with jeweller Lynne Glazzard. I gained a love of surface texture in the evening classes I attended with ceramicist Bonnie Kemske and I’ve developed innovative ways to create three dimensional structure and cloisonné-like effects.

Emma Mitchell

How has working with silver clay changed your way of working?

Until 2008 I made beaded jewellery which sold well, but would buy silver charms to incorporate into the designs. I was frustrated by having to buy the silver pieces and was determined to find a way to make my own. Then I heard about silver clay. It is a special ceramic with particles of silver within it that can be modelled like stoneware or porcelain, dried and then is fired to leave fine (99%) silver which can then be hallmarked. This medium is ideal for jewellery-making because in effect it can be used to make tiny three dimensional sculptures. Many of my nature-inspired silver clay designs are three dimensional, texture can be added using slip trailing or tools and colour added using enamel.

Your work is very unique and has a wonderful nostalgic feel to it, what inspires your designs?

I think the main source of inspiration for my pieces is the changing seasons. Anything from my daughters' toy windmills, to a walk with the dog in our local woods can spark an idea. I'll often spot a particular flower or bird then I'll come home and incorporate those design elements into my jewellery-making. Some of my favourite motifs are hares, blossom, elderflowers and collections of tiny nature-table like finds such as acorns and seedpods. I recently sold a necklace with a miniature fine silver windmill pendant that spun around and I'm currently working on a tiny silver kite necklace complete with silver tail ribbons.

Emma Mitchell

Tell us about your workspace.

Currently I work at the dining room table and pack away my materials before family meals but we are in the process of redecorating the tiny room that was my daughter's nursery to convert it into a workspace for me. She has moved into bunk beds and feels very grown up about it. Meanwhile I will have a workroom of my own, which I'm hugely excited about. My workspace also includes the computer - I share my new designs and ideas on my blog, which has also become a source of lasting friendships with like-minded creative people. Without the positive and encouraging comments on my blog I may not have had the confidence to approach galleries and participate in Cambridge Open Studios.

Do you ever have creative blocks, if so what do you do to kickstart the ideas again?

Because I'm currently restricted in the time I have available to make my jewellery I usually have several designs in my head waiting for their turn to be made in silver. Just before Easter though I had been working so hard that I did run short on inspiration - I think I was rather tired. After a short holiday the design ideas started to return though, thankfully.

Emma Mitchell

Where do you see Silver Pebble going in the next few years, do you have any ambitions or goals?

I would like to have my work accepted by a few more galleries and I'd be totally thrilled if one day my work were featured in a magazine such as Country Living or Mollie Makes.

If you could learn any new craft, if you had the time, what would it be?

There's a local course in blacksmithing later this year. I love the idea of working with metal on a much larger scale and I think the idea of bellows, hammers and very hot coals appeal to me! Plus we need some new tongs for our open fire. Apart from that I'm absolutely determined to learn crochet and make something other than a small tangled woolly beard.

Describe your perfect day in your studio.

The day would have started with walking the dog or taking a stroll round my garden and then sketching the plants, flowers and birds I might have seen in my notebook. I would then choose one of these and sketch a little more to convert it into a workable jewellery design such as a pendant with a three dimensional elderflower.

Sometimes it's a little nerve wracking cutting into the silver clay to begin modelling so at strategic points in the day I brew a pot of tea. It's a good feeling when the design works well and the clay is doing what I'd like it to do. When I managed to make the tiny rotating windmill I think there was a celebratory slice of cake. I usually listen to 6Music whilst making jewellery and my husband works at home several days a week so it's lovely to share a pot of tea or three with him during breaks in the making.

Emma Mitchell

Where can we see your work?

I currently have a collection in Primavera, Cambridge and I also sell my work online through my etsy shop. Earlier in the year my work was featured in an online artisan fair curated by Poppytalk, a Canadian design blog that promotes the handmade movement and spots new trends in design. I hope to have a virtual 'table' on Poppytalk Handmade again later in the year. Other than that I attend several handmade fairs organised by bloggers and visitors can visit my beach hut during the second and fourth weekend of Open Studios. An example of my work will be in print in a crafting handbook to be published in the Autumn.

How long have you been doing Open Studios and has it made a difference to your business?

2011 will be the second year that I have participated. I had been visiting Open Studios for almost twenty years and longed join in so it is an absolute thrill to be part of such a diverse and exciting artistic group. Last year I had around 150 visitors to my beach hut exhibition and the response and sales were very encouraging. Plus it was serious fun meeting everyone who visited and it resulted in some commissions and even one or two new friendships.

Do you hold workshops?

Yes, I teach workshops once or twice a month, in either beaded jewelery techniques, incorporating tiny found objects and vintage beads or in beginners' silver clay techniques.

Find out more about Emma:

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