Summer Learning Inside and Outside the Studio

It’s been such a beautiful summer here in Nova Scotia. The summer season certainly got off to a slow start; it feels like not long ago everyone was in a collective slump moping around the city due to the unseasonably cool and wet weather that stuck around for a lot of May and June. All good things come eventually though, and here we are, nearing the end of August having enjoyed plenty of indulgently warm days and long evenings of daylight. 

It’s been a good summer, and this year I’ve really tried to allow myself to enjoy it, and to take it all in. As a self-employed jeweller it can be difficult to let go of the tight reigns I hold on my business in order to take a day or an evening, or even a whole weekend away from my studio to relax. I realized that by stepping out of my studio to explore and connect with people and places, I end up returning to my studio with a more efficient mental headspace to tackle my work, and a renewed inspiration to create new designs.

Crystal Crescent Beach, Halifax, NS by K. Claire MacDonald

If you follow me on social media, particularly on Instagram, you probably already know I’ve spent a lot of extra time this summer near water. Whether it’s seaside or lakeside, water has definitely formed the backdrop to many of my summer adventures thus far.

It’s hard to fully turn off my jeweller’s brain even when I step away from my studio. I’m always scouring my surroundings for interesting textures, patterns, and compositions. A few weeks ago while visiting my parents at their cottage on the north shore or NS, I spent a lovely afternoon beach coming at low tide. I started collecting tiny fragments of shells, and without consciously realizing it, I had begun to arrange them in different compositions I thought could look great as earrings. I laughed a little to myself once I realized what I was doing, but continued on because the shapes and textures of the shell fragments are really beautiful, and could easily serve as design inspiration for future jewellery designs!

Imagining these shells as earring designs!

Imagining these shells as earring designs!

I also collected a rock that really caught my eye. I love the thin light-coloured intersecting lines that run through the deep grey rock. I’m not sure in what way or if this might inspire some future designs, but I have a feeling it will. This rock has been on my mind a lot lately!

A beach rock I collected and can’t stop thinking about!

A beach rock I collected and can’t stop thinking about!

One of the highlights of my summer so far is the opportunity I had to advance some of my jewellery skills. In July I went to Toronto to take a six day intensive gem setting course at George Brown College. Although it’s been many years since I graduated from art school (seven years!), I constantly try to seek out opportunities to further develop my skills and knowledge. I feel like there is an infinite amount of metalsmithing knowledge to gain, and I will be always be learning new techniques throughout my career as a jewellery designer.

While at NSCAD I took a course in advanced metalsmithing techniques in which we learned a brief overview of gem setting. Over the past few years I have not been regularly incorporating gemstones in my designs, and consequently haven’t been actively practising the techniques I learned in school. The course I took at George Brown last month was a great way to refresh my setting skills, and to learn some new setting types that I had never tried before. 

Sample of flush settings in sterling silver.

Sample of a bezel setting.

Samples of one and three-stone prong settings.

Sample of a channel setting. This setting was my favourite to learn!

Sample of a channel setting. This setting was my favourite to learn!

Gem setting requires a very steady hand and keen eye to maintain a high level of precision; this type of work relies of fractions of millimetres to ensure stones are correctly levelled and secured in their settings. Each day we learned a different type of setting. It was a great challenge to focus so intently on precision work for the duration of the workshop! I wore an Optivisor (sort of like magnifying glasses) for hours each day, which meant the tiniest and minute flaws in my work were up close in my sight–it was a little humbling to say the least, haha! 

Now that I’m back home to my studio in Halifax, I’ve beeb thinking a lot about different ways to start incorporating some gemstones into my work. Gem setting, like most technical skills, requires a huge amount of practice, and I’d like to keep up with it this time. I made a few sketches that illustrate possible ways of incorporating a few gemstones into some of my already existing designs. Keep an eye out for updates–I’m feeling excited to bring these few designs to life.

Sketches of possible ways to incorporate gemstones into some of my already existing designs.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have been having a wonderful summer! :)