We chat to Kim Thomson, a jeweller and silversmith teacher based in Bristol. She has embarked on a new challenge to create 100 new designs with just one piece of silver!
In today's blog post, we learn about how it all started, how Kim keeps coming up with new ideas and how someone like you can do exactly the same thing!
On her social media, Kim shares step by step transitions between designs alongside the tools and techniques she has used. In this interview, we see Kim at work, a few snaps of her designs along the way and the reason she chooses Kernowcraft as her jewellery supplier.
Follow Kim's challenge by searching for the hashtag #MISilverChallenge on Instagram!
I'm doing this to show people that silversmithing doesn't have to be an elitist, expensive past time. You can remake, recycle and keep going until you are happy with the results and no scrap should be wasted...
As a somewhat ‘bish, bash, bosh’ maker, I'd been thinking for a while that I should take on a project that requires me to spend days, if not weeks, making a piece...really taking my time and applying and further developing my skills.
I have recently been diagnosed with ADHD, so I decided one focused, intricate piece of jewellery could be something to work up to but in the meantime, I could try to commit to making every day for a prolonged period of time.
A friend is taking part in #100daysedinburgh where he’s applying 100 layers of paint and varnish to a painting. I was sat at my bench holding a piece of silver that I had been procrastinating over and I decided to adapt the 100 day idea and take the piece of silver, chop up, melt down, recycle and generally remake, it 100 times, over 100 days. I felt this would not only push my attention span and commitment but also my creativity and the properties of the metal. Small amounts of additional scrap silver get added periodically, such as ear wires, but primarily the project is a daily response and redesign of a single piece of silver that is constantly evolving.
The biggest challenge is finding the time every day to sit down and do it. I teach adult education classes 3-4 times a week at The Bristol Folk House, a weekly night class and regular full day workshops from my studio in Bristol as well as delivering creative projects and regular support sessions for people with ‘Additional Needs’ and ‘Processing Differences’. I also have two rescue pups who require a lot of my undivided attention as they are both massive cuddle monsters. However, the pressure and lack of time actually make the project easier for me as it means I am unable to sit and procrastinate. I just have to get on and do it as quickly as possible. I try to limit myself to an hour a day.
Funnily enough I’ve just found out that day 100 falls on Sunday 3rd of September which is the final day of the Bristol Arts Trail. I was already registered as a host venue for the trail so I’m looking forward to sharing my final day with everyone who visits the studio that day. A celebration drink or two with friends will defiantly be on the cards too.
It’s got to be the little windmill. Day 12 was extremely windy and warm so I had the studio doors wide open so that I could watch the trees swaying. It inspired me to make a little seaside style windmill like the ones I played with as a child. I found a windmill template online, shrunk it down and printed it out. I melted my silver down, rolled it into flat sheet then cut out the template shape. I then used my pliers and rawhide mallet to form it. It threaded onto some 1.5mm wire which formed the neck of the windmill and although the wind wasn’t strong enough to turn it, you could easily spin it with your finger. It was really cute and fun to play with.
My favourite tools are all the ones I inherited from my Grandad. He taught me how to use hand tools from the age of 3 and I now teach with the same tools he taught me with all those years ago. In terms of tools specifically for this project, it’s got to be my charcoal block. It enables me to cast rudimental shapes, wire stock and flattened metal ‘pebbles’ ready to roll back to fresh sheet.
I have learnt that one of the greatest things about my ADHD and how my brain works is that I am able to make very quick decisions when there is a tight deadline. One of the ways in which I have always struggled is in trying to work in a ‘normal’ way. Where you consider, research, plan, develop then make or do. This is in all elements of my life from planning meals, planning my time, writing essays or reports as well as planning for my creative practice and workshops. More recently I have learnt that although I may spend days, weeks, months, seemingly procrastinating and not doing anything, I am actually processing and structuring internally. This means when it comes to crunch time, I am suddenly able to hyper focus, go into ‘work mode’ and achieve what I need to do in a seemingly very short space of time.
The thing I love most about teaching workshops is that it forces me to think outside the box, learn and trouble shoot on a weekly basis. When someone is a complete beginner and are yet to learn what is and isn’t ‘possible’, they can ask if they can do things that I would never even consider. My favourite phrase is, “I don’t know, but lets find out”. The most rewarding part is seeing people take the skills that I pass on, build on them and make them their own. Every local market I visited to last Christmas had at least one past student selling at it. Many of my students have gone on to set up or expand their own jewellery businesses which I find inspiring.
I have tried all sorts over the years. Barrier creams, finger tape, leather finger sheaths, sleeping in cotton gloves and intensive hand creams, even specialist steroid creams from the doctors but nothing worked. During my final year of uni, my hands were so sore I ended up being referred to a private dermatologist who’s only advice was that I should marry rich and not work! Last week I ordered some Alligator tape from Kernowcraft and it’s been amazing. It’s paper thin but forms to your fingers well so it’s easy to build up the layers depending on how much feeling or protection you need. I must admit though, I do get rather proud of my ‘Jewellers Manicure’. Shinny rings are made from dirty fingers!
Firstly, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Coming back to the bish, bash, bosh theme and my limited time, I haven’t been recycling my silver in a professional way so there are impurities in the metal. This is fine for my project, but if I were making to sell, I would make sure I filed out any solder and cleaned and fluxed the metal well. Also before rolling or hammering your cooled, molten silver, make sure it’s completely clean otherwise you’ll be working impurities into the metal which can make it brittle and difficult to clean up. To reduce waste, either have a bench skin, under peg draw or wear a piny to catch your scraps. If you drop something on the floor and are struggling to find it, you can stick some tights over your vacuum cleaner hose and it will pick up small items without losing them. Orturn your phones torch light on and wave it over the floor. Anything shinny should catch the light and glint at you. If you make a conscious effort to use all your offcuts, it can inspire you to make new designs and ranges as you respond to the metal.
“CREATIVITY IS CONTAGIOUS, PASS IT ON” – ALBERT EINSTEIN
People keep asking me how far I’ve planned ahead. The truth is I’ve not. At all. The way my brain works, it responds best to the pressure of an imminent deadline. This means by not planning I can respond to the metal and whatever inspiration strikes. This in turn means I actually end up working more efficiently and creatively. I often completely change my idea half way through designing too. On reflection, I realised I used to do this at uni too. Back then I would plan a project but half way through, respond to the metal and that days inspiration and end up with something completely different from what I had originally set out to make. It may be because I’m working intuitively with the material or it may be because I am a distractible squirrel!
Watch your posture! Jewellers are renowned for having bad backs. I have always been very lucky with my back as I have always had good posture but by the time I hit day 50, I had a small knot in the base on my spine. Also I found telling people what I was doing gave me the accountability to make me commit to it and keep going. I have made every day for over 55 days now. This would have been unheard of before my diagnosis. I would procrastinate, become distracted or just not have the motivation. By being very public about what I’m doing, it has meant people are expecting the daily update and therefore I HAVE to do it. My 36th birthday is coming up soon and I will be making that day too. I may be wearing a party hat though.
Galston Agate. I grew up in a little Scottish Village called Glaston. The village has provided some of the most beautiful and colourful agates ever found in Scotland and my childhood library had a display of all the beautifully coloured rough and polished ‘gems’. I used to stare at that glass cabinet for ages. My Dad used to collect Galston Agate as a boy and he gave me some. The ones I had where a type of
When I discuss suppliers with my students I always tell them that although there are companies that hold a bigger range of stock, it’s hard to beat Kernowcraft for having everything you need without it being overwhelming. Especially when you are learning, being faced with 100’s of choices of wire shapes and sizes can be extremely confusing and intimidating. Kernowcraft has a beautiful, welcoming and accessible website along with a good but clear selection of tools and materials. It is run by ‘real’ people who you can contact if you’re stressed because you can’t find the head space to figure out what stones and settings you need when you just want a generic selection for your day course students to pick from. Thanks again Hannah and Elaine. You went above and beyond with your customer service when helping me choose and match my stones to their settings. Your supportive and patient advice around using the comments box for future orders was passed on to my students as a top tip!
This has enabled me to do small scale casting by carving recesses into the charcoal. Charcoal is an excellent heating surface as it reflects the heat back onto the metal. This means you are able to melt and cast metal with a much smaller torch flame compared to what you need to melt metal in a crucible. It also creates a reducing atmosphere (consuming the oxygen around the piece being soldered) which helps reduce fire stain and therefore helps minimise the likely hood of impurities being worked into the metal.
I absolutely love my Dremel but you can’t beat a brass brush for a super quick, super cheap clean and shine. Just be careful if you have cuts on your fingers because if the brass bristles get in them it really stings! Now I have my alligator tape, that won’t be a problem anymore.
Not a necessity but a lovely little luxury and as such, this is currently on my birthday wish list. Ultrasonic cleaners can get rid of every last little bit of dirt and polishing compound. All those bit’s that are hard to reach by hand. It would have made it much easier to keep my metal purer for longer with one of these so if you’re thinking of recycling your own silver, it’s a good buy!