Wednesday, 15 April 2020


G&T, on my mother's knee. 

This is a story about gin, getting out of your comfort zone and scaling up (both of those phrases sound a bit naff and usually something I avoid, but in this case they are absolutely apt).

In January I received a phone call enquiring about whether I could make gin jiggers (measuring cups) out of an old copper still. There had been a fire at the distillery, and the gin still, 'Steve', was a survivor. The idea was to make a souvenir to give to all the people who had helped out after the fire, to be sent with invites to the opening of the new distillery in the spring.

I explained that this was something that unfortunately I had neither the skill, nor the equipment to attempt, but that I was involved in a couple of Facebook groups where there may be makers who could help. And the name and email address to get back to with any info? Cathy Mason at Masons Yorkshire Gin. Much excitement at my end as am a big fan of gin, especially Masons gin, especially their Tea Edition Gin (I don't like many of the fancy gins - I like my gin to taste of gin, but the tea edition is a subtle and delicious exception).  Anyway, I sent Cathy some info from people and also links to the Crafts Council and Heritage Crafts Association websites with some likely-looking suggestions, but also mentioned that if the jiggers didnt work out for whatever reason, that perhaps an alternative idea might be gin bottle labels. Cathy loved the idea and decided to go for it - 100 of them. Gulp.

Next step was to collect Steve from the new distillery just off the A1, in Bedale. Off I set in my VW Up, with all the equipment, safety gear, spare equipment just in case, I could possibly need. Cathy gave me a sneak preview of the impressive new premises and huge shiny new German still, then off to her house where Steve was waiting in the garage.

Steve in his former glory
Not so glorious in the garage

As suspected, he didnt fit in my city car hatchback, so I cut him in half on the drive. It was one of those 'fake it till you make it' scenarios where I tried not to look as terrified as I was. The copper was surprisingly thin, and it was pretty easy with the use of some cutting oil and the right cutting discs, as researched on YouTube. Driving back down the A1 with two halves of a still in the back of the car, I remembered the first time I drove down the A1 with a caravan awning in the back, feeling a bit triumphant because there was a time when I was too scared to drive round the corner, let alone down the A1 overtaking lorries. Felt similarly triumphant on this occasion I must say.

Back at home, I chopped up bits of Steve, bit by bit, flattening out his beautiful curves. I set up a production line, something I'm quite good at, having worked on quite a few in my time, and working out the process is something I always enjoy.


I had worried that it would become monotonous work, but in the end I really enjoyed knowing exactly what I had to do every day, and just getting on with it. In my 'normal' work, even if producing standard pieces, there's always some variation and some planning/working out the way to do it most efficiently for the items in the order, which usually becomes a vehicle for procrastination, so it was surprisingly satisfying to work in this new way. Plus some of the finishing off I could do while sitting in front of the telly, always a bonus.

I finished in good time, delivered the labels to a house conveniently round the corner from me, and duly received a bonus bottle of gin in return. Masons were fantastic to work with, great communication and very fair and businesslike in their dealings with my very small business.

To date, Masons are still operating a mail order service, and have launched their new 'Phoenix' gin to celebrate the opening of the new distillery and raise money for the firefighters. You can read more about it, and the story of the fire, here. Their Facebook is worth a follow too.

I still have plenty of Steve left (I just finished chopping him up this afternoon, at last!), and will be happy to use him with my various stamps of various typefaces to produce bespoke bottle labels, keyrings, earrings, anything you can think of really, as well as using him in metal pictures like the one I made as a present for Cathy. If you're interested, please do get in touch.

Some of Steve's patina remains

Friday, 29 June 2018

Titanium. My Kryptonite.

Just jotting down a few internet accessible ideas for Titanium pieces - things I have done, experiments, and things I could do if I had a more precise, reliable method of colouring.

Initial experiments from 2017

Ideas for project using anodised Titanium:

Possible colour range and voltages showing possibility of precise colouration
(from The Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques, Anastasia Young):

Finished Titanium pieces 2018 using etching and torch colouring technique:

Monday, 15 February 2016

Part III, The Epilogue - Enamelling

And Finally........

Enamelling; A world of possibilities, a world of frustration.

I borrowed a couple of books from the library to try and trouble-shoot a few issues I've been having, but instead they ended up giving me loads more ideas for things to try.  I also discovered some really amazing enamel artists which was inspiring and demoralising at the same time.

Charles Lewton-Brain Pendant
              Charles Lewton-Brain Pendant

Charles Lewton-Brain is the guy who runs the Ganoskin technical jewellery website, and also the translator of the book I was on about last time.  Top chap, obviously. Check his books out here.  Quite a few on my wishlist, especially Cheap Tricks in the Tool Shop.


I wanted to do the proper scientific thing and make a test strip of reds, pinks and purples as technically they're more tricky to do.  Still haven't really managed to master it, despite firing at the correct temperature.  Maybe have been too slack in my preparation (me?!).  I did at least get a few colours to come out ok so it was worth it.  And I can say I've done scientific stuff too.

It looks quite pretty anyway (mackerel, anyone?), but as usual I have no idea how I could replicate a lot of it.  Yes, I did make notes but that doesn't always help.

Usually I apply enamels by sprinkling them on dry - this suits my style and enables me to build up lost of layers of subtle colours.  Sometimes, however, you need a consistent, flat area of colour within a border and for this you need to 'wet pack' the enamel.  This involves washing and mixing the enamel with water and packing it into the area you want to fill.  I'd never really got on with this before and found it annoying, but in a rare moment of perfectionism I decided I really should be able to do it.  And I could!  I think the problem before was that the enamel wasn't wet enough, so wouldn't stay where I wanted it to.

Evolution. Is it a bird, is it a fish? 
(Ignore the stone, I told you I'm still practising the setting)
 There's gold leaf underneath the garnet enamel which really shines out nicely I think.
Plus, check out my filigree!

I used a more painterly approach in the piece below.  This was a pendant based on a cabbage leaf I made in my first evening class at Leeds College of Art waaaaaay back in the mid-nineties.  It had been hanging around for years and nearly sent for scrap several times, but then it dawned on me that it was a prime candidate for a bit of wet packing, so that's what I did.  There are lots of layers of colours here, plus gold foil in some areas.  Had a disaster when one of the colours went really muddy so I had to use a stone to take it right back and start again.  Still needs a bit of a clean-up at the edges but I quite like it - a bit Art Nouveau, n'est pas?

Next on the list was melting, etching and printing from aluminium, but that's for another time.

I've so enjoyed giving myself time to experiment and have woken up with a spring in my step every morning - I thoroughly recommend it :)

Oh yes, the book I borrowed from the library and found really inspirational and full of new techniques was The Art of Fine Enamelling by Karen L Cohen (quite difficult to find to buy, also expensive).  Also First Steps in Enamelling by good old Jinks McGrath is really good for the basics.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

And there's More...Experimentation week Part II

So.  I expect all to be on tenterhooks to hear about my further adventures.

Thursday - Fusing, etching and rolling 

I'd read quite a lot and been inspired by the excellent book The Jewellers Directory of Decorative Finishes by Jinks McGrath.  Especially wanted to try etching then fusing metals, followed by rolling and pressing them with other etched & textured pieces to see what occurred.

Fusing basically means joining metals together without the use of solder.

Reading for futher info my new Goldsmithing book (too light a word for such a bibilical work of technical geekery), by the marvellously named Professor Dr Erhard Brepohl and translated from the original German by the guy who runs the encyclopaedic Ganoskin website, I came across a quote which most jewellers will relate to:

'Every goldsmith discovers fusing, usually by accident and usually as a mistake, when pieces being soldered are overheated'

Oh yeah, I hear you there, Professor Doctor.

He also explained how the technique had been much frowned upon in the past as just things going a bit (very) wrong, but that now it was OK, as long as it is used as a definite part of a design, and works better in contrast with areas of simple shiny metal. In other words, I suppose, a phrase oft-used by me, and handed down from my mother, it needs to 'look meant'.

It also gave me a chance to use my new splendid Sievert torch with ultra-needle flame to really focus the heat on specific parts of the metal.  I made a video, but unfortunately since I couldn't zoom, you couldn't see what I was doing. It would have been fabulous otherwise, AND you couldn't see my double chin.

ANYWAY, here's what I did:

First experiment, working on the principle that fine silver (100% silver as opposed to sterling which is 7.5% copper) doesn't tarnish:

Liz Samways inkylinky fused bird sterling fine silver

The bird is fine silver, fused to sterling silver which has been reticulated (heated so it distorts, melts, ripples and can be moved about).

I really like this effect, which will be heightened when I get round to emerying and polishing the bird to a high shine, and patinating the Sterling to darken it further.  Sometimes I struggle with getting the contrast I want in my pieces, and I think this could be quite a revolutionary discovery for me.

Moving on.....

Liz Samways inkylinky etched fused silver gold landscape

This is a piece of fine silver which I'd already etched, onto which I laid slivers of gold.  The whole piece was heated until the gold melted and fused into the silver.  I also (carefully!) melted the top edges of the piece to make a random landscap-y pattern, and the hole melted into it was of course entirely intentional.

Liz Samways inkylinky etched fused silver wire landscape

Fine silver wire woven into a pattern and fused on to a piece of sterling.
The blue/green mottling is flux (borax) used to help everything flow.

Liz Samways inkylinky etched fused silver wire gold landscape

The first piece fused onto the second piece.  This has the potential to be a pretty good landscape, and I'll probably attempt to set a stone in a gold bezel in the top left-hand corner. (More practice, yay!)

Then a less successful attempt at rolling, fusing, etching, more fusing and rolling.  I do like the hole though!

Liz Samways inkylinky etched fused and rolled experimental piece

 Some stages were quite good and I can't find the photos.  But some of the fine silver seemed to get lost or etched away (strange, as I would have thought the sterling would etch before the fine silver, having more copper content) and the gold seemed to get absorbed.  According to Jinks McGrath (another great name), this can happen when 9ct gold gets too hot and dissolves into the silver.

So lots more to play about with, but rather expensive experiments when gold's involved. A day isn't nearly enough to explore all those layers of possiblities (rubbing hands together with glee, then rubbing hands together with brie, which is a lot more smelly.*)

I think I'll also experiment more with the different metals fused together and their subsequent reaction to etching as there are exciting possibilities here.

Next time, enamelling........

*Apologies to Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books, another must-read when all the goldsmithing geekery gets too much.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Experimentation Week

Experimentation week

I'm splitting this into a couple of parts to stop me going on for too long (ha!).

I've so enjoyed this last week of just playing about with some ideas that have been hovering around for ages.  A lot of them I think have the potential to become part of my work in the future, but as usual the problem isn't a lack of ideas but too many.  At least this week I've had a chance to find out exactly how things work with each other, and I've also had a good old practise of stone-setting.

Liz Samways inkyinky Plan of action week of experimentation
Plan of Action

 I was pretty organised about what to do each day, so I didn't feel overwhelmed but stuck to task.  The post-its allowed me to move stuff around as necessary for a bit of flexibility though (everyone needs a bit of flexibility, right?) Each day was also given a page of ideas to try.

As usual my sketchbook was rather a list of notes and thoughts rather than actual sketches - that always seems to be the way I work - using the materials & techniques as I work with them rather than having a specific end in sight.  It was a luxury to give myself permission to do this by giving myself time to experiment, rather than feel guilty about veering off track away from something different I was supposed to be doing.


Experimenting with etching aluminium plates.

I'd done this a couple of years ago at the printmaking workshop, but wanted to try it again, and see whether it was something that could be incorporated into my work.  A jeweller friend had been talking to me about dyed aluminium and it set me thinking about how plain aluminium can actually be polished up really nicely, and is light and inexpensive, so a good vehicle for larger pieces that become prohibitively expensive in silver.  (Am I doing a good job of not going on?.......)

Anyway, here are what I came up with.  They were etched using various resists in copper sulphate (that bright blue stuff that reminds you of chemistry lessons). If you want to find out more, there's a recipe and instructions here.  I found this solution very aggressive, so you may want to water it down a bit more, or use a colder solution.

Aluminium plates etched using Copper Sulphate

Top left had deposits of copper from the copper sulphate totally by accident (usually they're brushed off during the etching process but these stayed even through cleaning).  Further work needed to repeat this as I LOVE it! 

Top right was just a play about with different resists and etching, but am enjoying the use of the Spirograph appropriated from No. 2 son (a selfless Christmas gift).

Bottom right was inspired by an ink and wash of trees I did years ago and keep returning to. I think am definitely going to develop this further and hopefully develop into some larger jewellery pieces.

I had planned to move on to printing from these, but other priorites took over.  It's still a plan though - I need to get some new pieces ready for the Hepworth Print Fair in March.


Stone Setting Practice

At the beginning of the month, I went on a stone setting course with Penny Davis at the incomparable West Dean College.  I've gone on about this place before but it really should be prescribed to all artistic type people. I went there to do it because I knew I needed imprisoning in one place for 3 days to make me persevere with a skill I've never got on with but always felt that, as a self-respecting jeweller, I should learn to do properly.  Also their tutors are top-notch, and it was wonderful to be taught by someone with decades of experience.  I learnt so much, not just about the stone setting, but lots of other hints and tips for working jewellers.  Being largely self-taught, it's a real treat.

ANYWAY, One of the key things I came away with was that you can learn the techniques, but then it's down to practice, practice, practice.  So I resolved to keep going with it while the techniques were fresh in my mind, as I have a terrible habit of being the eternal student but not capitalising on the new skills I've learned.

Here's my first bezel setting from the course:

Liz Samways inkylinky copper silver etched chalcedony landscape pendant

I'd been wanting to use stones as part of my landscapes for ages, so I set it into an old silver etched piece, then set that into a bit of brass with copper I had lying about.  I knew I wouldn't be selling my first stone-setting effort so that took the pressure off and I just made something I liked.

And here are a couple of things I started there and then finished off this week.  Flush setting - probably not to be my thing, but a good skill to learn, and not to lose through lack of practice!

Liz Samways inkylinky flush set silver rings cubic zirconia
Etched & filed silver & copper rings with flush set Cubic Zirconia

As you will see, I need to practise, and I'm not sure I'll be flush setting things in a row much in the future.  (Rings not finished either, lest ye judge).

On Wednesday morning I'd scheduled in coffee & a natter with friends/colleagues (another new year's resolution - to build in time to see friends once a week without feeling guilty about it) and this arrived on Tuesday, so despite my plan, Weds afternoon was a bit of a write-off (but it did teach me lots about what I was planning to do later in the week, so that was alright, wasn't it?).

Part 2 next week, if I haven't forgotten everything.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Full Circle

Adventures in Lithography and various stages in between.........

A couple of months ago, some friends and I booked a cottage near Skipton and organised a creative weekend.  Amazingly, it did actually turn into a creative weekend - we did loads of creating and very little boozing.  Cath Brooke organised the artistic endeavours, with warm-ups by Rozi Fuller. We combined drawing from the views in the garden with printmaking inside, and a lovely walk to draw  in the Colne Valley, where we were surprised by a flock of sheep, but not as surprised as the shepherd who chanced upon us sitting on the other side of the wall.

A couple of weeks previously we'd been to see an exhibition of Lithographs at West Yorkshire Print Workshop, and, though, frankly, a lot of the pieces left us (well, me anyway) rather cold, we were struck by a beautiful print by John Piper based on a landscape in Connemara.

By the way, if you want a good old drool, just do an image search on John Piper (especially Stones).

John Piper - Stones & Bones

We set up in the garden of the cottage and drew images of the valley, walls, and houses, using big rolls of lining paper and markers on sticks, wax crayon for resists, and ink wash.  All drew and made marks on the same piece of paper which created some great random effects and surprisingly few turf wars.

Then we used a colour drypoint technique Cath & I learnt a couple of years ago with printmaker Kip Gresham (again, thank you WYPW) to produce prints from detailed sections of the large paintings.

 The work remained in piles in my workshop for a couple of months, until I signed up for a lithography workshop with Kate Desforges at WYPW and thought it would be interesting to see if I could go full circle, from the inspiration of the original Piper lithograph, via the creative weekend, to my own lithograph piece.  I also wanted to find a technique whereby I could produce hand-pulled prints of my jewellery pieces, but that's another story.

I took a marvellous couple of days out of the day to day work of making jewellery, sitting in the garden drawing, redrawing, using sticks, pens, various pencils, indian and sepia ink, charcoal,  collage - wonderfully indulgent!

When it came to synthesising the preparation work into one image I could turn into a print, the difficulties arose, and I had a few Van Gogh moments of despair, surrounded by cutouts & Pritt Stik in the kitchen. Photo lithography gives you a brilliant opportunity to reproduce exact marks, and I wanted to exploit the chance to enlarge these and convey the unintended shapes and patterns.  However, (as usually my problem) the general composition was refusing to come together.

Also as usual with me, it was a chance laying down of a negative cutout on top of something else that pulled me out of the mire, and I knew what I wanted to do.

inkylinky lithograph sketch

inkylinky house lithograph sketch

Once I had the composition I decided to go through the laborious process of redrawing the whole thing to unify it.

inkylinky house lithograph final drawing

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the discipline of doing this.

The photo lithograph process is pretty straightforward development of a plate to produce an exact image, in much the same way as you would with a screen print (though my experience of this is limited - it's the one printing process I haven't got on with).  Unlike most printmaking methods where the making of the plate is the tricky part and the inking and printing fairly straightforward (or as straightforward as you want it to be), the trick with lithography is the actual printing part.  It works on the principle of the antipathy between oil and water, and you have to keep the plate at the right level of moisture.  Anyway, this is the print I produced.......

inkylinky lithograph houses

It's really just a starting point, and I want to use it as a layer with other techniques, probably introducing blocks of colour or brushed elements, maybe some collage landscape elements but this may over-complicate the nice simple composition I've managed, despite myself, to end up with.

I quite like this idea - another happy accident when I laid the transparency on top of the litho plate, which makes me wonder about using it as an interlocking pattern, even a textile print. We'll see.....

Saturday, 28 March 2015

A Walk in the Park

Post Christmas, I was a bit....meh.  I'd bust a gut getting stuff ready for galleries and shops, then more literally bust a gut 'doing' the whole festive bit, and January was a bit of an anticlimax, as it is for most people.  Although some optimistic souls I know were all full of the joys of a new year, new challenges, and a bloodstream devoid of alcohol, none of this was really catching my imagination.

Then I got an email from the Craft & Design Gallery in Leeds, one of my favourite stockists, inviting me to put a collection in to the exhibition they were planning on the subject of A Walk in the Park.  And Lo, for there was a new spring in my step, an opportunity to do something new, explore some new ideas, stress about a new deadline.

As usual I had plenty of ideas - some new, some still unexplored as I write (adventure playgrounds, the lines, the organic woodiness, the possibilities......), and some that had been in the sketchbook for years.  Something that I have learned (and relearned again and again and one day it might sink in) is that I never allow myself enough time to fully develop my designs before starting work, but I'm not sure that I ever will.  My 'design process' usually consists of brainstorming design ideas, having great ideas in the bath, and fiddling around with various pieces of etched metal I pick up in my workshop until I get something I like. (I've talked about my working processes in the Blog hop blog).

So, cue the Tony Hart music, here's what I came up with......

Magpies, an obsession for many people, I know.  I do love a corvid (Arabel's Raven is one of my favourite books ever), and they always remind me of the time I first came to Leeds, 25 years ago, when I was struck by the numbers of them that hung around in Hyde Park.  I'd never seen so many, being an impoverished Londoner.  Nowadays they hang around in my suburban garden and recently spent a long time in competition with a squirrel in trying to acquire a duster which had been hanging on my washing line for quite a long time. I'd always come across a snag when trying to design a big magpie necklace, as although I'm not superstitious you never know, do you, and I couldn't just do one magpie.  Then one of those bath inspiration moments when I realised I could do a reversible pendant, 2 magpies for the price of one (or even 3, if you want to, and boys are your thing).

Taking the colours of the park, the blue skies (?!), the green spaces, I incorporated some enamelled elements into some of the pieces.

Birds in trees watching the proceedings, or just getting on with life and survival, and landscapes, willows, dogwoods, buildings........


I'm really pleased with this last one, the only one with figures in it to make it to a finished piece.  Here I was trying to get a bit of that 'Abney & Teal' vibe of the urban park, with the tower blocks in the background.  I've been using one of my makers mark punches to make the square windows in things, which is quite clever of me, don't you think?

And finally, something which just didnt make it into the exhibition, but which I really like.  Here come the practicalities of making jewellery I've spoken about before........I had enough large neckpieces, plus I didnt want to spoil that particular composition by drilling holes in it.  (I did make another piece involving a riveted on back with holes for hanging, and some figures, but wasn't really sure about it).

It really wants to be a brooch for a coat or scarf, as the cutout piece will frame a nice fabric showing through, but a sterling brooch back would make it very expensive for a copper and brass piece, I don't like to confuse things by using base metal findings and anyway they're difficult to stick on reliably.  I attempted to make a copper brooch pin myself, which would have been ok if I had several more weeks to battle with soldering it on properly, but as this was the night before the deadline I didnt really have that option.  Anyway, it looks pretty I think and may make a good card or picture before it finds a role as a piece of jewellery.

A Walk in the Park  is at the Craft & Design Centre in Leeds (under the Art Gallery)