Get lost in a virtual fantasy world with Glasgow-based designer Cara Lowe, whose Y2K inspired jewellery draws from video games, deconstructed computer components and retro toys to create whimsical pieces in playful colours. One of ten makers chosen for the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s annual talent showcase, Shine 2023, Cara’s work combines traditional jewellery making with CAD technology to prod both figuratively and literally at the increasingly shaky line between the ‘real’ and digital worlds, without ever losing its sense of child-like fun.
What attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I had quite a unique pathway into the industry, but I suppose, no two people’s paths are ever the same. I grew up in a creative family. My dad was one of those parents who was always helping out in arts and crafts projects, and my mum often took me to art exhibitions. So I already felt quite comfortable in a creative environment. Before I got into the niche of jewellery, I did a portfolio course, and there my tutors noticed that my work always veered towards 3D, which encouraged me to apply to study at Glasgow School of Art.
I did a degree in silversmithing and jewellery, so that’s how I got into the industry. When I was studying, another student introduced me to the 3D printing world and my mind was just blown. It really appealed to me, the freedom of it and all the colours that you can incorporate into your work. As long as you can figure out how to build something, there will be a way to make it possible. After discovering that technique at university, I never looked back - I’ve been experimenting with it ever since. Of course, I also learned traditional metal smithing skills, and continue to reference and use them in my work, but 3D printing maintained my interest because I think when the possibilities of something are endless, it's addictive, you can never really never get bored of it.
After I graduated, I took up the Artist in Residence post at Glasgow School of Art, which is a great jumping off point for the industry, as knowing what to do next after you graduate can be quite intimidating. Since finishing the Artist in Residence post, I began working from my home studio in Glasgow.
Can you tell us a bit about the collection you’ll be debuting at Shine 2023?
The title of the collection is Reestablishing Connection. It’s a reference to when you're on a video call, and your WiFi or internet connection is unstable, and is fading in and out. It's a reference to how your phone may lose connection and how you can re-establish that connection, mid-conversation. It’s also a reference to how during the Covid-19 pandemic, we used digital technologies to keep in touch with people. We're finally able to physically re-establish connections and see each other again. So it's really a celebration of relationships as well.
Whenever I'm designing my pieces, I always like to imagine them coming out of a dream world, so to speak. Growing up, a lot of my inspiration came from video games and childhood toys. So whenever I'm designing my pieces, I always want my customers to interact with them, and share my sense of childhood wonder and curiosity when they're wearing them. I like to use bright colours to engage the wearer, and kinetic and customisable elements that you can swap in and out. Those are the main characteristics of my work.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
The collection is all brand new designs, and there are always practical elements involved in creating new pieces, such as printing prototypes and testing them against the body. I often print templates and hold them against my ear, to find the perfect size and scale for a piece. One of the most prominent things about the process of planning this collection was being strict with myself and making sure that all the pieces fit together cohesively within the collection, so that they’re all family members, and there’s not one black sheep that doesn’t fit.
I do really enjoy designing, and I always love the experimentation stage, so that's probably the hardest point to pull myself out of. Sometimes I'm having too much fun coming up with all these different ideas, and I need to stop and hold myself accountable to cut it down to a set number of pieces. Shine 2023 asks for twelve pieces for a collection, so it's a really good learning process. It’s a matter of deciding which ones are going to be the most popular with audiences and customers, and which ones are going to be the most functional and comfortable. So finialising pieces has been a really important part of this collection.
How would you describe your design style?
I would like my design style to be described as playful because again, it references my inspiration; childhood, play, video games, and toys. So playful, bold and colourful would be my three words of choice, and perhaps experimental as well, as my work tends to play with the line between the digital and the physical. All of my pieces start as little scribbles in a sketchbook and then they get transferred into the digital world and then back out again into the physical world.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker?
I do love the making process, even when I’m having a bad day and the 3D printer is being a diva or something's not working out the way I envisioned it. There’s nothing quite like the excitement when I get something printed out of the 3D printer for the first time, and it’s actually what I wanted. It’s really inspiring.
My favourite part of being a maker though, is seeing people enjoying wearing my pieces, because that’s why I make them in the first place - to give people something that they can express themselves with. I know I always feel really good about myself when I'm wearing a nice outfit and it’s colour coordinated and everything - so I like to give people the confidence that they need on a certain date. I like creating unique pieces to make the world a bit more colourful.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
The Pixelation Hoops are my favourite piece in my collection. Personally, earrings have always been a favourite accessory of mine, because they’re perfect just to grab and go as you’re walking out of the door. I noticed the difference I feel when I leave the house and I’m wearing earrings to work versus when I don't, they just make me feel a little bit more like ready to take on whatever is outside, to feel more put together.
From an outsider's perspective as well, the earrings come in two different colours to choose from depending on your mood. I wanted that to be an option for people. They've also got a mixture of different types of precious stones within them that catch the light as you move them around.
What person do you feel is attracted to your work?
I would say the individuals that I design for are magpies - people who seek out anything bright and shiny. I feel at my happiest when I'm wearing colour, and I know there's people out there who feel the same. So really, I guess the people who enjoy my jewellery are the ones seeking out pieces that are an instant mood booster. People that express themselves through jewellery, and use fashion as escapism from grey, mundane everyday life. Someone who likes to create their own world through what they wear, basically.
What’s next for you - what are your professional and creative goals for the next two years?
I always try not to get too comfortable, I'm always thinking about what's next. So in terms of designing pieces for Shine 2023, I tried to bring something new to the table that I've not conceived before. This year, I've started sampling homeware, including jewellery trays. At this point, I’m just testing the waters with products that I've not made before.
Expanding my range is one of my biggest goals career-wise as well. In the next two years, I'd love to continue exhibiting in new places, not just in the UK, but internationally. I'd love to make my debut internationally as a maker, and continue to grow my audience through jewellery events like Shine, which I'm so excited for, and connect with other like minded makers, and obviously audience members and customers who also have the same interest and passion in colourful jewellery.