Meet jeweller and silversmith Heidi Carthew

Posted by Isabel Keim on

Our latest interview is with another talented and unique maker selected for Shine 2020: Heidi Carthew, a Cornish jeweller and silversmith who works in pewter, silver and jesmonite. Heidi’s new collection, Afina, blends influences from her Cornish heritage with the Scandinavian principles of minimalism. Inspired by the sharp angles and deep blues of Cornwall’s rocky coastline, Afina incorporates materials not typically considered precious in attempt to redefine perceptions of luxury.

What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?

I was raised in quite a creative household, where we were always encouraged to paint and to create, and growing up in Cornwall, I was also often surrounded by creative people – in St. Ives for example, we’ve got the Tate Modern and the Barbara Hepworth Museum.

As a child, I was more focused on more 2D creative mediums, like drawing and painting, but as I got older, I realised I wanted to create things that people could interact with, that were more three dimensional and functional. My jewellery career started when I decided to enrol in a 10-week evening course at my local college, and I fell in love with jewellery making straight away. It’s a lovely skill to learn, and you can make very beautiful and intricate things from very raw materials.

About a year later I had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship with a local jeweller, at his company Kao Jewellery, who was quite different in the way that he made jewellery. He worked in pewter and resin and I learned a lot about casting through working with him. Unfortunately, after my apprenticeship ended, the business effectively relocated to Wales and I didn’t feel confident enough in my skills at that point to go it alone, so I had a chat with my lecturer at the time. He told me about the silversmithing and jewellery BA course at the college, and I ended up enrolling. It was very focused on hand-making and traditional skills.

Heidi Carthew scoring metal

During my degree, at first, I was very focused on jewellery making. It wasn’t until the second year when we had an assignment to enter the Pewter Live competition that I started looking more into the silversmithing side of things. Working in pewter in a larger scale was a new experience for me, the materials can be very forgiving, but also if you heat pewter up too much, it will just melt instantly, so I quite enjoyed that challenge. I just fell in love with scoring pewter, it can be quite labour intensive, but because it’s such a soft material, it was quite a pleasure to do, and the finish you can achieve with it, I absolutely love. So, through that brief competition, I really fell in love with the functionality of things. I managed to win Best in Show and Best in the Home Decorative category that year, and that boosted my confidence and I developed my vessel range from there.

Since graduating in 2018, I’ve set up my own little studio and have been working on honing my technique myself. It’s more recently through Shine that I’ve started looking at jewellery again.

What can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine?

So, the collection I’m going to be debuting at shine is called the Afina Collection, which is very heavily inspired by Cornwall and its coastline. ‘Afina’ in Cornish actually means ‘adorn’, so I’ve tried to get a bit of my Cornish heritage in there. I’m also heavily inspired by minimalism within Scandinavian design, so this collection is sort of a fusion between those two forms of inspiration. It’s a collection of trinket boxes and jewellery, which is a progression from the planters that I made for my graduate collection.

It has involved focusing a lot on mixed materials, for example I use a lot of jesmonite in my work as it allows me to introduce colour in a way that you can’t really do with gemstones, and to create different textures and colour combinations, like creating a kind of marble terrazzo effect on the trinket boxes. Gemstones aren’t that big in scale, so jesmonite allowed me to add colour to larger objects. it wasn’t something that I could really get across when working with vessels.

It’s also a lovely material to work with, it contrasts well with my very irregular, angular pewter pieces. It’s quite organic, so no two pieces are really the same, and when you’re casting, you’re never really sure what you’re going to end up with. I also create my scoring tools myself, which allow me to score at the correct angle, and I’ve had some made for me that are more ergonomic as I suffer quite badly from joint pain.

What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level? 

I think on a personal level, it's definitely given me more confidence in my work. It’s allowed me to create a collection that I’m proud of and am excited to share with others. Working at home, it can be quite hard to find the motivation sometimes, and Shine has given me that push needed to really develop a collection. Professionally, taking part in the Shine programme has also given me the skills to share my work online a little bit more. I think with the current Covid situation, a lot of makers like myself have struggled with that aspect, and I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from experts on how to develop my business and how to share it with a wider audience. 

What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?

I’ve learned that planning helps a lot with productivity. I’ve been creating my collection for Shine alongside working full-time from home – I have another job which I do alongside making – so I’ve had to adjust to doing both those roles from home during the lockdown. It has been quite an experience, but has also made me realise that I can share my process with family and friends through online avenues, and sharing with them has really given me a push and the confidence to share with a wider audience, including potential customers. 

I’ve also learned that just tinkering away in the workshop gives me a lot of inspiration in itself, and can lead to quite big developments in my design. When working on my trinket boxes for example, I created little card models to figure out the shapes needed, because they’re varying sizes. Apart from that, I didn’t do much more design work, it was more that the development came during the making. My design process generally is through model marking with card, or through drawing and painting, but with this collection, it’s been a lot of just getting my head down in the workshop and creating, doing samples of jesmonite and playing around with things a bit more, which being stuck at home has given me an opportunity to do.

I’ve had to do some planning in the sense of thinking, what can I get done in this amount of time, because of the constraints of working full time from home alongside making. So I’ve had to learn new techniques in regards to how to plan my days. I found that if I didn’t plan, I’d end up working on a load of different things at the same time and nothing ever got finished, so I learned to focus a lot more. I think that’s probably been the defining word of the lockdown for me – focus.

What do you enjoy most about being a maker - for example, is the joy in the making itself, or in sharing the finished pieces with the world?

My love originally was just making. When I’m making, I can block out a lot of things that are going on in the world – which has been particularly beneficial during the pandemic. It’s just something that I’ve always done through creativity. The sense of satisfaction I get when something is finished is also great. I do love sharing my pieces, but it’s not always something that I’ve been great at, it’s definitely something that I need to work on. I’ve been a lot more passionate about sharing this latest collection, as I’m very excited about it. 

What kind of person do you think will be most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general - do you have a target audience in mind?

I’ve made this collection for people who are thinking about their spending habits more, people who are interested in buying high quality objects that will last a lifetime. I think the environment is a big topic at the moment, and culturally we’re steering away from fast fashion and from buying things that will be discarded or taken to the charity shop within two years.

People are a lot more conscious of what they purchase and how their purchases effect the environment, and they’re starting to realise that spending more money for better quality is the smarter way of shopping. I also hope that the collection highlights materials that aren’t often used in the industry, like pewter and jesmonite. They’re not typically seen as luxurious and I’m hoping to change people’s minds on that. So, I think my customer will be someone who is drawn towards unique and colourful materials, high quality items and angular pieces.

What are you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?

I’m looking forward to showing my work alongside so many other talented makers, but also having such a wide audience to share my work with online is going to be a different experience. With Shine going digital, it will be interesting to get to know customers through a different format, but I’m quite excited about it. I’m also looking forward to learning about how to be more versatile in running a business and talking about my work.

What's next - what are your creative and career goals for the next two years?

My goal is to keep on creating things that I’m excited and passionate about. I’m currently looking at creating in a way that is more environmentally friendly and ethical, and looking at my studio practices to see what changes can be made to help reduce my impact on the environment. I’m already working the majority of time with recycled silver, but I really want to expand my knowledge of ethical suppliers and of that side of the industry.

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