Our latest interview is with silversmith and jeweller Sarah Shelton-Palmer, who will be debuting her latest collection Chasing Waves at Shine 2020, our digital exhibition for exciting new talent.
An avid surfer, the Cornish-born maker discovered jewellery whilst traversing the waves of Central America, at a ring-making workshop in Nicaragua. She subsequently studied at Truror and Penwith College followed by Bishopsland Educational Trust, and has poured her love of the ocean into her work, using chasing and repousse to imitate the flow and movement of the sea.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I’ve always loved unique and different jewellery, and whilst I was travelling in Nicaragua, I did a jewellery-making course over there, and I loved the process, something about it really resonated with me. When I came back to the UK a few years later, I decided that I wanted to study jewellery and silversmithing, so I applied to do a degree. I got accepted, and things just progressed from there. Most recently, I’ve completed a second year at Bishopsland Educational Trust where I was artist in residence, and I’m now moving back to Cornwall. I’m happy and excited to start looking for a new studio here.
What can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine?
My new collection is called Chasing Waves. I’m a big surfer, that’s my passion, and recently I learned how to do chasing under Rod Kelly and just really found that I loved the whole process. I’ve developed this range in the past year, and it involves a lot of playing with textures and lines and letting the feel of the tools guide me. I can almost imagine that I’m surfing when I’m using the tool on the objects.
This collection is a development of last year’s work, and jewellery-wise I’ve really enjoyed using different gemstones and different colours, making gold alloys and combining them to make jewellery that is precious and can be treasured. When I’m out surfing, and I spent most of my time down on the coast, I notice things, like the movement of the water, or the traces that the water leaves behind on the sand and the rocks. I collect a lot of stuff from the beach, sea glass, all sorts of rocks, beach treasures. I cast shells, making them from my own moulds, and make shell-pendants, little talismans for people to wear, and if someone finds some sea glass, I might put that in a pendant for them as well. That’s really how I got started out.
What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level?
It was really an honour to be picked to do Shine 2020 alongside so many amazing makers, so personally it was it was a big, big achievement. It makes the last year of working and trying to put together a decent collection worth it, and on a professional level I think it’s just the start of applying for opportunities and hopefully getting accepted for them.
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?
From start to finish, I really enjoy the making immensely. Say I’m making a beaker and I’ve raised it up, it’s exciting after every round of raising to measure it up and see how far it’s gone out. Then I enjoy the cleaning and the polishing and applying the texture. I also like taking photographs of my work, I like to share what I’ve been doing, the whole process, so it’s a mixture of everything really.
But there’s nothing like when you’ve just finished a piece, when you’re burnishing areas or polishing it up and making it really nice, that’s my favourite part. Especially when you’re raising an object, because you’re hammering away at something that started out as a flat piece, trying to get it into a shape, and when it actually works and looks like your design, it’s amazing.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
The process has made me more organised, and taught me to plan everything better, and to work out timings when I’m making. I knew I wanted to get this collection together, so having a goal makes it a lot easier, it gives you something to work towards. Planning is not my strongest area but having deadlines and goals definitely helps you with that. I am coming towards the end of my journey at Bishopsland now, so I’m looking forward to the next part, and now I’ve got all this experience in terms of getting ready for and planning a new collection.
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 don’t really have an exact idea, I know that my friends and family really like what I’m doing, but the things that I’ve sold have been to completely different people. I sold a Chasing Waves dish, it actually went back to someone in Cornwall which was really nice, and I think the customer really liked that it had wave elements to it. Some of my designs are quite bold I think, and that would appeal to a certain type of person. I also try to insert some delicate textures though, so I’m hoping it can appeal to lots of different people.
Jewellery-wise, a lot of my work has been commissions, where people are asking me to make something specific for them. They chose me because they like my style, and I’m still trying to figure out what that is. Commissions are nice, it’s quite scary trying to get the commission right, but it’s really exciting to give the piece to the customer, if they love it, that’s the happiest moment, really satisfying.
What are you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?
It's really nice to meet the other makers and to discuss making with them. I’m really excited about being able to showcase my work alongside all the other makers at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, it’s slightly different this year because of Covid, but it’s still exciting to be able to do something like this online. Being a technophobe, I am useless with computers, so it’s really nice to have this chance and to see where it goes.
What's next - what are your creative and career goals for the next two years?
So, I would ideally like to start slowly setting up by myself at a studio. It takes a long time to get all the tools, when I first finished my degree I had a certain amount of tools to make jewellery, and then when I came to Bishopsland I discovered that I loved silversmithing as well, and that requires a whole other tool set which I am going to try to build up gradually. So when I get back to Cornwall, I’ll be looking for a studio to rent, and from there I plan to start building my business.