A fascination with the urban landscape is at the heart of the Caledonian Collection, a range of silverware and jewellery created by Scottish maker Ellys May Woods for Shine 2020, our annual talent showcase.
Inspired by the bridges that tower over the Firth of Forth in Scotland, the collection is a testament to Elly’s precision in techniques such as scoring, wire working, etching and folding, for which she received the Contemporary British Silversmiths graduate member award in 2018, and the Goldsmiths’ Centre Precious Metal Grant in 2019. From her workshop in Linlithgow, West Lothian, she recently spoke to the Centre about her career so far, including her participation in Shine 2020.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
I’ve always been really creative. When I was younger, I’d always make things from plastic bottles and card, and that’s kind of where it all started. I left school not really knowing what I wanted to do or what was out there, so I enrolled in a portfolio course at Glasgow School of Art, just to see what I enjoyed doing most and what I was good at. I naturally gravitated towards 3D making, so I applied for the silversmithing and jewellery course there, and then studied there for four years. That’s been me ever since.
What can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at Shine?
So the collection that I’ll be showing at Shine is the Caledonian Collection, and that is inspired by architectural structures throughout Scotland, mainly three bridges across the Firth of Forth. I wanted to reflect the scale of these structures in my work, and also show how the forms transform and distort as you travel across, depending on what angle you’re looking at them. I tried to capture all of that in the collection, using techniques like scoring and folding metal to create angles.
I think the sheer size of architecture is what drew me to it. I like being able to walk around buildings and look up at them, and it’s mostly minimal, modern stuff that I’m attracted to; clean, sleek and simple design. I’ve always been drawn towards straight lines – my family often laugh and say I’ve got so many items of clothing that are stripy, that it’s ridiculous. My process will often involve going on walks, taking lots of photos of architecture, and then making card models from those photos. So I’ll pick out shapes and forms that I like from the images and make three-dimensional models that are quite quick and easy to chop and change, and I’ll develop those before starting to work in silver.
What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level?
I just feel really lucky to have been selected, and there's a lot of makers featured in previous year’s Shine exhibitions that I really admire, so it’s quite a nice confidence boost to be included in that group of people. I think as makers we kind of get wrapped up in our own bubble, with our own workshop, so it’s nice that my work has been recognised by the Goldsmiths’ Centre, and to get this opportunity to meet other makers.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
That everything always takes a lot longer than you actually think! I think the main thing is probably to embrace mistakes, I usually get quite bogged down when things go wrong or don’t go to plan, but I’ve since learned that when that happens, something good can evolve from my mistake. So, I think I’ve learned to stay positive during all of the crazy that’s going on.
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?
I think for me, it's the development of a piece from a basic idea. So seeing a piece kind of grow from nothing, and being able to create something from a design into an object that you can physically touch and hold and wear, that’s the most satisfying thing, and then if someone else appreciates it, wants to buy it, wear it or have it in their home, that’s an added bonus.
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 think someone who appreciates minimal design, who can see the simplicity of my work and view it as a statement. Maybe also someone from Scotland, or someone who has a relationship with the country, the places and the people, as they might appreciate a piece of work that’s handcrafted in and inspired by Scotland.
What are you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?
I’m excited about it being the first digital version. I think it’s been tough for everyone over the past wee while, so it’s good to be a part of something positive that’s come from something so negative and worrying. So, I’m looking forward to seeing everything come together and launch online. It’s going to have a huge reach this year, and I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks.
What's next - what are your creative and career goals for the next two years?
I’ve got quite a lot of ideas for a new silverware collection that's inspired by other parts of Scotland, so I’m excited to get started on that and will hopefully have that finished next year, then I’ll apply for the Goldsmiths’ Fair. I’m hoping to have my online shop completely up and running soon to begin selling jewellery through that, so we’ll see how that goes, as this is a really good opportunity to focus on that.