Although silversmith Caius Bearder is currently artist in residence at the Glasgow School of Art, he retains an inseverable connection to his place of birth - the beautiful, rocky landscape of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands.
It’s Guernsey’s 42 miles of wild, ever-changing coastline that has inspired Caius’s Reflections in Silver Collection, which utilises traditional silversmithing techniques such as engraving and raising to recreate the ebb and flow of waves, and the intricate, organic textures of cliff faces and rock formations. Designed to be used, it’s when in motion that Caius’ silver tumblers and vessels really exhibit their full potential, capturing and refracting the light, much like sunlight hitting the rippling ocean surface.
Welcome Caius. What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
My first introduction to jewellery was when I was about fourteen years old, and it was just by complete fluke. I went to a night class, a series of three classes, and made little pendants very roughly cut out in the shape of octopuses. I was instantly hooked. I then did work experience with a local jeweller, working with them for the next two summers doing cast and clean up jobs. From that point, I had a pretty clear idea that that was what I wanted to do at university.
When I was at school, although I was really interested in academic subjects and did well, it was always the artistic subjects which really got my interest - art, design technology, woodwork, metalwork, those were the subjects that I felt the most passion for. All the way through my childhood, I was always drawing and painting. I always had a creative outlet in my life. When I discovered jewellery making, I found it was a good balance between my love of tiny details, precious metals, and high-quality finishing. It had all the elements of design and creativity that I was looking for in a profession, so it was perfect for me.
Can you tell us a bit about the collection you’ll be debuting at Shine 2022?
My collection is called Reflections in Silver, and it's an accumulation of work that I've done over the past year studying at Bishopsland Educational Trust. It's mostly larger scale silversmithing items with a couple of smaller pieces of jewellery. Most of the pieces are created using raising and larger, more traditional silversmithing techniques.
The main technique that I've been exploring in my work this year, however, has been engraving, and using multiple engraved lines to create organic flowing light patterns across the surface of pieces, trying to recreate the reflection of light on the water, as the collection is inspired by the ocean and rock walls around my home island, Guernsey.
How would you describe your design style?
The word organic comes to mind. Although I do a lot of designing on the computer using programs like Rhino, all of my designs feature flowing lines and curves, except for perhaps one in this collection, which has got straight sides. A sense of a flowing light play is really important to my work, and I aim to create pieces that are very refined, but also organic and elegant, with surface textures that reflect the textures of the coastline.
How do you get inspired?
Being in Reading at the moment, it's been quite difficult, as it’s my home island of Guernsey that inspires a lot of my pieces. I’ve had a lot of help from my family, who send over source material in the form of videos and photographs. I also have small shells and rocks that I use for one-to-one inspiration whilst in the workshop. When I am in Guernsey, I can take my dog out for a walk or go to the beach with my family, and whenever you're around the coastline, you can't really help but be inspired. You take something new away with you every single time. It could be a certain rock pool formation or waves crashing in different ways. It’s a constantly changing landscape, so there's always something fresh to inspire you.
I’m planning to move back up to Glasgow, but I think it's important to honour my roots back at home, and not lose my connection to the island, and my work does help me with that. Although there are obviously beautiful coastal landscapes across the UK, it's the Guernsey landscapes that will always be most special to me. So, I'll always be trying to take trips there, and get back in touch with my main source of inspiration.
Has this collection enabled you to explore any new techniques or materials?
When I was at university, as a student, I couldn't afford to work on a large scale and in silver, so I worked in copper and did some chasing, but realistically, I didn't have a lot of experience with surface texturing. Being at Bishopsland Educational Trust over the past year, I've moved from copper into working very comfortably with silver on almost a 9-to-5 basis.
Engraving is a technique which I hadn't used before - I’d never even picked up a graver. So, whilst creating this collection I’ve been learning to create my own tools, and then adapt different tools to create different effects and lines. From there, I have come up with this sort of stack line style, which gives that sense of glowing light play.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
My favourite piece is definitely my most recent whiskey tumbler. It's a straight sided tumbler, which I've raised up around quite a small stake, so the inside has a rocky, craggy look, whereas the outside is highly polished, with a band of wavelike engraving around it.
I'm really happy with how the piece sits in the hand, and the light play. It’s important to me that my work is picked up and used, because it’s the motion that a person puts into the piece when they’re using it which allows the light to reflect off the engraving. When it's in use, you get this beautiful sparkling effect, like you do when light ripples on the waves. I'm really happy with that piece, because it just captures everything I'm wanting to capture with the engraving technique.
Has mastering engraving been a challenging process?
Engraving is a labour of love. There's a number of times when you slip across your piece and leave a scratch or a mark. You have to take your time with it, and ultimately it becomes quite meditative, because you're sitting there, making hundreds, maybe thousands of cuts onto a single piece. You really do get into a sort of flow and a feel of working with the metal, knowing how sharp your graver is, being really in tune with all the small movements of your hand, because everything will change the angle of the cuts, how deep you're going, or how much material you're removing. So, it's a very involved process, but I really enjoy doing it - it's very satisfying when a piece is finished.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker?
I think the best thing about being a maker for me is the freedom to make beautiful, finished pieces that you know are uniquely yours, then ideally finding someone who will love the piece as much as you love it. Someone who is going to use the piece, keep it safe, keep it clean, keep it as a little personal treasure that you have created for them. It's an incredibly satisfying process, seeing something transform from a sketch into a physical finished piece, and knowing that it’s you who's made that - it's a little piece of you that you're able to give to someone else.
What kind of person do you think is most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general – do you have an ideal client in mind?
Obviously, because I work with larger scale pieces, they have the potential to possibly become family heirlooms. For example, they could be given as a gift, or be a commission for a couple who are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary or some other milestone. That kind of commemorative piece, for a personal event, I think is really special, and so the commission work is usually what I find the most satisfying. As a maker, if you're able to deliver on someone’s unique commission, you can't really ask for more. If the client is happy, you’re happy.
I also try to encourage my clients to use my pieces, because, as I've mentioned before, it’s imparting motion onto the object that creates this intricate light play. That doesn’t work if it's sat in a box or in a cabinet for the rest of time - it only really comes to life if it's being used, for example, if you’re drinking from the tumblers or pouring the vessels. It's a really important aspect of my work that it’s used and appreciated in motion.
What are your professional and creative goals for the next two years?
After my time here at Bishopsland Educational Trust, starting in September, I'll be one of the artists in residence at the Glasgow School of Art. So, I'll be going back there to do my own work and trying to advance my design style and career, as well as teaching. I’m really passionate about teaching. I’m looking forward to showing second, third-, and fourth-year students as much of my technical knowledge as I can. Even if I show a class of 25 the technique of engraving, and only two of them enjoy it or decide to continue developing it as a skill, that's two people who wouldn't have been able to do that technique at university before.
At the moment, I think silversmithing is a skillset that isn’t being taught as heavily at university as jewellery making, so in the long term I’d eventually love to move into teaching, as it’s incredibly satisfying watching someone not only develop a skill but put their own spin on it. That's one of the great things about university, you're never going to get someone coming up with the same idea as someone else. It's really lovely to see everybody coming up with unique ways of using traditional skills to make their own pieces.