Leisa Howes Jewellery and Metal Craft
Hull, East Yorkshire
What first inspired you to become a full-time jeweller?
I started a part time jewellery making class at Hull College in 2005. I soon became fascinated by the processes involved in working with metal and as the course progressed I had the chance to study towards a degree in Three Dimensional Design Crafts (Jewellery) graduating in 2011 with first class honours. For several years I would fit jewellery making around family life and my part time job until early this year I decided to leave banking so that I could concentrate on a full-time creative path. Due to family commitments it is not something I could have transitioned to earlier but I would not have that any other way. The lovely thing about being creative and working for yourself is that age is irrelevant, and so now in my early 50's I find myself working as a full-time jeweller!
Why did you choose jewellery?
I have always loved arts and crafts and having spent much of my career in banking I needed a creative outlet. I looked at what evening classes were available locally and by chance found a jewellery class. I had no idea about the processes involved in making jewellery and working with metal and I thought it would be fun to learn a new skill.
Talk us through the creative process and how you generate ideas and inspiration for your new work.
I love nature and escaping to the coast and country, hares feature a lot in my work but I am introducing other wildlife too! I am interested in mythology/folklore and so maybe this is why I love mermaids also. I'm very much drawn to the past, Neolithic standing stones, ancient rock carvings, pre/early Christian beliefs, the Viking era and also imagery from the middle ages. There is so much inspiration everywhere but mine is almost always from looking back into our past and from being out there with nature. I sketch images which I feel will work well in silver and copper, playing around with ideas until I am happy to start the making process. Often my initial designs will change and grow as I'm working on a piece, I like to work this way rather than having to stick with rigid plans.
Take us through the physical / technical process of creating your work.
I make jewellery mainly in sterling silver and also little boxes and other metal craft pieces using silver, copper and brass. I transfer my paper design onto metal sheet, piercing out shapes with my jewellers saw. I add detail with my hand engravers and also pattern the surface of the metal using hammers and steel stamps, giving each piece its uniqueness. If I'm making a ring or box I may need to anneal the metal several times, this is where I heat the metal (not too much!) with my jewellers torch to make it more malleable. Hammering and continually bending metal, work hardens it and although this is good as you need your finished pieces to hold their shape, too much hammering and bending can stress your piece and cause it to split or fracture. Everything is soldered into place using my jewellers torch, working with solders that melt at different temperatures as often I need to solder several components in one piece. I start with hard silver solder and finish with easy, this means that you don't undo what you've already soldered. I use what's called a pickle pot, with a warm solution of non-toxic safety pickle to clean and remove any flux and oxides left behind by soldering/annealing. The final stages include polishing the metal, often adding a patina to darken areas of the piece and setting any stones, I should add that throughout the whole process a lot of sanding and filing takes place too!
How do you know when you're happy with what you have created?
Every piece is different and when you spend so much time on one thing it can be easy to overwork it. I always stop when I'm tired now, putting my work down and returning to it the following day. It is much better to view what I have made with fresh eyes in natural daylight, this way I can make sure I am happy with what I have made. I still have the odd time where I may be unhappy with a finished piece, these don't make it to sale and I have accepted that failure is something to learn from, frustrating as this can be at the time!
What are the frustrations of the end-to-end process of creating jewellery.
The whole process is quite time consuming and I sometimes feel frustrated that I'm not producing enough work. Once pieces are finished, I have to allow for hallmarking timescales where applicable and I spend a lot of time taking pictures to obtain images that I am happy with, jewellery can be quite difficult to photograph. I am also aiming to post more on social media, I get lost in the making process and sometimes forget! I guess the beauty of handmade is that work is not mass produced and the end result, although following a slower process will have its own beauty and uniqueness, this is why I always buy and support other artists/makers work.
If resources were no barrier; what would be your 'masterpiece'?
If I did not have to worry about budget, I would love to make a box in gold with beautiful gemstones and have fun making it without fear of it going wrong and losing a small fortune!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring jeweller?
As a student I interviewed a very talented lady sculptor, jeweller and medallist who advised always to stay true to yourself and not necessarily follow trends. This is very important to me and I would be reluctant to work on pieces that were not in my style of making as I feel this would not reflect who I am. I think that’s good advice for any aspiring jeweller. Also, that you need a lot of patience, there is a lot to learn and the learning process is something that doesn't end after finishing a jewellery course, you continually develop, the more you make the better you become, it takes time. That’s two pieces of advice!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To believe in yourself, lack of confidence can be a big stumbling block and I would say, don't mess up at school!
You can find an array of Leisa's work available in store at Tiny Gallery and a selection of her pieces here on our website.