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Inspiration

Posted on by Eleanor Swinhoe

I am constantly inspired by all sorts of things around me.  And the problem is that sometimes I have to switch off the ideas part of my brain in order to get on with the job in hand.  I find myself jumping up from my seat throughout the day to further research an idea or delve through my drawers of stones and metal – before I know it, I’ve used up another hour of my “making” day trying to work out another new idea.

 Eleanor Christine Jewellery

Eleanor Christine Jewellery

When I started making jewellery I actively sought out inspiration and I probably looked in the more obvious places – I marvelled at the work of other jewellers and invested in book after book of exquisite and inspiring jewellery.  It wasn’t that I had the skill or experience to try to recreate that work, but I would be inspired by small details that would lead me into a style of my own.  For example, the textures created on metal, or the simple beauty of a hand-made clasp, or the mixing of metals to create contrasting colour.

One of the first places that I visited was the jewellery collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum – I was mesmerised by the techniques that goldsmiths have used for hundreds of years – the days when making jewellery required many years of apprenticeship and a maker would hone one particular skill until it was perfect – engraving, enamelling, filigree.  But I was mainly drawn to tribal and primitive jewellery – in fact I always have been.  It is the materials that speak to me most – I love the malleability of metal, the way it can be shaped in ways you would not have believed possible.  I still have my sketchbook from my first visit to the V&A (you can’t take photos) – I was drawn to pattern and sculptural shape.

My biggest inspiration is Alexander Calder – he had a modernist take on tribal ornament.  All his life he carried pliers and bits of wire in his pockets.  As he once put it “I think best in wire”.  Calder is now best known for his sculpture and his huge scale mobiles, but he was working out his ideas in jewellery.  The first time he exhibited his jewellery in 1929, it was right beside his sculpture and his paintings.  I love the beaten metal (he doesn’t polish out the marks), and I love the repeated swirls of the almost liquid metal.  I find his work hugely sexy and edgy.

 Alexander Calder Jewellery pieces

Alexander Calder Jewellery pieces

As well as Calder, there is Henry Moore and Picasso – again, that primitive yet modern approach.  The shapes, weight, and pattern that they create with simple lines utterly inspires me.  The hollow spaces are just as crafted as the solid material.

Colour and texture have developed as a major component of my work – I think that the inspiration for this comes mainly from my love of gems.  The stones that I find drive me to design around them – what will set them off well?  How can I make the most of that shape and colour?  However, I spend a long time studying colour too.  I like unusual colour combinations and the best place to see this is in nature.  My Pinterest board is full of butterflies and beetles, toadstools and flowers – they aren’t afraid of colours “clashing”, they like it dramatic – nature does it very well!   I stumbled across an exhibition of photographs by Jo Whaley – her book is called “The Theatre of Insects”.  Wow, it was just incredible – I simply had to buy the book.  The insects themselves, of course, are spectacular, but she would juxtapose them against certain backgrounds– for example a heavily rusted piece of metal, a peeling painted door, or a black and white score of music.  The backgrounds made the insects look even more jewel-like, detailed, and ornamental.

Architecture and interior decoration can even inspire me – I like the ruggedness of a skyline and just look at Charles Rennie Macintosh.  I still intend to make some jewellery based on his roses.

 Charles Rennie Macintosh

Charles Rennie Macintosh

My most recent inspiration has come from animals - tigers and leopards.  Could there be more striking patterns than their coats?  It isn’t only the pattern but the texture of fur that interests me.  I have designed some pieces for men based on tiger print, and some statement women’s pieces with “leopard print”.  The metal is brushed like fur, and layered, pierced, and oxidised to give the appearance of different tones of colour.

 Leopard Print Cuff - Eleanor Christine Jewellery

Leopard Print Cuff - Eleanor Christine Jewellery

I think that it’s fair to say that I’m rather a sponge – soaking up that inspiration from all around me.