Artist Spotlight: Dale Virginia – Jewellery Designer

I am quite new to working in silver and making jewellery and am still finding my way as an artist.  Making  jewellery has given meaning to my working life as I have gradually discovered that I can actually have an income from doing something that gives me pleasure and fulfilment on different levels.  I love using my creativity in this way as almost everyone wears and enjoys jewellery in one form or another and while it couldn’t be said to be practical exactly, it is nonetheless a meaningful and symbolic form of art. I guess I love the idea of making art that people keep with them as they go about their lives and I enjoy the knowledge that my work is bringing  joy to people – that on Christmas morning, or mother’s day or valentine’s day there will be presents being opened that I have made and that my work has become an expression of people’s love for each other.  I always have the eventual wearer in mind when I make stuff and feel blessed to have discovered that I can do this.

Usually, I develop new ideas when I should be doing something else!  I may have a ‘To do’ list as long as my arm but I find myself ‘just trying something out’ before I start on the chores.  I also doodle a lot in front of the telly.  I get a basic idea then repeat parts of the design over and over until it is spot on, often replicating parts of it by using masking tape to trace the design then combining all the best bits from different attempts until the balance is right.  I will also frequently mooch about in my garden with a camera taking random close-up pictures of leaves and tendrils and flowers and these are often in my mind when I am trying out new designs.

 Inspiration is very important to me and I couldn’t work without the influx of new ideas.  My work is almost entirely linked to my enthusiasm for my garden and plant and insect life generally so I just pick up ideas as I go along, either gardening or keeping an eye on the hedgerows when I am walking my dog.  As I tend to stay close to home in my daily life I think I look more closely at the things around me and that is the formation of seeds, the unfurling of leaves and I really love the curly tendrils you get with climbing plants.

I don’t often have a lull in ideas, I see things around me all the time that give me new ideas and I have more of a problem reaching a point in my work where I can try out new things and have time to develop it into a range while maintaining the ranges I already have on the go.  My sketch books are backed up with things I haven’t had time to make yet so when I’m not sure what to do I flick through till something catches my eye.

I always had creative ability but it was only relatively recently that I realised this was a real talent.  I began by making my own Christmas cards, trying a new technique each year and finding they turned out rather well but all my ideas were just off the top of my head as I have had no formal arts training.  In my late thirties I became interested in botanical watercolours as the detail and cleverness of plants always interested me but it was another 10 years, while miserable in a very boring job on a checkout that I saw an advertisement for a short beginners course in silver work at my local arts centre.  It was serendipity that while I was considering this an elderly customer started chatting to me about his happy working life and it turned out that he was a jeweller.  Naturally I told him I was thinking about the silver course and it was his encouragement that spurred me on to sign up.  The rest, as they say, is history. I took the course and immediately took to it and discovered my natural ability. If I stop to think about it I am still surprised to find myself where I am now, three years later.

Becoming an artist has given my life a new meaning. I have a 10-year age gap between my two children and having always been a single parent, work has been something of a juggling act over the years.  My work as an artist is fulfilling and has given me a new confidence and direction.

I work in a specific style and do have certain ranges that I repeat but I always stress that as each piece is individually handmade they will never be identical.  I see this as a practical necessity.  I do however also like to develop new ideas and many of these will not be repeated.

The process of managing my small business has been just as much of a steep learning curve as making the work itself, and one that is almost as rewarding and fulfilling.  I have had to learn from scratch how to photograph my work, maintain my website, deal with the paperwork and so many other unexpected jobs associated with running a small business.  With constraints on my time due to children and grandchildren and general pressures of life I know that I will not be able to keep making jewellery at all if I cannot make it pay as I don’t have a lot of spare time for hobbies!

I’m not sure that I would change anything very much if money were no object because I see my business as a whole and enjoy seeing it grow.  Probably the only way I would change things would be to get a cleaner for my house as one of the drawbacks of working at home seems to be that there is less time for housework rather than more!

I’d love to do some more training.  I love talking to other jewellers and picking up new ideas and ways of doing things. I am largely self taught and while I am confident in what I do I would kind of like to see how things might develop if I spent some more time experimenting.

I would like to learn to make lockets.  When I was a teenager a very special great aunt left me all of her jewellery, very little of which was of any valuable but was a treasure trove none the less and this strange collection of Victorian and Edwardian pieces has been a big influence on me since I started making jewellery myself.  I think the relatively simple, classic style of my designs reflect this influence and many of my designs would lend themselves to becoming lockets which I feel would be a natural progression for me.  I see my jewellery as being essentially a beautiful keepsake. There is nothing flashy about what I do and that is the way I intend it to be.

It’s important to me to have a dedicated work space and I am fortunate to have a room in my house specifically for working but it is rather dark and cold which has been a problem.  In the next couple of weeks I am having a window put in that will give me a lot more light to work by and give me view of my garden.  As most of my ideas come from my garden I am looking forward to this very much.

Dales work is available in the gallery until 3rd Febrary 2013.

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