Sarah Devonald – Jewellery

posted in: artist spotlight 1

Ideas that just arrive in my mind as I try to sleep, or sitting on a train, or reading a book, or looking at paintings, or listening to music sustain my creativity. Playing with colour and shape. Experimenting with forms and textures.

Precious metals are great for contrasting smooth, neatly finished surfaces, with organic, more chaotic pattern. I take photos of interesting natural texture such as frost patterns on glass, or the froth of seawater on flat sand. I then experiment with achieving similar textures in metal and enamel, often through a process of trial and error. I also love to play with the juxtaposition of colours – think of jellybeans in a jar, or a well-stocked wool shop.

The key for me is melding inspiration and work. The urge to work with my hands in order to create something tangible sometimes kick-starts the creative process, while at other times the image of a moth, a leaf or a sunset might suggest a particular ingredient for a piece of jewellery. Once the process is going it can be hard work until about half-way through a creation, after which the brain coasts more and the hands completely take over, in order to make sure the piece is as perfect as originally envisaged. Some things change along the way though, as I have to sort out the mechanics of the piece, so that it can be worn.

I’m also a musician, teacher and radio producer, so there are always lots of other things going on in my life. Sometimes the structure of a piece of music I’m playing suggests a structure of a piece of jewellery. I scribble an idea or a sketch down and when I’m in my workshop try and make sense of it! Playing with colour and texture is also a great way of getting over those ‘blank sheet of paper’ moments.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to make things, whether with paper, fabric, wool, audio, or music. I suppose I had 3D training in making Airfix kits and model houses from the age of about 8 and as a music student knitted countless customized jumpers for people in exchange for all sorts of things. It felt very natural to eventually become a mature student at the Sir John Cass College of Art and satisfy the ‘making’ need.

After the difficult ‘working towards’ moments of inspiration that ebb and flow, and sometimes frustratingly disappear, it’s fantastic to be actually making something you hope is going to look pleasing – the processes of filing, enamelling, sanding, polishing, making intricate links are completely absorbing. Following an idea through to a finished object is one that I recognize in all sorts of other things that I do – from cooking to planning a concert.

I used to make all my own oboe reeds to play on – a tedious and demanding business. But now I buy them from other makers and modify them, preferring to spend ‘making’ time on jewellery. Especially as only about 1 in 5 finished reeds turns out to be worth playing on…


I’ve gradually evolved a style over time, but every piece is individual and a one-off, as colour and pattern in enamelling and etching vary slightly with each piece. I have worked with clients on commissions in the past, which has been interesting, as their ideas sometimes lead me into new areas of style and design.

I try not to let the costs affect the way I work, but clearly there’s a big outlay on materials when making precious metal jewellery, so I sometimes tailor my designs accordingly – especially as gold and silver prices have been very high in recent years.


People always have a need for something beautiful or imaginative or unique in their lives (whether they realize it or not I think) so artists will keep creating, and hoping that others will enjoy what they create.

I learnt some basic hand-engraving techniques at art college, but wasn’t great at it. The most difficult thing is keeping your graver really sharp (and not gouging chunks out of your hands). I’d like to be more skilled at this, for engraving pieces to be enamelled.

I’m lucky to have a small studio space, with an enamelling kiln and just about everything else I need to make jewellery. It’s a challenge to keep it tidy as I work – like keeping on top of washing up as you cook. If I don’t keep putting things away I end up with tools everywhere, which is when a jump-ring or a catch I’ve just spent hours making will disappear, and I have to spend more time looking for it…



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