Although Gwin Kerry used to dream about life as an artist, she never imagined herself as a jeweller. Her first calling was ceramics but she then began experimenting with enamel and, once she combined that with the process of etching copper, there was “no stopping” her. She now works from her studio in a converted grammar school producing jewellery that echoes the colours and patterns she remembers as a child of the 1970s alongside pieces influenced by the Derbyshire landscape that surrounds her. She also has a very large dog called The Moo.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I make copper and enamel jewellery and gift ware from my workspace at West Studios in Chesterfield. I also live in Chesterfield with my ridiculous giant dog Max (The Moo).
Did you always want to be a jeweller?
I always had a tiny dream hiding in the back of my head that I would be the romanticised struggling artist working earnestly in a studio somewhere. But not as a jeweller. I trained as a ceramicist at degree level at what was then The North East Wales Institute. Traditional jewellery made from gemstones and precious metals has never really interested me – I’m not interested in glitz and glamour.
Does your background in ceramics influence your jewellery making?
Definitely. I see patterns and ideas popping up that I didn’t resolve as a ceramist, so some of my work now is a natural extension of what I started at university. Working with ceramics gives you an underlying appreciation of materials and how they work, which helps you understand and push the physical limitations of what you are working with.
What drew you to working with enamel?
I wanted to begin a small-scale hobby at home that was relatively inexpensive to start with. I could start learning about enamelling with some copper offcuts, a couple of packs of powder and a cheap torch. After a bit of research it felt like the logical medium to try. When I combined it with the process of etching copper, which I knew from teaching students to make PCBs in school, there was no stopping me – ideas just happened.
You incorporate colour and texture in your work by using torch-fired vitreous enamel. Can you explain that process?
Very simply, enamel is glass. I use enamel powders sieved on to metal which when heated soften and bond with the metal to make a glassy decorative layer on the surface.
Can you talk us through one of your pieces from start to finish?
Most of my work begins on the computer. I’ll scan an image, design or generate a black and white pattern which I then print on to transfer paper. Using a heat press or iron the pattern resist is transferred on to sheet copper and acid etched. Alternatively I sometimes directly texture the sheet with hammers or use hand-painted resists. I then cut shapes from the textured sheet using shears (I can’t stand piercing saws – so fiddly!). Next, I clean and file the pieces and I also do the first polishing at this stage to minimise what needs to be done after enamelling. I’ll already have made any details ready for dropping into the molten enamel – such as drawn beads from wire.
Then the fun bit begins! After donning my stylish PPE and a final degrease of the metal, I sieve powder on to the copper, stand it on a trivet and heat the metal with a torch from beneath. Torch firing gives you a lot of control over the temperature which gives you scope to play around with effects like over-firing and oxidising your enamel. Usually I use several layers of combinations of opaque and transparent colours. After the piece cools it gets another clean and quick polish to remove fire stain and then it’s dropped into a solution of Liver of Sulphur to give the metal a patina, which after a final polish helps highlight the etched texture. To finish and fix the patina and prevent tarnishing, I use a lacquer, or wax coat.
How did you develop your style?
My style developed naturally. I’m very sentimental and have strong visual memories of growing up. Consequently many of the colours and patterns I use are related to household and clothing designs of the ’70s and ’80s and they relate to particular emotional memories. Others are directly linked to living in Derbyshire. I love talking to customers about the associations they make with particular colours and textures.
Are there any artists or designers who particularly inspire you?
I first studied sculpture at college, so I have a love for artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Anish Kapoor. Obviously ceramicists play a part too – my favourite being Gillian Lowndes who really pushed the boundary of what you are ‘supposed’ to do with clay and Lucy Rie who was a tiny woman who could make massive pots and approached surface decoration in a brilliantly simple way. There are many others including contemporary enamellists and jewellery designers.
What else influences your work?
It’s a bit of a cliché but, working and living in Derbyshire, I can’t help but be influenced by the beautiful Peak District and the woodland walks I go on with The Moo.
Can you describe your studio?
I’m lucky enough to work in West Studios which is a new ERDF project that has been set up in Chesterfield College. We have about 16 tenants and I share a lovely airy old grammar school classroom with three others: Sarah Pasley, an accomplished silversmith, Deborah Langner who is a ceramic artist and Miriam Griffiths who designs fabulous knitware.
What are your three favourite tools?
My torch, my battered shears and a lovely glass fibre brush that helps me clean even the tiniest etched detail.
We’ve heard you have a narrow boat. Tell us more…
My boyfriend and I do have a narrowboat which we are giving a new lease of life. Canal life is altogether fantastic and not nearly as romantic as it sounds! Any spare weekends are spent pootling on the canal, fixing up the boat and walking The Moo on the towpath. I love a candle-lit summer evening sat on deck with my family, a beer and a good book.
Finally, is there a piece of work you’re particularly proud of?
Rather than a particular piece of work I have achievements that I’m proud of. I’ve completed public art commissions, started a business after leaving a profession and earned studio space to work from. They’re all things that I never imagined I’d have opportunity to do. But if you tied me down I’d say I particularly like the colour and pattern combination of my Green Paisley Copper and Enamel Earrings. I really like the sprinkling of blue detail and you can’t go wrong with a good paisley pattern.