Last year jeweller Claire Gent was our best-selling maker* – which, considering there are thousands of designers and makers on Folksy, is a pretty huge achievement. So we thought it was about time we caught up with Claire to discover more about her work and inspirations, and what made her move from a career as a product designer to establishing her own jewellery business – a very good move, as it turns out…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I’m mum to a four year old and we live in Devon on the edge of Dartmoor. It’s lovely being able to pop up to the moor for a bit of fresh air and to burn off some energy (my son, not me… I need to gain some!). I work from home, which is a great solution to combine working with a small person around. If I had time for interests they would be reading, watching films and something sporty (tennis, maybe), but I do enjoy going out for a meal with my girlfriends once in a while.
You originally worked as a product designer. How and why did you move to jewellery?
I designed lights for a company that mass produce them in China and supply a lot of major UK stores. I loved it for a while but became more and more interested in craft and finally took an evening course in silversmithing, which ignited a bit of a new passion. I think part of it was that I wanted lovely handmade jewellery for myself but couldn’t afford it, then once I started making I couldn’t stop!
Does your background in product design help your jewellery making?
Yes, definitely. I think once you’ve developed a way of designing you can apply those skills to many different things, although I think it helps to have an interest in whatever product you decide to design.
You work in aluminium, sterling silver and copper. What is it that draws you to those materials and how do they differ?
Silver was the first material I used when jewellery was a hobby, but when I did my BTEC I was introduced to aluminium and copper in different projects. Aluminium is great because it’s a fantastic colour carrier, is lightweight and also inexpensive. It also allows me to play around with drawing and illustration, which I’ve enjoyed for years. Copper also allows the addition of colour in a more limited way, but I like the appearance of different metals combined within one piece.
You have mentioned before that you’d like to develop an enamel range. Can you tell us more about that?
This was another project that I did at college and really enjoyed, again because it allows the use of colour and illustrative qualities. I bought a kiln when I first set up my business and embarrassingly haven’t used it yet. Maybe in 2015!
You say you like to play around with illustration in your work. Have you always drawn?
Yes, I love drawing and wish I had the time to sit and draw properly more often. These days it tends to be a quick sketch. I’d love to try painting too at some point.
Do you have a sketchbook? If so, how do you use it?
I have several and I long to be one of those people who has a beautifully presented sketchbook with little notes and collages and things. The reality is lots of scruffy thumbnail sketches on loose pieces of paper scattered around my office!
Where do your ideas come from?
A lot of my work is nature related and I guess that’s partly down to living where we live, although I’ve always loved nature. I find inspiration all over the place: children’s books (I love some of the quirky illustrations), fashion and home magazines, interesting photography and so on.
Are there any artists or designers who particularly inspire you?
I don’t think I’m directly inspired by a particular artist, but there are loads I admire. I’m particularly interested in printmaking at the moment and love the work of Eric Ravilious and Angie Lewin. I also love mid-century design icons such as Lucienne Day and Charles and Ray Eames.
Can you describe your studio?
I have a tiny workshop attached to my house, which is where all the metalworking happens. It has a custom built bench which is probably about 2/3 of the usual size as a standard one wouldn’t fit! My ‘clean’ work (drawing/admin) happens in the dining room, which is converted into my office.
What are your three favourite tools?
Hmm, that’s a difficult one. My bench shear, which makes cutting aluminium sheet so much easier; my frosting wheel (I call it the wheel of danger as it is slightly hazardous – but I love the finish so it’s worth it) and I can’t live without my Macbook!
Finally, how will you be spending this Christmas?
With family and playing with my son’s new toys. I can’t wait!