Meet the Maker: Silverpasta
Jess Smith from Silverpasta is an ecologist who likes to take her work home with her. Passionate about the wildlife she is surrounded by in her day job, she makes miniature animal sculptures from clay, carefully recording their details and markings to make sure each one is as close to nature as possible. We caught up with Jess to find out more about her clay creatures…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hello! I’m Jess and my shop is called Silverpasta. I’m 26 years old and I’m a sculptor and illustrator, working on small animal-inspired ornaments rather than 2D illustrations. I live in West London and spend my days as an ecologist, surveying for protected animals such as dormice, bats and newts. I get most of my inspiration from being outdoors surrounded by nature on a daily basis.
I spend my days as an ecologist and couldn’t resist taking my passion for wildlife home every evening and creating tiny pieces of British wildlife
Have you always been interested in craft and making?
Art was my favourite subject at school and I loved drawing and making crafts as a child. I can remember when I was 10, I was asked to make an insect out of lolly sticks and wire… while the rest of the class made simple things, I created a tiny scorpion with legs, pincers and a stinging tail. Unfortunately I left art behind when I embarked on a career in conservation but soon I couldn’t resist taking my passion for wildlife home every evening and creating tiny pieces of British wildlife. I’ve been making and selling crafts for four years now and love every moment of it.
I make sure I have picked up all of the significant features of each animal to make it as realistic as possible.
Where did the idea for your wildlife creations come from?
Nature and wildlife has always been my biggest inspiration. When I started working as an ecologist, I had the opportunity see lots of tiny cute creatures such as dormice, bats and hundreds of different birds. I wanted to be able to take them home with me and display their beauty on a shelf. Being a wildlife lover, I didn’t fancy taxidermy, so thought I would put my skills to the test and try to create tiny ornaments of each animal. Adding each tiny detail to my birds and other creatures makes me appreciate how beautiful nature is and helps improve my bird identification skills when out in my job.
Adding each tiny detail to my birds and other creatures makes me appreciate how beautiful nature is.
Where do you look for inspiration?
There are so many different species of animal in the world, I constantly feel inspired! I focus mainly on British wildlife but sometimes a David Attenborough series will open my eyes to another beautiful animal from the Amazon rainforest or Sahara desert. When I’m stuck for ideas, I flick through one of my many wildlife books to look for new inspiration or browse the internet for beautiful creatures I may not have come across before.
Can you explain how you make your animals?
Each animal starts with a piece of air-dry modelling clay. The clay I use is very light and comes in the basic colours (white, red, yellow and blue). Colours can be mixed together to create any colour in the spectrum, however, most of my animal ornaments start with pure white. Once I’ve decided on a particular animal, I mould the clay to make a basic shape of that animal. I then leave the clay to one side for a week or two until it’s dry enough to decorate. I use Faber Castell artist ink pens to decorate my pieces. I try to use a large number of different shades of each colour to create a more vibrant and interesting ornament. I use reference books or images from the internet to make sure I have picked up all of the significant features of each animal to make it as realistic as possible. Once the detail work is finished, I varnish each piece to give it some protection from humidity and wear and tear.
I would say that my butterflies are probably the pieces I am most proud of
Do you have a favourite piece?
It’s really difficult to choose a favourite piece because I’m constantly adding to my collection. However, I would say that my butterflies are probably the pieces I am most proud of. I was asked a few times whether I could make butterflies but was unsure how to start. Earlier this year, I set myself a challenge to make a butterfly a day for a whole month. It was a difficult challenge – especially finding 1-2 hours every day to work on a new design. However, I completed it and ended up with 30 butterfly ornaments, so I decided to start selling them and donate 10% of the sales to Butterfly Conservation. Animals have inspired my whole life so I feel very passionate about conserving them. I also made a few dozen badgers last year and donated the proceeds to the Badger Trust, who work tirelessly against the badger cull.
Pretty much anywhere my pens and clay can go, will at some point be my studio!
Can you tell us about your studio? Where is it, what does it look like and what’s in it?
My studio is everywhere and anywhere! My inspiration comes from being outdoors, so often it starts there as I sometimes sketch or write down ideas while I’m out. At home, I don’t have one room dedicated to my crafts but they tend to take over the whole house – particularly around busy periods such as Christmas. I have CD racks in different rooms that I use as my drying shelves, and a large desk that I use for most of my detailed pen work. Pretty much anywhere my pens and clay can go, will at some point be my studio!
I have the best job in the world – spending my days with nature and my evenings recreating them with my own style.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft means everything to me. I love going out for a walk in the country, seeing a tiny bird in the hedgerow and then taking that idea home and creating a tiny piece of wildlife. There’s nothing better than a customer buying that piece of art and sending you a photograph of it on their shelf at home, where it’s admired. I have the best job in the world – spending my days with nature and my evenings recreating them with my own style.
Who are your heroes of craft?
My favourite artist of all time is Damien Hirst – particularly his butterfly stained glass works, which are beautiful. I also admire illustrators such as Katie Scott, who has published two books based around her animal and botanical illustrations. Mostly, I discover other artists and crafters on Folksy whose work I fall in love with. I’m constantly inspired by other artists who have started their business in the same way as mine and are now full time artists.
Animals have inspired my whole life so I feel very passionate about conserving them.
Are you doing anything special for Christmas this year?
Christmas is my busiest time of year for making. Not only do I sell lots of animals as Christmas presents but I also have my own range of Christmas tree decorations, with 14 unique designs. At the moment, I’m working hard on making enough of each design, as well as preparing for Christmas markets and keeping my shop stocked. It’s busy but a very enjoyable time of year for me.