Meet the Maker – Leisa Howes Jewellery
In 2018, a difficult year filled with loss led Leisa Howes to reevaluate her life, take a break from banking after 29 years in the job, and brave a new career in jewellery and metal craft. We’re delighted she did because her work is beautiful. Combining influences such as British folklore, Norse mythology, ancient landscapes and the sea with hand-engraving and metal stamping techniques, her pieces have a distinctive, pictorial style. Here she talks to fellow Folksy designers Hannah and Matt from Etchable about her design process, the historical research that underpins her practice, and the therapeutic benefits of a creative routine during the current Coronavirus crisis.
Enjoy 15% off on all purchases from Leisa Howes until 14th April 2020 with discount code APRIL15.
I’m a bit of a dreamer and I’m really drawn to British folklore and mythology, standing stones, Neolithic rock carvings and also art dating back to the Middle Ages.Leisa Howes
Hi Leisa, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m originally from Manchester and moved to Hull in 1998, where I now live with my husband and two children. My daughter is at university and my son will be studying for his GCSEs next year. Although my husband is still working through the current Coronavirus crisis, it’s a full house at the moment with schools and universities now closed.
I initially started making jewellery by attending evening classes at Hull College in 2005, where I really enjoyed learning about the different processes involved in working with metal and had the opportunity to study towards a degree. I was really pleased to gain First-Class Honours in Three Dimensional Design Crafts (Jewellery) in 2011. Until last year, I worked in banking but I really wanted to give jewellery and metal craft a go full time and so, after 29 years in the job, I decided it was finally time to break out!
In 2018 I lost my mum to cancer and my daughter went to university. As well as dealing with grief, which was overwhelming, I felt quite redundant. So after 29 years in banking I took a career break, and that gave me the push I needed to change my career path and give jewellery and metal craft a go full time.Leisa Howes
We love the folk art influences in your work. How and when did you become interested in this style?
Although my style has naturally evolved over time, these influences have stayed with me from the very beginning. I’m a bit of a dreamer and I’m really drawn to British folklore and mythology, standing stones, Neolithic rock carvings and also art dating back to the middle ages – I remember my college tutor saying my work had a very distinctive style and was very pictorial. I feel it has been important for me to follow creative instinct, rather than trying to push myself in any particular direction with my work; finding new sources of inspiration through historical research opens up new avenues to explore and keeps my work exciting.
How are you finding life after going full time and how was the transition?
The transition to full-time artist came after a very difficult time in my life. I was working part time in banking, helping my mum and, of course, my children were younger so things were always a little hectic and I tried to keep my hand in jewellery making through all of this. In 2018 I lost my mum to cancer and my daughter went to university in the same year. As well as dealing with grief, which was very overwhelming, I also felt quite redundant. I took a career break which ultimately gave me the push I needed to change my career path. I didn’t expect being self employed to be easy, after years of having a steady income, but making jewellery and metal craft pieces does not feel like work at all. While there is a lot more to being self-employed than just making, I really enjoy doing something I love and also the freedom it affords me.
Designs often evolve as I’m making them and I love to work in this way – I’m never 100% sure what a finished piece will look like when I start out.Leisa Howes
How are you coping with everything that’s happening at the moment? Does making help?
I had been following news of the virus for a while before it reached pandemic level. I had a few days of not being able to focus on much else but had to take steps to deal with my rising levels of anxiety. I spent time doing little jobs in the garden which helped me and I have managed to push myself back into a creative routine. It’s been upsetting for us all in so many ways and like many self-employed people, the effect on my income has been quite devastating. Thankfully, I have got back into the swing of making and I feel very lucky that although we are in a lockdown situation I am able to busy myself – being creative has always been very therapeutic to me.
I feel it has been important for me to follow creative instinct, rather than trying to push myself in any particular direction with my work.Leisa Howes
Do you have a favourite technique/process when making your work?
I love to add detail using a combination of hand engraving, metal stamps, hammer texture and using my pendant motor. I can see the transformation in the pieces as I work, it was my favourite technique at college and still remains so today.
I have a viking ship sketch I’ve drawn and I will adapt this with each one I make, using my imagination as I’m working to make each ship a little different.Leisa Howes
Your little boat pendants have so much character! We wondered if there were any stories behind any of your pieces?
I love the sea and even though I don’t eat fish (and have a bit of a fish phobia) I’ve always loved the quirkiness of little fishing boats. I am also drawn to tales of mermaids and the history of the Vikings. I’ve been lucky to visit the Viking museum in Roskilde, Denmark, and also see runic stones in Sweden. I imagine my own little ships sailing away on an adventure, I really enjoy making them, each one a little different.
How are your designs developed? Do you work from sketches?
I work from quite basic sketches, for example, I have a Viking Ship I have drawn but I will adapt this with each one I make, using my imagination as I’m working to make each ship a little different. The same goes with other subjects such as hares and wildlife, I will sketch an animal and use this as a template to cut around with my jeweller’s saw and will then play around with ideas until I have something which I’m happy with. Designs often evolve as I’m making them and I love to work in this way – I’m never 100% sure what a finished piece will look like when I start out – I rarely conform to working from detailed completed designs on paper.
I sketch an animal and use this as a template to cut around with my jeweller’s saw and then play around with ideas until I have something which I’m happy with.Leisa Howes
We’ve spotted a few gemstones in your work. Is there a significance to your choices and do you have a favourite?
I have lots of favourites. Garnet, citrine, azurite, apatite, dendritic opal and many more. A lot of stones have interesting patterns that draw me to them and I’m often on the look out for certain sizes and shapes that I know will work well with my designs, for example the sails on my ships. I tend to source my stones from the same trusted suppliers – for me it’s not about expensive diamonds, I don’t work with such stones. Put me on a beach and I’ll spend most of my time looking down at pebbles!
The pandemic has been upsetting for us all in so many ways and, like many self-employed people, the effect on my income has been quite devastating. Thankfully, I have got back into the swing of making and have managed to push myself back into a creative routine.Leisa Howes
Do you have a favourite place to go to find inspiration?
We live on such a beautiful island. I have visited St Ives many times over the past 30 years and based my dissertation on the Family of Man by Barbara Hepworth, which helped with my study of patinas on metal at the time – some of her sculptures sit so naturally within the landscape and remind me of the Neolithic standing stones left by our ancestors.
For me it’s not about expensive diamonds, I don’t work with such stones. Put me on a beach and I’ll spend most of my time looking down at pebbles.Leisa Howes
I am really drawn to the landscape between St Ives and Land’s End and also the North Yorkshire Moors – atmospheric places with lonely trees, shaped by the harsh winds coming in from the sea. I also love The Lake District and the West Coast of Scotland, just being away from towns and cities makes me happy! I feel there are so many places that are part of my story and hopefully that will be reflected in my work in some way.
To celebrate being our featured seller, Leisa is offering a 15% discount on all purchases up until 14th April 2020 with discount code APRIL15.
Meet the Interviewer
The makers asking the questions this week are Hannah and Matt from Etchable, who make laser-cut, hand-finished gifts and homeware from their home studio in the Tyne Valley village of Crawcrook. Influenced by everything from British wildlife to cult TV, they offer fun, quirky, customisable pieces to make you smile.