Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting Chatty with Eels Jewellery...

Some examples of Eels Jewellery.

I approached the lovely Tenille awhile ago to talk about her amazing scrimshaw works under the label Eels Jewellery.  Being a tapestry artist, I love talking to other makers/designers and artists who are using very old school and traditional skills to create new and contemporary works.  I adore seeing these skills stay alive and not be forgotten by a new and younger generation.  A huge shout out and thanks to Tenille (and apologies for not getting this lovely interview up sooner!) Enjoy!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from?
I am originally from Lithgow, in the Blue Mountains. My parents own a wildlife sanctuary there. I have lived in the Inner West of Sydney for 9 years.

2. What do you do and make? What is your label?
My main production label is called Eels Jewellery. It is a handmade collection of limited edition and one-off contemporary jewellery featuring the traditional technique of scrimshaw. I make my pieces from recycled organic materials like buffalo horn and bone and combine these with sterling silver and other metal findings. In addition to this scrimshaw range I also regularly exhibit other contemporary jewellery, objects and sculpture work.

3. What brought you to scrimshaw? How did you learn it?
In 2007, in my final year studying Jewellery and Object Design at the Design Centre Enmore I had a subject called Traditional Processes in Contemporary Practice. It was more of a theory based subject, involving the investigation of a traditional jewellery process and essay writing with a small amount of technical experimentation and sampling. More conventional topics for this subject would have been things like enamelling, filigree, inlay and stone carving.

The choice of specialising in scrimshaw was kind of driven by my love of the vintage nautical aesthetic, Antiques Roadshow and old-school sailor tattoos. Although not traditionally a jewellery technique, it is similar in process to etching and engraving. I basically taught myself through research, experimentation, sampling, trial and *lots of* error.

4. Where can people find your amazing work?
I have a little Etsy store that I keep a few pieces listed on. although most of the work I get through online sources is commission based. People will see something they like and then email me for a custom piece. I actually really love making custom work. As each piece is handmade and the materials are organic, no two pieces will ever be alike anyway. In addition to this, I have made a small range of exclusive pieces for the new Melbourne store, Edition X which also has an online gallery and store. In Sydney, my only stockist is Collect at Object Gallery in Surry Hills. I also have a few pieces in The Curious Oyster Shoppe in Thornbury and Polly Put the Kettle On in Geelong.

Scrimshaw necklaces.

5. What are the preconceptions of your medium? Are there any weird and wonderful comments that you get because it is unusual?
My work invites a lot of story-telling. Which I love! Scrimshaw really is a form of pictorial story-telling in itself. My own carved illustrations often contain the suggestion of a history, journey and a story. I get a lot of interest from older people who have a direct experience of its history to share. I hear lots of stories about great-grandfathers who were whalers, antique Sperm Whale teeth that have lived on mantel pieces for generations and tales of other personal, family and cultural links to this technique. People are usually quite excited to see scrimshaw still being practiced. Those that haven’t seen it before usually love to hear about it, though I do receive quite a few negative reactions to the horn and bone products I use. Generally though, once I explain my preference to use recycled, ethically sourced organic materials over petro-chemical based plastics, most people are ok with it. I also get some comments about how I can be a vegetarian and still use these products in my work.

Tenille hard at work!

6. Where do you create? Are you a studio gal or at home?
I am currently working from home, though I have a small studio space and bench set up there. I would love to have a separate studio again! I used to be so much more productive when I had that luxury. But I also run another business and have a toddler to take care of, so I make do at home.

7. Is there a soundtrack to your making? What do you listen to?
I tend to put country music on when I’m making jewellery; oldies like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline as well as contemporary bluesy country style artists like CW Stoneking, Cat Power, Band of Horses, Gillian Welch, Grizzly Bear and The National. Saying that though, that soundtrack is always peppered with laughter, squeals, crashes, bangs and plenty of crying from my little boy. And is occasionally replaced by the theme from ‘In the Night Garden’ or something by Justine Clarke.

8. Describe a ‘usual day’ for you and Eels Jewellery?
I spend half of the week at my house in Sydney and half of the week in the Blue Mountains, where I run my family’s restaurant. So that means that generally, my Eels work is all done between Monday and Wednesday. With some exceptions when I have an event or exhibition. I have my son Cash at home with me on those days too so this often means getting my ‘dirty’ jobs, like cutting, sanding, drilling and polishing done during my son’s nap-time and then doing final polishing and scrimshandering at the kitchen table. I also do a lot of my carving work late at night after he has gone to bed. I get all my emailing, marketing, designing, drawing, ordering and packing done while he’s playing or eating or running around in the yard. It’s amazing how easy it is to multitask when you have a smart phone and a laptop! I also make trips to the post office via baby gym or the park. This year I have tried to outsource more of the initial material cutting and tried to source pieces of horn and bone that didn’t need as much preparation work so I can focus on the actual scrimshaw aspect.

9. What are 3 words that you would use to describe your work?
Unique, nautical, narrative.

The lovely Tenille and her little boy!

10. What is your dream for Eels Jewellery? Where do you hope to be in 5 to 10 years?
I am not really interested in being stocked in a whole range of stores, or even making and selling more work in terms of quantity. I am interested in perfecting my craft and making my work more and more valuable. Basically, having a more exclusive range at a higher price. Pricing appropriately is always something that has been troublesome for me as an artist. Pricing your work for its true value is difficult. But I know undervaluing your work does a disservice to all craftspeople and the designer/maker industry. I would love to be able to make a full time living out of commission work. I would also love to create some more conceptually in-depth scrimshaw pieces for exhibition. The thought of possibly doing workshops or teaching has also crossed my mind. In addition to my Eels work, I want to do more group exhibition work and possibly even open and run a creative space of my own.

Check out Eels Jewellery on the web, on Facebook and definitely drool over items in the store!


Michelle said...

Awesome interview! I love finding artists who work in non-conventional mediums :)

miss mardi nowak said...

Thanks Michelle! Her work is beautiful and it's great to see traditional skills used in contemporary ways.

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