Rachel Butlin seeks to challenge the concepts of contemporary interactive and wearable jewellery, producing a range of high end, mixed material pieces. We represent makers with so many different styles and backgrounds on our website, so it’s always fascinating to learn more about them. In this interview we catch up with Rachel to find out more about her development and experiences as a professional jeweller…
When did you first decide that you wanted to design and make?
I have always been interested in design and the process of making, for as long as I can remember. The foundation course I studied really pushed me to experiment with lots of materials and processes, and I started to have a natural skill with metal and combining materials. This then led me on to a mixed disciplined degree, allowing me to further explore materials without being limited to just silversmithing. Being pushed out of my comfort zone and exploring different materials allowed ideas to flourish and this continues in my practice today, as I develop and explore new ways of working, combined with traditional techniques.
What in particular drew you to jewellery?
My pieces explore the combination of materials and the composition in which these are placed. I love to challenge the way in which people perceive a piece of jewellery or body adornment, and what it means to them to wear it. This creates intrigue between the piece and the wearer and also myself. The body becomes a canvas for my pieces in the form of statement brooches, neckpieces and rings. By creating jewellery, I start to problem solve. The form and nature of a piece lends itself to different areas of the body, for example it might evolve to become a brooch. I then explore fixings that complement the piece in as much beauty as the materials themselves, but don’t dictate how they are worn.
From who or what do you draw your inspirations?
Japanese culture and tradition have always been of intrigue, the art of placement, cultural colour palettes and traditional architecture. Inspiration is drawn from Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It focuses on harmony, colour use, rhythm, and elegantly simple design. I am also fascinated by Japanese traditional architecture – the unique architectural characteristics bringing together natural materials and colours with dark and bright contrasts. Linear forms feature strongly alongside geometric shapes and spaces. These ideas and themes are explored through bold strikes of colour and simple lines, brought together to create statement wearable brooches, rings and neckpieces.
Can you tell us a bit about your studio and workspace?
My studio space is at the Unit Twelve Gallery in the stunning Staffordshire countryside. Having a workspace at Unit Twelve has given me the chance to further develop my practice in a nurturing environment, originally under the gallery’s Cultivated Programme and now as a permanent resident. A strong community of makers creates a great lively environment to work in, with advice, reassurance and development. Jennifer Collier is such a great mentor, and guidance from someone who has been making stunning work for so long is priceless. I feel so privileged to work alongside her and to receive such valuable advice to develop as a designer maker.
What experience has significantly influenced your professional practice?
I am currently part of the Hothouse Programme with the Crafts Council for 2017. The application for Hothouse felt like the next natural step in my practice as a maker. Progressing from actions I’d taken on the Cultivated Programme, the intensive scheme has enabled me to be ambitious and achieve short term and future goals with help from industry experts. Hothouse has provided me with the tools to continue to grow a sustainable and successful practice. It’s been so lovely to also share this journey with fellow makers at a similar place in their making practice, and see how everyone has developed throughout the programme.
If you can, please describe a typical day for you?
There is no typical day in the workshop for me, every single one is different and exciting! I love to explore and play through making to achieve original new results. Some days are more planned in the run up to shows and exhibitions, but this is also balanced with more flexible days creating new statement pieces and working on commissions.
You’ve exhibited at some of the UK’s main contemporary craft events so what advice would you give to makers interested in applying to these craft fairs?
I think the most important thing if you’re thinking of exhibiting at a show or fair is to visit it before hand. By visiting before you apply, you can see if the market or show is definitely right for you and your work, and also see stand sizes and layout inspiration. It’s great to enjoy the atmosphere and chat to other makers and see how the show feels for them. Once you’re accepted, planning and promotion is key to making the most of the opportunity. This then makes the whole process so much easier and gives you time to really enjoy the show, which is what it’s all about.
Tell us about your plans for the rest of the year. Autumn/Winter is always important for makers. Where can people find you and your work during the build up to Christmas?
The run up to Christmas is always a busy time for me and this year is no exception. It’s always been a dream to exhibit at Sieraad Art Fair, the world’s leading contemporary jewellery fair in Amsterdam, and I am very proud to announce that I will be exhibiting there from 9th-12th November…. “The 16th edition of SIERAAD Art Fair (SAF) will be the most international one. SAF is the only platform in the Netherlands where professional contemporary jewellery designers from home and abroad sell their work directly and in person. To add lustre to this edition of SAF there will be some special events and striking presentations.” Sieraad.
Along with exhibiting in Amsterdam, I will also be at The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in Manchester and ‘Lustre’ at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre. As part of Design Factory I will be exhibiting in the ‘Emerge’ Exhibition at Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge. It aims to present an inspiring collection of work for sale by Design Factory’s up-and-coming designer makers and it runs from 30th July – 8th October 2017. It’s great to interact with visitors as a maker and talk about what inspires and excites me. Alongside the exhibition will be a ‘Meet the Maker day’ on 20th August, 12pm – 5pm, where you can chat and get to know about me and my work in more detail.
My jewellery is also stocked by galleries throughout the UK, including Gill Wing Jewellery in London, Franny and Filer in Manchester and the National Centre for Craft and Design in Sleaford.
Which makers work do you have on your personal wishlist?
My personal wishlist is ever growing as I visit more shows and events. I guess it always starts with a statement piece of jewellery, something different and exciting that catches my attention. I have admired Emily Kidson’s work for many years now and love the bright pops of colour and intricate details. Her blog provides a snapshot into new one off pieces, especially brooches which I definitely have a thing for! Recently at The Contemporary Craft Festival, the work of Tracey Falvey also really caught my eye. I love how joints are emphasised and overlapped making a feature of the construction.
Many thanks to Rachel for giving us such a detailed insight into her work. You can see her full collection with us here. If you would like to commission Rachel to make you a bespoke piece please do just get in touch.