Mike Carpenter spoke to new designer Karen Elizabeth Donovon, currently exhibiting with the Designer Jewellers Group at the Barbican London.
MC: Hi Karen, what inspires you to make jewellery and what materials do you use?
KED: I have come to appreciate the importance of heather as a significant fixture in the landscape of Scotland, where I live and have my workshop. I use titanium in my jewellery and I feel that heather and titanium share certain aspects of strength, durability springiness and is lightweight and can have subtle colour variations.
Titanium presents wonderful challenges to overcome and work around, and gives strength to delicate wirework and piercing. Colour and pattern are integral to my work and are developed through close study of plants and created by the attributes of titanium. As my work continues to develop, I have incorporated more gold, which historically held its own role in the ever-changing Scottish landscape. I find the disparity between gold and titanium to be fascinating and continue to work on this relationship.
All my work is made completely by hand, I bend all the wire into the shapes I use just with a pair of pliers. I then connect it all together and anodize it to give it the beautiful colours.
MC: How has 2015 been for you?
KED: I have spent the last year doing a residency at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). I did my masters at ECA and it was good to stick around for another year developing new work and a distilled version of my degree work. Over the year I have been creating for exhibitions, developing new collections and most importantly working with students.
While at ECA I applied for and was awarded a grant from Creative Scotland for research and professional development. This grant allowed me to travel to Italy back in July to study alloying with Giovanni Corvaja. The reason I went to work with Giovanni was to learn how to alloy gold. When working with titanium I have a nearly endless choice of colours to use and can create a range or a change in colour through the piece. I wanted to use more gold in my work, but keep the colour changes. With Giovanni I was able to create a range of colours in gold with different ratios of metals. Each of these alloys have very different properties and uses. I am still working through this research, but I was able to create this chain pictured, which is based on previous designs in titanium but made entirely in 18 ct gold. I am hoping in time that my designs will develop relating the two colour ranges, using gold and titanium together. While the colours in gold are subtler than those in titanium they do seem to work well together.
I started the year off receiving the New Designers’ Goldsmiths’ Company Award for Jewellery and was overwhelmed by exhibition requests. I had a very busy autumn and was ecstatic to be recognised by the Goldsmiths’ Company. In January when it was a bit quieter I travelled to London to take part in the ‘Getting Started’ programme at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in Clerkenwell which was an amazing course and a great chance to meet not only important people in the industry but also my peers from across the country.
Back in September I was awarded an Enterprise Initiative Grant from the University of Edinburgh’s Launch.ed Office, which supports UoE Entrepreneurs of all disciplines. I used the grant to attend and exhibit at the Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conference.
MC: What are your future plans?
KED: While I am no longer at ECA I am hoping that the year I spent there has taught be how to balance creating for selling and personal research. I am looking forward to continuing my research into historical techniques and balancing them with the much more modern use of titanium, and more fully connect to the historical jewellery forms I am so fascinated by.
I look forward to exhibiting the new works which I have been creating with that new knowledge.
MC: Thanks Karen, we look forward to seeing the fruits of that research.