Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Pattern: A Universal Truth (Part 2)

What is Pattern?

What exactly is this all-pervasive phenomenon called pattern? There are several definitions of on offer, each with its own particular bias; a truly universal definition is hard to come by. Padwich and Walker, who concern themselves with surfaces only, limit pattern to something ‘based on a design that is repeated in two dimensions.’(1) E.H. Gombrich provides the somewhat loose description of ‘an ordering of elements by identity and difference.’(2) Mary Harris calls it ‘the systematic repetition of a motif.’(3) Something about the simplicity of the last definition rings true for me, except for the word ‘motif’, especially as the significance of pattern really lies in its underlying structure, its essence; the manner in which shapes, things, and events are repeated is more important than the objects of repetition themselves. I suggest therefore, that this definition be truncated to ‘systematic repetition’, thus providing a more universal definition.

This systematic repetition can apply to anything, in any number of dimensions. It can be the repetition of flowers on a wallpaper design, or of equilateral triangles in a geodesic dome. It can be repetition of number, as in the lunar cycle. It can be the repetition of a movement, a behaviour, or a sound. In short, repetition always results in pattern of some description.

This repetition can work itself into a finite, or ‘closed order’ pattern, (4) such as the circular musical note pattern shown above. Or it can be of the ‘unlimited translation’ type, (5) as in this tiled pattern from Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. (6)  The latter type of pattern has the capacity for infinite expansion based on a given set of structural rules. In this sort of pattern, one experiences a glimpse of infinity.

1. Padwick, R. and Walker, T. Pattern: Its Structure and Geometry, Ceolfrith Press, Sunderland 1977 p. 3
2. Gombrich, E.H. The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, Phaidon Press Limited, Oxford 1984 p. 72
3. Harris, M. 'Symmetry and Dissymmetry in Mathematics Education: One View from England' in Leonardo vol. 23, no. 2/3 1990 p. 221
4. Gombrich p. 74
5. Ibid.
6. Padwick and Walker p. 5

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Creative Choices

If you work in the creative or cultural industries you might want to check out the Creative Choices website. I've just contributed to a short video about the benefits of being based at Cockpit Arts (where I am wearing slightly more jewellery than I would normally have on at the workbench)!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Pattern: A Universal Truth (Part 1)

I recently unearthed an essay I wrote in the year 2000 on the subject of pattern, and rather than let it languish in a scruffy filing cabinet forever, I thought I’d publish it here.

Structure and pattern have always been the driving forces behind my jewellery. When I wrote this I was particularly obsessed with ideas surrounding symmetry, repetition, and complexity. I might tweak a few things as I read my own writing from eleven years ago, maybe add some new photos, but the basic principles will remain the same. Here it goes...

Truchet's Tiles. Image in public domain.

Pattern is not to be confused with decoration. It is not something merely applied to a fireplace or an alcove to make it period-perfect; it is not just surface treatment, eye candy, afterthought. Quite the opposite: Pattern is infused into every aspect of life, from the most basic to the most sophisticated physical and cultural levels. It is as much a part of our lives as our breath.

Whether a particular pattern is artist-made or naturally occurring is of little importance (‘artist’ being inclusive of anyone who creates pattern). Pattern in nature is the result of the laws of physics; pattern in the studio is more likely the result of many hours of labour, although physics can never be avoided. Collaborations do take place; an artist will sometimes coerce nature into unleashing its patterns in a controlled manner. In all cases, however, the rules governing pattern behaviour are constant.

Paramount to this essay is the fact that all patterns are essentially mathematics. No matter the outward appearance, organic or geometric, regular or random, pattern can always be analysed in mathematical terms. Far from the dryness of school arithmetic, modern mathematics has been described as “the science of patterns.”(1) Mathematics does not necessarily explain style or even content; what it does very well is help us to understand the essence of pattern(2), the fundamental rules that govern it, the universal laws that cut straight through the art/science divide.

In the first chapter of this essay I introduce pattern in its broadest sense, as a global phenomenon with certain inherent characteristics. In subsequent chapters I highlight what I consider to be pattern’s most remarkable qualities: Beauty; ‘simpliconomy’; and finally, universality, which makes it extremely useful as an aid to understanding through metaphor. This discussion should provide an insight into the universal significance, and indeed, truth, of pattern.

  1. Stewart, I. Nature’s Numbers, Orion, London 1995 p. 18
  2. Ball, P. The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999 p. 11

Sunday, 30 January 2011

An Ounce Of Prevention...

I get a lot of emails from clients asking how to look after their silver jewellery. As we all know, silver is liable to tarnishing, and sometimes at an alarming rate. I once hung a bunch of silver necklaces over a nail I’d hammered into a freshly-painted wall, and the next thing I knew, they’d gone almost black.

Palm Cluster Earrings by Angie Boothroyd.
Sterling silver, 18 and 22 carat golds.
Prevention is the real key; let your precious silver jewellery anywhere near anything smelly (like newly applied paint or other household chemicals) and it is bound to oxidise almost immediately. Perfume will do the same thing, as will the less delightful smells of the home – so don’t keep your jewellery in the bathroom. Sulphur is the arch enemy.

No matter how careful you are, though, silver will tarnish. Because the jewellery I produce tends to be textured, it is not advisable to use polishing wadding on it – Silvo, for example – as its abrasive action will wear away the delicate surface textures. What I use instead is a liquid silver dip. There are several brands on the market; I use Goddard’s but I think they’re all pretty much the same. Instructions: Put the jewellery in the jar. Wait between five seconds and five minutes for the tarnish to lift. Take the jewellery out of the jar and rinse. This is safe to use on mixed gold and silver jewellery as well; I've been cleaning my pieces this way for years.

If you prefer a more homespun approach, there is a bit of a trick you can perform if you can get hold of a sheet of magnesium. When I was working at Electrum Gallery we had a crumbly old cardboard box with “Maggie Pan” written on it. Inside was a plastic tray and a sheet of magnesium that fit inside it. You would put the metal in the tray and fill with hot water, with a bit of washing up liquid. Then you’d place the jewellery on the magnesium sheet and leave it for a few minutes. Through an electrolytic process the tarnish would be magically removed. Apparently something similar can be done using aluminium foil and baking soda in boiling water. (If you enjoy watching paint dry then you might also get a kick out of this video!)

Look after your jewellery and it should last you a lifetime. Choose your jewellery wisely and it will be worth looking after!

Monday, 6 December 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

This weekend I did something a bit different: I spent all day Saturday roaming around Wolf & Badger in Notting Hill while playing the fiddle.

I wasn’t there to create a nuisance; The Liberty Belles, a banjo and fiddle duo of which I am half, were asked to provide background music for a trunk show there. Showcased in the “Vogue Top 50” boutique were brogues, boots, and loafers by carreducker, who make beautiful bespoke footwear in the time-honoured, hand-sewn tradition.

Music has been a lifelong hobby of mine, so when I’m not designing or making jewellery I can usually be found playing the fiddle (or violin – call it what you will). I am obsessed with a rather niche genre of music called Bluegrass, as well as it’s sister genre, Old Time. Although fairly well known in the USA, old American music is practically unknown to the British public, apart from a very small community of acoustic musicians.

Upon our arrival at Wolf & Badger, Lois (the banjo half of the Liberty Belles) and I were greeted by the lovely James and Deborah of carreducker, as well the passionately fashionista shop staff who made us feel right at home. Within five minutes of arriving we’d all got onto the subject of underwear and had all flashed our knickers at each other (The men’s fashion pants put our old stockings & suspenders to shame) – and this was all before we’d got hold of the whiskey.

But we weren’t there to compare undergarment brands. We were there to provide background music while an unsuspecting public shopped for shoes. After a wee snifter we tuned up our instruments and began wandering the shop while playing some of the more genteel tunes from our set, carefully giving customers a wide berth so as not to serenade them out of the shop. Although it was certainly a new situation for me to find myself in, nobody seemed to find it strange. I guess when you’re shopping you just take things as they come – if two ladies are roaming around a shop playing banjo and fiddle, well, so be it.

It would have been downright greedy to keep the music indoors so we decided to brave the cold and take it out onto the street. Planting ourselves on the shop forecourt, we burst into a rousing rendition of “Cripple Creek” – always a crowd pleaser. A crowd soon formed, dancing toddlers, yummy mummies, and intensely curious retirees. Even better, after staring at us for a few minutes, they went straight into the shop, which made us feel useful as well as entertaining.

We were dressed in Christmas red frocks which happened to match the festive wrapping-paper-teradachtyl window display. But in a telling lesson in the power of branding, Deborah was accosted by a woman on the street who asked, “What’s going on there? Is it something to do with Virgin Atlantic?”

With near-freezing temperatures we did return indoors at various points throughout the day, but the most fun was had playing outside. The joy and curiosity on people’s faces when they see and hear something totally new to them is a delight to behold. At one point I noticed what I thought was a gentleman down on his luck; he stood on the corner nearby with his head hung low, carrying a large bag and swaying slightly. It was only when he came over to us after a few tunes that I realised he was just a regular guy doing his Christmas shopping. He was fascinated by the music but obviously just wanted to enjoy it from a slight distance for a while.

The day was a success for all involved. Shoes sold, music played, hearts won. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon in December.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Electrum Christmas Events

I just thought I'd let you contemporary jewellery fans know about some events coming up at Electrum Gallery. If you haven't been in recently it's worth visiting just to see the lovely new refurb! The gallery is located at 21 South Molton Street, London W1 5QZ, just a minute's walk from Bond Street tube.


11th November until 8 pm: 
TREASURE private view and late night shopping

13th November 3-5 pm: Launch of GERDA FLOCKINGER CBE focus and VINTAGE JEWELLERY book


Tuesday 16th November until 8 pm: 
South Molton Street shopping event with a discount of up to 20% off

Every Thursday in December until 8 pm: 
Late night shopping evenings 

Life at Cockpit Arts

I’m often asked what it’s like working at Cockpit Arts. I’m not really sure because I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I’ve never worked in a bank (except for a stint of temp work when I was in college – I had to borrow my mom’s clothes to look the part) and I’ve only ever had one full-time job in my life (I could never get my head around the idea of only two weeks’ holiday a year - this was in the USA) so my experience of “normal” working life is limited.

What I do know a lot about is being at college. (I’ve done nine years at university and can finally say that as of this year, I have matched that in working years.) And being at Cockpit is actually not all that dissimilar to being at university, with the one exception that you are now judged by punters - not professors - and it is ultimately the saleability of your work that determines your success.

You rent a space of your own here but in most cases you share a workshop with other craftspeople, often from various disciplines. Here in Studio E2G, I share with two other businesses, one that makes bespoke hand-sewn shoes; the other is a woodwind technician. As a result, the studio soundscape ranges from gentle tippy-tappy hammering with the odd swear word, to hundred-decibel sax solos wailing from the far end of the room as another Selmer Mark Six emerges from its overhaul. Add to this the fact that I often practice my violin in the studio first thing in the morning, and you can forgive the curious looks from passers-by.

To me, this is preferable to sharing with a studio full of jewellers. No offence to all my lovely jewellery-making buddies, but it is very easy to lose perspective when you are embroiled in your chosen displine all day. I judge my work from the persepective of a jewellery designer, so if I want a second or third opinion, I’m much more interested to know what a non-jewellery person has to say about it. That’s where space sharing really has its benefits; you’ve got an instant soundboard to bounce ideas off, and constructive criticism if and when you need it. You’ve also got loads of tools to borrow.

Of course the biggest benefit of being at Cockpit is the Open Studio events, which I visited with wide-eyed envy as a student. As every designer knows, taking part in an exhibition is not a matter to be taken lightly. There is not only the expense but the colossal effort involved in getting your work to the exhibition, along with its requisite showcases, props, wall hangings, and all the clobber necessary to make the work look amazing. In addition to the time you need to take off to be at the fair you can usually write off a day for packing, one for setting up, one for unpacking, and one for recovery. Not so if you are exhibiting in your own workshop. I can do all the prep work in a day now. I think the Open Studio experience is probably a bit more interesting for visitors than that of your average fair or exhibition, especially for couples – she can try on necklaces and earrings while he admires the Durston double rolling mill.

Our next Open Studio event is just around the corner - from 26th-28th November 2010. If you are a fan of the handmade, or if you’re just nosey, it makes a great day out. Or to find out more about Cockpit Arts visit www.cockpitarts.com.