Devon-based designer, Maria Whetman, is the creative force behind the innovative jewellery label Fluxplay Jewellery. We caught up with her to find out more about her and her work.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
Being rubbish at most stuff in school except for Art, spending most of my childhood at my little desk in my bedroom with my art-stuff, it was inevitable that I would go into some kind of artistic line of work. Small-metals became my love, making tiny little artworks in these seemingly impossible to manipulate materials, playing alchemist with chemicals, carrying out processes which can date back thousands of years….I still find it amazing.
What is the ethos behind your work?
I wanted to try to make jewellery that was not like anything on the high street but still as affordable as possible to ordinary people like me, who don’t have the cash to buy exclusive, high-value items but would love to own an entirely handmade design that’s either a one-off design or of a very limited edition. That middle-ground market which features many contemporary jewellers, is a difficult one to sell in I now realise, but I still want to feed the enthusiasm of those who appreciate design and craftsmanship but can buy something nice for themselves or as a gift only once in a rare while.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I took a National Diploma in Art & Design from Hereford College of Art when I left school in 1987. After a year of trying everything from weaving to blacksmithing, I specialised in metals for the 2nd year of that course. Next, I did a BA.hons Degree in 3D / jewellery silver-smithing at Central Saint Martins and a teaching Postgrad’ Degree from Cardiff and HUGE debt later, I began my journey as a metalsmith, I’m 39 now. I learnt soooo much at Hereford about design processes, experimentation, collecting information, learning how to paint, draw, make and create as well as finding out what my interests were. Central was outstanding at training us in the skills of working in small-scale metals, it was very traditionalist, which suited me fine as I’d learnt about design and creativity at Hereford.
What inspired you to combine tin and other recycled materials with traditional silver smithing techniques?
Several reasons; I like statement pieces with big set stones, but there were already lots of people around doing that so well, I wondered how else I could make big ‘cabochons’. I like challenging the idea that jewellery has to be either of ‘material value’ or something that makes you look ‘pretty’, or for ‘finishing’ an outfit….that’s all fine but what if you just want to wear something just because you like it? I love compositions and collages of text, colour and shape. I was trying to make my work more affordable with lower-cost materials but without ‘cheapening’ the work.
What do you love most about what you do and what do you find the most frustrating?
I can’t tell you how much I love having materials around me and deciding what they should become, whether its beads, scraps of tin or a current shape or colour trend that dictates, I’m happy when Im in my workshop making something that’s materials led or from one of my sketchbooks. I like working to the monthly challenge set by the Etsy team I’m a member of (EtsyMetal) as it gets me thinking about making different things and finding solutions to ways in which I can incorporate tin and maintain my house-style. Most frustrating for me is knowing that my work is too niche ever to support me income-wise and my being too stubborn to branch out and move into more profitable areas of jewellery making.
Is handmade a lifestyle choice for you and if so why?
To an extent, as time allows I make a lot of things myself…wedding dress, spice rack, bread, craft show display cases, all kinds of things. I just have to give myself months and months to get something done in-between working and being a mum…. We even grow veg’ in our small garden, lots of it in pots. I save up spending money for craft fairs, to buy lovely things from artisans who I would never even try to emulate. There is something special about a piece made by a person who has considered every aspect of that item and then made it themselves or researched the best outsource for an element of that piece. That piece has character and soul and individuality, it should last a long time and do its job well, be made of good quality materials…. I think this is the true meaning of ‘craft’.
Can you tell us a bit about your studio/workshop, can we take a sneaky peek?
My brilliant husband put up a 10x12ft shed at the end of our small garden. I was very jealous assuming it was for all his stuff, but half of it was for me. My very own half-a-shed. It’s insulated and has electricity and I have to be very organised with storage and space, but it’s all I really need, it has my equipment and tools and bench as well as a hammering table and a drawing desk. It makes me really happy to be in it, I know I’m very lucky.
How do you balance your work and home life, what do you do to wind down?
Very difficult, I’m always tired. I teach 3-4 days a week at Plymouth Art College, spend the rest of the time with my young daughter and use nap-times / evenings / taking weekends in turn with my husband as my jewellery making / admin / computer work time. To wind down we go out for walks, surfing, the beaches, messing about by the rivers, camping, tending to the garden…I find it really, REALLY hard to know when to stop as my brain doesn’t stop thinking about what needs doing.
Do you ever experience periods of creative slump and if so what helps you through?
Oh yes, of course. It’s really easy to want to give up, especially in this market. EtsyMetal run a monthly blog-carnival which some of us bloggers take part in, and I’ve covered that question there with 20 examples of how to get out of a rut.
If you could give an aspiring artist, designer, maker one piece of advice what would it be?
Be completely interested in what you do and for more than just reasons of the money it might earn you, be true to yourself in your designs and the huge effort that is needed to be a craftsperson.
Who or what inspires you most in your work?
Finding interesting materials to work with inspires me a lot. Sometimes, the students I teach inspire me in many different ways. Lovely craft, art and design books inspire me. Artists who have always inspired me are Tim McCreight, Robert Dancik, Bob Ebendorf, Kiff Slemmons, Peter Blake…there are many more.
If you had the time to learn a new skill what would it be?
I’ve tried and failed many times to learn to knit and crochet, I wish I could get those processes to stick in my head! Instead I do a kind of basket weaving technique and a sort of knit using a 2-pronged thingy (Viking invention) I bought in the V&A shop years ago. That’s how I made the fishing net on the Fisherman brooch.
For more information on Maria and Fluxplay Jewellery visit her website: http://www.fluxplay.co.uk/