Sunday, 27 January 2019

A Bright Afternoon at Banff

You can't use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.  Maya Angelou

I think I've established on my blog that I love to be creative - so I get pretty excited when I hear about new creative spaces.  Glasgow based Vanilla Ink Studios expanded to open the doors to The Smiddy, last Autumn in the coastal town of Banff, re-establishing a link with Scottish silver dating back to the 14th Century.  Here's a silver teapot made in Banff in 1715.  

Not only will Vanilla Ink The Smiddy create beautiful new pieces, but the studio, in a previously derelict blacksmiths, will educate a new generation in silversmithing and provide workshop space for new graduates and local jewellery makers alike.  Their mission is to educate, inspire and empower.

I was highly delighted when my husband gave me a taster session at Vanilla Ink for Christmas.  Banff is only 40 minutes drive north and the session allowed me to make a silver ring.

The studio walls are inscribed with inspiring quotes about making, and the rafters are hung with nets of fairy lights to soften the industrial appearance of the workshop's interior.  Authors Maya Angelou and Neil Gaiman sit comfortably together on the library bookshelves where I work but at Vanilla Ink their quotes sit equally comfortably together on the walls.  

There are individual work stations down one side and a large central workbench where I met my fellow ring makers and enjoyed a welcoming coffee provided by Megan, our tutor for the day.  There was a vast array of equipment and tools around the studio - an eclectic mix of traditional leather and wood with high-tech precision metals.

The first task was to find the size of ring I was going to make.  Megan then calculated in millimetres how much silver I'd need to cut.  She demonstrated the saw with its tiny toothed blade and ensured we all worked safely.

After measuring and cutting, the ends of my ring-to-be are filed to make sure they're smooth.  My silver band was then shaped around a mandrel and the circle closed as near as possible using special pliers.

The piece of solder needed to fix the join is so small it has its own name - a pallion, so called as the tiny pieces might flutter away as they're cut and the derivative word papillon is French for butterfly!  Mine is hard to see but it's sitting on top of the join in my ring   You can see them in the dish below prior to some soldering action with the hand torch.

The ring then goes into the pickling pot.  No fruit, sugar and vinegar here!  The pickling process removes the oxidised surfaces and flux after soldering.

Whilst the ring was being pickled, I had time to look at the textures obtained by using the different hammers.

And to try them out on a piece of scrap copper.

After a wee rinse to get rid of the pickling solution, my ring was filed again to smooth the soldered join, hammered into shape using a soft mallet and then textured using my chosen hammer.

I love the textured surface achieved.

I was also keen for my ring to look frosted so I chose to use the right hand side of the polisher.

After a quick polish to shine up the inside, my ring was ready to show off to my fellow students - a lovely, supportive group who kindly allowed me to share these pictures.

Top left is Bob's pinkie ring which he thoughtfully sized so it would fit his wife as well.  Beside Bob's is the bespoke ring Susan created as a surprise gift for her husband, made even more special as he's a native of Banff.  Bottom left is Franzie's beautiful ring which has both a shiny and a frosted half specially designed to replace a much loved piece of jewellery she'd lost - and then all four of our rings are pictured together.

Huge thanks to Megan Falconer, the studio's guiding presence who knowledgeably and patiently helped me to make my first ever piece of silver jewellery.  I'm proud of my ring and I love it.

The last word goes to Neil Gaiman whose words resonated throughout  my afternoon at Vanilla Ink:

The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before.


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