We’re excited to be creating a group stand at MADE London for the first time with seven fantastic makers. Amanda Denison joined our network only last year and this will be her debut exhibition with Design-Nation. Despite it being such a busy time of year, we managed to catch up with Amanda and asked a few questions about her practice, inspiration and Design-Nation.
Design-Nation asked her: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Amanda answered: I’m a jewellery artist working from a studio near the Thames in West London. Although I originally studied Fine Art I ended up working in different fields and family life took over. I really missed creative activities and started an evening class in Jewellery which lead to doing a BTEC level 3. I was lucky to set up a studio with two other students in my final term at college and then to work part-time in the NHS while developing my work. Initially, it all happened quite organically and without much planning.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
A.D: There have been two that really stand out. I have done a few short courses with enameller Elizabeth Turrell who really changed and influenced the way I work. She’s incredibly knowledgeable and a very inspiring and generous teacher. It was Elizabeth who encouraged me to incorporate rust in my work which is what I am now known for. The second person is Kelvin Birk who taught me at college. He has great technical knowledge and making skills but more important, he really encouraged me to think outside the box and to stretch myself.
D-N: What inspires you?
A.D: I am inspired by the traces left behind through decay, dilapidation and dereliction and by the marks stamped on the urban environment. And I am drawn to repeated elements that distort and change.
The environment in which I live and work influences my work. I am based in West London where the concrete jungle and the natural environment merge. My daily walks take me along the Thames towpath, through leafy parks and down streets lined with buildings old and new. It is the minutiae of my everyday surroundings that catch my eye. I am intrigued by the rings on a felled tree, the peeling paint on a crumbling wall, the myriad of colours on a rusty railing and by faded graffiti and eroded street markings.
D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.
A.D: I originally studied Fine Art and this informs my work. I take photographs and make rubbings and drawings of the details I discover as I walk the streets. These elements are incorporated into my work through mark making and drawing onto the enamelled surfaces. I can bring the environment into my work (literally) by firing sands, charcoals and oxides into the enameled surface.
My work is very process driven. I tend to make a series of enameled flat shapes and what happens during the firing process determines what they become. I tend to work with enamel on steel and then add precious metal accents. Most often I use a scraffito technique with liquid wet process enamel on steel. I draw into the enamel coat prior to firing in my kiln. After firing the surface is crude and shiny and I use stones and diamond pads to gently abrade the surface to produce a smooth, matte surface with tonal variations. I rub some areas back to reveal the bare steel which I encourage to rust. Pieces are waxed to preserve the surface before I add precious metal elements, findings and rivet elements together. It’s very labour intensive.
Experimentation is key and I enjoy discovering new ways to create distinctive but wearable Art Jewellery.
D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
A.D: Although I’ve been very fortunate to be presented with many opportunities I think the most important one was also one of the first. The year I left college I was accepted for the Craft Council’s Hothouse scheme. This was a fantastic opportunity for me – it increased my confidence in my work, enabled me to develop a network of makers and useful contacts and it opened doors. Hothouse Alumni are able to use the Crafts Council’s ‘Talent’ banner on websites and shows and it’s useful. Being part of Hothouse gave me exposure I would not have otherwise had and lead to so many opportunities to show my work. Although the Hothouse experience was early in my making career it has stood me in good stead ever since.
D-N: What is your workspace like?
A.D: I work from a small artist’s studio complex near my home. My studio has incredible natural light and overlooks fields, allotments and the Thames towpath. I love that I can walk there. It works for me. At the moment I need to share my space with other makers to cover costs and I wish there was a teaching space I could use.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
A.D: I should work much harder on my PR than I do. Marketing and PR is essential to any business and although I have a marketing background, like many makers I don’t enjoy this aspect of business. I’m afraid at the moment I do the bare minimum but it seems to be enough. My resolution for 2020 is to allocate a half day each week for marketing and social media and to develop an online shop via my website (which I need to update).
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
A.D: I am often told that my work is distinctive and unlike other work out there. This is both an advantage and disadvantage when it comes to selling pieces. My work divides people and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea (which is fine). It’s bold, statement jewellery and that limits its market so a big challenge is how to make the pieces I want to make and that people want to buy. At the moment I am unable to make a living exclusively from my practice so I work part-time doing other things to top up my income.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
A.D: There’s so much uncertainty at the moment; who knows where this country will be in the next two years? I hope I am still making in ten years time and that I can continue to make uncompromising pieces. I’d like to be able to move into some larger scale wall pieces as well as wearable pieces. I hope I will continue to work on projects that interest me and to continue to exhibit and sell my pieces.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
A.D: I would collaborate with another artist who works in different materials but with whom I share common interests or a common approach. I’m talking to someone at the moment about a joint project but it’s early days and I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it.
D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?
A.D: I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. I’ve had several careers – I started out doing marketing and project management for graphic designers; was a shiatsu practitioner and part of a team running a Shiatsu College. Later I worked in the NHS managing GP practices.
D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
A.D: It’s quite easy to feel isolated as a maker. I joined Design-Nation to be part of a network of makers; there’s a new London DN members group which is great news and I look forward to meeting everybody. Design-Nation’s subsidised stands give me access to shows I might not be able to consider otherwise. Design-Nation is a great organisation.
D-N: Thank you. Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
A.D: It’s quite a busy time for me. I have work in this year’s Tincal Challenge in Porto and in the ACJ’s Connections Show. This is an Anglo-Italian show that starts at The Goldsmiths Centre in London and then travels to Glasgow, Livorno and Padua. I am also excited to be one of the makers on Design-Nation’s stand at MADE London later this month, and for the first time, I’ll be at Dazzle in December. I’ve also got a couple of gallery shows coming up.
MADE London – Marylebone
24 – 27 October 2019
One Marylebone, London NW1 4AQ
Open daily from 10.30. Closes 17.00 Thurs 24 & Sun 27, 17.30 on Fri 25 & Sat 26. Private view Thursday 24th 1800-2100 (limited tickets to buy)