Hi again Folks, I’ve decided to break this up into a few parts, I know I could write for England (or France) about this experience, and I don’t want to go on for too long.
I travelled across to France alone in late February to attend a short silversmithing course, and I have to admit I was a little nervous – I was flying into Montpellier and knew that I then had a two hour car ride ahead of me to get to Aveyron, where I would be staying. I had held a few brief email conversations with Karen, who runs the course, so I know a little about where I would be staying, and she seemed perfectly pleasant and very accommodating. Unfortunately all of this rational thought slipped away as I stepped into arrivals – all I knew was that I was looking for a tall man holding a sign with my name on it, and that I was about to break the golden rule of how to deal with strangers; “Never get in their car”.
Then I met Tim – he’s Karen’s partner, customer taxi service, house chef and tea maker and all round good guy – I couldn’t have asked for more pleasant company on our long drive back – we started out with the pleasantries, moved onto the history of the area as we crossed the Millau Viaduct (the worlds tallest bridge, and a beautiful feat of engineering), and as we parked up at the studio and gîte we were laughing over our shared love of wordplay.
Millau Viaduct (original image can be found here)
After a long overdue face to face introduction to the lovely Karen and a brief tour of the gorgeous accommodation, there seemed barely enough time for a beer before my eyes started to get heavy in front of the roaring log burner.
The following morning I woke to a thick blanket of snow, making the already beautiful valley view from the window seem absolutely idyllic, after a quick breakfast and my morning coffee I made my way through the army of cats at my front door to meet Karen in the studio for my first creative day of silversmithing.
(Cats and snow on the first day)
I must admit here, that I was incredibly lucky to have happened to book a trip in the off season when the other space had not been taken, so I spent my days one on one with Karen and we got to tailor this course to meet my desire to translate my art into jewellery.
We started with a group of stacker rings in copper and silver, which, as Karen explained to me, she often starts the course with, as they teach the basics of forming metal, soldering, hammering and finishing – immediately I felt comfortable and in my element – although I would put a considerable amount of that down to Karen’s relaxed and clear teaching style! We whizzed through a group of 5 rings in the morning and followed it up with a quick chat about making stud earrings, as soldering a post makes for a more complex technique and Karen asked me to have a think about the design over lunch (which was delicious – you’ll see a trend here – and made by Tim). (in progress shots of stacker rings, final shot taken by Tim at La Vidalerie)
After lunch I suggested that I’d like to emulate my horn drawings in my earrings and do some more complex hammered finishing on them – Karen suggested I gave it a go in copper as hand cutting shapes can be quite difficult and time consuming – you want to make sure you get it right! I also had an opportunity to try my hammering technique here first, which proved valuable, as I was able to get a much finer finish on the final pair of earrings. (The snow had almost completely thawed by lunch, leaving a beautiful day ahead)
(Original Sketch) (The copper test turned out so well that I made it into a pendant! The first shot of the horn earrings are straight after a pickle and a tumble, the second is with liver of sulphur applied)
Once the studs were soldered on and ready to go into a pickle to clean them up, we had a little more time to practice some interesting ear-wire shapes (Karen is The Master of these, over 50 styles are available on her website) and taught me the basics of wire-wrapping beads before we were ready to pack up for the night. I took my tool kit and some spare bits and bobs up to the gîte, and spent the night practicing and doing my homework (thinking about the next days designs) in front of that gorgeous fire again! (Ear wires and wire wrapped findings for beads)
I’ll follow up tomorrow with part 2, but if you want to know more about Karen and Tim (and the army of cats, or La Vidalerie, you can check out the website here or read Karen’s Blog here.
Drop me a comment if you’d like – tell me about the most idyllic holiday destination you’ve ever visited, or let me know if you have a skill that you instantly felt you were a natural at!