We speak to jeweller and Hothouse17 Maker Rachel Butlin
Rachel seeks to challenge the concepts of contemporary interactive and wearable jewellery, producing a range of high end mixed material wearable objects. Carefully considering material combination and placement her work often explores bespoke materials, evoking curiosity, creating a connection between the piece and wearer. Intrigued by Japanese culture and tradition, the art of placement and cultural colour palettes remain central in her designs.
Rachel has been selected for Hothouse, the Crafts Council's Talent Development Programme for emerging makers. Find out more about Hothouse
What first got you interested in making?
I have always been interested in design and the process of making, for as long as I can remember. The foundation course I studied really pushed me to experiment with lots of materials and processes, and I started to have a natural skill with metal and combining materials. This then led me on to a mixed disciplined degree, allowing me to further explore materials without being limited to just silversmithing.
Being pushed out my comfort zone, exploring different materials, allowed ideas to flourish and continue in my practice today, as I develop and explore new ways of working, combined with traditional techniques.
What in particular drew you to jewellery?
Pieces explore the combination of materials and the composition in which these are placed. I love to challenge the way in which people perceive a piece of jewellery or body adornment, and what it means to them to wear it.
This creates intrigue between the piece and the wearer, and also myself. The body becomes a canvas for my pieces in the form of statement brooches, neckpieces and rings. By creating jewellery, I start to problem solve.
The form and nature of the piece lends itself to different areas of the body, such as a brooch. I then explore fixings that complement the piece in as much beauty as the materials themselves, but don't dictate how they are worn.
Where have you shown / sold your work so far?
I was accepted to become a member of Design Factory in December 2015, which led to my work selling through The National Centre for Craft and Design shop. I have been part of group exhibitions, most recently Top Drawer Spring/Summer 2017. I have collections with a number of stockists including VK Gallery, St Ives and Omega Studios, St Leonards on Sea. Alongside this I have exhibited at fairs and exhibitions including Lustre, Made in the Middle touring exhibition with Craftpace and Gifted.
Which project are you most proud of so far and why?
Forma Collection which was created during my six month Cultivated residency at Unit Twelve. I was really excited to start the programme and about the opportunities I felt it would bring to my practice. I believed it would give me the time to experiment and develop a new body of work, which isn't always possible in normal day-to-day practice. I was able to push in new directions, trying different ways of working and not being afraid of the results.
The residency was a special and exciting time, for both development and new ideas, and has allowed me to continue to grow my practice. I felt so inspired by the environment around me and the great network of makers at Unit Twelve who helped me to drive my practice forward to the next phase. I created a new body of work after I graduated but felt I needed to take to steps to try something new in my work, without losing away my identity.
Cultivated gave me the time, support and inspiration to do this, by not being afraid to try new techniques or ways of working. From this the Forma Collection was created! A collection I am very proud of and feel has a strong identity, pushing the boundaries of contemporary jewellery.
What do you hope to get from Hothouse?
Hothouse feels like the next step in my development as a maker. Progressing from actions taken on the Cultivated programme, this intensive scheme will enable me to be ambitious and achieve future goals.
I feel it will provide me with the tools to continue to grow a sustainable and successful practice, which may otherwise be difficult as an emerging maker. Professional 1:1 mentoring is invaluable and will enable me to discuss my future goals of overseas trade and exhibiting in high end galleries.
The programme gives opportunities to plan, analyse and discuss, thus allowing me to select the opportunities that are best suited to my creative voice. Having access to a network of industry experts is a fantastic resource that would not otherwise be available.
The expert advice from my mentor will allow me to further realise my ambitions. I am also really looking forward to working alongside a peer group of other ambitious and talented makers, sharing experiences and advice.
Your work is interactive and invites touch and tactility. I don’t see them as being ornamental, how would you describe them and how do expect people to interact with them?
Carefully considering material combination and placement, my work often explores bespoke materials, evoking curiosity, creating a connection between the piece and wearer. I love to challenge the way in which people perceive a piece of jewellery, by creating small scale sculpture that can be worn on the body, in a way chosen by the wearer.
I want people to touch and interact with the piece, discover the materials used and how they work together. People perceive pieces in different ways - no two thoughts are the same.
Display is also crucial in determining people’s reactions. An open display, without the limits of glass, not only allows materials to be seen in a true light, but allows people to get up close with the piece, see connections, layers and the skill it takes to make a piece.
Japan is clearly an influence. What is it about Japanese culture that interests you?
Japanese culture and tradition have always been of intrigue - the art of placement, cultural colour palettes and traditional architecture. Inspiration is drawn from Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It focuses on harmony, colour use, rhythm, and elegantly simple design.
I am also fascinated by Japanese traditional architecture, unique architectural characteristics bringing together natural materials and colours with dark and bright contrasts. Linear forms feature strongly alongside geometric shapes and spaces. These ideas and themes are explored through bold strikes of colour and simple lines, bought together to create statement wearable brooches, rings and neckpieces.
You use a variety of material including bamboo, walnut and precious metals. What is your favourite material to work with and why?
I love to work with a variety of materials, each having their own qualities; I really don't think I could pick a favourite! Sometimes it’s more about how two or more materials work together and what they bring out in each other; for example, the warm and solid nature of walnut and how this contrasts the surface texture and colour of enamel.
I also enjoy the element of surprise with a special found material; it brings something new, something fresh and unexpected that makes the piece one off.
You can see more work from Rachel and follow her at the Craft Council Directory