Victorian Portraits

On a whim I bought a set of Victorian Carte de Visite from E-bay with an idea about doing something steampunk with them.  It didn’t happen. I kept looking into the eyes of the subjects and wondering if these pictures might be the last records of those individuals. Perhaps somewhere they appear in a family album with their names faithfully recorded but then again, they came from France which has experienced at least three invasions since they were taken so anything could have happened.

My solution was give them some friends and paint around them. I have a friend who makes steampunk jewellery so I may try printing these out and sealing them behind glass cabochons. It would be a nice way of combining art and jewellery.



Winter In the Peak District

After months of concentrating on the copper smithing I am desperate to return to painting and have found myself inspired for the first time to try out some landscapes.
This winter I am going to walk and photograph every edge in the Peak District in search of source materials and then I am shamelessly going to tweak their composition because there is really no point in painting, (rather than photographing) something if you are not going to improve on nature if you can.
I will show you what comes of that but in the mean time, I shall include here some of my favourite photographs.

Winter sky by Erica Madelin

Winter Birch in the Peak District by Erica Madelin

Trees at Curbar Gap by Erica Madelin

Vindolanda Hair Pin

There’s a magic to old things dug out of the earth, having been lost for centuries.

The volunteers who spend their holidays up at Vindolanda fort on Hadrian’s Wall must all hope that they will be the one to discover something new and precious.

The rest of us must be content with the museums and it was at Vindolanda’s museum that we spotted this wonderful hair pin. (Thank heaven for other wordpress users because this is the only image of this pin that I have been able to find!)

My sister in law, who has amazingly glossy and thick curls, fell in love so the day after we returned home I made her this:

My version is in a bronze alloy and I have added an “ethnic cut” cabochon garnet to the “mirror” on the chain. This means the stone is slightly wonky, not calibrated, and so is closer to the garnets one can see in Roman, Celtic and Saxon jewellery.

The maker of the Roman original would have started out with a thicker piece of metal and then, possibly, hammered the end flatter before cutting out the hand. As I started with a piece of 2mm Victorian door plate, I opted instead to anneal, twist and hammer the pin to give it strength. It will also have the benefit of catching in the hair better.

A Google search for “Roman hand hair pins” shows this was a very popular design so my version is decent recreation of a Roman hair pin without infringing any nasty copyrights.
I do hope she wears it!

Art at the Steampunk Asylum

Every year one of Europe’s biggest steampunk events takes place in Lincoln, bringing together over 30,000 steampunks from across the world to enjoy four days of music, art, costume, gin, tea and silliness.

One of the many events is the Great Exhibition, a chance for those taking part to share, if they dare, their creations with an admittedly sympathetic audience. Unfortunately, I suspect that steampunks are mostly shy and strangely introverted for a bunch of friendly and weirdly dressed people!

This year’s great exhibition contained just four paintings with the result that I won again. I win something every year and I say that with no sense of pride as I am often the only 2d artist to take part! This year, in a bid to save my blushes and perhaps encourage someone, anyone! else to enter next year, I did four paintings in three different styles.

So The Ruskin prize went to a Bob Ross parody (he of the bouffant hair and softly spoken utterances about happy clouds and squirrel friends), entitled “Happy Little Accidents” from his quote; “Remember, we don’t make mistakes, we have happy little accidents.”

I know his art is kitsch but he was very good at it indeed and he inspired so many thousands of people to pick up a paintbrush that it is rude to dwell too long on any failings his art might have. As with all art, try copying a piece and you will learn something!

That’s why I painted my second piece: Sanctuary. There is no pun involved, I just wanted to draw a Bob Ross wave, do it a little bigger and throw in a lighthouse and giant octopus. I think it would look rather good as a steampunk book cover, don’t you?

My Netflix addiction was also responsible for “Big Goggles”, a pastiche of Margaret Keane’s work which was recently given a boost from the film Big Eyes starring Amy Adams. My write up (steampunk has a strong basis in literature so I think the write up can be as important as the image) was as follows:

Title: Big Goggles

Medium: Oil on Board

Artist: Maggie Keen (1926 to present)

Margaret Olive Catherine Keen has become known for her pictures of big eyed waifs. In the 1960s the paintings , often derided as kitsch by art critics, were attributed to her husband, Phil Estein but following a bitter separation in 1970 she accepted the blame as part of a wide ranging divorce settlement. In return for taking responsibility for the art, she walked away with the house, car, narrow boat and the couple’s beloved pet cephalopod .  This painting is thought to date from the early 1970s and could  be an attempt by Maggie to explain away the ridiculously big eyes by the addition of goggles. No explanation has yet been found for the goggles.

Yes, I find it easy to mock but once again I would like to add the caveat that every artist has something to teach and she did well for herself in the end so If you like her art just go ahead and say so and ignore all those sneery critics!

Both the winning piece and Big Goggles went into a charity auction at the end of the event and raised £95 for charity so I sincerely hope the buyers did like the paintings and will enjoy them.

The final piece was simply a little cartoony picture of steep hill in Lincoln with a backdrop of air balloons. I had thought to make it into postcards to sell but I ran out of time so it just went in to make up the numbers. It is a scene I want to return to at some point though, perhaps in a more serious style.

Steep Hill, Lincoln

I am rubbish at promoting this blog so this probably won’t reach the people it needs to reach but if there are any steampunks out there who go to Lincoln and who also do art; please think about entering the exhibition next year. It is very difficult at first to put your art out there (and that’s probably why i paint jokes, so that i can laugh them off and not expect people to take them seriously) but really, nothing bad will come of it and it may even encourage you to do more, get better, stretch yourselves and that has got to be better for all of us.




Sakura for a Friend

I have been so busy this month I nearly forgot to post something. I do have some paintings to show you but for now: Here is a silver pendant I made for a friend’s birthday. They had a whip round at work to contribute to the materials and then we agreed on a design.
She makes it hard for me because, although she likes jewellery, she doesn’t often wear it and so I find it hard to pin down her style but I hope I got it right and she will wear this.
For the cherry bough I took silver scraps and dust and carefully fused them together to form twiglets before soldering them together with hard solder into a little branch. I then cut out the blossoms from silver sheet and gently domed them before adding a silver bead to each centre with medium solder and soldering them to the branches using the same stuff. I then used easy solder to add the ring for the bail to go around. Finally I oxidised the twig with liver of sulphur and gave the flowers a polish with a mop on my mini drill.
I don’t know the word for it but I think the Japanese probably have a term to explain the poignant contrast between something old like a venerable fruit tree and the fresh young blossom it produces in the spring. Whatever the word is, that was the sentiment and look I was aiming for.

Developing a Theme

I think I have done it! I have finally found a theme for my silversmithing.

I am conscious that I am not a formally trained silversmith and that people who have studied design at a college or university are encouraged to take an idea and stick with it, developing it as an idea and generating a brand identity.

In searching for a theme I have found myself envying Icelandic silversmiths (I would love to do a range with oxidised trees over hand picked labradorite stones to sell to tourists hoping to capture forever the bucket-list moment when they saw the Northern Lights) or those living near the sea (pebbles and sea glass go so beautifully in silver).

I live in Sheffield, about as far inland as you can get, with a comparatively recent industrial heritage, ugly modern buildings (I love some modern buildings but most of the ones we have are just dull) and no interesting local rocks (from a gemological point of view).

This year however I have taken themes from last year’s steampunk jewellery and developed them.

The result is pleasingly chunky, androgynous jewellery featuring generous stones sometimes set over reclaimed watch movements.

The silver is oxidised, giving it an industrial quality and, as I develop the theme, I intend to bring in other found objects and different metals.

As to stones, I have already used labradorite with its oil-slick colours and will also introduce acid green peridot and, if i can get hold of them, Mexican Fire Opal.

On  a recent walk I also found some nice pieces of slag and iron waste so if I can find a way of cutting them down I think I may start incorporating them into jewellery too.

And there we have it – Sheffield specific, modern industrial jewellery that I enjoy making.