This week we talk with jewellery maker Susan Webster, whose handmade, up-cycled Encapsulate jewellery is lovingly made from used aluminium coffee capsules and mixed materials contained within gleaming silver plated settings. Susan is based in the Scottish Highland town of Nairn.
- What first led you in the direction of making jewellery?
I studied for a degree in Design and became an Art and Design teacher for many years. During that time, I became very adept at utilising pre-used materials in creative work. Although I love drawing, painting and other areas of Art and Design, I developed a strong interest in jewellery making while helping my students design pieces for their SQA units. When I finished teaching, I relished the opportunity to make my own pieces.
- Your jewellery is upcycled, can you tell us why this is so important to you?
Another passion of mine is caring for the environment. I am pretty rigorous about reducing waste, re-using things and recycling, so if I can find another use for things before disposing of them, I will. The coffee capsules I had collected had a very attractive variety of colours, so I experimented to develop my own style of working with them.
- What are your favourite materials to use?
I enjoy using all sorts of materials, but with this particular product, the base material is aluminium, which is quite soft and malleable, shiny and lightweight. For decorating the capsules, I use an array of pre-used, often broken, bits of jewellery; sometimes my own, some contributed by others, and some I buy in charity shops. Single earrings which have lost their partners make really good feature points. My favourite searches are on the beach where I seek out tiny pieces of sea-glass, shells, corals and pebbles and often the beach-themed pieces include a sprinkle of local sand.
- How long does it take to make a piece?
The process of producing each piece involves first of all, drinking the coffee (well, somebody has to do it!), then opening the capsules to clean out the coffee grounds (which I compost), then wash and dry them. I then crush them and fill the backs with clay to give them a little more weight and keep them firm. Once they’re baked, I add a little paint and a few bits and pieces I think will fit and enhance the individual shapes of each one. After a final selection, I stick it all with a non-toxic adhesive. Lastly, I attach the silver bail, brooch pin or bangle. This is all quite time-consuming, so it takes me over 4 hours to make each piece. That’s not counting the sourcing of materials, packaging, photography and marketing.
- What inspires your creativity when making a new piece of jewellery?
My inspirations are very varied, but can be summarised as: nature, culture and fashion- I’ve made pieces inspired by landscapes, beaches, seasons flowers, insects, themes like music, art, sailing, tartan etc. I especially enjoy matching up jewellery to particular outfits, as some people commission me to do for special occasions.
- What’s your favourite piece of jewellery that you’ve made before and why?
My favourite is difficult to pinpoint, but I made a set for myself for my daughter’s wedding in September, (as well as hair-vines for the bride and bridesmaids, and a kilt pin for the groom) and wearing them brings back happy memories of that lovely day. You can see it on my Facebook page- peachy coloured.
- What challenges do you face in your work?
There are quite a few challenges in my work- like living with my ‘studio’ being my dining room table! Keeping up with marketing when I’d really rather be making jewellery, sourcing eco-friendly packaging etc, and finding time to set up an Etsy shop or website, which I haven’t managed to do yet. It’s also too easy to hide away and make jewellery instead of taking time out to socialise- I should do more of that. My health imposes a few limitations on how much I can do, as I have had Rheumatoid Arthritis with all its complications since I was 29, but I’m very lucky to be doing something I enjoy- I am loving being my own boss, sharing my creations with others, receiving positive feedback and making people happy in my own minor way, while minimising my impact on the environment.
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