Hoi Yi Lai

1st Place – Emerging Jewelry Artist 22 Years of Age or Younger

H.Y. Lai image.jpg

“‘Courage’ is one of the pieces in my current collection which reinterprets words that have a meaning to me to create a piece based on the word.” This is the direction of Emerging Jewelry Artist Hoi Yi Lai, who finds inspiration in religion and philosophy and how they can influence her designs and jewelry. Hoi Yi also feels it is essential to explore the relationship between jewelry and the wearer especially as the designer. And, yes, she is an “emerging” artist!

About the winning piece:

What materials did you use in the winning piece?
Sterling silver and two tourmalines, one a cabochon and the other faceted.

What processes did you use?
The entire piece is hand fabricated from sheet and wire.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your winning piece.
This piece is about the relationship between jewelry and the wearer and how jewelry can affect people. It is like amulets from the past and how they empowered the wearer.

How long did it take to make?
This piece, from initial brainstorming and coming up with the concept to finally making it, took two to three weeks.

What did you learn from the piece?

I learned a lot from just doing research on the subject of words and their meanings. I discovered a lot of ideas in religion and philosophy, which play a large part in my work and how I approach it.

Are you going to sell it?
If someone wants to buy it, yes. It is always better to get it out in the world.

Do you think this piece will influence your work going forward?
Yes, definitely. I really want to create a line that is more production based on my ideas and research. The forms inspired by this piece could make a great start to the collection.

Does it reflect your current look/designs?
Yes. I am still trying to launch my own brand. This will be the beginning of my own business.

What do you like most about the piece?
I like the idea behind it and that I was physically able to interpret the idea into a metal form.

About the Artist:

Where do you live?
Toronto, Canada.

Do you study jewelry?
Yes. I will be graduating from Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto this year.

When did you discover you loved making jewelry?
I think three years ago. It is now my fifth year of making jewelry, so it took me a couple years before I fell in love with it.

Do any of your other passions influence your work?
Photography, drawing and painting. I am minoring in photography.

Who is your design/jewelry mentor?
My mentor is my jewelry professor Robert Mitchell. He was my very first jewelry professor, and I still frequently talk with him. I am so grateful for his advice and insights.

When are you most creative?
I am most creative when I am in the studio just playing. Also, when I get enough sleep and just wake up then I can put my energy into making.

What is your favorite material to work with?
Sterling silver is affordable. I would like to say gold, but it is silver.

What is your differentiator from other designers?
To always make jewelry that has a story behind it so other people can relate to it. Jewelry is not just decoration but a form of art that people can wear and relate to.

What do you love about making jewelry?
I love to make something that I can wear; some forms of art you can’t wear. And I love that people can see what I have made. It is not in a gallery or hanging on a wall.

Describe the first piece of jewelry you made?
A brooch that I pierced out of brass. It was a drawing of an alien with cat ears.

Are you influenced by trends? If so, what is one trend you relate to?
I am not much of a trend person. However, it is always interesting to see what people just start wearing. Currently they are willing to wear big statement earrings again. It is very interesting.

What is the one thing you most love about your studio?
I have a studio at the school, but I am also building my own studio at home. It will be in my basement. The environment at the school is like one big family; everyone is so friendly. In my own home studio, I look forward to having all my own tools.

What is the one thing you would change about your studio?
I wish the school studio could be bigger. There are a lot of people sharing the same space.

What is your favorite tool?
The torch. It is the best feeling on earth to solder a perfect seam with the torch.

Do you listen to music when you work?
Yes, I listen to music. It helps me to focus. I listen to a lot of different types of music. Instrumental while I am concentrating or rock music while I am just working away.

One word of advice you received when starting to make jewelry?
I remember my jewelry professor saying that there are no shortcuts in making jewelry. Jewelry requires a lot of steps and, if you ignore them, they will come back to haunt you.

What one word of advice would you give beginning designers?
I would give the same advice my professor gave me. Don’t give up. The experience of bringing life to a piece cannot be replaced.

What work inspires you?
René Lalique! His work is my inspiration. The elegance and beauty of his work is profound. All the details are unbelievable.

What achievement in your jewelry life are you most proud of?
I am just proud when I can make something that I initially envisioned.

What jeweler would you most like to have dinner with or visit their studio?
Once again it is René Lalique! I would love to see him working his magic on an enamel piece.

About the Saul Bell Design Award:

What did you feel when you found out you were a winner?
I was so surprised; I couldn’t believe it. I had to look at the email again and again to see that it is really true. It was so wonderful.

What made you decide to enter the competition?
I wanted to challenge myself and to take the opportunity to continue my growth in jewelry.

What other design awards have you won?
I have received a few scholarships from school. Most important was the Lily Yung Scholarship.

How did you hear about the competition?
I found it in an online newsletter, MetalAid.

Interview by Marlene Richey