1st Place - Enamel
An independent jeweler, enamelist and painter, Debbie Sheezel first began working with enamels on a massive scale. She enameled large-format paintings and murals (including a mural commissioned for the Brisbane International Airport), as well as large decorative copper bowls. She went on to study gold and silversmithing at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and later taught enameling at the school. Debbie currently gives workshops once or twice a year in her studio and is on the council of the Gold & Silversmiths Guild of Australia. This is her first Saul Bell Design Award.
MARLENE RICHEY: TELL US ABOUT YOUR AWARD-WINNING PIECE, "SILKEN WINGS."
DEBBIE SHEEZEL: The materials used in this piece were 24K, 22K and 18K gold, fine and sterling silver, enamel and faceted blue quartz stones. The technique I love most is cloisonné, and my inspiration comes from the butterfly wing.
MR: WHAT DID WORKING ON THIS PIECE TEACH YOU?
DS: Making this piece taught me to try to control my impatience when things don't go entirely to plan and to be adaptable.
MR: HOW DOES THIS PIECE FIT IN WITH OTHER WORK YOU HAVE MADE OR WILL MAKE?
DS: I'm not sure if this piece will influence my future work. It sits comfortably with some of my past pieces, though it is more spectacular and elegant. I would like to make more very special pieces, but all of my pieces are one-off and special in their own way. Wearability is a must for my jewelry. To me, they are wearable art.
MR: WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THIS PIECE?
DS: What I like most about this piece is the vibrancy of color and its elegance.
MR: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT INTO MAKING JEWELRY.
DS: I live in Melbourne, Australia. As a young girl I went to the Victorian College of the Arts to study painting. I accidentally came across enamel because of my aunt. I fell in love with the medium and have been passionate about it ever since. There was no one here in Australia to teach enameling so I taught myself from books and made lots of mistakes! I think one learns a lot from mistakes. After making many very large paintings (I had a huge kiln), large bowls and mural commissions all in enamel, I felt I needed to go back to university to study jewelry and metalwork to enable me to explore the use of enamels further. I eventually became a teacher at the university (used to be the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).
MR: WHAT DO YOU EXPERIENCE WHEN YOU ARE CREATING JEWELRY?
DS: My creativity is completely unpredictable. Anything can trigger it. I have been enameling for many years and have found that you need a lot of patience. Enamels are time-consuming and have rules that must be obeyed, but the outcome is so beautiful that the time spent is worth it.
The process of making my jewelry pieces is intuitive. Shape, balance of color and design (usually asymmetrical design) are important in my work. I am an incurable romantic and love beauty in my pieces. The excitement of beginning a piece with inspiration from the delicate tracery found inside an unremarkable rock or the patterning of colors in a butterfly wing really excites me.
MR: WHAT WAS THE FIRST PIECE OF JEWELRY YOU EVER MADE?
DS: The first piece of jewelry I made was at university in the very early '90s. A bracelet in sterling silver of a fish, its head biting its tail with its skeleton surrounding the wrist. I still have it and wear it occasionally.
MR: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR STUDIO AND WHAT IT IS LIKE TO WORK IN IT.
DS: My studio is large, well set-out and very light. There are two large movable tables on castors, which I can arrange for classes and a great "bench," which was custom-made. I listen to all types of music depending on my mood in there.
MR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TOOL?
DS: I have many favorite tools, but my very favorite is my smallest kiln, which I call my workhorse. It heats up really quickly, and I use it almost every weekday.
MR: WHAT ADVICE DID YOU RECEIVE WHEN YOU STARTED MAKING JEWELRY AND WHAT DO YOU SHARE WITH YOUR STUDENTS?
DS: "Make sure your piece is well-finished on the back because buyers will always turn it over and look at the back!"
My word of advice to beginner jewelers is: There are two exciting times when making a piece. One is creating the design and the other is looking at the finished piece. All the rest is hard work. It's the same with anything one plans. You have to have a good work ethic.
You can see more of Debbie's work at debbiesheezel.com.au.
Interview by Marlene Richey