What made you decide you wanted a career as a metal smith?
I think when I was at high school I excelled in art ... when I finished senior I wanted to go off and explore Australia, and myself, and I went up to far north Queensland and worked in the hospitality industry up there for a number of years.
There’s a nest of creative artists around Mission Beach, and in particular, a metal smith called Liz Gallie. I actually bought several of her works because they were so beautiful, sterling silver and using lawyer cane (a type of plant) as an accent to the jewellery pieces.
So that sort of got me thinking about jewellery ... I always wanted to go to uni and after waiting tables for so many years I thought it was about time, so I was 25 and I applied to go to the University of Southern Queensland.
So you currently teach visual arts part-time at CQ University and make jewellery in your spare time?
That’s right, I started off full-time but over the years I wanted to spend more time on my own practice, and that’s part of vocational education, that you’re still excelling in your industry.
So I work part-time and work in my studio at home, and produce works, not only for invited exhibitions but also competitions. I also sell my work through the local art gallery...
What do you enjoy most about making jewellery?
I love how it evolves. Generally as you’re making a piece, you’ve sort of got techniques in mind for what you’re going to do, and what materials you’re going to use...
As it’s being created, sometimes you might have happy mistakes, or something else comes along and you think, ‘oh, that will work better than my original concept,’ so it might slightly change as it goes along.
I think one of the exciting things is how the viewer reacts to [the final product]. They come along and they see it, and it might hold a different story for them, so that’s the exciting thing, what other people see in your work.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Oh my neck (laughs). My very sore neck. Unfortunately being at a jewellery bench, I’ve developed a very bad neck over the 20 years, 30 years that I’ve been doing this.
So I now have to be more mindful of that and so I’ve changed my work practice so that I’m not sitting for long periods hunched over, I’m getting up and moving around in between, and I’m doing it for shorter stints to manage that pain and relief.
Are there many full-time opportunities in this field?
I have students that come through and at CQ University ... often we will get phone calls, saying, ‘oh we have an apprenticeship starting for a jeweller, do you have any students who would suit that position?’ So some of the students go on in a technical field.
Others, and probably 50 per cent of the students will do it for themselves, but they will also make works to sell online, at markets, or through the galleries and different exhibitions.
Do you have any advice for teenagers dreaming of a career as a metal smith?
Go along and have some training. I mean I’m speaking with my teacher hat on, but honestly, it opens your horizon.
You can come along and do training in the visual arts, and you might think ‘oh, I just want to be a painter. I’m not interested in doing anything else’.
And you come along to an art environment, and you see what else is going on there, and you see the printmakers playing around with zinc plates and so forth, or you see the jewellery department and see what the students are doing in there.
So starting off with a bit of training, whether it be in that industry or even in a business sense too, doing a short course in business to know how to do an invoice, how to market your work, to do a webpage. So stepping stones and never giving up on learning.
Always striving ahead, and if there’s a workshop on that you can afford to go to, or you can apply for a funding grant or something, that’s fantastic also.
What would a typical starting salary in this field be?
I do know that it’s not that great ... I had one student who went through and did her apprenticeship with the local shop and then ended up at the hospital being an orderly because she could make more money that way.
However, she still makes jewellery ... on top of her normal job, so a lot of us still have to sort of subsidise our income with other things.