Tools of the Trade: Belinda Evans & Alchemy

By Brianna Read The interview for this first chapter in the second volume of Tools of the Trade raised two particularly pertinent topics for the wonderful platform for discussion that is the Creative Women’s Circle: social media and collaboration. I shall return to these topics shortly, but let me introduce the subject who brought these to the fore… Belinda Evans is the creator of Alchemy, a beautiful label and online store which I admired long before I crossed paths with Belinda herself.

Alchemy Australian Found Wood Necklace - Alchemy Knitted Cotton Necklace - photos by Belinda Evans - 2012

My reason for this admiration was that this tiny little nook, in the vast ocean of online stores, managed to cultivate an extraordinary air of calm. As anyone who has lost their way while navigating the information superhighway will understand, calm is not something you happen upon very often. I mention this particular quality because Belinda’s extraordinary talent lies not only in her hands which craft each beautiful, thoughtful product you find in the Alchemy store, but also in her ability to create quiet space and genuine connection in the arena of online shopping and social media.

How, I wondered, has this woman stayed so true to the ethos of her slow, calm, creative practice while building a tiny empire and devoted following in the chaos of online?

Alchemy Faceted Maple Necklace - Photo by Belinda Evans - 2012

Belinda spent her childhood surrounded by a wonderful array of tools: lathes and pottery wheels were both things she was encouraged to try and with a glass blowing studio and furniture making workshop at her fingertips it would seem a natural progression for such a childhood to lead on to a practice such as that displayed at Alchemy. But not without an invaluable step in a different direction…

Belinda also works in the field of project and event management and it is her experiences using social media in this environment which she credits with developing the skills that have proven invaluable in the development and management of the online presence of Alchemy. Take a quick look at the Alchemy blog or her Instagram posts and her genuine enjoyment of this media is wonderfully apparent. Her beautiful blog for Alchemy has a quiet sister in the blog titled Simple Things which Belinda dedicates to displaying images of a wide spectrum of design works which catch her eye and entertain her mind. Belinda says of her sharing ‘I’m not shy about sharing my techniques, how I source my materials, and the beautiful work of other artisans that I love to surround myself with.’.

Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

This leads me to the second topic of collaboration. I recently read an article posted on Li Edelkoort’s Trend Tablet authored by Peter Stitger and to borrow his words ‘We are leaving an individual era behind us.’ This article continued on with a brief treatise on the merits of collaboration and fostering creative environments which work on the premise of camaraderie with the sharing of tools, knowledge and creativity at the center.

Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

Belinda has exactly this approach to her practice, take one look at the beautiful photos of Belinda using indigo dyes for some of her new projects below. Taken by Olga Bennett, these photographs showcase the talents of photographer and subject in equal measure, a perfect example of the beauty of collaboration. This appreciation for the talents of others is one of the defining characteristics which make Belinda’s online voice so pleasant to listen to. In a time which seemed to favour the loudest and most shamelessly self-promoting voices, stumbling across Alchemy and then crossing paths with the quiet collaborator herself was equal parts breath of fresh air and renewal of faith in social media platforms. Belinda, thank you!

Belinda's blogs can be found here and here. Her lovely escape from the world store is here and to find her on Instagram she is known as: @iamalchemy...

Brianna Read is a designer and maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Her multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

Tools of the Trade: Fiona McDonald of Ichimu

By Brianna Read The subject of this month’s Tools of the Trade brought up a rather interesting idea in the discussion of creative practice – rules. With every trade comes a history of how the practice has grown and moved with time, there are always long lists of the recognised methods of practice and an equally long list of things which ought not be done. This particular idea was touched upon in an earlier Tools instalment and I was glad for the opportunity to get a little further into the topic – you see I am an advocate of bending and breaking rules… I am making my subject sound rather rebellious which is actually not the case at all.

Fiona McDonald makes objects of porcelain – under the label Ichimu (translated roughly from Japanese meaning a dream, or a fleeting thing).  Everything about Fiona’s creative practices are as gentle and light of hand as the name implies. The rule breaking I referred to was from an almost off-hand remark Fiona made about why her ceramic practice brings so much pleasure: ‘Maybe it is because I don’t really know the rules about clay and porcelain that I love it so much.’

I adore these types of honest insights as they reveal so much about why we create. During the interview Fiona made mention of her love of children’s illustrations (those done by children rather than for them) and her appreciation of the honesty they hold. Her remark about not knowing the rules of porcelain and the link this may have to her enjoyment of the process revealed that she found for herself in ceramics what she appreciated in the unfettered and unpretentious expressions of children’s creativity.

Take a look at her work in Ichimu and it is not difficult to see the pleasure taken in creating it. When I asked Fiona to interview for this column I presumed that the effortless beauty in her ceramics had been from years of labored study and crafting with the medium of porcelain. I had no idea Fiona’s background was in fact in graphic design and pattern design for textiles. Indeed, Fiona was introduced to the art of ceramics by a friend relatively recently.

I think it is precisely because of her recent introduction to the medium and an absence of formal training that Fiona’s work stands out. I love that the hand and marks of the tool can be seen in the work – these pieces have a physicality which speaks of their production. Of course, her knowledge of and practice in the visual arts can be seen in her ceramic work. Each piece is hand built using a variety of tools and found objects and the surface treatment and colour sensibility of each collection of pieces clearly displays her talent for design.

While I wholeheartedly appreciate mastery in any medium and understand that rules are made often for very sound reasons; whenever I encounter an artisan who blazes their own trail through a quagmire of dos and don’ts I am reminded of the very reason why creativity exists: because it brings pleasure to those who create and those who behold the results.

Yet another invaluable tool for the kit of any creative: the ability to shirk the rules when they are hampering the enjoyment of the creative process.

More of Fiona’s porcelain work at Ichimu can be seen here and here. Her textile and graphic works have online homes here, here and here.

Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

Tools of the Trade: Melanie Stapleton & Cecilia Fox

By Brianna Read When I meet Melanie Stapleton she was hard at work putting the finishing touches on the brand new premises of Cecilia Fox. I know a little about florists, they work harder than most people imagine! The common perception of florist as a romantic career path filled with fragrance and beauty simply doesn’t cover it – there are early hours, really long days, hard physical labour and perishable produce. The reason I point this out is that Melanie sits opposite me in a café neighbouring her new shop, days from opening, nine months pregnant patiently waiting for my questions and not once do I sense an air of stress. This is one creative woman who has mastered the art of juggling – she looked serene!

I admit I was quite familiar with Melanie’s work before we met – I have long admired her work, documented beautifully on her blog. I was very curious to hear about how she arrived at her particular design sensibilities, I always like to ask if the tools used by a creative have any particular history. When I point out that there have been no great advancements made in the tools used in floristry Melanie chuckles and replies ‘No, just a pair of scissors really!’.

Melanie has been running Cecilia Fox from a Brunswick workshop for over five years. Prior to going out on her own she spent years in Auckland, Sydney, London and finally Melbourne learning from others in the industry. She cites London as a turning point for her, here she discovered what floristry could be like. ‘I learnt that it was ok to specialise,’ She says ‘not in an exclusive sense, just that it was good practice to do what you do well rather than do many half-heartedly.’

This particular quality is reflected so well in the lovely photographs of her designs. There is a distinct Cecilia Fox floral stamp and many other creative have recognised this. Since going out on her own Melanie has had a number of clients she lists as inspiring – all of which have recognised her keen design sensibility and asked her to bring a little into their worlds. Cecilia Fox was responsible for the floral designs in Husk for a number of years, she regularly works with the event coordinators Georgous and also works with Kuwaii for their eye catching window displays.

The new shopfront for Cecilia Fox can be found nestled between New Day Rising and Triple R headquarters on the thoroughfare from Brunswick to Northcote and is sure to attract many folk overjoyed with a lovely splash of colour and perfume in the neighbourhood.

Melanie described the ethos of her approach as one driven by bringing beauty, understanding the client’s needs even when they are unsure. Most importantly, what I took from this inspiring interview was that when you remain true to your creative sense you will attract projects and clients which inspire and add fuel to the fire you laboured to build.

Cecilia Fox - Out of the Woods can be found at 221b Blyth St Brunswick. Melanie and her wonderful staff are instore from Thursday through Sunday with the following hours: Thu 9-6, Fri 7-7, Sat 8-4, Sun 10-2

 

Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

Tools of the Trade: Ilka White

By Brianna Read “Art is the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature.”

Susanne Langer (1895-1985)

This quote is from the text Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling by another inspiring creative woman –  I cannot think of a more appropriate way to introduce Ilka White. Ilka’s creative practice simply does not fit neatly into any box and while Ilka herself is unsure about labels, for the purpose of describing to the readers a little more about her work I shall informally call her a textile maker and educator.

One of the first questions I ask the subjects of this column is “Which tool makes your practice possible?” Ilka’s immediate response to this query was “My mind.” This  initially puzzled my very literal and practical self but through the course of the interview I came to understand a little better why Ilka’s work and teaching practice both leave an indelible mark on those who encounter them.

Whether works are initially explorations of materials or ideas White’s pieces always exude a depth of concept in partnership with a mastery of craft in each medium she employs. Often drawing both inspiration and materials from the natural world the work always speaks of where its materiality originated from and of the hands that shaped it’s new form.

When I inquired after how her practice has evolved over time, Ilka observed that recently her meticulous analytical nature has given way to a gentler approach to making and self-critique. This shift in her practice has also seen a change in the focus of her work which she described as valuing process as much as product  and an interest in “making work in response to the essence of something, rather than depicting it's physical form.”

 

Feeling that 'mind' did not adequately describe the essential tool of her practice, Ilka searched a little longer for the right words to summarise this elusive ingredient, and proposed 'perception and soul' as a more adequate answer. From the outside though it seems very clear that her work is extraordinary in its ability to communicate both the mind, hand and heart of its maker, of course there is no single word to sum this up as it is many things… passion, intelligence, talent, dedication, an open and inquiring mind and on the list goes.

Ilka’s work recently showed at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick as part of an exhibition titled Material Culture, several of these pieces are currently on display at Pop Craft until the end of June. July and August see Ilka sharing her wealth of textile knowledge in numerous workshops across Victoria.

To contact Ilka about her work or classes email ilkajanewhite@gmail.com or follow the links below for further information on each event.

Decorative Techniques for Fashion (Intensive 5 day workshop at RMIT)

Responding to the Natural World in Textile Practice (Lecture as part of the Beautiful Silks Natural Dye Symposium)

Weaving Connections - A week of textile activities, classes and demonstrations in Castlemaine. August 20 - 25

Works by Ilka are showing in Petite Miniature Textile Exhibition at Wangaratta Art Gallery from June16  - July 22.

Brianna Read is a designer-maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds employs hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops.