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