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Jewelry Design with the iPad Pro
Jeweler Kate Case shares how she transforms concept sketches on her iPad Pro into intricate silver masterpieces.
"During the making process, the piece might evolve so it turns out differently to my initial idea. I like this organic way of making things."
Kate Case - I’m a jeweler and silversmith from Tasmania, and I also teach jewelry making at a local technical college. I live with my partner, Daniel Brauchli, who is a guitar maker and musician, on an old 40 acre farm.
I’m also a keen nature observer and amateur photographer. Our property and the surrounding district has a lot of native forest so there are many animals and birds, even a platypus in our own swimming hole! Drawing is a passion of mine, as well. I’ve recently started doing life drawing again after a gap of many years, and I also enjoy doing nature and botanical studies.
An echidna and some of the colorful fungi that inhabit our land.
Our swimming hole and platypus!
How did you begin silversmithing and what do you love about it?
I was in the US for a year as a high school exchange student for my senior year, and took a jewelry making class only because there was a clash in the timetable for the painting class I actually wanted to take. So it was really by accident that I got introduced to it. I instantly fell in love with it!
I come from an artistic family — my two siblings are both very creative and my mother was a high school art teacher for most of her professional life. We often attended craft weekends and workshops throughout my childhood and teen years. Coincidentally, my mother’s parents were both silversmiths, but because I grew up in Australia and they were in the UK, I didn’t really know them or have any contact with them. In addition, my father’s father was a watchmaker / jeweler, but he had died long before I was born. So three out of four of my grandparents were metalsmiths! People often say that jewelry making must be “in my blood,” and perhaps it is!
Even though I loved making art, I was actually on track to do marine biology at university. I had a passion for science, biology and ecology in particular. After being introduced to jewelry making, I did a complete switch and decided to go to art school.
Jewelry making is technical and there’s a lot of problem solving involved. I think that satisfies the “scientific” side of my personality. Because of the small scale, you need to like working with attention to detail, which I do. Some of the processes I use are very time consuming, but I find I don’t need “patience” as many people assume, because being absorbed in the making process is so enjoyable. I get into a “zone” and it’s almost like a meditation.
Working in metal is what I like best. It’s incredibly versatile and fascinating in its properties. It seems so hard and unyielding, but is actually very malleable and almost infinitely shapeable by any number of methods. It’s also a strong material, which means you can make things that are really fine if a design calls for that. There’s almost no limit to what you can do with it.
My favorite metal is silver, I love the color and it’s beautiful to work with. I do occasionally work with gold, but it’s usually just a small amount on a silver piece. I think they complement each other nicely when used this way — the coolness of the silver with just a few details in gold. The gold has an incredible richness and warmth but can be too much on its own, in my opinion.
One of my favorite techniques, chasing and repoussé, involves shaping and forming the metal from a flat sheet using small punches and a hammer while the metal is supported on a bed of pitch (a tar-like substance). I like working directly with the metal in this way. It’s intuitive and you need to have an intimate understanding of its properties. I do a lot of experimenting and the way I use the technique tends to be quite different from the traditional application of it. It’s often used as a surface “decoration,” whereas I make more sculptural, 3-dimensional pieces.
You primarily do your creative work with your hands… how do the iPad and Concepts fit into your workflow?
When touchscreen tablets first came on the market, I was totally smitten with the idea of being able to draw digitally. It seemed almost like magic, and it still does. To my disappointment, the iPad was really quite useless in this regard because of the lack of a proper stylus with pressure sensitivity, so for a few years I used a Samsung Note tablet. That was good except drawing apps were limited. Years before this, I was so desperate for a portable digital art station that I bought — at great expense — a Modbook, which was a MacBook modified by a third party company in the US. They added a Wacom digitizer to it to make it into a tablet. It weighed a ton, but was fun to use! That was my first experience with stylus-based digital drawing and I loved it.
Anyway, I was really happy when the iPad Pro with the Pencil came out. Finally, artists had a professional-level, portable option within the Apple / Mac system!
I use a number of apps for drawing on the iPad, but for jewelry design work, I particularly like Concepts. The infinite canvas is a huge advantage, because when I’m brainstorming ideas I don’t run out of canvas and can keep everything on the same page. The fact that it’s vector-based also allows for great editing options, so I can play around with different iterations of a design.
Can you share your creative process when it comes to working with metal? How do you come up with ideas and turn them into finished pieces?
A lot of the time, ideas for pieces are just floating around in my head in a vague sort of way. I get images of shapes or textures. Ideas might be sparked by an interesting looking seed pod, or a detail on a plant, or something I’ve picked up on the beach. Sometimes they’ll be a result of a piece I’m working on, and I start to imagine other directions the next piece could go in.
During the making process, the piece might evolve so it turns out differently to my initial idea. I like this organic way of making things. As I work, I’m always thinking, “What if I did this…?” I’m never afraid to try out something, and if it doesn’t work then I’ll just throw the piece in the reject bin. Every piece, even an “unsuccessful” one, is food for the next one. Sometimes I’ll get pieces from years ago back out of the reject bin and revisit an idea.
Here is a look at the process I went through to create one of the brooches sketched in the image above.
My concept sketch. The ovals will be pearls, the circles will be hand-shaped gold beads.
I draw the pattern straight onto the metal sheet. Alternatively, you can print it onto a sticker, place it onto the metal, and then inscribe right through the sticker.
Shaping the metal in the pitch.
Freeing the design from the metal.
The back has to match seamlessly with the front.
Attaching the findings to the back side of the brooch.
The final piece with the mounted pearls and scatter of gold.
Concepts is also really useful for piercing and sawed designs. The great thing about using a digital process for this is that you can draw a detailed, finished design, then print it onto a sticky label. That is stuck onto the sheet of metal and then you can either cut the metal right through the label, or scribe though it to transfer the design onto the metal.
Doing the drawings digitally for pierced pieces also allows me to print them out onto a special sheet — one designed for printing and etching circuit boards. Then the toner from that printout can be transferred to the metal and used as a resist for acid etching. That light etching becomes the guide for the sawing. This album shows the full process.
Even though I still enjoy sketching with paper and a pencil, the iPad Pro and apps like Concepts are a permanent part of my design process and workflow now. I only very rarely use paper for my design drawings nowadays — in fact, only if I don’t have my iPad with me! This sort of technology opens up so many options, and really I’m just scratching the surface of its potential at the moment.
Kate Case is a jewelry designer and silversmith in Tasmania. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and also on her website. She takes custom orders, or you can visit her local outlet in Tasmania at Handmark Gallery.
Interview by Erica Christensen
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