Frankly, The Folksy Magazine

Meet the Maker… Helen Burgess

by Emily. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.


How did you get started as a designer-maker?

I have always loved creating and designing things, I had studied art and design at college and then went on to study a degree in three dimensional multi-disciplinary design which gave me the chance to explore different design principles. In my spare time I would make beaded jewellery but longed to develop my skills and in 2008 I decided to take up silver smithing. With the help of my Dad and Uncle we converted the shed into a studio. I had bought a few books on silver smithing and precious metal clay as I prefer to learn at my own pace. After a few months I felt ready to start selling through a local craft fair and then started selling my work through a few local galleries and Helen Burgess jewellery was born. And today my time is divided by making and selling my jewellery and a part time job in retail. I have only started selling on folksy since April and have really enjoyed being part of the site and community.

Talk us through your collection.

My collections consist of handmade pieces that feature birds, hammered finishes, oxidized silver and my dot dash pattern. I combine precious metal pieces with beads and stones that compliment or contrast with the metal. I really enjoy making pieces that are visually interesting and distinctive.

Tell us about your process as a jeweller.

In my work I use both traditional silver smithing techniques alongside precious metal clay (PMC). The fine silver PMC is used in a very similar way to ceramic clay it also has to be fired in a kiln although much smaller than a traditional kiln. The PMC has given me a chance to explore different ways of creating different forms such as my birds. I use sterling silver to create pieces that have been cut into shapes such as leaves and then hammered to create interesting finishes. Once I have created a piece in silver I will then attach either beads or chain that complement the design.

How do you plan your work ? 

Some pieces develop organically just by experimenting with materials like my cavern pendant, while other pieces are developed over many sketches and the choosing the most successful design.

Do you have any tools unique to you?

A lot of my precious metal clay equipment is either found or handmade, some of my most useful cutting tools are just crudely cut out hard plastic sheet that are perfect for the jobs required of them. Many found objects like shells and old watch straps are perfect for creating textures in the precious clay. The surfaces that I use to work my PMC on are glass from old picture frames and the wooden backs of which are used as supports for sawing and ring triblit in the studio.

What inspires you?

I take my inspiration from a wide range of sources. Nature has been a big influence on my work in particular birds, and their nests and twigs have all featured in my work. Contemporary art has also had an influence on my work in particular Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. While other pieces I have been influenced by ancient historical jewellery like Egyptian and Roman. On many pieces I have used my dot dash design, which had come through non jewellery related doodles that I have made.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on Folksy in the past week?

I really love the Ship’s crew Russian dolls by Hole in my pocket. Ever since I was a child I have been entranced by Russian dolls and these ones are something really special I love the characters and the colours used.

Do you have a craft hero?

Well I have two craft hero’s is the jewellery maker Elaine Cox and paper artist Su Blackwell. I love the way that Elaine Cox uses textured precious metals and rough stones in her jewellery to create these highly individual pieces that look as if they have been formed naturally. Su Blackwell makes these incredible fragile sculptures using paper images from books, with these forms rising out of the books as if the books were coming alive. She has also made some amazing large scale installations.

Do you have one great tip for other makers?

Just love what you do and write lists (big fan of lists,) lists are always a good thing to do to for helping you to manage your time which will get the best out of you and your product.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I would love to have my jewellery in many more galleries across the country, and hopefully be able afford to revamp my shed into something that more resembles a studio!

Currently I am working on a jewellery range for men which I’ll be launching in the next few months, which will open my jewellery to a whole new audience.

You can see all Helen’s lovely work in her Folksy shop Helen Burgess Jewellery.