Every now and then I get asked to make something extra special for someone and so far everyone I’ve designed a piece for has been really happy with the results. Designing a piece for someone who has something particular in mind can be a bit daunting, I’m always worried that what I make won’t live up to the image they have in their head! The challenge of a commission can be fun and it always pushes me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing, I often end up with a new piece or range to add to my shop because of it.
The latest commissioned piece I made was for a lovely customer who wanted something special to remember a relative by. She had seen my work at a Christmas craft fair and contacted me hoping I could design her a special necklace inspired by her and her Grandads love of birds. As with all my customers who want a custom made piece we emailed back and forth for a while so I could get a clear picture of what she wanted; I then began working on some ideas and doodling in my sketchbook.
I always start a piece this way, I find it helps to get ideas onto paper even if they’re just doodles. If I like an idea or image I then begin re-drawing it and perfecting the shape. Here I have re-drawn the birdcage and birds over and over until they are exactly how I want them. As this particular design was for a commission I made up three slightly different versions of a necklace and then emailed the sketches to the customer.
When making a piece I copy my designs on to magic tape so I can transfer them to the silver sheet I’m using , it’s a really simple technique and means you get an accurate shape to cut out.
Here you can see the birdcage, bird and a back for the birdcage (as the piece is going to have gold leaf details) ready to be cut out. I use a saw to hand cut out each shape, adjusting as I go.
When everything is cut out then comes the hard bit, filing and shaping. If I’m making something for the first time I always cut it out slightly bigger than needed, this does mean I have to spend an extra long time filing it to perfection but while you can take away from a cut out shape you can’t add to it and I’d rather be safe than sorry. After I’ve made something once I have a clearer picture of the finished piece in my head and can be a bit more confident with my sawing. Because this was quite a tricky cut out job I also cut out a spare cage just in case there were any mishaps!
In this picture you can see what a difference a bit of filing makes. Well hopefully you can :s the birdcage on the right has been shaped and filed using needle files where as the one on the left has just been cut out.
Once I’m happy with the shape of everything, construction starts. The cage and cage back are soldered together and a loop attached to the top for a chain and the bird it connected to the cage with silver jump rings so it can hang in front.
I used a pendant motor to buff out any marks or scratches and then I put the piece in my barrel polisher to give it a high polish finish.
After all that the piece just needed gold leaf adding, which is done using special adhesive and an agate burnisher.
And that’s it, from start to finish, it’s pretty much the same process for anything I make, I always start with a few doodles and (most of the time) I end up with something unique and beautiful.
One of the best bits of working on a commissioned piece is getting to work closely with a customer and how appreciative people are. Happily my customer loved her special necklace and I’m sure she will treasure it for years to come.
I’m currently working on a new range of birdcage designs inspired by this piece so keep an eye out for them in my shop.