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"How did you get into jewellery making?"

"How did you get into jewellery making?"

Hello and welcome to my first 'Ask me anything' blog post, where YOU ask me anything about me, my jewellery or my business, and I answer honestly like we're chatting over a brew all cosy on the sofa.

I threw out some polls to my Instagram followers and they did not disappoint with the questions. Some of them are already making me sweat with nerves thinking about answering them! But let's start with the most logical one that loads of people asked...

"How did you get into jewellery making?"

I'm so so sorry in advance for the length of this post but I want to shed some light on the length of my creative journey and the twists and turns that have led me to this point so far.

Someone else asked me if making jewellery has always been something I wanted to do, and the honest truth is a big fat no. I had no idea that I'd end up designing jewellery, but I ALWAYS knew I'd be making 'things'.

So let me take you waayyyyyyy back. You might want to make yourself comfortable....

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Growing up, Art was my subject through and through, and of course I wanted to be an 'Artist' when I grew up as I had no understanding of the millions of other options open to the creatively minded. Also my big brother is 13 years older than me and he was already moved away to live by the sea to surf and make art by the time I was a kid and I idolised his carefree lifestyle and I think I made a silent promise to myself to follow in his path.

There was never any question in my mind that I wouldn't go to Art College after my A-Levels. I was desperate to go in fact. I couldn't WAIT to be surrounded by other people who had no real idea what they were doing, but that knew they had no other choice than to 'create' because even though they didn't understand it, they knew they just HAD to. Or maybe that was just how I felt...

2009

I found what seemed like the perfect course for someone who had no idea what they wanted to do, and enrolled on Interdisciplinary Art & Design at Leeds Arts University in 2009 (or Leeds College or Art as it was known then).

I pulled myself through the first year by the scruff of my neck, but dropped out mid-way through the first term of the second year. I was very rarely going in. The first year was mostly an introducing to all the different workshops in the college which was AMAZING, but when it came to actually applying the processes to projects, I just wasn't FEELING it.

It was too close to the 'Art' and nowhere near close enough to the 'Design' for me personally, and although it was a tough decision to leave, at least I knew what I DIDN'T want to be doing, even if I still didn't know what I DID.

Here's the only photo I could find of me and my work on that course. I had made plaster casts, then broke them, then cast them again. I think I was feeling broken at the time to be honest haha.

Searlait from Today JewellerySo I worked the rest of that year full time in the bar that I had been working in part time up until then. OK so that might have also had a part to play in me not going to college as I was definitely making the most of the city's nightlife afterwork, but it was also my entryway into working in an independent business, and the people I met and the opportunities that job opened up far out shone what I had to show for my first year of my degree.

Although the course wasn't for me, the college WAS, and working full time gave me the kick up the arse to think a bit harder about what it was I enjoyed doing the most, and what my next move should be.

On reflection I realised that the thing I had loved the most back in school was the practical projects in Technology & Design, particularly woodwork, and I had a flat mate in halls in my first year who was on the Furniture Making degree (also at Leeds College of Art) and I remembered feeling SO envious of the projects he was doing, and I thought, 'I'm gonna do that'.

So I did.

2011-2014

While all my friends were starting their final year of Uni, I was starting my first. Again.

I missed most of the first week because I was at a music festival, and to be completely honest I was still pretty crap at making it it in before mid-day BUT I worked hard. I worked really really long and hard staying late in the workshops every evening I could (if I wasn't working), not to play catch up, but because I LOVED IT.

We had our own workbench, and free rein of state of the art machinery, there was only 13 of us in my year I think so we became quite the family (a weird one, but a family). Sadly mid-way through our first year we were brought to the principle of the universities office to be told that they were stopping running our course and that we were the last year that would complete it. What a confidence boost eh! 'Yeah, we're not gonna bother doing your course any more. No point' HAHA.

Anyway, here's some pictures of the type of things I was up to in that time. I didn't really make much in the way of 'furniture', I was more interested in playing around with processes and experimenting with different ways of joining things together that wasn't standard joinery (always contrary).

Wood workshop

The closest workbench was mines. You can see my purple and green toolbox sticking out from under it. Making our own toolbox was the second project on our course. No idea where it is now. I was less conscious of waste then and probably threw it in the skip instead of taking it with me. I was never precious about the things I made. Maybe I should have been.

All projects start at the wood shelves. We eventually visited a saw mill and picked out our own wood to be delivered to the college. My favourites were Ask and Sycamore.

 

In the machine shop making a mould for the central mobile for my 'Watermelon in Windings' sculpture.

Searlait McCrea from Today Jewellery's sculpture from university

Here's the sculpture. It might look simple (and weird) but figuring out that framework was a mind bender (for me). Probably easy peasy if you're anyway mathematically inclined. I never really cared what the final things were, I was more interested in the processes that went into them.

 

Searlait from Today Jewellery's sculpture from college

For one project I somehow created a graph from the definition of 'communication', and translated that into a series of welded steel sculptures/magnetic organisational objects. I'm at my happiest when I'm deep deep in unnecessary thought, haha. I've no idea how I got to that graph... 

Searlait McCrea Racka Furniture Project

Searlait McCrea Racka Furniture Project

Searlait McCrea Racka Furniture Project

OK so I actually did make 'proper furniture' for one project, and created three flat pack pieces that didn't use permanent fixtures or joints. This is the type of direction I thought I'd go down when I finished University. Designing flexible products for modern living.

 

My page from our year book where I describe my passion for products way better than I ever could now.

I didn't even finish my graduation project (above). I made an interactive sculptural exploded chair that only existed when someone sat on it, but I couldn't get the mechanisms to work in time so it just looked like a massive dominatrix contraption. It's cringe worthy to look at it now, but again I wasn't bothered about the final thing and what it looked like, I only cared about the experimentation along the way, so I was chuffed even though I didn't get it to work in time.

I came out the other end with a First Class Ba(Hons) in Furniture Making, and if I could I would go back and do it over and over again because I was in my element.

2014

Straight after graduating I take part in a 6 weeks graduate artist residency with East Street Arts, Leeds and the reality of being a Furniture Making Graduate hits home.

Goodbye facilities.

I make a shadow sculpture from the contents of my toolbox that projects a shadow of a chair we studied on our degree as being an early iconic example of the 'bentwood' process. 

I remember feeling distinctly lost and deflated at this point when the reality sunk in that without investing heavily in the tools and space for a workshop of my own, I could say goodbye to the large scale making I had come to love.

Meanwhile...

Mid way through my 2nd year at Uni I started to intern with Duke Studios, a co-working space in Leeds who also offer some design & build services. I shadowed their current 'Head of Making' one day a week, helping out with laser cutting, vinyl cutting, making lightboxes and signage, installing interiors, and a million other things in between in projects and businesses across the city.

I kept going all the way to I graduated, and going in extra days if they needed me, and I LOVED IT. I was working on real life projects for real life people and places, along with real life awesome people who were passionate about championing culture across the city.

Lucky for me, the Head of Making moved away, so about 6 months after I graduated I had myself a full time creative job as 'Head of Making and Doing'.

A FULL TIME CREATIVE JOB!

I did so many things in my time at Duke that it's impossible to condense! I ran the laser, vinyl and design & build services we offered to people to put their designs into production. I was the right hand man to one of the directors and good pal Laura Wellington on her interior design projects. I built and installed signage and displays in bars and venues across the city. I did a LOAD of internal building in Duke itself when we moved to a bigger premises at Sheaf Street.

I was building and making things every single day, and when I go to some of my favourite places in Leeds and see things I've made with my own bare hands I feel super proud.

I got stuck in a deep scroll back through Duke's Instagram to show you the kind of things I got up to in my time there. Like talking about cereal on BBC's 'Inside the factory'. Eating. Drinking. Being up ladders (OH MY GOD I WAS UP LADDERS SO MUCH). Playing with lego. More eating and drinking.

I did actually 'do work', and I'm SO PROUD of the work I did do, but my happiest take-away from my time there was the times spent with all the amazing people I got to work along side and bond with over a brew in the kitchen (the place to be of course).

2016

I had been working full time at Duke around a year and a half when I started to feel the itch to learn something new for myself. I was making things every single day, but I hadn't made anything 'for myself' for ages.

I have always loved silver jewellery. My big sister is 11 years older than me, so growing up I used to idolise her already established style, which often included chunky silver rings. Looking back I always used to make my own jewellery of sorts by stringing together weird beads and objects to make my own one of a kind necklaces, my most memorable of which being a cassette tape on a pearl necklace, haha. Good old Myspace days.

I enrolled on a 10 week evening course in jewellery making back at Leeds College of Art in September 2016. The tutor was my old metalwork tutor in my furniture making course, so I sought her advice on whether or not to go for the beginners or intermediate course. She said she'd be happy to take me on the intermediate course and away I went.

In hindsight I should have gone for the beginners. My large scale welding was NO preparation for the intimate scale of silversmithing. I was in over my head, surrounded by proper jewellers. I didn't even know what form silver came in let alone what all the tiny fiddly little tools did.

I had a stone with me that I collected from Whitby beach a couple of weeks before, and I knew I wanted to turn it into a ring, so after getting over my fear of looking like a complete idiot, I made it known to the tutor I didn't have a clue where to start and she gave me a very quick crash course.

At the end of the first class I had just about finished this ring...

Today Jewellery unusual silver stone ring

Today Jewellery Ring

Oh. My. God. I made something. And now I'm wearing it on my finger.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT.

I went home after that first class and ordered a handful of tools and some silver wire from Cooksongold and decided I was going to start making more stuff from home in between the classes.

Find out exactly how much money I spent to get started here.

This is my first ever jewellery making 'bench' set-up...

Searlait from Today jewellery making set-up

What you can see here is me working from on top of a stool.

Coming from my building background, making jewellery was THE DREAM. I could make things that excited me with NO space and BARELY any tools. Am I dreaming?

This was also the year I bought a camper van almost the same age as me. Owning a camper van has been a lifelong dream of mines, and one bank loan later it was a reality. And this was when the seed was planted...'Hey. I could do this from the back of the van!'

More on that to follow...

2017

The stool top set-up didn't last long. Who was I kidding. I was a legit hobbyist now. If I wanted to continue making jewellery I at least needed a dedicated space to do so.

So I upgraded from a tiny stool, to a tiny chest of drawers IN THE LIVING ROOM. Thank god my boyfriend Liam is supportive of my dream because he's had to deal with some unsightly living situations in the past few years.

 

DIY jewellery making set-up

My first DIY jewellery making set-up

I'm still working full time at this point, and me and Liam have decided we're not happy with the stinky, mouldy camper van interior, and we embark on our own conversion.

Between making jewellery and converting the van (you can look back through all our conversion photos here if you're interested in that) our life was MESSY.

I know I don't look it in this photo, but converting the van might the happiest time in my life so far. I was working full time in a job that involved a lot of manual labour, then coming home and starting another full day of manual labour on the van.

Sorry but I'm gonna swear here...It was FUCKING HARD WORK but I couldn't have been happier.

The reality of campervan conversion

 

At some point along the way we both decided to quit our perfectly good jobs to go away adventuring for a while. So I say bye bye to Duke (this is our last team photo before I left) and the race is on to complete the van ready for our departure to France in June 2017.

Duke Studios

June 2017 me and Liam get a one way ferry to France. We don't have a plan for where we're going or how long we're going to be going for. We're just going to take it as it comes.

I packed my tiny tool bag of jewellery tools and away we went!

Oh at this point I should say that 3 days before we left someone broke into our van and stole my jewellery making tools and I had to re-buy EVERYTHING 3 days before we left. It was fine, tools are replaceable and thankfully it didn't cost TOO much to replace everything. But my very first pieces of jewellery that I made, including the ring I showed you above was in the tool box too. I don't know why I kept them in there, but I hope someone somewhere is enjoying them.

If you want to see more photos of our trip you can check them out here.

Jewellery making set-up in the back of the campervan

Jewellery making set-up in the back fo the van

Jewellery making set-up in the back of the van

One of the things that was also stole was the Instax camera that Duke bought me as my leaving present as I wanted to put instant pictures of where my pieces were made into every order, so I had to re-buy that too.

If you scroll back down through my Instagram you can see some of the photos I sent out.

Some of the instant pictures that people got with their orders were AMAZING but if I'm being honest it was actually quite difficult to get these pictures! Behind every dream is the reality and sometimes I just wasn't in a very awe-inspiring location when I was making the orders (like when we were camped up in a mechanics garden for 10 days on ONE of our breakdowns) and a lot of the insane views were on drives, and when we stopped to take them in I never remembered to take a bloody photo.

Today jewellery old packaging

I only have ONE instant picture that I actually kept myself from the trip (how stupid is that!?), and it's the one I'm holding in my hand here. What. A. View.

Today jewellery

We were away for around 5/6 months in the end. Most of that was spent in France, but we spent a few days here and there in Spain, Italy & Switzerland too, although it kind of all just merged into one for me because my sense of geography and direction is terrible (and I was the driver HA).

As we approached Christmas 2017 we did some house sitting through Trusted House-Sitters so I could take some time away from driving to focus on getting ready for Christmas.

We worked on updated product photography in the front garden of our first housesit, most of which I still use now, including this, my personal favourite. Not sure if you can make it out, but I'm holding the fluffiest cat ever.

Resourcefulness is priceless!

DIY product photography

Our first house sit was looking after 7 CATS! We ended up staying double that because we became good friends with the hosts when they returned from their holiday. I'll never forget their kindness and friendship to us. Steve and Lynn if you're reading this... I promise we'll be back to visit sometime!

DIY photography set-up while house-sitting

Low-fi photography set-up in the front garden. Spot the two cats.

While here I also made the decision that I'd have to stop sending instant photos with orders. It was a lovely idea but it wasn't sustainable, especially now we were staying stationary for a while.

In our next house sit I worked on a re-brand (I forgot to mention I was trading under my own name at this point, not Today) and dropped the camper van specific personalised packaging for something simpler.

Today Jewellery old packaging and branding design

It was November when we started this house sit. It was looking after two gorgeous dogs for a young couple who had bought a large run down farm house in rural France and they were renovating it and working on their land with the intention of becoming completely self sufficient eventually.

We spent all of our time in their generous farm house style kitchen/living room with a HUGE wood burner listening to BBC 6 Music, going for dog walks in the surrounding countryside.

I would sit in this spot while I was making up all the orders I sent out in what turned out to be a way busier Christmas for orders than I had anticipated!

I was blessed with the white tiled windowsill from which I got loads of great photos, again some of which I still use now (like the main image on my Production page).

Searlait from Today making jewellery while house sitting via Trusted House-SittersDIY photography set-up while house-sitting

Between the simplicity of the time we spent at this house-sit, and the simplicity obviously required to live in a campervan for months, I realised how important designing and making mindfully was to me.

I wanted to connect with people over simple products that they would love forever that wouldn't cost a fortune, or the planet. You know where people go traveling and 'find themselves'? I found how important making mindfully was to me.

December 2017 we come back to the UK. We didn't really know what our next move would be, but we thought we'd figure it out after some time back cosy in the comfort of Liams parents house. I really wanted to go on a UK/Ireland tour in the van, but the reality was we had fast run out of cash (we had broken down more than we had planned to haha), so after a meeting with his old boss, Liam got his old job back, and we were well and truly rooted back down over night.

2018

This time last year. January 2018 we move to Saltaire, Liam starts back at his old job, and I decide to have a go at this jewellery thing 'proper'.

I bought a kitchen table for the spare room, and 'started my own business'.

You can see what 2018 had in store by reading my '2018 in Review Blog' Post here.

Searlait from Todays DIY jewellery making set-up

Phew! We made it!

That's how I got into jewellery making.

I hope this has demystified my journey a little. The journey started almost a decade ago and the jewellery making chapter is a relatively short one so far. I never knew I'd end up here, but I feel very proud to look back and realise the patience and perseverance I've put into pursuing my creative passions at my own pace.

It's been HARD WORK keeping creative, but it hasn't FELT LIKE hard work...

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This took a way long time to put together, but it was nice to have an excuse to reflect. We don't allow ourselves that very often because we're always looking ahead, so if this was your question, thanks for the permission to pause.

If you could ask me anything what would it be?

Leave it as a comment below, email hello@madebytoday.com, or message me on socials and I'll add it to the list and contact you when I get round to yours!

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