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In the first of a series of interviews for our new ShetlandMade exhibition our Creative Digital Apprentice Peter Tomlinson chatted with local jewellery designer Esmé Wilcock of Esmé Wilcock Jewellery Made by Shetland about her journey to this point, her inspirations, ShetlandMade and much more.

Esmé creates beautiful, traditionally sand cast silver pieces and sea glass jewellery inspired by Shetland’s landscape, sky and sea in her Hillswick workshop. Her work can be seen in the ShetlandMade exhibition at Bonhoga Gallery from 31 March - 20 May.

How did you name your company?

I named it Esmé Wilcock Jewellery Made by Shetland because I pick pieces up off the beach.

Shells, sea glass and the sand that I use to cast my silver pieces is also beach sand. So really the only piece of Shetland I’m not adding is the silver, everything else is coming from Shetland.

Where do you work from?

I work up at Hillswick; I’ve got a workshop at my parents’ place. My dad was a Master Blacksmith up here and I work in the old stables. I’ve got my two stables that we knocked out that I work in and its fine. Brilliant in the summer, not so great in winter… freezing! And because I work with a big open flame and doing a lot of melting, I couldn’t work somewhere that was insulated.

What kind of equipment do you use?

My favourite? I have lots of pieces of equipment I use but a lot of it is very old-fashioned, hand files and things like that. I have a collection of torches. My big torch which works off propane for when I’m melting my silver, puts lot of heat into it and I like that. I’ve also got a finer torch and that gives me pinpoint precision so I can solder tiny, tiny, tiny joints.

What inspires you?

I think it’s just Shetland really. I’m never short of inspiration, never short of ideas. Sometimes my problem is slowing the ideas down. I very much concentrate on stuff I find at the beach. I can find one shell but I could make it into a hundred different designs. Just from that one shell. My inspiration is just where I see things up close on the beaches. You can look from a distance but when you actually get down and look at the sand, the shells and how everything’s laid out there, that’s where I get my inspiration from.

Why do you choose to use those materials?

I used to work with my dad blacksmithing, so that’s where my skill comes from and was working as a chef on the side as well. I’m a single parent so it has always been a case of having as many jobs as I possibly could to be able to put food on the plate. I worked as a blacksmith because it was easy in a way that if one of the kids were sick, I could take time off to look after them.

My dad always said I’d never make a blacksmith because I melt everything I touch. So I found my own niche in melting precious metal and that’s what I do to make my castings.

How long does it tend to take to reach a finished product?

It really depends. If I’m casting my groatie buckie shells, I do them in sets of fifteen. Sounds a bit OCD but when I cast one, the silver shell has to go with the original shell and if I do any more than fifteen, I end up losing count and I get them confused. Right through the whole process, the silver and original shell have to be next to each other.

Some of the bigger pieces can take a week. I make a necklace, which is all groatie buckies – that can take me up to a week. I can’t do anything else while I’m doing that. Other pieces, I can have two or three things going but when I’m making those that’s all I can do.

Do you craft full time?

I’m full time. This is my sole income, there’s just me and my children. So I think that gives me more fire in my belly to make it work. I have nothing else to fall back on, my skill is what I can make with my hands.

Craft aside, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t really have any spare time! I spend time with my kids, I’ve got a teenager who definitely doesn’t like spending time with me and thinks I’m just a pain. I’ve also got a ten-year-old daughter who has a little pony so we work with the pony. I work with the pony every morning and for that hour or two hours I’m with her and the pony, it’s the only time when I don’t have any jewellery stuff going through my head. And because I’m so focused on making jewellery, it’s all I ever think about. Being with the pony means I’m forced to concentrate on something else and give something else 100% because if I don’t, somebody could get hurt.

I also do a lot of hillwalking. Again though, I don’t really switch off. My brain is still in work mode.

If you could own another artist’s work, who would you choose and why?

I think it would be Ruth Brownlee, not because she’s my pal but because I can stand inside her paintings and I’ve been there. A lot of times when I go for a walk, I’ll look up and go “oh, hi Ruth!” because when I look out, that’s one of her paintings. I love how if you put a light on them in a room, they come to life.

What constitutes a successful piece for you?

I’m never happy with any of my finished pieces and I always sit there and think the day that I am happy with whatever I’ve made is the day that my ego has taken over.

But when someone picks something up and tells me a memory or it has brought a feeling back to them, it’s well worth it. People send me shells to cast and there’s always a story with them.

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