It's been a while since I interviewed a jewellery designer, but very glad to be back in jewellery-land today with incredibly talented local designer / maker Natalia Milosz-Piekarska!
Natalia's work is so unique and for this reason kind of hard to describe. For one thing, she has an incredible knack of disguising the materials she uses in her work. Often combining handcarved timber and resin in irregular organic shapes, the pieces are incredibly lightweight, and once textured and painted in her signature vibrant hues, it's not entirely clear exactly which materials have been used, or indeed where one material ends and the other starts. It gives the works a real sense of other-worldliness, as familiar materials are re-worked into completely new unfamiliar forms.
Another unique characteristic of Natalia's work is that many of the pieces, particularly the 3Dimensional timber / resin ones (see the brooches and rings below) feel almost like little living creatures! Perhaps of the underwater or insect variety? When visiting Natalia in her studio last week and seeing her work up close in person, so many of them really reminded me of characters from a Miyazaki animated film -Amazing! (As I rambled on and mentioned this uncanny resemblance, thankfully Natalia took it as a compliment, saying that's exactly the look she was going for! Phew! I talk too much).
Last year Natalia was awarded the British Council 'Realise Your Dream' and Ian Potter Cultural Trust travel grants - both of which assisted her in undertaking a self initiated internship with renowned UK fashion/costume jeweller Scott Wilson in London! Natalia researched and approached Scott directly, and found herself working for him for 6 months fulltime - an amazing opportunity which has given her an incredible wealth of experience and inspiration for her own practise upon returning to Melbourne.
Natalia is now back in a busy rhythm of designing and making new wearable works for her local stockists, and she also works one day a week lecturing at RMIT. When not designing, making or lecturing, Natalia can also be found working at Pieces of Eight, which of course stocks her own jewellery pieces and the work of so many other wonderful local makers.
DO visit Natalia's blog here! You can buy her work at the very best local jewellery galleries - e.g.etal and Pieces of Eight in Melbourne, Metalab and Studio 20 / 17 in Sydney and many more stockists listed on her blog.
Massive thanks to Natalia for her time sharing her story with us today. She's offered up so much wisdom and generous advice for budding independent designers and makers - thankyou Natalia!
Tell us a little bit about your background – What did you study and what path led you to what you're doing now?
I initially studied Design/Visual Communication at Monash, and in my final year I had the opportunity to take up a gold and silversmithing class as an elective. I was actually really terrible at it, and when I graduated it wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind, though neither was a career as a graphic designer. So instead I collected a few stamps on the passport and travelled for three years.
It was upon my return to Melbourne, and after being hugely inspired by the contemporary jewellery scene both locally and abroad, that persuaded me to give gold and silversmithing another go. I did some short courses to get my basic skills up, before finally applying for RMIT’s Gold and Silversmithing degree. I studied for four years, and have been out in the real world making work almost full-time ever since. When I'm not in the studio you can find me teaching at RMIT one day a week or working at Pieces of Eight.
You've recently returned back to Melbourne after a stint in London where you completed a studio internship with renowned fashion/costume jeweller Scott Wilson. What did you learn and take away from this experience?
It was an intensely exciting and challenging time! Apart from having followed and admired Scott Wilson’s practice for some time, one of the reasons I wanted to work for him was due to how different our aesthetics and practices are. Scott’s work, more often than not, is about beautiful clean lines, precision, angles and attention to detail. He’s also has a multifaceted practice where he produces his own collections, as well as collaborating with fashion designers and creating one off amazing costume pieces for musicians and performers. It was great working with someone who has successfully managed to straddle the worlds of art, design and fashion without compromising quality and craftsmanship. While working with Scott I picked up a whole bag of new technical skills that I otherwise wouldn’t normally apply to my organic, free form work, and I also gained a much greater understanding of how diverse and collaborative the world of a contemporary jeweller can be.
Last year you were awarded both the British Council 'Realise Your Dream' and Ian Potter Cultural Trust travel grants. Given your success rate, what advice can you creative types, like yourself, about the secret world of grants?
Oh, don’t jinx me! I don’t know if there are any big secrets I can divulge. I guess with my successful applications (and I assure you there have been many unsuccessful ones) it’s been mainly due to applying for the right grant at the right time of my career. If you’ve arrived at a certain point in your career development where you truly feel like some financial assistance is what’s needed to propel you to the next level, then it’s a matter of articulating this clearly to the funding body you’re applying to, and demonstrating how their assistance can greatly contribute to your future development. The more you apply for, the better you get at articulating what you’re about and what you want to get out of what you’re doing. I think the process of applying for grants is valuable in itself, as it really forces you to think about your work and the direction you want to take it.
How would you best describe your own style of jewellery design?
Eclectic, whimsical, curious and spirited. It’s usually colourful, a little bit peculiar, playful and maybe just a touch mysterious. I like to think my work triggers a sense of curiosity, humour and magic. I like the idea that people find themselves drawn to my work and develop some kind of unexplainable bond with it, as though it was a mysterious treasure of some kind.
You've exhibited your work everywhere from local Australian contemporary jewellery matriarchs including Pieces of Eight, e.g.etal and Metalab to galleries abroad in Auckland, Munich and San Francisco. Do you have any advice for emerging contemporary jewellers looking to make, exhibit and sell their work in Australia?
I think one of the most important things you can do as an emerging jeweller, or any kind of artist/designer for that matter, is to be active within the creative community around you. There are a lot of great projects, facilities and opportunities out there for creatives to get involved in, and they’re generally not hard to find and be a part of. It’s a great way to build networks, have your work seen and help you develop the knowledge, contacts and know-how needed to propel you to the next level within your practice.
Can you tell us a little about your current Carnival Collection made exclusively for e.g.etal, and give us a little insight into the inner workings of Natalia M.P? From concept to finished product, what processes do you employ when beginning a new collection?
The Carnival Collection is the beginning of a new body of work I started developing since returning home from the UK late last year. It has taken me a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, so I started doing little abstract drawings to help tease out some ideas. These drawings ended pinned up next to my workbench, and after starring at them daily I finally decided to try and make a piece of jewellery loosely based on one. It turned out to be quite a sweet little piece, so naturally I kept going!
I don’t have one particular way of working, I can be quite chaotic and spontaneous. I have a strong conceptual side to my work that I always rely on, but at the end of the day I love working with colour and materials, and often let them tell the story. Sometimes an idea will evolve from a drawing, other times I’ll just sit down and start playing with a bit of wax or a piece of timber, and a shape I like will start to take hold sooner or later.
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?
I love the work of Melbourne-based jeweller/object maker Nicholas Bastin. His recent show at Craft Victoria was a knock out! I’m still dreaming about owning some of the pieces from that show. Australian born, Europe-based Lucy McRae is also making some major waves with her various projects. I’m really impressed with the scale and breadth of her work.
Recently if I’ve been in need of a little boost of inspiration and wonderment, a walk around the Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Dessert exhibition has really hit the spot. It's at the Ian Potter Gallery until the end of the year and showcases some of the most stunning contemporary Indigenous Australian paintings I have ever seen. Finally the industrious and talented crew at the newly established NorthCity4 in Brunswick, Melbourne are high on my radar. This fabulous group, comprised of prominent and successful jewellers and creative’s in their own right, has launched a fantastic studio-based initiative offering workspaces, workshops, seminars and more to the jewellery and wider creative community.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (ie specific websites, magazines, blogs or books) you turn when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration when beginning a new piece or collection?
Mr Kitly has a beautifully kept Tumblr, as does Confetti System, both which I have become slightly obsessed with. Chicago-based artist Essimar does beautiful things with paper and other bits and bobs. Patternity is great if I just want to stare at an avalanche of awesome imagery. I must also admit that I am a serial mag flicker, I’ve always got random magazines (both trashy and high brow) on the go. Currently I have an issue of Apartamento on my bedside table that is feeding me loads of inspiration.
What does a typical day day at work involve for you?
I’ll usually go through all my emails at home over a pot of coffee and breakfast, then I’ll make my way over to the studio in the Nicholas Building. With any luck by the time I arrive some of my studio buddies will waiting for me, so we can dabble in a little procrastinatory chit chat before finally nutting down and starting work for the day. I’ll then have a good long look at the mess on my bench and get down to whatever business needs attending to, which usually includes a combination of finishing off a piece from the day before, starting something new or wading through masses of paperwork and bookkeeping.
Lunch is a bit of a ritual for me and my studio buddy Karla Way, who I’ve shared a studio with since we both studied together. If we’re both in on the same day we'll head out to get something from down the road, come back up to the studio and eat together, while musing over life and work and all the bits in between. Then it’s back to the bench or out running errands to and from metal casters, gem dealers, stockists, art supplies shops and the post office. Each day varies, but I truly love going to work. I love my studio and the people I share it with.
What would be your dream creative project?
There’s no one dream project to be honest. I just aim to keep things diverse, challenging and exciting. I’m open to any number of things that come my way. At the moment I’m currently working with a contemporary dancer for an upcoming group exhibition, and through this process have found that I would love to explore more collaborative work with other creatives in the future. I also love to travel, so any opportunities that would allow me to marry my work with travel are high up on the 'dream big' list!
What are you looking forward to?
Lunch! But really, in the more long term I have a few exciting projects brewing (stay tuned!). Otherwise I’m pretty easily pleased. I look forward to lazy weekends, a good meal with good friends, and new travel adventures.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Uh oh, that’s tricky. I’ve just recently moved north side after spending my entire life south side, so my loyalties are divided. It’s not really a Melbourne neighbourhood, but I do love the Mornington Peninsula. My mum and her partner have a house up there, so it’s accidentally become the perfect getaway any time of year.
Your favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for jewellery supplies/tools of your trade?
I have a few suppliers that I go to for all the technical stuff, but nothing beats a good old rummage through Camberwell Market, Chapel Street Bazaar, Savers, hobby shops and good old Arthur Daley's on Swanston Street, the later which supplies us with our never ending bowl of sugary treats in the studio.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
I had a pretty epic breakfast at St Edmonds just off Greville Street the other day. Also I can't go past a veggie baguette from Waffle On on Degraves Street – it's so big it will keep you going until dinner time! And I have to say, nothing beats a home cooked Sunday roast chicken like the one I had at my buddy’s house last weekend.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
If all is well I might go for a morning run, mainly to justify the lazy coffee, newspaper and pastry ritual that follows. Then it’s anyone’s game.
Melbourne's best kept secret?
Well, it’s not really Melbourne CBD, and it’s not really a secret, but there is a little local food store in Red Hill that has the most mouthwatering array of local produce including cheese, meats, preserves, wines, beers, the world’s (unofficial) best apple juice etc. – you name it, it has it! It seriously is that overwhelming that it's been known to induce mild panic attacks caused by unadulterated happiness.