Rachel trained in gold and silversmithing at RMIT, and has been making jewellery, for herself rather than commercially, for about ten years. Though she has been working in jewellery retail and making collections sold through retail outlets casually throughout the years, it has only been in the last two years that she really began to pursue her own practice more seriously as a career. Interestingly, it was a brief diversion into floristry that re-ignited Rachel’s jewellery practice, and her business now happily combines both floristry and jewellery design.
‘I had been working in jewellery retail for some time, and wanted a change – to explore another industry, but one that would be complementary to my existing one’ explains Rachel. Having been inspired by the floral form in her creative practice for years, floristry seemed to be beckoning her. She undertook a Certificate 2 in Floristry at NMIT – which she says was a really good introduction to the basics of floristry. ‘While the scale was very different from jewellery crafting, the concepts of design aren’t’ explains Rachel. ‘Studying floristry really helped me to develop my own design skills and personal aesthetic. I see my practice now as a collaboration between the two – an ongoing dialogue’.
Rachel’s brand new website has just gone live – do take a look! It showcases both Rachel’s floristry and her stunning jewellery collection, created under the name Rachel Laura Gorman. There is an extensive collection of rings, earrings and necklaces available in her online store and she also takes custom orders.
Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you‘re doing now?
My first degree was a Bachelor of Visual and Performing Arts at VCA/Melbourne University. At the time it was a fairly new, cross disciplinary course. It was a really exciting and broad introduction into the arts, and introduced me to academic, critical thinking and creative processes. I completed a double major in Visual Art and Creative Writing. I did some metal work in the Visual Art department and really enjoyed it.
When I finished this degree, I really wanted to specialise, so I applied for textiles at RMIT, and also Gold and Silversmithing, because I still wasn’t quite sure what direction I wanted to go in. I got into both which was a pleasant surprise. I had been playing around with jewellery making in my spare time, very much as a hobby, and thought it could be something to pursue further. I had always collected and enjoyed jewellery growing up and after some deliberation, I decided to go for it! It was one of the most amazing and challenging things I have done. It is a very specialised trade and craft, taking many years of practice, exploration, failures, and some small wins! But it is a beautiful and unpredictable art form.
While studying I had some really great part-time work. I worked for six years at Arts Project Australia – a gallery and studio for people with intellectual or physical disabilities. The artwork produced by the artists here was incredible, hugely inspiring to me. I worked in the art studio as an art facilitator. My fellow work mates were all talented artists including painters, sculptors, ceramicists, filmmakers, it was a very rich environment.
I was slowly becoming more immersed in my own jewellery practise too, and after I left Arts Project Australia, I joined the jewellery studio at Pieces of Eight, established by Melanie Katsalidis in North Fitzroy. This again was another dream environment for learning about creative practices. I shared a studio with five other amazing jewellers. I then started working in the Pieces of Eight Gallery alongside Melanie, and spent the next three years there. I was exposed to so many exceptional jewellers, and it really inspired me to build my own practice.
You originally came to floristry after training and working as a jewellery designer. How has your floristry experience influenced the nature of the work you are currently making?
I have always been drawn to flowers, botanical illustration and plants. I used to walk a lot with my Mum when I was younger, we would pick small posies along the way. It was our own ritual. We would walk arm in arm and chat, and pick flowers. It is no surprise that flowers appeared in my jewellery work at an early stage.
I also did a lot of enamelling, a very old jewellery technique that involves painting or sifting powdered, coloured glass onto metal, and firing it in a kiln. The effects of enamelling are incredibly beautiful and vibrant. You can peek through a tiny hole in the kiln door and watch, the moment the enamel liquefies, it is magic! It is only in there for a short period of time, and once removed, the glass surface cools rapidly, and voila! Enamelling seemed to suit the floral form, and there is an exceptional historical tradition of this practice in Art Nouveau by masters such as Rene Lalique, Paul Lienard, and Georges Fouquet, all who draw inspiration from the natural world, its mythology and symbolism.
My own intrigue with nature was quiet, and persistent. I was really encouraged to explore this in my third year of Gold and Silversmithing by my lecturer at the time, Sally Marsland. This was a really formative time for me. My connection with flora, and its articulation in metal really blossomed. I was also asked by another lecturer at the time, ‘Why flowers’? and I always thought, ‘why not flowers’! They are incredible, so diverse, and magical. They have been illustrated extensively in fashion and art for centuries.
Flowers are very sentimental. They inspire and invoke emotion for people. They are also very conversational. I like these aspects. You can carry a bunch of flowers down the street, or on public transport, and it invites conversation or an opportunity for someone to share a story. People hold very personal stories and associations with flowers and plants. It is a really nice way to have meaningful exchanges with people.
After completing Floristry at NMIT, I was extremely lucky to start working with the super amazing florist Melanie Stapleton, at Cecilia Fox. I feel privileged to have had that experience. I was able to work in the very small and adorable Cecilia Fox shop, and also on weddings and events with a great team. It was a huge learning curve for me, exciting and challenging.
I am now establishing my own small business, Rachel Laura, as both a fine jeweller and florist! Floristry inspires and informs my jewellery in so many ways, and vice versa. The work I am making now has a greater sense of depth and meaning. I read a lot about plants and flowers, their history in gardens, art and fashion; their symbolic meanings. It is a very personal, and spiritual exercise for me. Flowers and plants are great metaphors for the cycles of life, including life and death, also the cycles of love. It is all very romantic!
How did you make the transition from being a florist to a jeweller, and how did you learn and perfect your newfound craft?
I haven’t really made a transition from one to the other, more an integration. It is something that is growing and expanding all the time. My practice, as a jewellery designer and a florist, is like being a gardener in my mind. It is my metaphor. For me, it is about planting seeds, nurturing ideas, watching things, observing and letting things disintegrate too, or morph into something new entirely. But I guess, I made a transition of study from jewellery into floristry to further develop my creative practice. I wanted my jewellery practice to evolve in substance, design and concept.
I am still very much learning. And I don’t consider to be close to perfecting either practices. In fact I am trying to get away from perfection. It can be the destroyer of creativity and spontaneity. This striving for perfection can become a preoccupation. I am beginning to understand that everything leads to something. It doesn’t always work straight away, but it is a stepping stone to something bigger, a larger garden. The garden is far from perfect. Aside from its obvious beauty, it can be wild, structured or unstructured, tame or free. It is so diverse in form and texture, light and colour.
Having said this, I do think it is essential to understand and master technical processes. Jewellery and floristry both have very specific techniques that only get better with time, patience and practice. Things can be very slow and frustrating. The real freedom in making, the good stuff that you dont question, I think comes from really understanding and knowing your craft, and having a clear vision of your own personal creative language.
How would you best describe your creative aesthetic?
Feminine, eclectic, botanical, sculptural, sometimes colourful and romantic. With jewellery, I craft in silver and gold- rose and yellow in particular, but also enjoy exploring colour with enamel (in the past) and paint on metal more recently. Each material has its own quality, and some suit certain designs more than others. This can sometimes take a bit of time to be resolved. But it is always good to experiment, play with different possibilities and see what works best.
When it come to flowers, I would say similar things actually. I love cottage, garden flowers; Bellflower, Columbine, Coralbells, Daisy, Dames Rocket, Delphinium, Roses, Foxglove, Hollyhock, Hydrangea, Lavender, Peony, Geranium, Phlox, Viola, Pansies, Sweet William, Violets! The list goes on of course, but these are supreme inspirations for my jewellery design, and have such great names that can only inspire romance!
Can you give us a little insight into your process – when commencing a new commission for example, what is the process and how long does one piece usually take to complete? What types of materials do you work with, and how do you go about recreating different types of flowers in a three dimensional form?
It really varies from job to job, client to client. It’s a very unique and personal process, and depends on the details of the job. The first step is often research, collating images and ideas that form the basis of a 3D work. I find the outcome is better when I have put time into the pre-modelling stage. Drawing is a great way to work through and formulate design too. My jewellery work includes production work for retail and gallery outlets, exhibition work, and commissioned pieces for private clients, all require a different approach. I use the lost wax process, that involves modelling in wax, casting it in metal, cleaning it up at the the bench, setting gemstones, giving it any surface treatments it may need, then polishing and finishing adding touches.
Jewellery is very labour intensive and time consuming. It requires patience and perseverance. I’ve worked with wax for a long time, and really enjoy the softness of the material, and then seeing its transformation into a hard, precious metal. Wax modelling can be very sculptural too. There is a lot of room for surface texture. It seems to suit floral interpretations well. Things can be destroyed very quickly too which I like. Wax is very accessible material. You can choose to work very quickly, or spend more time on a design. Things are always changing and developing and I enjoy this diversity in the creative process. A private commission, conversation or exhibition work may inspire a larger collection of work.
In terms of the floral forms in my work, I am always researching, and looking at books, art, photography, fashion, jewellery, and in nature of course. For me it’s about building my own visual language. When I first started using the floral form, I used to just make it up from a memory of a flower, but I have become more concerned with true representation. It essential for me to look at the structure of things, their separate elements and how they come together to make a whole. Nature does seem to be perfect in this way.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
It depends on the what I am doing. If I am in the studio, I usually begin the day with some administration, including paperwork, pricing, emailing, quotes. Then I will do some modelling work, then bench work. I also run a lot of errands throughout the day to jewellery suppliers, gem merchants, casters, flower suppliers. I will also dedicate some time to research a conceptual idea or drawing. I share my studio with three other amazing contemporary jewellers, and also have three others equally amazing jewellers on our studio Level in the Nicholas Building, all who have really inspired my practice. So there is always a lot of stimulating and interesting conversation happening.
I’ve also been incredibly lucky to be ‘unofficially’ mentored by one very established Melbourne jeweller in particular, which has been absolutely defining and invaluable to my practice.
If I am working on a florist job, it is quite a different process. I will liaise with the client, and work through what their needs are for the occasion, whether it flowers for a wedding, corporate function, special event or personal celebration or commemoration. I will suggest seasonal flowers, quote for the job, and build a visual concept/aesthetic that evolves through conversation and visual research. There is a lot of preparation involved in floristry, from client liaising, sourcing and purchasing flowers, flower selection and preparation, construction, delivery, set up, pack up. It is physically demanding, but also really satisfying. It is such a treat to have access to gorgeous seasonal blooms, and be able to share them with others. There is a sense of generosity with floristry that I like. It offers a really beautiful and genuine service for people whatever the occasion, it commemorates and acknowledges both celebration and loss.
Which other local jewellers, florists or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
My close circle of friends and family really inspire me. They are a really eclectic, talented, creative bunch! They include jewellers, painters, musicians, photographers, choreographers, anthropologists, gardeners, flowers growers and plant lovers. Generally speaking, I am surrounded by VERY AWESOME, clever people, that are so generous with their time and what they share with me.
Conversations really inspire me. They provide great insight and can be the catalyst for new projects and ideas. I also find collaborations really stimulating, they can open up new possibilities, and unexpected outcomes.
I watch a lot of documentaries about everything and anything. I think its really important to think about how different people live, what their struggles and successes, passions and complexities are. For me, documentary is a way of accessing different parts of the worlds, people, culture and psychologies you might not have otherwise explore.
I have a long list of visual and conceptual resources that I draw upon too, from fashion photographers, such as Tim Walker, Grace Coddington Smith who is American Vogue’s Creative Director, haute couture, florists like Grandiflora, Saipua and Amy Merrick, botanical illustration, antique jewellery, jewellery guns like Dior, Tiffany & Co, Faberge, Van Cleef, art nouveau artists including Rene Lalique, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Indigenous art, artist Carmel Seymour, Dutch still life painting, biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel, naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian. And there are of course, so many amazing contemporary jewellers.
What do you think is your proudest achievement?
Setting up this business!
I have also had some really fantastic, long term employment at very niche, small businesses that I am really proud of. Arts Project Australia, Pieces of Eight, and Cecilia Fox are all highlights for me, I am really grateful that I worked at these places, they are unique and special businesses.
My proudest career achievement though, I’m not sure! I’m not in a hurry, maybe it is still to come. And anyhow, I believe in stepping stones, not necessarily one big boom moment, but lots of small wins. I’ve had some great opportunities come my way, and more new ones arising every day. Its all very exciting.
What would be your dream project?
Possibly working on some large, fantastical, floral, dreamy, installation project overseas for some amazing fashion event or doing a photographic shoot with Tim Walker! OR working in the jewellery design team for Dior! Or just opening a very cute and small, fine jewellery and flower store in Paris! Dream big, I say.
What are you looking forward to?
Growing and expanding my business, evolving new and existing collections, making bigger floral work, collaborations with fellow contemporary artists.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I don’t really have a favourite neighbourhood, but I like leafy areas with gardens! It is really nice to drive out of town past Eltham heading to Kangaroo Ground and North Warrandyte. These areas are very pretty areas. I originally come from NSW, and spent a lot of time in the country and on the coast. So hills, mountains, rivers, beaches are my preferred environment. To me, my favourite neighbourhood is about where friends and family are, and they are all over the place!
Where and what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Nearly every meal I eat is good! I spoil myself with buying organic produce, home cooked food is so good. But Melbourne is seriously amazing with food, there are so many great cafes and restaurants. I am a no fuss eater, which means, I will eat just about anything! I also really like simple meals, like salads and seasonal fruits. Things in season are best.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Sleeping in! Love a Saturday sleep in after a busy week. Then breakfast with friends. A drive out of town, long walks, swimming in the summertime, spending time with family. Just simple things.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told!