Tag Archives: design

Acting the Fool – the Goldsmith’s Apprentice

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Statue of Touchstone Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon

The other area of research for ‘The Noble Fool’ was touchstones.

I had been keen to look at the character of Touchstone, the fool in the play, and early in my research, I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for a new member of his company called Robert Armin, who had originally been an Apprentice Goldsmith.

This link was really exciting for me: Imagine, my first major piece of research into a Shakespeare play to create jewellery and I stumble across a Goldsmith who inspired one of my favourite characters!

Touchstones, usually slabs of black stone or slate, have been used by the Assay Office for more than 700 years to test precious metals. A streak would be made by the gold or silver to be assayed (tested) and then it was compared with streaks made by touch-needles or strips of gold or silver of known quality.

Through my research, I found out that this link was used by Shakespeare quite explicitly in the creation of his character. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, in the same way that a touchstone is the method used by Goldsmiths to test metals, identifying counterfeits.

I decided that I wanted to include a real touchstone in my piece and so my next task was to work out how to set it…

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

 

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“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds”

How do changes in human subjectivity over time affect how we view a Shakespeare play? Should Shakespeare’s plays be staged as they were in his day, or can they be staged in a modern setting?

These questions were posed this week on a course I am following on Future Learn about Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Personally, I don’t think Shakespeare’s plays have to be staged in Elizabethan costume at all. The thing I love most about seeing Shakespeare performed is the seemingly infinite interpretations of the same text – surely it’s what makes the Director’s job so challenging?

I have seen Hamlet several times and costume or setting rarely make a difference to the overall experience. Perhaps this is because the play is predominantly about emotions; and politics and conflict are universal themes. In any case, I enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s plays re-imagined with settings and costumes that are often surprisingly relevant, even when they are a far-cry from what the Elizabethans, or even the modern-day Globe audience would expect to see.

The current productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won (or Much Ado About Nothing) at the RSC are cases in point. Beautifully staged productions set either side of the first World War, they are spot on and work brilliantly. Likewise, the RSC’s Merchant of Venice with Patrick Stewart, set in modern-day Las Vegas with an Elvis Impersonator, and a South-African influenced Tempest with Antony Sher as Prospero – both genius productions, still true to the text, but shedding a whole new light on the plays.

This whole notion of how Shakespeare’s plays are performed is something I feel very strongly about. After all, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much inspiration for my design work if every performance was firmly entrenched in 1599!

 

Forming attachments

The Noble Fool was my final piece for my three-year jewellery design course. My starting point, once I’d chosen As You Like It for my focus, was to look at Elizabethan costume fabrics and patterns and the fastenings used. Alongside my more academic studies of the play, I wanted some visual inspiration for my design work and initial research suggested that period-style costume would give me plenty.

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A page from my sketchbook – after my initial visit to the RSC Collections Warehouse in Stratford Upon Avon

I had decided to look particularly at hook-and-eye fastenings, lacing and corsetry, since these offered interesting design options. I was not short of examples to look at, but was a little surprised to find a prevalence of velcro being used – not particularly Elizabethan obviously, but as it turned out, far more convenient when performing a quick costume change in the Wings before going back onstage.

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Hook-and-eye fastenings. M. Le Beau, As You Like It, RSC 2000

It was, in fact, the incredible black-and-white costume of Monsieur Le Beau that inspired my research into the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play in 2000, designed by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner.

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Initial work on patterns using the M. Le Beau costume, As You Like It, RSC 2000

Not only did this production inspire my final design, but the time spent at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust looking at production photos, production records and Costume Bibles, cemented a new and happy, but quite unexpected relationship between Shakespeare’s plays in performance and the jewellery design process.

Please note: All costumes owned and courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection. Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the RSC has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

Magic, mischief and a little ginger cat called Puck

Well here I am, back on the train on the way home after an extremely packed few days in Stratford Upon Avon.

Embarking on a few days of intensive research feels like stepping off a precipice into the unknown. I’m never quite sure where my research is going to take me and this time was no exception. But I leave with a mass of notes, images and inspiration around Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I’m hugely excited.

So now the really hard work begins. I need to take everything I’ve absorbed and pull it apart, examine it and then put it back together. In doing so, I have to somehow translate what I see as the essence of my findings into design ideas. It’s a bit daunting…I’ve reached another precipice.

But as I left The Shakespeare Institute last night, with thoughts of fairies and lovers, mischief and enchantment whirling around in my head, I experienced a bit of the magic of The Dream.

A little ginger cat appeared on the path to greet me. He apparently turned up mysteriously in the grounds of the Institute just recently and yes, he really is called Puck. I didn’t discuss any of my ideas with him, but perhaps I’ll be able to show him something next time I visit.

 

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“I am that merry wanderer of the night.” Robin Goodfellow (Puck) Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

 

The thing that did it for me

I began looking at how Shakespeare could inform my jewellery designs when I was in the third year of my City & Guilds.  Up until that point I had felt a bit lost – I had no real problems making a piece of jewellery, in fact I was loving it; I just struggled with inspiration. Most of the jewellers I have met use nature or architecture for inspiration and this really works for many successful designers.  It just wasn’t doing it for me.

I’m not saying I don’t find architecture or nature inspiring, I do. I just don’t feel a burning desire to make jewellery from it. I was blown away by the architecture in Dubai, I completely adored the buildings in Italy – the Duomo in Milan literally took my breath away – and I’m quite partial to the odd bunch of peonies. But inspiration for my next jewellery collection? Nope.

So that got me thinking. I needed something to inspire me and take me through my third year and beyond. I needed to find that theme or focus that would help me to find my own personal language.

Then it hit me. Why did I have to confine my source of inspiration to objects, why not find inspiration in what I love? Why not start with concepts, ideas, words, feelings? I love the theatre and I particularly love going to see Shakespeare’s plays, so why couldn’t this be my starting point?

As I sit writing this, I’m on my way up to Stratford Upon Avon to spend three days in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive, the Shakespeare Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I’ll be drawing inspiration from my surroundings, from a trip to the Theatre and from the many, many books, photographs, production records and studies of Shakespeare’s plays in performance.

When I get home, the hard work begins…turning this inspiration into jewellery. I can’t wait!

Photo taken by me

The Duomo, Milan. Both photos taken by me in August 2013

Thoughts on Hamlet

“The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.”

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

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Hamlet is thrown into a situation that is alien to him. He is studious, bookish (perhaps a little introverted), definitely thoughtful and possibly a bit self-absorbed and yet he finds himself tasked with revenging his father’s murder. Does he go mad in response to the pressure of this onerous responsibility and the truth he has discovered, or is there ‘method in it’? What is real and what is not what it seems?

Themes, concepts, images, atmosphere…Design development – taking the first small steps.