Sophie Carnell is a jewellery maker and artist living and working on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Asutralia who only embarked on a Fine Arts degree in her late thirties and silver smithing fairly recently. She’s the perfect example of how it’s never too late to start a creative practice!
Fascinated by history, the landscape and our connection with the environment, Sophie explores these ideas, often using recycled, upcycled and collected materials in her work that combines jewellery and art and art with jewellery.
Read on to learn more …
Please introduce yourself. Tell us about your background and how you’ve got to where you are today.
I was born in England and lived there until I was twenty, growing up in the picturesque Cotswolds and rambling free around the countryside as a child. I also lived on a little island off the South West Coast of Ireland. That forever instilled in my heart a love of storm blue oceans, lowering skies, dizzying clifftops and wild coastlines. When I came to Australia I lived for ten years in Southern Queensland, close to Lamington National Park, and then ﬁfteen years ago I moved to Tasmania. Home is now the delicious Bruny Island.
I am deﬁnitely a country girl at heart, and to be living in the country with the ocean just down the road … I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve always been a maker and collector although I only started my Fine Arts degree in my late thirties and found silver-smithing six years ago. I wish I had ventured into the arts earlier in life, but I wasn’t conﬁdent enough in my abilities. I’m so happy to be in this arena now, it feels like home.
Describe an ideal working day for you.
Happily for me my workshop is just thirty steps from my front door, which allows for an extra bit of a sleep-in – mornings aren’t my forte! Work day perfection is being woken up by the magpies warbling away outside my window, sunshine streaming in, being brought a cup of tea in bed (eternal thank yous to Daniel) and then heading into the workshop which overlooks the peaceful Barnes Bay. There are two elements to my work: retail and exhibition. Favourite days are when I have the freedom to mess around with materials and ideas for new exhibition work. When I’m not in exhibition mode, I work ﬁve days a week 9-5. Some people ﬁnd it hard working from home – too many distractions – but I’ve been doing it for ten years now so am pretty disciplined about it.
You work with a variety of different materials and make both jewellery and art. Tell us about the different materials you use and how you meld art with jewellery design. When does one become the other, if you know what I mean?
For my retail work, I mainly use recycled sterling silver but for exhibition work I may use anything! For instance, this year I have used ocean debris, disposable contact lenses, beach rope, ﬁshing line, glass and antique books which I have dyed and burnt. What I’m not very good at is sticking with one material. This is probably not the most sensible course of action for me, because it takes a long time to learn the properties and materiality of different components and how to shape and morph them. Once I’ve done it a couple of times I get the itch to move onto something new, but that means I need to spend a long time learning a whole new set of skills.
I am trying to focus my use of materials but exploring and playing with new ones is sometimes too enticing. With my jewellery exhibition work I like to push the boundaries of what is wearable or not. Often the pieces ask: Is it jewellery? Or is it art? Can it be both? I like to make display stands that are incorporated into the works so that those that aren’t as wearable can happily sit in their stands and be viewed as stand-alone artwork.
What are some of your important tools of trade?
The tool I use every day is my micro-motor. It is awesome, helping me with sanding, shaping, polishing, texturing and engraving. All my pliers are super important too. I am still using pretty crummy cheap ones, but once they go to plier heaven I’m looking forward to getting some good quality ones. And my hammer … love my hammer. Oh, and my treasure table. I’m not sure if this classiﬁes as a tool or not but I bought it off the side of the road for $100. It’s huge and has glass inlaid in the top so you can see into the drawers below and all my little collections within. It’s great for inspiration.
What are some of your inﬂuences? What other artists, designers, peers and creatives do you admire?
I love the work of Australian jewellers Julie Blyﬁeld and Marian Hosking, for their interpretations of the natural world; Blanche Tilden for her incredible use of glass and movement. The repetitive components Peter Hoogeboom uses in his work really appeals to the collector/categoriser in me. Fundamentally, two big inﬂuencers on my creative aesthetic have been my mother and step-mother. My mother made really beautiful homes for us, with very little money – lots of colour and hand-made decor and a really great eye for design. My step-mother was a collector extraordinaire and a real categoriser of colour – from pressed ﬂower petals and buttons to fabrics and wooden spoons. Visiting her was like falling down the rabbit-hole to Alice’s Wonderland.
What project/s or pieces are you working on at the moment? Explain.
I have just recently exhibited in two exhibitions so am back working on retail lines now and trying to streamline that process. I love making spoons and am busy designing some native orchid sets, as well as driftwood and silver ones.
What’s the best thing about living on Bruny Island?
The community, the wildlife, the sea, the fact it’s an island. I like the idea of the island being set aﬂoat and set free from its mainland. I also love the dichotomy of the calm Channel side of the island and then the wild east coast and rugged south coast. There’s a beach for any mood and any occasion. My absolute favourite thing to do is beach combing and rock hopping shorelines – it’s good for the soul.
It’s not very cool, but I really like…
Frozen pizza and watching telly in the bath, not at the same time.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Depressingly, a recent ‘who would have thought’ moment, while researching for the Vanishing Point exhibition on micro-plastics, was when it was explained to me that not only does ingested ocean debris kill sea creatures through starvation and obstruction but also the chemicals that are added to the plastics to make them ﬂexible and long-lasting are absorbed into the creatures’ systems and disrupt hormonal function. Of course this toxicity works its way up the food chain, so that we, too, can become affected.
Who’d have thought there’s as many as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles littering our seas? That’s 500 times more than stars in our galaxy (according to a United Nations report).
Thanks, Sophie, for an insight into your creative life!
You can find Sophie here.