Behind the scenes with contemporary fine jewellery designer Alison Macleod
The Biscuit Factory welcomes Alison to the gallery this summer for a showcase of luxury jewellery. So, we discover the creative process that goes behind each of her masterpieces.
‘Every piece of jewellery tells a story’ – Gem Hunt
This is exactly what inspired contemporary fine jewellery designer Alison Macleod to follow her dreams. Growing up Alison loved discovering the wonders of her mother’s jewellery box and imagined the stories behind every piece.
Now Alison captures this precious childhood memory in her beautifully crafted collection of jewellery that’s designed to be worn, loved and passed on to future generations. Each piece is made from Fairtrade gold and precious stones by a small team of skilled artisans at Alison’s studio near Dumfries, Scotland, and presented in vintage jewellery boxes; carefully revived to house their new treasures.
Whether you’re marking a milestone birthday, choosing an engagement ring, looking for jewellery for your wedding day, or wanting to invest in a contemporary heirloom that’ll be enjoyed for decades to come, this collection is perfect for every special occasion in our lives.
We caught up with Alison to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in her studio, where all the magic happens…
What drew you into the life of a creator?
Growing up I was always creating, often rummaging through the kitchen bin to rescue old cereal boxes or plastic bottles to make things from. If anyone asked little me what I wanted to be when I grew up it was always a jewellery designer. I feel so lucky to have made it a reality!
Tell us more about the inspiration for your designs?
I work in Fairtrade gold and precious gemstones to create treasures inspired by antique jewellery and the stories each piece has to tell. My work is always heavily patterned, inspired by the Victorian aesthetic but with a more paired back, balanced approach.
What does your studio space look like?
After living and working in Glasgow for 10 years my family and I moved six years ago back to Dumfriesshire where my husband and I grew up. I have a studio on the main street of the village of Thornhill where we live. The walls are lined with little bits and bobs which inspire my designs: old postcards, dried seedpods, junkshop finds etc. We have two workbenches for myself and my assistant Sarah, a desk for admin and a seating area where customers come for consultations.
In what ways do you get into ‘the zone’?
As a working studio rather than a shop we have the window screened off which allows us to work uninterrupted. I lift the screen and open the studio for two events a year and locals are always curious to see what goes on behind the mysterious screen. We love to listen to music in the studio, I have all sorts of playlists to keep us going. When I’m in on my own and I’ve got a full day at the workbench I find an audiobook or podcast series is a great company.
How do you feel when you are in your studio and how do you think this translates into your work?
I love the sense of focus and calm that the studio brings me. It is a cosy home from home. The surfaces do get cluttered, but I promise you it is organised chaos. I’m never far from a tidy, I do love to have everything in its place. With so many tiny elements in making each piece of jewellery, it is really important to have a good organisation system.
How does a piece of your jewellery transition from an idea to a finished piece?
When I’m working on a new collection I often start with a dominant shape or colour palate, giving me a theme to frame my ideas. There will be lots of rough drawings in my sketchbook and on my phone where I work out basic designs and which pieces will be part of the group. If I’m struggling to work out certain details, I will mock up the piece in Photoshop which allows me to switch between design details and refine my ideas.
When I’m ready to start at the bench I work simultaneously on several pieces at once, so that if problems arise with one piece, I can set it aside to work on something else and go back to it with fresh eyes. I’m always intensely focused when I’m creating a group of new pieces, getting completely absorbed in thoughts about how to achieve the best outcome. Only when the collection is complete can I relax and appreciate what I have made.
Were you able to use your studio during lockdown?
We have two young sons, and my husband was still working full time so during lockdown it was tricky to get to the studio. When I look back, I don’t know how I managed to keep things going as normal. My small team worked in their own spaces, and I did what I could from home by home schooling the boys with little spells in the studio when I could. It became my sanctuary.
Tell us a little bit about your latest collection that you’re exhibiting at The Biscuit Factory?
I’m sending a collection of Fairtrade gold pieces from my Catkin Collection. There are lots of clusters of soft-toned diamonds with colourful pops of ruby, tourmaline and sapphire.
What is your favourite piece from your latest collection that will be showcased at The Biscuit Factory?
I love the Catkin Happenstance Pendant with its cluster of precious jewels and patterned gold. This one-of-a-kind piece was made as part of my Happenstance Collection which started life in my gem box with stones that I have collected over the years which have come together in an un-curated way, bringing unusual combinations.
What is your favourite piece of jewellery, art or craft that you have in your own home?
We have a beautiful clarsach (a small Scottish harp) which I used to play as a teenager but gave up when I went off to art college. Our youngest son has just started lessons and it is such a joy to hear him sing again.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
I am working on two new mini collections which I can’t wait to launch later this year with lots of diamonds and Fairtrade gold.