I "met" Tim, aka, "Silver Artist," through Flickr. He is a true artist in many media, including painting, calligraphy, pottery, graphic art, scupture, photography and silversmithing. But what caught my eye and convinced me to feature him here was how he turned the boring, ubiquitous, everyday housekey into a wearable piece of art. Please read on to learn more about Tim's fascinating life, talent and artwork.
Q: Your handmade keys are just amazing! Both in concept and in artistry. How did you come up with the idea to make them and how long does it take to make each one?
A: I have been fortunate enough, for as long as I can remember, to be able to visualize and then draw exactly what I see in my head in 3D. I'm not sure how many people can do this, but people say to me, "I wish I could draw like that!" So I think to myself, well you too can if you give it a few years' practice! Once can have a "gift" or talent, but if one does not develop it...Not everyone is an artist, but people usually excel in one or more other hobbies or specialties.
In my career as a graphic artist/designer, my forte has been lettering and typography. On a key head, lettering looks good, especially with ones own name on it, so I thought, let me cut a name on a piece of nickel silver (durable, stronger and cheaper than sterling silver), and see how it looks. Then the head or disk of metal has to be braised or soldered to the key stem, once cut. Then all the edges are de-burred and the piece polished to a shine. It takes an average of about two hours.
Q: You are an artist in many different genres. What is your favorite medium or your current obsession artistically?
A: At the moment, I alternate between silversmithing and metalwork and calligraphy (mainly illuminated manuscripts). But that is when I'm not on my PC Flickering or digitizing! The first example is based on yet another passion I had, model railways (HO gauge).
Q: What was the very first thing you ever remember making by hand?
A: The first thing I made was a tank out of clay. I was eight years old. Following that, at about that time, I learned to do basketry and fretsaw work on plywood sheet, working to simple pre-drawn plans. I was a refugee living in a camp near Naples, Italy. The camp chaplain organized some crafts as well as Cub Scouts for us. I also became an alter boy and learned Latin, which was easy as I spoke Italian.
Q: Of all the things you've made so far, is there one piece that you consider to be your "masterpiece?" If so, describe it for us.
A: In 1996 I took on an inspirational painting called The Tree of Life. It went on to take five years! I spent all my evenings and weekends on it when I wasn't working. The "inspiration" was brought about through the Psychic Development Circle that my Chris and I were running, for the first year under the guidance of a trained medium. The group attended once weekly in our home in Worthing Sussex, UK and it lasted five years. Our main subject in Circle, apart from healing, was spirit rescue. This photo is a poor reproduction of the painting, which is large and done in watercolors on board. I am presently re-posting it on Flickr as a very good quality file. The Tree of Life is about the pageantry of nature. How we all depend on it and link with one another, people and animals. Time stood still for me while I spent endless hours on this painting, with the accompaniment of music. This was before the 'net and I only had a slow computer. I used the local library for reference and research.
Q: If someone wanted to learn to work in silver, how would you advise them to go about it?
A: In spite of my previous experience in metalwork, etc., I went to evening classes and learned the rudiments like piercing and soldering and polishing and so on. I first did piercing or fretsaw work at the age of eight with wood, so I knew a bit about that. I found also that the tutor was a walking encyclopaedia of information on anything about the subject, as might be expected. She also gave links as to suppliers of tools and metal. I did my classes for two and a half years. I got a distinction diploma out of it, which does not mean much to me! During that time I knew a man at the class who was a dental surgeon who had been practicing jewelry for some years. His work blew me away!
I would recommend anyone enrolling in a class, which is a popular subject, you will find. You can get info on courses at your local library. It is not only about the craft, but the social aspect and the sharing of ideas.
Q: Other than silversmithing, what are some of your other hobbies or favorite activities?
A: I have a few that I have done in the past and some I still do and some I would like to try. Back in London, I had regularly attended an ice rink for skating and made some friends there over a period of six years. I got a Bronze Medallion with the Amateur Swimming Association at the age of seventeen. I also got a qualification in personal survival (swimming). I did used to do pottery, mostly on the wheel for about two years in my twenties.
Other things I love are painting in watercolors. Here's an example I copied from a print, took one month.
And the second is an original watercolor from a photograph.
Woodwork, carving and lathe work: I have done wood turning and would also love to have a metal lathe! I would very much like to have a go at stained glass windows and enamelling on silver. I'm a DIY enthusiast. I fix anything I can that is repairable. Most things are, but people throw them away!
If I had not become a Graphic Artist, I would have liked to be a tool maker and designer, specially for surgical instruments. I have always been self-taught (except the silversmithing classes). The best way to learn anything is to watch how it's done: monkey see, monkey do!!
Q: Tell us a little about yourself...your family, children, pets, interesting facts, etc.
A: I was born in Italy and lived in refugee camps 'til the age of 11 when I emigrated with my family to the U.K. Went to school there, learned English from scratch. My stepfather is Polish. Never met my real father, an Irish-American G.I., who had an affair with my mother and then the Army went back to the U.S.A. and I never met him, but have a picture of him...just the one.
From living in a multicultural setup in the refugee camps, I developed a love of languages.
I have a younger brother (half brother) that I don't have an affinity with. My mother passed away a couple of years ago, bless her. I had a traumatic childhood with my stepfather involved who was brutal towards me, but I survived with a strong mind of my own. I learned mechanics and general DIY from him by watching: monkey see, monkey do!
I was brought up with animals: Alsatians, poultry, etc. I and my wife Chris, who is English, have had dogs and cats of our own. We have an Airedale Terrier called Buffy (lots of doggitude here!) who is a sweetheart! Another sweetheart of mine was my PussPuss, a Norwegian Forest Cat, who went to the sky last year...will never forget this baby!!
My dear wife Chris and I have been together 35 years, and some months ago she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which also brought on epilepsy. I am her caregiver now in between doing my thing with my hobbies, washing up, taking the dog out, etc. She is feeling weak and sickly, following radiation therapy and chemo.
Last week there was a breakthrough in exactly the same type of cancer that she has. Here is hope for some millions and I mention the link for those who need to know about it. It is called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the type of malignant brain tumor that killed the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, It is difficult to treat because it spreads cancerous cells to other parts of the brain very quickly. About 10,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Click here to find out more about the discovery of a protein that could hold the key to treating this type of cancer.
I have a son, Toby, married last year to Sam. We share the same house in Staffordshire, UK. They are in their early thirties and work as manager and inspector in the same casino in Birmingham, UK. We originally lived in Sussex, UK, but moved around a bit.
Q: If someone wants to contact you about commissioning a piece or placing an order, how do they go about getting in touch with you?
A: Please click here to email me, or go through the FlickrMail system to inquire about placing an order.
Finally, two things I really detest: advertisements and football, boxing or other cruel sports! I love chess and monopoly and I used to play "Age of Empires" on the PC.
When you think about it, why not turn keys into wearable art? We all have to carry them, they might as well be beautiful and functional at the same time, right? I'd like to thank Tim for being my first featured artist. It was a pleasure to get to know him better, and I hope everyone reading this will visit his Flickr site and appreciate his talent as much as I do. I can think of several hard-to-buy-for people in my life who would love one of those keys!
All of the photographs and designs used in this article are copyrighted and used by permission of their owner and creator, Silver Artist.
If you know an under-appreciated artist, in any genre, please leave me a comment about them and I may feature them in an upcoming article.