ELS VANSTEELANDT : KNOW-HOW
Els Vansteelandt and her workshops
Els Vansteelandt likes to study the characteristics of a metal to magnify it and play with it. Here is an overview of her know-how and her way to imagine the jewel through the material.
Where do you work?
I have two workshops, one in Brussels and one at home. In Brussels, I cannot make goldsmithing because it is very loud. My neighbours would not agree. I can make jewels and other things in this space and work at home. I can finish pieces or do repetitive tasks in my shop but I cannot waste too much time in this workshop, when I wait for my clients.
The rest of it requires peace to have ideas and create so it is rather at home. At my shop, if someone enters while I am working, it interrupts me and less productive in terms of creation.
What is your favourite tool?
The hammer because thanks to this tool, goldsmithing is possible and it is also essential in jewelry. In a way, without it, I wouldn’t do anything.
What are the other tools you mostly use?
The rolling mill, we can do many things with this machine. I also like it because it allows to play with the material tension. We create tension into the metal when we laminate it and I often use this technique. The rolling mill also allows to make a very refined and light work. I really like to make earrings, my collection is huge.
When I began, it was the jewel I preferred to make. I think an earring should be very light to be comfortable.However, to have a light and solid earring, you need to have tension in the metal. We create this tension thanks to a hammer and a rolling mill.
Which materials do you prefer?
I am 100% comfortable with silver, thanks to classes and goldsmithing work. We really learn to shape silver. I also like gold but when you work with it, it makes you nervous because you are afraid to fail. You experiment less because it is very expensive. Even if you know how to recover it, you need to succeed at first. With silver, you dare more, if you fail, it is not a big deal. Since I create by directly working with the material, I am more comfortable with silver.
How do you choose raw materials?
According to my needs, I have different providers. I often make gold alloys by myself because I also work with pure gold (18, 22 or 24 carats according to my needs).
When I started out, I made a collection entitled ‘Dadel” and I needed a very malleable gold to make it. Thus I started to work with pure gold. We can finely laminate it and it allowed me to do what I had in mind. Sometimes, I work with the client material. For example, a client recently came with her engagement ring. She is divorced and she wanted to do something with this ring. The marriage is over but she has good memories. She has three adorable children with her ex-husband but this ring was not useful anymore because their relationship is over. She discovered a ring from my collection ‘Hold the Line’ with three buckles. In her view, it was a symbol to represent her 3 children. I removed the gemstone, I laminated the ring to obtain a long thread and I made again the model she liked with her own gold, without changing anything. We sometimes have surprises like this one. I was very happy to be able to made this jewel again and this lady was also very happy.
When and how have you started to make objects?
After my jewelry and enamel courses, I started a chiseling course and I wanted to create a bigger piece. The teacher was not able to help me and all my attempts were failures. I discovered big pieces by a goldsmith designer named David Huycke in a museum and I immediately asked him for help. I contacted him and I started to follow classes at his place during three years. I fell in love with his work.
Could you please give me details about your working process?
I directly work on the material. For example, for my last collection, I used silver strips, I started to shape them and I waited to see where it took me. Sometimes, I see a curve somewhere and I picture it as a ring or something else. I don’t make declinations (matched earrings, ring and pendant), it doesn’t work like that for me. I see an aesthetic shape and I imagine it on the body. I think about the most appropriate jewel for this shape and it progressively evolves, thanks to this process.
What does a usual day in your workshop look like ?
I have flexible hours. I try to spend as much time as possible at my bench but, with a shop in Brussels, I have many others tasks to do: administration, emailing for clients, events, participation to competitions, etc. All these activities take time but it’s part of the job. It is nice to have dynamism around, it is stimulating. My days are chaotic, I don’t have usual days.
To read the first article again : Els Vansteelandt -1/3 Introduction
Photos : © Els Vansteelandt. Photographs provided by Els Vansteelandt and published with her approval.