This week, OutInCanberra launches our ‘A peek inside…’ series, where every month we bring you an exclusive insight into the minds and world of Canberra’s innovators, creatives, movers and shakers.
This week we take a look at the workspace and studio of local gold and silversmith extraordinaire, Alison Jackson, who’s the mastermind behind some of the city’s most beautiful installations, as well as bespoke jewellery and tableware available nation-wide.
All Alison Jackson pieces are made with an immaculate eye for detail, and delicate love and care. With the creator’s clear passion etched, encased and coated into every material, edge and corner of each design.
All these stunning objects come from the one powerhouse, and you’ll find her residing in a quaint nook, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a small Queanbeyan warehouse, collating her thoughts, experimenting and articulating them into handcrafted shapes and objects.
Alison’s workspace is a beautiful incubator of organised mess – a place for everything and everything in its place. Filled with an abundance of natural light, space is a visual testament to Alison’s hard work over the years and origin of her coveted collections and success.
Editor, Josephine Huynh, was lucky enough to spend a moment with Alison in her studio to talk about her story, derived from a curious hobby for tinkering to a fully-fledged operating business.
How did you stumble across this space?
I studied gold and silversmithing at ANU School of Art and before I graduated I looked for spaces and we found this particular space, which was actually the only space I looked at. I’ve been pretty fortunate to be here for nine years now.
The space has evolved – for the first few years it was a shared space and then it kind of transitioned to just being me. For half of those nine years, I worked part-time here and part-time away doing my own work developing different pieces and working on exhibition pieces so it’s always been a bit of a range. Then for the past four-and-a-half years, I have been full-time working for myself.
What is Alison Jackson for those who are new to your brand?
My practice encompasses my jewellery and tableware production work, which is what I sell to different retailers across Australia and on my online store. Then I also have my one-off exhibition work which I try to fit in. When I’m working on an exhibition it tends to be more object-based tableware. Then I also have a teaching component to my business, where I teach under the name of ‘Pocket Studio’. I teach classes just in small groups in here. This is my teaching bench where I teach four students at a time.
One of your pieces that come to mind is the big Eden archway installation at the Canberra Centre. Do you make all your large-scale objects in here as well?
We didn’t actually do that in here. My partner Dan, he has a workshop in Mitchell. He’s got really high ceilings, so that installation, I can’t remember the dimensions but it’s a 13-metre span and I can’t remember how tall, but taller than this roof. So it was not logistically possible.
That’s the biggest project I’ve ever done. I can’t actually remember how many units; I think it’s 3000. So it’s just a lot of multiples.
Do you start to feel a bit like a one-person production line or robot during projects like this?
Totally! But it’s a nice way of working, you know, to get that real density and thickness. It’s quite funny coming from small-scale work, where you’re looking at a piece and thinking, “Ooh look at this edge, I’m not sure” to working with 3000 and thinking, “What edge? It doesn’t even matter!”.
I know you mentioned your partner before who helps with a larger space and equipment, do you have a team or is it just you?
It’s just me. I have a studio assistant that works two days a week. We make everything in-house, we design all the tooling, make all the tooling, everything from start to finish ourselves pretty much. So it’s kind of grown to be a tiny team I guess. Dan works in steel, that’s his background, so he has a lot more patience for it than I do but also, he’s just got the skills to do it.
Do you have a favourite medium to work with?
Probably silver. It’s expensive but it’s a nice material to work with and I’ve worked with it a lot. All of my jewellery is predominantly silver. But also in terms of objects and things like that I have made a lot of pieces in silver over the years which I really like. But I also do a lot in copper.
When you sit down and start thinking about a new collection or a new piece, do you have a bit of a systematic design process or is it quite chaotic?
I don’t do collections based on any time period. I kind of start a new collection when I have enough ideas to make a collection, rather than seasonal or yearly. I don’t really deign for trends or anything like that.
In terms of coming up with the ideas, I guess in the beginning they’re quite random. I might have an idea of a shape or something and sketch it. I’m trying to put things in one sketchbook, but I’m notorious for just grabbing a piece of paper. I tend to have pieces sitting around on my bench, there are bits and pieces everywhere.
I just make things really and I think it’s probably best this way. Sometimes things happen when you’re making it that you didn’t really plan for that make things better or sometimes make them worse. Things you don’t really realise. I think it’s kind of a combination of all of that. It’s not really a structured kind of process, it’s a bit haphazard.
When did it click that this career path was meant to be?
As a kid I used to tinker, at school, I used to make things and so this is just kind of life, I don’t know any different. Nowadays it’s hard to carve out the time to tinker and play, rather than thinking about deadlines, but it’s still a huge passion and I can’t see myself doing anything else.
Among all your jewellery and tableware pieces, do you have a favourite?
Oh that’s hard! I think probably just more my one-off work just because they’re individual and there’s more time and often expense that goes into making them. The first piece I made when I finished uni is the biggest piece I’ve made in silver, so I was quite proud of myself. It’s all hand-made, all one sheet, there’s no seams or joins in it. The process of that is really time consuming and rewarding. So I guess that piece sort of stands out in my mind. Just in terms of skill and actually having the guts to do it straight out of uni.
Where can people get their hands on your pieces in Canberra?
CraftACT: Craft and Design Centre, Kin Gallery, The Curatoreum at the National Arboretum and National Portrait Gallery are the main ones. There is also the online store alisonjackson.com.au
In terms of a career ‘dream’, I know from just meeting and talking to you it’s a labour of love. Do you feel like you’ve already hit that point, or do you envisage something that you’re working towards?
Just to be continuing what I’m doing and being able to work for myself and do what I do is pretty amazing. I don’t think there’s any real ‘I’ve made it’ moment. I really enjoy the business side of things so I guess growing it. I never want to be a mass company. My passion and background is in making things by hand so I never want to lose that.
What’s next for Alison Jackson?
I’m making a silver teapot at the moment for an exhibition in Adelaide. I’ve always wanted to make a teapot. So much so that I wrote a whole blog post about why I wanted to make one! For me as a traditionally trained silversmith, making a teapot is kind of like a furniture designer making a good chair. It’s something that you want to tick off your list.
Dan and I are also working on other small objects for an exhibition at Kin Gallery in Braddon, which opens in the first week of May called, You’re as cold as ice. And I’ve got this new collection that I’m working on and slowly getting there. That will be released later in the year so stay tuned!
Thank you, Alison, for welcoming OutInCanberra into your space.