Designer of the Month: Karen J Ward

Jeweller Karen J Ward uses a range of traditional techniques when making her jewellery pieces, such as chasing and repoussé, texturing and stone setting. Read on to learn more about her varying design style, the tools and materials she favours and more.

Let us know a bit about yourself, detailing your background, study and training in the jewellery making industry.

When I left school circumstances dictated that I pursued a career in banking, rather than the degree course in Art I had been offered. I painted in my spare time, but always felt I was missing something.  Five years ago whilst surfing the internet, I came across a jewellery taster session and that lesson changed my life!

The chance to retrain with Nik Stanbury and Julie Moss at the York School of Jewellery was something I grabbed with both hands! I juggle my jewellery making and family commitments with working part time, and dream of the day I can become a full time designer/maker. I am based in York, and in April took part in York Open Studios 2018 – my very first exhibition!  I have learnt so much already, but it’s the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more to learn.

Tell us about your work – are there any particular materials or techniques that you favour?

For a while I have been concentrating on chasing and repoussé as I love being able to move, shape and texture the metal. I was struggling with finding my style and being part of York Open Studios really helped – having a deadline focussed my efforts.  The pieces that I created for my exhibition, evolved from chasing and repoussé techniques together with my experiments with textures.

Garnet frost pendant

I use sterling, Britannia, Argentium and fine silver (all from Cooksongold) depending on what I am making, and think that fine silver is my favourite. I like to incorporate gold, and precious/semi-precious stones into some of my designs, and have recently fallen in love with the beautiful toffee colour of hessonite garnets.

How would you best describe your design style?

I don’t like being ‘pigeon holed’ but if pushed would say that my design style is fluid/flowing, organic and fresh and subject to change without prior warning!

As a jewellery maker, where do you like to get your inspiration from for your pieces?

Inspiration comes from diverse points, from my fascination for the textures, shapes and curves found in nature, to the fantastic pictures of deep space from the Hubble telescope. Ideas might spring to mind fully formed, or they may evolve as I work.

Do you have a piece that you have made which you favour or are particularly proud of?

My very first ring (now worn and battle scarred) will always be special, but a piece that I am especially proud of is my Sun neckpiece (below), which marks a transition in my designing.

Sun neck piece

Equally, I am proud of making my own tools (gravers and chasing and repoussé tools) from tool steel blanks or by re-purposing old tools, and love this process just as much as making my jewellery.

What is the one item in your jewellery making workshop that you could not live without?

The item that I couldn’t live without is the first thing I bought, my Cooksongold bench peg and anvil – although as I am a bit of a magpie, and love shiny things my tumbler is a very close second!

What upcoming trends do you see being popular soon?

I’m not a follower of trends, and certainly with my jewellery, I make for pleasure and to challenge myself – to see if I can make my vision become reality.

One trend that I would like to see is an emphasis on traditional techniques and well taught design skills. CAD and 3D printing have their place, but there is nothing as satisfying as holding a finished piece that you have designed and made from scratch, by hand.

wrap leaf ring

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt from your time in the jewellery making industry?

Never, ever, stop learning (that bezel you melted – it was a lesson in torch control), oh and don’t pick up hot metal with your fingers!

Do you have any particular advice that you would give to up and coming jewellery designers, or someone interested in getting into jewellery making?

Don’t sit thinking about it – do it!  Go join a class; books and YouTube can be OK (depending on who you are reading/watching), and forums are a useful resource, but nothing beats hands-on tuition. A good teacher can make a world of difference.

…and finally, time for a bit of fun in our quick-fire round! Tell us your favourite…

…colour – blue

…food – chocolate

…place – my garden

…animal – horse

…film – Star Wars, nothing else comes near

karen j ward logo

For more details on Karen’s work, you can visit her website, or feel free to check out her Facebook page or her Instagram page. Karen will also be showcasing at the Saltaire Winter Maker’s Fair in Bradford on 9th and 10th November 2018, and has been accepted for York Open Studios 2019 to be held on 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th April 2019.

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