We recently interviewed Coombes-based jeweller and stained glass artist, David J Lilly. Read on to learn about his most recent collection, where he draws inspiration, and his advice for budding business owners and artists.
Hi David. Please can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I design and make stained glass and jewellery. I am the UK’s specialist in Dalle de Verre stained glass and a lot of that inspires my work. Nowadays I do the stained glass projects that interest me, and spend more time designing and making jewellery. I con my jewellery as being Affordably luxurious hand-made jewellery for everyone who loves Mid-century Modern and Brutalist design. Unique, individual one-off and bespoke pieces.
What are you currently working on?
I have just finished the first 2021 collection entitled Eir. I wanted this collection to be more than just beautiful, I wanted it to speak to other desires or unspoken needs that wearers may have from their jewellery. Having chatted with both my husband and friends about this idea I started researching into images around ‘protection’ – spiritual and metaphysical. I eventuality zeroed in on Nordic Runes and then expanded the idea of their form through to the inverted lyre shape which underpins the Eir aesthetic.
The Eir collection began with four pendants, each set with different gemstones in their raw form. These pendants are joined with five rings, each set with both raw or faceted gemstones. This collection will be launched in mid March once the finished pieces have been worked on by a Reiki practitioner who is going to tune each piece to its finest ability to impart for the wearer the healing properties of the shape and the gemstones.
Eir is the name of the Norse goddess of healing. The name was chosen after looking at the shape of the pendants – an inverted lyre. I found out that the lyre was played by another god Apollo who was also a god of healing, but his name for the collection felt wrong -too masculine, so after some exploration Eir was found, and she felt absolutely right.
How did your jewellery business begin, and has your style changed much since then?
I have been working as a creative since 2006 when I left the wine trade. I began by designing and making stained glass windows and worked with individual clients around the UK and abroad. During that time I became really interested in Dalle de Verre which is 25 mm thick stained glass.
In 2018 I took a change in career as I wanted to work with younger creatives. I began running the SML College in Fishersgate, West Sussex and therefore stopped running the stained glass business as my primary source of income. This give me time to explore other mediums that I had fancied playing with and I began a collection of fold-formed copper vessels.
Back in 2017 I went on a medicine walk and asked questions around what I should be doing as a creative. What I got from that experience was that my work at the time should be ‘monumental’. I took that to mean ‘large’. Unsure how to do with with stained glass I left that idea at the side to see when and how I could explore it in the future. When working with copper I felt that this was the opportunity do that and make larger and larger pieces of work. As the work became larger I became less satisfied with it and could not see how the idea of monumentalism could apply, so I stopped. I began playing with the scrap pieces of copper using the techniques I had used on a larger scale and before I knew it I was creating jewellery.
I continued to play around with this as 2018 progressed and at the end of the year decided to invest in increasing my jewellery making skills through online and offline training opportunities and also went and learnt how to cabochon, cut and facet gemstone. In August 2019 I declared my jewellery to the general public with a solo exhibition at the St Paul’s Gallery in Worthing. In 2020 I decided to leave the college as its requirements were changing and I no longer felt that I was getting what I needed from it as a creative career, so I am back to working in my studio full time again.
My jewellery revolves around creating collections on a theme. I love exploring different ideas and techniques and creating collections allows me to explore these ideas through to their natural conclusion. The over arching aesthetic of my work is embedded in the mid-century modern through to brutalism and often the work of architects as much as jewellers of the time.
What’s the most challenging part of your work?
Increasing my skillset has been a slow process as I have only been able to get online tutelage which I rarely find to be effective as you just can’t ask questions in the moment. The most challenging part of the business has been getting my work to market. I have spent a long time creating customer avatars based on the few customers I have had in 2020 and the friends who love my work. Finding where these customers who look for work go on a regular basis during a pandemic has been a challenge, and one I do not feel that I have totally discovered.
“I often have a love hate relationship with my work. I’ll love it at certain stages and then be disappointed with it at others. I may really love the outcome or be disappointed, but that’s fine as it’s just a learning opportunity for me…”
What’s your favourite part of what you do?
Research. I was surprised to find I love research through just walking around an area where there is the architecture that inspires me – such as The Barbican in London, or when I can’t do that trolling Pinterest and Instagram feeds for hours at a time. I’ll take photos and save images and then use them to begin sketching an idea out. I have many sketch books and they all include lots of rubbing out.
I often have a love hate relationship with my work. I’ll love it at certain stages and then be disappointed with it at others. I may really love the outcome or be disappointed, but that’s fine as it’s just a learning opportunity for me, and in the end there is something for everyone so even when I feel something is not what I wanted it to be someone else will love it.
I have joined a few Facebook jewellery communities – there are very few stained glass ones for the type of work I do. As much as these are great places to ask questions and get feedback it’s not the same as someone sitting opposite you enjoying coffee and cakes.
I rent a large barn as my studio in a picturesque farmyard up the banks from the river Adur. I wish I could get a couple of other creatives to work there with me. I find the place really inspiring (and cold in the winter) but I know I work better when I have other creatives around – they don’t have to do what I do, what I get out of such a collective is the opportunity to talk nonsense and be understood.
Do you have any advice for people who are just starting their own business, or who want to learn how to make jewellery?
Now is not the time to start something new unless you know you have a market. To many people have too little money to spend. That said don’t stop being creative. Research, research, research and then draw up your ideas – you don’t need to be an artist to draw – drawing is just making marks with one medium or another – you should see my sketch books! I was once advised ‘keep drawing until your drawing tells you to do otherwise’ it’s a very good process to follow.
If you want to learn a creative skill, there are many ways of doing that online if that suits you, otherwise I and others offer workshops throughout the year where newbies can come and try their hand at something new.