Friday, 15 May 2009

Introducing... Nina Ellis

I take delight in researching the documentation of nature, entomology collections as well as fossil records. Botanical illustration and the two dimensional depiction of nature has an interesting history. The tiny leaves and touch of colour in the humble alfalfa sprout. The exquisite fine lines you find on close inspection of a wheat stalk or pressed flower petals. The details of botanical forms are inspirational.

- Nina Ellis

This week, fine jeweller and fine lady Nina Ellis is the wonderful subject of Introducing. Based in Melbourne, Nina graduated from RMIT's Gold and Silversmithing course in 2003. Now working from her studio at
Pieces of Eight on Brunswick Street, Nina takes some time out to talk about being busy, skydiving, and not being able to say no...

Happy Friday everyone!

Having achieved so much in such a short period of time, could you please tell us a bit more about what you’re up to these days?
I have only really touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I would like to achieve, but as for what I have done so far, it is all because I can’t seem to say no! This can be a bit of a problem because it makes me really, really busy most of the time, driving me slightly insane, but it also means I’ve been able to be involved in some exiting things. It also means that I’m making a living from doing something creative and that I love.

I also feel very lucky that my peers at university were all really enthusiastic and hard working. We have stayed quite close and I think growing into our careers together and making it fun has played an important role in boosting each other along and sticking to it, because there’s no pretending it can actually be quite demanding sometimes!

I don’t often stop, look back and reflect on the things I have done, but when I do its nice to look back and see how things have slotted into place and that I have a couple of achievements to show for all that hard work! There are so many great opportunities out there for artists, and people say that all the time, but the more you get out there and try things the more interesting things end up coming to you too. Sometimes opportunities come about by simply being in the right place at the right time. But most achievements are the result of getting yourself out there and putting in the hard yards- which is not so bad when you are passionate about what you do.

You’ve mentioned before that you are inspired by nature, its details and history. Do you see yourself moving towards a different aesthetic in the near future?
Although I have branched out occasionally, I think nature is my central focus, it’s what I’ll always come back to. I think there is a never-ending wealth of ideas and inspiration in nature that I could spend the rest of my life working though…

The larger objects, such as the fold bowls (pictured below in detail), that I am currently making have clean lines and are much less organic than my usual aesthetic. I am enjoying the different processes involved in making pieces with this bigger scale and although they look a little different, the idea for them stemmed from nature’s process of producing fossils.

The achievement I am most proud of to date is…
Skydiving!! I was overwhelmed with pride when I landed on the ground. I only conquered this goal last year. It was such a long time coming I was beginning to think I’d never have the guts…

The career equivalent would have to be teaching jewellery. This was also a long- term goal and a type of fear to overcome. I think that teaching is a kind of the pinnacle of what you do- like going full circle. It is when you finally get to give as much as your own teachers did when you were learning… when you didn’t know a pin vice from a mandrel, or your pickle from your flux. It is also a chance to reflect on what you are and what you know. I found it a very valuable experience.

My favourite thing I’ve made so far…
I would love to say it is my engagement ring, because it is now my favourite ever piece of jewellery. But I can’t for a couple of reasons; first because it sounds too cheesy and second, because I actually took more of a coaching role with that one; my partner has to take the credit for being the primary maker.

So, for my own creations, it would be my alfalfa sprout range. These pieces express the perfect kind of innocent cheekiness that I’d love to have through all my work.

The sprout is a kind of symbol of all the things we love and solemnly hold dear in this world- new life, love and growth, that springtime feeling of happy times and, of course, small cute things…At the same time they are humble and unassuming and remind us of daggy wholesome school lunches. They are part of the legume family after all.

Five years ago…
It was 2004… I was fresh out of uni and excited about everything, I was living the artist dream…no job, no money, trying to work in fingerless gloves and big jackets in my very first studio – a big old spice factory in North Fitzroy… the massive roller door would bash around in the wind, and we were glued to the bench- mainly because we had a little gas heater going at our feet and anywhere else in the space was arctic cold. I was also trying out my wares at the Rose Street Artist’s market, getting that rare but valuable face-to-face feedback about your work. And going with everything else that was new and fresh, at the end of the year I went on my very first overseas trip to India on a travel scholarship. This experience introduced me to the wider world with a massive bang, it was incredibly inspiring and kind of started my little obsession with travelling.

And in five years time I hope to be…
I actually really love where I am right now (the floor has heating in it!) I’m enjoying sharing a great space with great people, but in five years time I would love to have had many more fabulous jewellery experiences. One of my major goals is to do an overseas residency. One such fantasy is where I imagine myself tapping away at a little bench perched on a balcony in a Barcelona apartment while soaking up the vibe of that fantastic city and casually chatting away in my (yet to be) fluent Spanish. Ahhh, lo antes possible…

The best piece of advice anyone ever told me…
Hesitation equals devastation. This little corker recently popped out of friend’s mouth when deciding if he would join us on a trip to Japan. It is not so much advice but rather more of a mantra. The trip turned out to be amazing, so it’s become a bit of an ongoing one that never seems to fail. It is basically a more catchy way of saying my other time honoured favourite which is that “you regret things you don’t do more than you regret things you do”….which I heard growing up and often jumps into my head and somehow forces me to get out there and do things I’m scared of. I guess its all about the challenges.

What a lovely lady! We've recently received some stunning new jewellery from Nina - delicate porcelain cups and faceted beads dotted with little pockets of precious material like gold and black diamonds. Thank goodness for Kevin Rudd is all we're going to say!
To read more about Nina's work, have a look at this publication, on pages 29 and 30.

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