Features / jewellery

‘Silversmithing can be seen as an exclusive activity. I wanted to show how accessible it can be’

By lucas birtles, Friday Aug 23, 2019

Kim Thomson, jewellery maker and arts tutor,  has over 25 years of experience in her craft. She hopes to get more people interested in the art of silversmithing through running inclusive workshops. Running workshops in her silversmithing shed and across the city, she hopes to make the practise more accessible to people in Bristol:

Why do you run workshops?

I am passionate about passing on skills and strive to make everything as clear, accessible, enjoyable and as empowering as possible.

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When I graduated from university, I didn’t have a concrete idea of what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to become an exhibition curator and move to New York, so I moved back home and secured some work experience as curation assistant at the Shipley Art Gallery, which houses one of the UK’s most significant contemporary craft collections. I very quickly realised it was not for me.

Inside of Kim’s workshop

Curation is all about in-depth organisation, impeccable display, pin point accuracy and spreadsheets. To say these things do not play to my strengths is an understatement: my handwriting wasn’t even neat enough to write the postal addresses on the return packages.

One day, both members of the education team rang in sick as a group of 40 school children arrived. An A4 page about log cabin quilts was pushed into my hands and I was told I would have to deliver the session – I knew nothing about log cabin quilts and even less about delivering a workshop. I’m sure I must have done an awful job, but since I didn’t run away screaming, the museum decided to pay me run my own jewellery making sessions.

I did terribly at school. I had undiagnosed learning difficulties including dyslexia and ADHD and I left school with the lowest marks in my year. I was lucky to get a place on a foundation art course which then allowed me to move into a degree in silversmithing. I graduated university with the highest marks in my year and it showed me the difference the right type of learning and teaching style can have.

Why do you love running silversmithing workshops?

I struggle to read and write. Workshops suit me because my brain works best when responding to people in real time and I’m good at verbally explaining things and doing hands-on demonstrations. Because my brain is always thinking of so many options, I’m good at adapting techniques to suit individual students.

Silversmithing can be seen as an expensive, exclusive activity that takes many years to learn so I wanted to show how accessible it can be. Also, it’s not necessary to buy expensive tools.

Some of my most shared posts have been when I’ve been demonstrating how you can make beautiful jewellery with a £9 blowtorch, a £1 nail buffer, a £12 rotary tool, a 50p pair of children’s craft scissors and a free potato!

The response has been overwhelming. I regularly get messages from complete beginners expressing how easy it has been for them to follow along at home and how happy they are with what they have created.

Professional jewellers also let me know that they have learned so much, just by recapping the fundamental techniques and tips or through having something explained in a different way.

Kim Thomson with her trusty pup in their workshop

Can you talk us through a day in the workshop with you?

Every day is different which is why I love it. Most sessions start with a cuppa!

I teach in a very calm and laid-back way because I want to inspire confidence and creativity. I want people to feel comfortable and have fun while creating something they can be very proud of. I demonstrate techniques and offer adaptions when needed but don’t take work from people or do it for them.

I also teach group workshops and courses at The Bristol Folk House on Park Street and Bristol and Bath Craft Workshops in Kingswood.

What do you think it is it about Bristol that sees so many different creative opportunities and such a varied number of workshops people can get involved in? 

So many big businesses and creative industries have chosen Bristol as their home. Bristol is full of people from a diverse range of backgrounds and geographic areas. Through this melting pot, Bristol has gained a world-renowned food, street art and music scene.

Cultural and creative influences inspire each other, and it makes sense that workshops develop from this inspiration and vibrancy.

Find out more at www.makeit.kim 

Read More: Jewellery designers collaborate on a unique new collection

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