A moment with Amy Savanna, the artist behind the rings.
Arriving at the beautiful cottage of the young local jeweller, Amy Savanna, we are greeted by a white picket fence surrounded by a blossoming daisy bush. The idyllic property is overflowing with creativity - the loft upstairs where Amy creates her unique jewellery, the walls adorned with incredible paintings on old pieces of wood, a hammock swing covered in the pieces of what will soon be a rainbow knitted jumper, and the artbook on the table outside filled with delicate drawings of native flowers. It’s safe to say that Amy is an artist in the entirety of all that this word encompasses - an endless creator. Her passion for art runs through her veins, passed down matrilineally from generation to generation and it is through her work that Amy endeavours to honour the women before her. We spent the day in Amy’s studio, sat beneath a round stained glass window, watching her create intricate rings and barefoot in the paddock talking incessantly about everything and nothing at all.
Join us for a moment with Amy Savanna.
First, let us start by saying we are obsessed with your rings. You are obviously a very creative person, tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a jewellery maker. How did you learn how to do what you do?
Thank you! It will never stop being the sweetest of all compliments :) I’ve always been a drawer and I love working with my hands. I studied Fine Arts at the National Art School in Sydney and majored in Printmaking. Print, in some ways, is about replicating the original, about multiplicity, but there is also an inversion of your usual art-making practice. The process for many print related things was slow, calculated and will often come out the other end very different from your original vision. I learned to let go of any stubborn ideals for the outcome and to enjoy the surprises in the work. I learned how meditative slowing down and expanding your process into calculated steps could be. My work became more considered.
There was a sense of uncertainty in the outcomes, a dance with fate. I push the limits with this more often than I should haha. Often things go wrong but when they go right, my god they are glorious! Those are the moments that justify all the shattered stones and the failed pours. Working WITH chance, not against it, is often a trialling yet beautiful thing in art. I have found that these are the pieces my customers will ask me to replicate most, which just can’t be done. What you will instead receive is a piece made especially for you, a collaborative effort by myself, what inspires the work and a whole lot of fate. There's beauty in one-off pieces - a slow kind of manufacturing, a-hah! moments and mishaps all inclusive.
Your process is very hands-on, we know today many things are machine-made and mass-produced, your process couldn’t be more different to this. Walk us through the design, wax carving and casting process?
Step 1: Sculpt the shape out of wax. Taking into consideration the final piece will shrink about half a size (sometimes a full size) when it is cast in silver, I need to sculpt a wax model of the ring I will be making, it’s incredibly finicky.
Step 2: Time to make the mould! Here’s where things get fun! Firstly, I pack a special kind of dense sand into a cylinder, I press the wax carving into this mould and remove it, leaving a negative space in the shape of the wax. I carve out a hole for my silver to be poured down and a few small breathing holes to avoid air bubbles in the outcome. Now I work with texture and stone placement. Here’s where things become particularly unique and probably unusual for many jewellery makers.
Step 3: I get to play with fire, kidding, this is pretty serious stuff. I work with a very very hot flame directed on granules of silver until it is molten liquid. It glows like lava but has a mirror finish. For silver to reach melting point it is 961.8 ° C. I tilt the silver so it is close to pouring and then quickly dump it into the hole I had previously carved out of the sand. The silver will already be solid as soon as it has been poured and can be removed immediately.
Step 4: I remove the piece from the sand, scraping burnt sand away and cutting off the “sprue”- this is the little stick and button that has solidified from the pouring hole also known as a sprue hole.
Step 6: This part is arduous and sometimes things will break in the final step, whether it be stones that couldn’t handle the intense heat of the molten silver or the ring itself. I first polish the piece by hand, using a range of gritted papers to sand back imperfections, finishing with a Dremel to buff and clean the piece.
Wow, what an intricate and complex process. It sounds like you really put your heart into each design. How do you place the stones into the cast?
For stone placement I’ll try to create a visual analogy for you, bare with me here. Imagine you gently place big crystals and rocks at the bottom of a dry river bed. It’s monsoon season and water fills up the once dry river bed. Winter comes and freezes over the river bed leaving it completely solid. Now - here’s where you invert your thinking…Thank you printmaking. You pull the frozen river with its crystals and rocks lodged in place, frozen in time, out of the bed…you brush away the sand and earth that it lay within and you have a solid object with crystals poking out of it. Now imagine the crystals are chips of natural sapphire or lapis lazuli and the river is molten silver. The river bed is the negative space you have carved out of wax and impressed in the mould.
Your designs seem to be inspired by nature, even using sand to create the contrast textures in the silver. Tell us a bit about your creative process, the things that inspire you? How did you discover using sand in your designs?
For texture, I play around with loose sand in the negative space or I add bizarre household goodies like rice or lentils. (This is risky but the results will often be wildly textured and interesting - like deep natural craters or a splash of liquid frozen in time). I may also find objects in nature like a tiny, unopened flower of a bindi or the carcass of a small beetle. I press this object into the negative space and remove it again, this will then be printed into the silver outcome. I like to work with the finer details I tend to be drawn to in nature, to bring weight and meaning back to the unobserved or overlooked in the natural world.
You create custom pieces for each individual that purchases one of your rings, each piece unique with beautiful inconsistencies. What does this mean to you?
Often what was intended changes and becomes something else entirely. Creativity can bust through a commission and turn into a wild and unusual piece. I love it when this happens but it can set me back a little on the bread and butter side of the business. Commission pieces will work best when I have the chance to get to know the customer a bit more. I like to have a running conversation with the intended keeper of the work to get to know what they’re looking for, what their expectations are for the piece. It's very important for a customer to understand that what they have come to me with, whether it be an idea or a previous work of my own that they’d like me to recreate- every piece is unique. Every piece is perfectly imperfect. Inconsistencies are what give them life- what makes them special; this is what makes art.
There is a saying that ‘you are who you surround yourself by’ and that it is scientifically proven that you become the average of the five people you spend most of your time with – so fascinating. Tell us about the people who have inspired you, guided you and supported you throughout your career.
I am forever inspired by my mother, an artist of all mediums and a mother hen to every new chicken she comes across. I’ve grown up surrounded by strong women, all intense in the most beautiful of ways. My grandma, my aunties, my mum, all have the same creative blood running through their veins. A wild kind of creativity that has been tamed by society in different ways over the generations. I feel a sense of responsibility to ‘un-tame’ this gene that runs so deep in my bloodline. I want to explore its potential for the sake of the women who raised me.
I am also inspired by my two best friends. Molly, a self-taught florist studying meditative teaching and Shiryn, a lawyer who runs her own business in up-cycled, handmade, fashion.
Lastly, I am in awe of my partner Ellis, a surfboard shaper and craftsman who paves his way in his industry, all the while respecting and upholding tradition yet carving out new boundaries.
Moving away from what you do and a bit more towards who you are now. Who is the woman behind the designs?
I am passionate about the natural world. I often ask people what their “home” is, where they most feel drawn to - the beach, the country, the city, the bush, the desert or the rainforest. Mine has always been the forest. I love to be deep amongst the trees, I love dappled light through canopies of leaves. There's something about how the air smells and how time slows that resets me in the forest. I’m drawn to very small details and textures and patterns in nature. I find myself mapping my surroundings with each of my senses. Nothing is subdued and everything is alive and awake. I hope my work reflects this appreciation for all that's small and precious in nature.