Thursday 20 December 2012

A Journey without a Destination

“It is good to have an end to journey towards;

but it is journey that matters in the end...”
author unknown

A journey without an destination is a joint exhibition by Philip Murphy and Mika (Marta Nowakowska-Bartosik) from the Misery Hill Gallery.

"This exhibition is a record of a beginning of a journey without a
destination .... instead of carefully planning a theme and working on it, we
decided to allow the work to evolve instinctively . The same when starting
a journey , if we give up the idea of reaching the destination we are able to
focus and to give full attention to everything around us. Such a journey can
be surprising and unpredictable, exactly how life is... too often we try to
make our work and journey linear, we want it to lead somewhere and we tend
to forget that diversions do much more than merely divert us. Anything we
experience , any person we meet, could change the direction of our journey
and can lead us to an unexpected place... if we are ready to follow ...we
decided to follow ,not to judge but rather to record what happened on the way
and share it with you ... not all of what we see is beautiful nor do we render
it beautifully, but we believe art is something more than only a decorative
painting to hang on the wall. We hope you will enjoy it anyway....

We have different background, culture,nationality, experiences but as artists
we share the same approach in making art, desire to push the boundaries, to
experiment, and serve rather our souls than egos. We try to shape and reshape
our personal experience and explore the territory of human emotions and
report perceptions that could seem unbearable to others.

As during the journey there are parts which are funny, playful and colourful
and other which are disturbing or turbulent, so they are in this exhibition. This
is a record of our shared sixth month journey ... to be continued. Thank you for
being part of it ..."

Exhibition runs from 7th December -21st December
Misery Hill gallery, Unit 66 , 6th Floor
Monday to Friday 11am- 5pm


Contact information:
Philip Murphy: 087 252 1227
Mika: 085 755 3644

Friday 15 June 2012

The Olympic Torch passes through the Dublin docklands!

Athlete Mark Pollock carrying the Olympic torch on Macken Street

We're a little bit late posting this photo of athlete Mark Pollock who was one of the carriers of the Olympic torch on 6th June. The torch relay passed by The Design Tower during the Dublin torch relay.

Some of the Tower designers joined the crowds to cheer on blind athlete Mark Pollock as he passed by their studios on Macken Street. The torch was passed to Mark on Macken Street from footballer Paul McGrath. Dublin had forty torch bearers, including Jedward, Sonia O’Sullivan, Ronnie Delaney, Ruby Walsh, and Michael Carruth.
Bronze sculpture of Mark Pollock by Elizabeth O'Kane

Below is a feature taken from The Irish Times, 7 June 2012.

"BLIND ADVENTURE athlete Mark Pollock said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of people who turned out on the streets of Dublin yesterday to see the Olympic torch relay.

Pollock, who lost his sight in his early 20s and was paralysed from the waist down after a fall more than a decade later, was one of 41 torchbearers who carried the torch through the capital.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who were out on the streets. It was a much bigger event than I thought it was going to be,” he said.

“It was a huge privilege to be associated with the Olympics in any small way.”

The Trinity graduate was speaking at an event held in Trinity College Dublin last night to honour students that took part in the Olympic Games over the past 100 years.

A total of 45 Trinity graduates have taken part in the Olympic Games since 1908 and many of the Trinity Olympians collected an award for their achievements.

Maeve Kyle, who graduated in 1950, became Ireland’s first triple Olympian for athletics at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.

Mark Kenneally, TCD’s first London 2012 Olympic qualifier, was also selected as a torchbearer in yesterday’s leg of the relay.
“It was incredible. I didn’t expect as many people to be out and for it to be as big as it was,” he said. “There was just so many people around, it was an unbelievable experience.”

For more information about Mark Pollock, visit his website and blog.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Design Tower Summer workshops

The popular Design Tower Summer Workshops will be held on Saturday June 9th and Saturday 16th 2012.

This is a chance to learn a new skill from practicing makers. The workshops take place in the individual studios of The Design Tower and are limited to between three and six students to allow for quality tuition and individual attention.

Students at an Ayelet Lalor ceramic workshop


Workshop courses include:

  • Portrait Sculpture with Elizabeth O'Kane
  • Leatherwork with Roisn Gartland
  • Silversmithing with Seamus Gill
  • Jewellery design and handskills with Da Capo goldsmiths
  • Porcelain paperclay with Ayelet Lalor
  • Design and Jewellery making with Breda Haugh
  • Papermaking with Pat Mc Bride

Breda Haugh giving a soldering demonstration

For more information, have a look at the poster below or contact the individual designers via our Design Tower Website.

Elizabeth O'Kane

Elizabeth O'Kane will also be showing new work in the following exhibitions:

RHA Annual Exhibition, Ely Place, Dublin 2, from 28 May to 18 August.

Sculpture in Context, Botanic Gardens, Dublin, from 6th September to 19th October 2012.

Little League, Riverside Park, NYC, Watercolour

For more information on Elizabeth's work, visit her website.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Studio Visit - Alan Ardiff

The 'Studio Visits' are a monthly blog installment. We're opening our doors to introduce you to the artists and designers in The Design Tower! Each interview will give you an insight into the individual designer or business. This month we're chatting to jeweller and artist Alan Ardiff. 

How did you come to be a jeweller?
I am an accidental jeweller; having studied industrial design and failed, I fell into the craft department and it seemed a nice warm place to be. However I took to jewellery as I liked the scale of the design and it is nice to be in control of the translation of a design from beginning to end unlike some other media. I was also able to apply my industrial engineering ideas to jewellery design, using intricate processes and articulation to create pieces that are innovative in terms of their kinetic abilities.


Where did you train?
I attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. I have not had that highly refined classic training of a master goldsmith and I am first to admit that I really wouldn't have that level of discipline. My real training I would see as my work experience in Turin Italy and also with the renowned jeweller, Paul Preston. His work has been a great inspiration to me as he uses gold beautifully to create forms which tell wondrous stories.


Where is your studio?
I am split in two; I live and have a studio in the wilds of the west of Ireland where I can spend time to create without the distractions of business side of making the jewellery. I also have a studio in the Design Tower and I work with a great team of makers to make sure my jewellery can be appreciated by a wide spectrum of people.

What is the main inspiration for your designs?

I like my work to be a source of interaction between people, the wearer and admirer. This, I think I have achieved through creating work that has not really been done before, in that I incorporate moveable parts in my jewellery. My ongoing driver is to create work with a new dimension. I am very excited about a new piece called ‘Two for Joy’. It is yet again a development of the articulation I use in my work, in this piece 2 birds move independently.

Head Over Heels

What medium do you prefer to work with?
Gold. It does everything you want and is totally forgiving - it is beautifully luscious and steeped in history. I continue to be in awe of the gold collection in the National Museum of Ireland.

Do you have a favourite tool?
My little hammer - it was my first acquisition and reflects the miniature engineering elements of my work.

What are your goals?
To keep coming up with innovative pieces; I am very happy this year as I have plenty of new ideas but some years this can be a bit of a challenge!

No such thing as aliens

Do you give workshops?
Not on an on-going basis. I have been invited to give courses in design at my old college.

What has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is having people who are fascinated with my work, I am humbled by their enthusiasm. From my beginnings at a work bench in my bedroom to a business with five employees has only been achievable through the tremendous support of my customers.

Star gazing

Where do you exhibit your work?
I largely distribute my work throughout Ireland however I would love it to be more accessible around the world. My website is ideal for people to access my work where there is not a local stockist. An email or call to the studio can take the stress out of making a long distance choice and we welcome people to our Dublin studio.

Thanks Alan! You can see more of Alan's work on his website or facebook page. This interview is part of a series called The Studio Visits.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Walk [Your City]

Sometimes people find it hard to locate us in The Design Tower! The idea of this Kickstarter project appeals and could be a great idea for Dublin city and the Docklands area in particular! What do you think? Would you appreciate walking signs that would help you to discover interesting things to see and do?

Monday 26 March 2012

Bending perspectives

The docklands area has changed radically over the last ten years. Looking at the new skyline, it's fun to imagine how the award-winning, seven storey Design Tower was once an imposing building in terms of its scale. Nowadays, it still stands proud amongst an eclectic mix of new buildings, including the Daniel Libeskind  Grand Canal Theatre and the 12 storey Alto Vetro apartment block, (scale creatively depicted above and below!)

The Bolands Mill buildings seen in the image below, ceased production in 2001. Both the concrete and brick built buildings have considerable historical significance. The site was sold for €42M in 2004 and was to be redeveloped for apartments and offices.

While looking for information on Boland's Mills, I came across an amazing (but never realised) proposal by Julien De Smedt Architects, in 2008, which sought to build a public baths within the dockland basin:

"The Dublin Docklands Open Air Bath seeks to create a new and open public space that will energize the newly developed surrounding area. A catalyst for growth of new social activity, this public bath also serves as a link across the Grand Canal, consolidating the Docklands Area and continuing an important passage through the city of Dublin. Consisting of a children’s pool, diving pool, semi-Olympic pool, changing facilities, and a café, this addition to the Dublin Docklands maximizes the potential for social development and land development."

A project which did come to fruition is The Lir Dance theatre. We're delighted to have them as our new neighbours. As The Lir website states that "This state-of-the-art academy trains actors, designers, directors, playwrights, stage managers and theatre technicians to the highest International standards for careers in the theatre."

The Lir was developed by the partnership of the Cathal Ryan Trust and Trinity College Dublin and opened in September 2011. It is formally associated with the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

We, the designers of The Design Tower, are proud to be located in this exciting new creative hub. For more information about what we do, have a look at our website. Most businesses work to appointment but we welcome visitors to drop by and meet us in person.

Article and photos by Aisling Nelson

Tuesday 20 March 2012

"Keep Going Sure It's Grand"

Sculptor Elizabeth O'Kane is currently exhibiting in a small works exhibition called "Keep Going Sure It's Grand, (recession-friendly exhibition)" at The Solomon Gallery, Balfe Street, Dublin 2, (next door to The Westbury Hotel).

Exhibition continues until Friday 30 March.  Elizabeth's work on show includes a bronze Buddha Head, based on the Buddha sculpture she made for the Wunderkammer exhibition.

For more details on Elizabeth's work, visit her website.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Studio Visit - Ayelet Lalor

The 'Studio Visits' are a monthly blog installment. We're opening our doors to introduce you to the artists and designers in The Design Tower! Each interview will give you an insight into the individual designer or business. This month we're chatting to figurative sculptor Ayelet Lalor.

When did you set up your practice and move into The Design Tower?
I originally set up in a shared studio in Arnotts St, Dublin in 1998, with a group comprising of jewellers, ceramists, lead-work and a prop designer. I had just returned from two years in London where I’d fled after finished 4 years of Art college in NCAD. By 1999 the space was too small and I moved into The Design Tower, sharing what is now my studio with another ceramist. This was a great way to share early set up costs and shared experiences as we found our feet in the craft world, and began to create our niche.

'Brunhilde' detail of ceramic Diva

Tell me a little more about your ceramic work
I have always gravitated towards figurative work, and drew a lot as a child. The Divas (my signature range of ceramic figurines) was born, although they looked very different to what they do now. The Divas have developed and changed through the years, but certain elements have remained true, the exaggerated height and aloof manner for example.

I tend to go through phases in which different work is created, so overall the range of work can appear quite diverse. Wall pieces, heads and busts, series of bathers, corporate awards, large scale figures in clay standing 7ft tall or tiny porcelain miniatures; enjoying what I do is paramount to getting the most out of the idea.

Last year I created a range of Divas based on the vintage clothing from the Dirty Fabulous Boutique on Wexford St. A variety of the vintage outfits were chosen, and each represented by individual ceramic Divas, interpreting  the clothes,  and the collection of 18 pieces was exhibited within the boutique for a number of weeks, along with watercolours of each corresponding outfit. The previous year I became fascinated with the vibrancy and purity of colour that can be achieved from working with pigments, and the Divas created were darker with small areas of strong and vibrant colour. Next year, who knows?

'On the Verge'- detail of ceramic Diva

And you also work in other materials?
I don’t only work in ceramics, although it is fair to say that clay is the basis for most of my other work. The different qualities achieved through changing materials has long since interested me, but it is only in the last few years that I have really experimented with these changes.

Moving into bronze was only a matter of time and the quality of the material lends itself to the work, creating a very different outcome. Busy, colourful ceramics can become  quiet, serene sculptures just by changing the material they are produced in. One of my favourite pieces, Serenity is such a piece, and the fun and frivolity that characterise some of the ceramic heads, becomes a very different creature in bronze.

'Serenity' - Bronze on limestone. Edition of 6.

I completed a masters in 2009 in NCAD, and used the time to experiment more fully in other materials, casting heads in coloured resins, plaster and eventually concrete.This new medium has been a very exciting transition for me, and again the material has very different qualities to clay, or bronze.

In the summer of 2011 I completed a series of concrete heads which were exhibited at Art in the Garden, with Gormleys Fine Art in Belfast, Contemporary Sculpture in Irish gardens, Ballintubbert house, Athy and  Sculpture in Context, National Botanical Gardens, Dublin. One of the pieces, Chryseus, (seen below), received an award for ‘Large work of Distinction’ from the Sculpture in context committee, which I was thrilled with as this was the first time these new concrete works had been seen by the public.

'Chryseus' - Cast concrete and steel.

What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I am working in my studio, doing private commissions and running classes and workshops, both in clay and in concrete casting and silicone mould-making.

There has been a definite shift in the market in the last few years, and unfortunately a lot of galleries have closed.Positively what this has meant is that new ways of working have had to be found and sometimes it's good to get a bit of a kick!What this has meant for me is that I am working on more private commissions, which I enjoy as working directly with the customer can often throw up new ideas that wouldn’t have come so naturally otherwise.

This will start with an informal meeting to find out what what the customer is looking for. This could be anything from a personalised Diva (working from a photograph), to a sculpture that contains elements of something more private. We can go through images of other work for suitable examples of colour and form, and finally I will produce a watercolour illustration from the design.Once the customer has signed off on the drawing it can take between 4-6 weeks for a commission piece to be completed, depending on size.

And you mentioned you run classes?
I originally taught ceramic night-classes in NCAD for over 6 years, but due to lack of numbers these classes eventually collapsed. For over the past two years now I have run classes every week in my studio, for beginners and advanced levels, and some students have remained with me the whole time. Its very enjoyable to be able to hand on my knowledge, and get instant feedback.

I also occasionally run workshops in more specialised areas, concrete casting, silicone and plaster mould-making, and recently in Porcelain-paperclay and decal application. I can run these workshops at any time, so if there is an existing group of people interested, I can work to suit them. I only need 3-4 people to run a workshop.

'In Flower' - porcelain on limestone

Tell me about the piece you made for the Wunderkammer Exhibition
I chose to respond to a sculpture of a Buddhista at the Bender exhibition in Collins Barracks. The Buddhista is the name given to a being in the state before it turns into a Buddha, and this resonated with me, like a caterpillar encased inside its pod before it changes into  butterfly.

The piece for the exhibition was a head cast in plaster and mounted on a polished black limestone slab. The face was tilted, turned up to the sky, as if awaiting this ephemeral transformation that was to come. The head was coloured with a wash of blue to help emphasise this spiritual transition.

'Transition' - Cast and stained herculite on limestone.

Thanks Ayelet! It's great to see the variety of your work in this feature. For more information, visit Ayelet's website or Facebook page. Ayelet also runs ongoing courses on a range of ceramic skills. Get in touch on 01 672 9799 to see when her next course starts.

This interview is part of a series which is archived on the blog - meet the rest of the Design Tower designer/makers!

Monday 6 February 2012

The Design Tower Winter Workshops

Have you signed up for our exciting range of winter workshops taking place in the Design Tower? We'd love you to book your places now or register your interest for future classes. Classes are very small to allow one-on-one tutoring. For more information, contact the individual designers as listed below.

{Click image for a larger size}

This unique series of workshops comprises instruction in such diverse creative activities as drawing of a life model to jewellery making, leather design to paper-making. These limited classes are given by some of the leading practitioners in their fields. The small classes take place in the studios of The Design Tower over the the course of a couple of weekends.

Leather workshops with Roisin Gartland - Contact Roisin: 01 671 0020
"Anna really enjoyed looking through my beautiful leather off-cuts. She chose an unusual piece of patterned leather to make a strap for her handbag. I've had some of these pieces of leather for twenty years and it was great to see them inspiring a new design..."

Portrait sculpture with Elizabeth O'Kane - Contact Liz: 087 917 4947
"Learn the art of portrait sculpture. Go on to sculpt friend's and family's portraits! Class caters for total beginners to professional artists."

Silversmithing with Seamus Gill - Contact Seamus: 01 677 5701
"One of the most popular elements of our last course was learning how to hammer a flat piece of metal into a curved bowl. The students learned the art of patience. The sound effects in the studio were fantastic!"

Jewellery making with Da Capo - Contact Se and Lee: 01 675 3867
"It was great to see the different levels of proficiency and how they felt they individually progressed over the course of each day. Even though some had no prior experience in working in 3d, when they had their finished pieces of jewellery that they themselves had made, the sense of achievement and the smiles on their faces were great to see."

Porcelain sculpture with Ayelet Lalor - Contact Ayelet: 01 672 9799
Change of course dates -  17th and 19th Febuary.
"Over two days discover the pleasure of working with delicate porcelain paperclay. Learn how to apply decal transfers, and to create forms that are transformed when light is seen through it, creating beautiful translucent structures. Suitable for beginners and advanced levels.

Jewellery making with Breda Haugh - Contact Breda; 01 670 5738
“Jewellery in precious metals is a wonderful combination - join my workshop to begin the journey to explore this for yourself.”

Paper-making with the Paper Conservation Studio - Contact Pat; 670 7984
To Launch this series of workshops - Pat Mc Bride from the Paper Conservation Studio is offering a place on their paper-making workshop. To be in with a chance to win, simply friend the Paper Conservation Studio on Facebook.

We're looking forward to meeting you at our workshops. Please help us to spread the word by sharing this post! 

Thursday 2 February 2012

First Thursdays Dublin

We've just heard about something which we think might be of interest to you creative types! Let's get out and see more art...  

On the First Thursday of every month a selection of gallery & creative spaces are opening their doors after hours offering you an extra chance to see art, culture and events in a number of venues between 6–8pm

This month we welcome Talbot Gallery, James Joyce Centre, Powerscourt Gallery, PrettyVacant Dublin and the Douglas Hyde Gallery. There will be talks held in the James Joyce Centre and Talbot Gallery, you can pick up Valentine’s Day themed cards in designist, and Powerscourt Gallery shall be offering 10% discount during the hours of 6pm – 8pm.

Cow’s Lane Designer Studio
West Essex Street, Old City, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Cow’s Lane Designer Studio is a treasure trove of handmade Irish art and design. This creative space is run by a group of independent artists who make by hand ceramics, furniture, jewellery and clothing design.

Debbie Paul Studio and Gallery
Contemporary Jewellery,  sculpture
1 Cows Lane, Old City, Dublin 8
Debbie Paul invites you to her combined gallery and studio space, here you can gain an insight into Paul’s work, her aesthetic, and her making process, furthering your understanding of Irish Contemporary Jewellery.

68 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2
designist put out the call for love, and asked the public to submit designs for a range of Valentine’s Day Cards. There was a great response. Eleven original designs were carefully chosen and sent to print. They are proudly on sale at designist. All the cards are very limited edition and cost 3 Euro each. Spread the Love!

Douglas Hyde Gallery
Trinity College, Dublin 2
Opening of: Merlin James |In the Gallery |Gallery 1
The Paradise [35] |Reverend Howard Finster |Message Posters |Gallery 2
Thursday, February 2, 6 – 7.30pm. At 5pm on the day of the opening, Merlin James will give a talk on the exhibition and his practice. All are welcome, admission free.

Gallery of Photography
Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Varvava Shavrova|The Opera. To celebrate Chinese New Year the Gallery of Photography is presenting the Irish premiere of The Opera, Varvara Shavrova’s spellbinding contemporary work on traditional Peking Opera.

James Joyce Centre
35 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1
Thursday February 2 marks the 130th anniversary of the birth of James Joyce and the 90th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece Ulysses. Professor Andrew Gibson will deliver a lecture followed by a medley of recitals from Joyce’s work by Paul O’Hanrahan. FREE but as seating is limited advanced booking is essential. Bookings: 01-8788547 or

National Gallery of Ireland
Clare Street Entrance, Dublin 2
Masterpieces of the Collection.  Free Entry ( Rooms 2 – 10 )
Fables and Fairy Tales – Illustrations from the collections ( Room 1 ) Free Entry
Art Studies Lecture: Vincentian Renaissance Master :  Titan Lecturer Dr Philip Cottrell ( Tickets €8.50, Gallery Shop )

NGG – No Grants Gallery
The Culture Box, 12 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Your Photos, Your World, Shared. First of its kind in Dublin, this is an Instagram exhibition made up of 60 images chosen from 1200 captured by Iphone and submitted by the public nationwide. The public share snapshots of daily lives via instagram.

Powerscourt Gallery
Townhouse Centre, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2
The Powerscourt Gallery is inviting artists into their warm atmospheric gallery to work, create, develop ideas or simply absorb the power of creativity! Open to all art forms, visual art, performance art, design. Also, 10% discount on everything for FTD!

PrettyvacanT Dublin
Unit 5 (former Delta Travel), Sackville Place, Dublin 1
Launch of Hidden Currents, an exhibition by Niamh Heery uncovering the near-invisible movement of commodities across the great oceans of the world. Hosted in a disused travel agency, the work is a result of Heery’s investigation into the global logistics of the movement of consumer goods.

Project Arts Centre
39 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.
Mikala Dywer |Panto Collaser. For First Thursdays Dublin, Project invites you for a walk ‘n’ talk tour of their new exhibition hosted by two young artists. Artist, Mikala Dywer describes her exhibition as ‘An exploded and bewitched house with a floating roof’.

Talbot Gallery & Studios
51 Talbot Street, Dublin 1,
The Talbot Gallery are hosting a discussion on their current exhibition: Cecilia Danell’s ‘The Consoling Dream Necessity’. Starting at 6pm, guest speakers include Swedish artist Cecilia Danell and Irish artist and sculptor Jennie Moran.

Temple Bar Gallery & Studio
5-9 Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Liam O’Callaghan|Bit Symphony. Bit Symphony is an audio-visual installation consisting of an assemblage of turntables, amplifiers and speakers, reconfigured and manipulated so as to autonomously perform a complex musical composition of looping records.

The Copper House Gallery
Synge Street, Dublin 8
Coal Story |photographic exhibition by Darek Fortas. This is a result of an extensive photographic engagement with the two largest coal mining companies in the European Union located in Silesia. It highlights the social and political capacity of the miners and evokes the history and aftermath of the legendary Solidarity movement.

The Doorway Gallery
24 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2
Lucy Doyle | Rococo. Lucy has her own unique painting style that she has honed over the past 30 years. Her subject matter is largely still life and interiors and often incorporates female figures that move within and inhabit her decorative compositions.

The Green Gallery
St Stephen’s Green Centre, D.1
Peter Knuttle | Recent Watercolours and Prints.

The Joinery
6 Rosemount Terrace, Arbour Hill, Dublin 7
Dave Madigan & Meadhbh O’Connor | Power Structure. The first collaborative project between two Dublin-based artist exploring two forms of power – energy and money.

Foley Street, Dublin 1
Exhibition Preview reception on Thursday 2nd Feb – two new exhibitions at the LAB LEAN, a new collaboration by Mary A Fitzgerald and Marc Reilly in the Cube Space and Undertow, an Ormston House Project curated by Aideen Barry and Alice Maher featuring the work of 11 Irish and International artists.

The Littlegreen Streetgallery
12a Little Britain Street, Dublin 7
(in the old fruit and veg markets)
Wreck is an art collective created by fine artist Leanne McCullagh & photographer Holly Cullen. It gives young, emerging artists a platform to showcase and promote their work.  Selected artists come from a variety of practices and creative backgrounds contributing to “wreck’s” diverse and contemporary nature. Bring your own beer event with live music on the night |7:30pm start.

For more information, visit the Temple Bar website.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Studio Visit - Da Capo

The 'Studio Visits' are a monthly blog instalment. We're opening our doors to introduce you to the artists and designers in The Design Tower! Each interview will give you an insight into the individual designer or business.
This month we're chatting to Se O'Donoghue and lee Harding from Da Capo.

Who or what is Da Capo?

Da Capo is the name of our goldsmithing studio and is italian for "from the beginning".

We felt it neatly encapsulated our idea for our workshop when we were first starting out, in that we wanted to specialize in bespoke work and commissions.

So each customer is a fresh start on their particular piece.

 Embrace 1

And Who then is 'we' in Da Capo and how did you become Goldsmiths?

Myself Sé O'Donoghue and my colleague Lee Harding. We met on a Crafts Council jewellery skills course in the mid 90's run by the legendary and formidable Jane Huston.

It really gave us a solid grounding in hand skills and the craft of fine metalwork. The course at that stage was in its infancy but has over the last 15 to 20 years managed to forge a very strong reputation both at home and internationally, and places there are very sought after. It is quite intensive, but gives you everything you need from the start to go on and work at the very highest levels of the trade.

After this we both went on to work in Germany and Holland respectively, and then in Dublin before opening our own studio.


How long are you in the Design Tower?

We opened our studio in October 2000, originally in studio 67 at first before later moving to 61 at the front of the building overlooking the canal basin.

The building is a very interesting design in itself, partly born out of innovative thinking for its day, and designed within the material limitations of it's day. It is so unusual to have vaulted brickwork on the upper floors of a building. We have to say that we love our studio for its aspect and nearly every visitor remarks on the view. It makes a nice added bonus and surprise for people visiting us.


Embrace 7

Why did you set up your own studio?

While we were both working for other businesses our jobs were focused purely on the making side and we missed the interaction with the customers.

For us the nuances that make a piece really stand out are the subtle details that come from making it "for" someone, so it is tailored to fit them, and detailed according to their particular taste.

What materials do you use?

We work mainly in Platinum, 18kt Yellow Gold and 18kt White Gold, with gemstones.
We also work quite a bit with Sterling Silver, and more recently Palladium and Titanium.

The gemstones we work with can be anything that the customer requests or has an interest in. Most people are looking for Diamonds, and in colours most people are looking for Sapphires and Rubies.

Recently there has been an increase in people looking at coloured diamonds. We try to work with interesting suppliers and gem-cutters, usually people who are small individual workshops on a similar scale to ourselves. This means you have a closer relationship to the raw material, where it has come from and how it has been fashioned from a rough crystal into a unique gem. These relationships also mean that we can work with some of our more unusual requests when we need something specifically cut to work to a bespoke design.

Yellow Gold Solitaire with Orange Diamond

Do people come to you already knowing what they want?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some customers come in looking for a specific gem, maybe because it is their birthstone or a colour that they like. Then we are talking to them about the shape and style of cut that can work best along with a possible design and their budget.

Others start with an idea of a colour and we can suggest types of gems that will give them that range of colour. A lot of the time it isn't until we have shown a person through our portfolio and had the initial first conversation that an idea of colour, or materials and style starts to come together.

It is always a journey of discovery, each person is just starting from different points along the beginning of that line.

So what gems have you used recently that would be more unique or unusual?

In December we made a pair of wedding bands that had Orange Diamonds set into them. They were absolutely stunning stones and gorgeous rings to work on. Previous to that, we once had a 14ct Marquise-cut Aquamarine which was a particularly stunning stone, it had been really well cut and polished. When you have good ingredients then the design work to surround, hold and show off the gem can become a labour of love.

Other than those, at the moment we have a set of 3 baguette-cut Green Tourmalines in the studio which are particularly fine. Someday they'll go towards something special when they find their owner.

Apart from gemstones, what other pieces have you done recently or stand out in your memory?

 Little Black Ring LBR2

That is actually a difficult question, it's hard to choose. And no doubt we'd both have different highlights.

I love our Little Black Ring series for the simplicity of the idea of a wardrobe staple to accompany a Little Black Dress, and the Black&White works so well.

We made a pair of rings for a couple in London based on the theme of the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth which were a definite highlight of the last few years. Another would be a Sapphire and Diamond ring we made, for the contemporary nature of the shape. (See the Embrace 7 images above.)

Often what constitutes 'modern' or 'contemporary' design could have been originated as far back as Germany in the 1930's which if you think about it is getting to be a long time ago now. This shape really struck me as being current in terms of a jewelry shape at the start of a new century.
Embrace 3

And of course the Embrace:3 never fails to get attention and "wow's". It's a true Diva ring.

So what inspires you?

Personally we are both quite interested in design in general. We follow what is happening in fashion design, graphic design, jewelry and product design, and boutique companies making small scale production of interesting ideas. It is easy to get carried away with a current style or trend, or work to a personal taste and this can be great when you are making a line that then gets to it's audience through a process of wholesale and retailer distribution. With regard to our studio we feel that it is incumbent upon us to create the best piece for our customer.

So for us, working directly with the customer, we are interested in tailoring what is a fit for them. This requires that we put our own taste and ego to one side and listen more to the persons own story. While they are looking through our portfolio with us and talking about the work, they are constantly expressing tiny hints about what catches their eye, and most importantly what doesn't.

This gives you a sense of what will suit them, and lets you know a kind of envelope of where their comfort zone is. Some people are naturally more conservative, others more modern or contemporary in their taste. Some like more ornament and detail, while others like sparse cleanliness and crisp definition of a shape. Some people wear their jewelry quite demurely and privately, while others carry off quite bold statements and can really push the boundaries. It is our place to help articulate these elements and to guide the person through what we think would be of interest to them. Invariably once you get to the sketching and design stage, you are already well down a path towards discovering their piece, and that direction may be completely different with the next person.

Over the last 11 years I think that this approach has forced us to become better designers and improve our flexibility in creating objects. This is what we really love about how we work, and I think it is something that our customers enjoy. When they get their finished piece, it already has more importance and emotional value to them as they can feel that they have been an integral part of the creation of the object, and it quickly transcends the material value of the ingredients. And it is nice knowing that these future heirlooms are out there, gathering stories as they are worn.

How long does it take from the start of a commission to a finished piece?

We usually say that we have a 3 to 4 week lead time, and beyond that each job has it's own characteristics.

The design process prior to building can take usually 2 to 3 weeks, but we have had customers decide and make decisions on the first day while others have taken a couple of months to work out nuances and arrive at a final design. Once we get to the building stage it is usually fairly straightforward and gets completed within a month.
We have had customers where we have pulled out all the stops to get something done for a short deadline, but most people are quite happy to take the time to get something special right and would rather wait to find the right, suitable gem for instance and know that the finished piece is just what they wanted, rather than rush and regret it afterwards.

Where is your work available?

We work from our studio, primarily by appointment so we can be sure to have the time set aside to spend with people. We also have pieces for sale in DesignYard on Dublin's Nassau St. such as the Little Black Ring pieces and Ready-To-Wear engagement rings.

Can you tell us about the pieces you designed for the Wunderkammer Exhibition?

We were inspired by the collection of Tankas which are portable spiritual objects, and the visual stylistic of the Tibetan illustrations such as their mythical animals and landscapes.
We have always been interested in the Chinese representation of the Flaming Pearl of Wisdom, commonly shown falling through the sky being chased by a dragon.

On further research we discovered a tradition amongst Tibetans of carrying a "G'au" with them on their travels. This would be a very ornately carved and decorated box, or portable shrine, which would be carried on the hip with a very brightly coloured sash slung across the body and over the shoulder. This box would contain a spiritual relic to keep the traveller safe and assist in their devotions.

There was a nice synergy between these elements for us and a curious cross-over between the Chinese and Tibetan elements.
Image top and bottom left shows Lee carving and making the finished box or G'au. Images on the right show a Tibetan monk carrying a G'au.

So our piece was a dark grey Pearl surrounded by a flame of white Diamonds in 18kt White Gold, and a second ring of Rubies set in 18kt Yellow Gold in stylized Tibetan Clouds which sits over and surrounding the Pearl ring. So it is a Chinese symbol of pursuit of wisdom falling through a Tibetan sky. We also built a G'au out of hardwood with Silver fittings, with a bright yellow sash. Rather than the saturation of the traditional heavy and crowded ornamentation we liked the idea of the G'au having the traditional shape, but with a more contemporary interpretation of the decoration. So we took a singe element from the original Tankas and engraved a tree and leaves crossing the whole face of the box and overlapping onto the sides.

The box is hung on the wall and can be used to store the rings when they are not being worn, so even when they aren't in use they can still be enjoyed as an artwork.

Thanks for chatting to us, Se, and telling us about how yourself and Lee design and make your jewellery. For more information visit the Da Capo Website and blog.

This interview is part of a series called The Studio Visits. Next month we'll be meeting ceramic sculptor Ayelet Lalor.