Amber and other stones

I love to work with wood and I believe it can stand alone as a medium for art and craft but I also like the combination of wood with stone, so I frequently unite the two in some of my pieces.

My favourite pairing is that of bog oak with amber. The darkness of the wood contrasts pleasingly with the richness of amber. Generally people expect amber to be translucent orange but in fact it is more often cloudy, butterscotch, yellow or red; some pieces combine all of these colours in a swirling nebula. I see amber as a manifestation of ancient sunlight. Prehistoric trees grew as they basked in the rays of a more youthful sun. When they fell, their sap became fossilised to preserve that parcel of energy to glow for the eyes of humankind 30 million years later.

Most of the amber jewellery you see in the shops will contain stones heat and pressure treated in China to form easy to use shapes (image 1). This amber contains shiny discs as a result of the process. I buy my amber direct from the Baltic from beach collected supplies (image 2). In this form the pieces are random in shape with rough surfaces so there is no way to know what they will look like until polished. There are occasional disappointments where cracks or gritty inclusions are revealed, but mostly it is like fog gradually clearing to reveal a spectacular landscape.

1.amber cabochons 2.rough amber 3.swirly bog oak amber tree

I also buy stones from three other sources. Adam McIntosh of two skies jewellery is an intrepid back packing, globetrotting stone collecter from whom I obtain readymade Scottish marble cabochons. I also get off cuts of this material from a local stone cutter that I shape and polish myself. Designer Cabochons hand shape and polish fair trade stones from around the world. They offer a range of beautiful jaspers, fossils, agates and turquoise in a bronze or silver matrix.

Dragon brooch in bog oak and turquoiseebony jasper tree brooch

I get most pleasure from using found stones I have collected myself from river banks and beaches. There is something inexplicably compelling about inching along on my hands and knees searching for a piece of nature’s riches that has been shaped and polished by the elements. I couldn’t describe exactly what I am looking for or what it is about the one’s that appeal to me, but I know them when I see them. Perhaps there is a subconscious formula or intuitive resonance, an alchemy of shape and colour that prompts a part of my psyche to leap out of its comfy chair and shout “yes!” when these criteria are fulfilled.

By far the most rewarding hunting grounds so far were the beaches of Suffolk where miles of wave smoothed pebbles are banked up in countless billions. After hours of crawling around I left reluctantly with pummelled knees and weighed down with bulging pockets. With yearning glances back over my shoulder, I was like a child dragged away from a fun fair.

Geoff on a beach       Suffolk beach      Sun and sea in box and suffolk stone

I have far too many stones, yet I continue to accumulate more. Likewise my boxes of off cuts would take several lifetimes to use, but it is good to have a range to choose from. My new workshop is like a bower bird’s nest. Perhaps I need to be surrounded by treasure to attract my muse and nurture a more fertile imagination…