LAURA RIKMAN Interview
In a small studio filled with art history books, resins, oils, paints and a salvaged trypewriter, Laura Rickman hand paints antique jewellery in ode to the romanticism of the eighteenth century. Adopting the same techniques of painters during the Renaissance, demanding time, patience and profound skill, breathes new life into art traditionally associated with museums. Antique jewellery sourced from local emporiums act as Laura’s canvas on which to paint miniature icons by hand, using delicate brush strokes to create intricate detailing. Each piece is world of its own, a wearable masterpiece that is achingly unique, borne of a meticulous creative process; from curating the old jewels, to selecting the subject of the painting, and mixing oils.
For Laura art is like an equilibrium inducing drug, that enables balance and happiness, quoting her art sociology teacher, ‘Art is what we should save if our world was to sink’.
What does sustainability mean to you? How do you communicate this through your brand?
To me, sustainability is to take care of the world we live in. And the most sustainable way I can produce is up-cycling, so that’s how I try to make most of my pieces. I spend a long time selecting vintage or second handed pieces that I can use and up-cycle with drawings inside or paintings on their surface. As my work is mainly inspired by past jewelry trends, it feels very reasonable to work with pieces that already exist in order to give them a second more beautiful life.
How did your brand come about?
I studied Fine Arts and every time I visit a museum I’m fascinated with the jewellery that very important figures are portrayed with. When I lived in London, I spent almost every day at the Jewellery Room in the Victoria and Albert Museum and I always felt I could try to paint jewels inspired by these collections. I’ve always made small or miniature sized works, so I wanted to investigate these miniature painting techniques but I never quite had the right time to do so, as the process is long and demands a lot of time. So, during the first lockdown in Madrid, I stopped every else I was doing and had the free time required to practice these techniques, so I started. Simultaneously, I discovered the ‘Lover’s Eyes’ trend from the late eighteenth century and I created my first jewels inspired by these pieces. During this difficult time, I also felt the need to find beauty around, or somehow create it with my hands. I could only practice drawing or painting on jewels I had home, so this is when I first started upcycling what was surrounding me in order to improve everything I had.
What cultural influences exist in your home country that encourage or prevent sustainability?
I’ve always been surrounded by a strong artisanal community. My dad used to draw before I was born and I have other relatives that paint or design their own decorative objects or furniture, so creating things with my own hands was always encouraged by them. I also have a group of artists friends that influence and inspire me every single day. With regards to second hand clothing, I inherited a lot of clothes from my mum. They are very good quality garments that are still in fine condition. So this also encouraged me in buying high quality items, and with a small budget this is only possible when buying second hand. Also I love the idea of wearing unique pieces so that’s why I like to invest in artisanal or vintage creations.
Can you tell us more about the story behind your collections?
When I first started painting on jewels I did so on the pieces I found at home: from my mum and my grandma’s jewels, to pieces I bought long time ago at street markets or antiquarians. I love to take walks around looking for treasures. In Madrid, one of the vintage shops I’m in love with and where I find most of my pieces is ‘Amores Eternos Vintage’. Cristina, the owner, curates and selects every single piece organizing them in decades, from the 40s to the 80s. Regarding online shopping, I am a huge fan of Vestiaire Collective, there I find a lot of vintage treasures all over Europe and I like that you can choose a ‘Direct Shipping’ option to get them sent directly to you and save money, travel and pollution.
When I started collaborating with Les Fleurs Studio, I knew I had to find local suppliers or at least very close to me, so I discovered this very old shop founded in 1898 called Antiga Casa Sala based in Barcelona. I used to order materials from a Birmingham based company as well, but since Brexit their taxes to ship to Spain increased dramatically. So, once I collect the pieces, I do my research among old paintings I’d like to paint on them. I mostly get inspired visiting Museums, analyzing brushstrokes in person, but since Covid, searching via Pinterest has become my main source of inspiration, allowing me to look at the best detailing to paint. I also have a small library of Art History books in my studio that I’ve been collecting, and it is also very useful. I studied and practiced old miniature painting techniques during the first lockdown in Madrid and I try to use the same materials: oil painting, gouache painting or watercolor on many surfaces such as paper, gemstones, brass, silver, gold or wood. It is a very long process: from curating the old jewels, to select the subject of the painting, and I like the fact that it is only me who is in charge of every single step. This keeps the production truly small, unique and carefully made.
I buy my art materials at Jeco, a very old shop in central Madrid that is the artist’s paradise. I also buy handmade papers at La Dominoteria, also in Madrid and also a paradise for bookbinders and printmakers. Then I am the one who draws, paints, and takes the photographs or videos during the works in progress.
The first wearers of my jewels were my mum, my sister, my best friends and myself. I needed to test how the drawings and paintings developed with wear. They are extremely delicate pieces. You have to be very careful manipulating them of course, especially with paintings, they are like a wearable canvas. You have to hold them from the edges. If you avoid contact with any liquid that could damage the painting or the metal pieces, they stay perfectly fine. You can also clean them carefully with a piece of dampened fabric. I also tested some gold plated sterling silver closures and how some chains behave when using them everyday —my mum is specially allergic—, and it was a relief to see that she could wear them perfectly fine. I first tested all my pieces in order to sell them, thus knowing for sure they keep their original state if you take the proper care of them.
And a little bit about the community that surrounds the brand?
I’vegrownsurroundedbyartisansrelativesandartistsfriends,soIfindArttobeawaytodescribeand understand life, and also as a tool to improve our lives and make them more bearable and beautiful. To me, Art is like a drug that does not kill me. It helps me to stay happy and balanced. I had an Art Sociology teacher who said the best definition of it, ‘Art is what we should save if our world was to sink’.
Since the global pandemic, I came up with the idea of bringing back wearable art trends from the past to decorate our body —even if we stay at home— as we decorate our walls. Since I graduated, I’ve been collaborating too with Bernal Espacio Art Gallery, working with Efrain Bernal, a curator who only works with ‘galactic artists’ in his own words. So I have the honor of spending time surrounded by William Kentridge, Marina Abramovic, Vivian Maier, Francesca Woodman, Sophie Calle, Suárez Londoño and many others who truly inspire my statement and goals as an artist.
In your eyes, what is most misunderstood about sustainability in fashion?
I believe greenwashing has everything to do with a possible misunderstanding. However the fast fashion brands describe their new processes, if they keep mass producing, it is really NOT sustainable. I think the future of fashion is made-to-order, very limited editions, unique garments or up-cycling.
What is your advice towards achieving a more sustainable wardrobe?
My advice would be to select very carefully every single piece you are to own. This takes time and I know it is way easier to just throw yourself to the sales you see advertised in shop windows, but it is much more rewarding to choose clothes carefully in order to invest in good materials, and this doesn’t mean to spend a lot of money. It does mean to spend more time finding the perfect garment. I truly believe a sustainable wardrobe is the one your daughter or granddaughter would inherit and still be able to wear, much like how I inherited my mother’s clothes.
What resources (books, articles, journals, films etc) have you found most helpful for staying informed about sustainability in the fashion space?
Spending so much time at home lately, I think some fashion brands I follow on instagram have been a true inspiration and have been informing me about the current fashion space. There is a growing aversion for fast fashion in the past few years. Maison Clèo, for instance, has created the hashtag #FFF (F*** Fast Fashion). I also read fashion magazines but since they keep promoting sustainability while publishing ads from fast fashion brands at the same time, for me, it’s much more interesting to read what small designers and brands have to say. As I said before, I learned from them and also from my own work: the only future for sustainable fashion is made-to-order, very limited editions, unique garments and up-cycling.
Tell us about a day in the studio?
I have my studio currently at home. It is a very small and cosy space in a corner of an indoors balcony. It has several
shelves full of my Art History books, old works of mine, silicon molds, resin, oils, gouache pigments, brushes and the rest of materials that I use. I try to keep it very organized or I would go mad and waste all my energy cleaning or tidying up having no time left to create. I have a very wide table with an old typewriter in one of the corners. I like to leave the rest of the table clear for my laptop or books that I use as reference for my drawings or paintings. I keep all the vintage jewels on some trays and I like to take a moment and choose carefully on the night before which piece I’ll use to paint on the day after. I have a full wall with windows in front of me while I am working by the table, so I use the light that comes from there to paint mostly in the morning time. Natural light is very important to paint and mix colours right. Then I continue drawing after lunch and until the light allows me to keep working. I normally use the resin when I’ve reunited a few pieces with drawings to use the same mix for all of them. Once the paintings are dry, I apply several layers of varnish during the next few days —allowing twenty hours of drying between each layer — and only then I consider the pieces are finished.
What can we expect from your brand over the next year?
I always try to improve every piece I make, regarding the quality of the original pieces I select, but also the quality and details of my drawings and paintings. So I notice that the more I create, the more refined my process. I try to keep prices as affordable as I can for the kind of pieces they are and their uniqueness. Miniature paintings were a luxury product in the past, and I want them to be affordable for any art lover, not only for Art Collectors or rich people. So I guess I’ll keep adjusting the prices as much as I can without compromising their true value. I would never devalue my work.
Since I started one year ago now, I’ve made some collaborations with emerging fashion designers, mixing my jewellery pieces with their designs, like frame brooches or buttons with original drawings, so I guess I’m always open to design new collections with other designers, I really enjoy that. I would love to create jewels for big brands like Dior, Paco Rabanne or Schiaparelly, but for now, I’ll continue to improve my creations while I explore other techniques such as painting directly on vintage or deadstock fabrics, or designing some patterns with my drawings and paintings too, let’s see!
In your own words, what makes your brand unique?
I believe what makes my brand unique is that those techniques I use are not really common to practice nowadays, in general, not even between visual artists. I use the same techniques in which miniatures were made back in the 17th or 18 Century. Miniatures require a long time to be created but also they need patience skills that are really hard to cultivate in this immediate world. I consider myself a very lucky person for enjoying the quiet moments and working slow. I’m never in a rush when I create, and if I am in a rush I am instantly moody, and being moody really take my inspiration away.
I really don’t know anybody my age who paints miniatures like I do as often as I do. I think it is crucial to have your own language as a creator in order to stand out, but I’d say it is rather important to be the only one, or the very few, who can make what you do, and that is my case with upcycled jewellery with original drawings and paintings.