A lifelong artist, jewelry designer Sarah Kelly (best known as Saloukee), often found herself using paper for just about anything other than drawing. “My full design process is definitely through making,” Sarah says. “I hardly draw at all.” Sarah began creating paper jewelry through her university’s jewelry design program and soon gained attention for her innovative techniques. In fact, she quite literally wrote the book on the subject (Design & Make Paper Jewelry by Sarah Kelly), and now teaches workshops to other aspiring jewelry makers. Sarah isn’t devoted to paper exclusively, but she says that her materials and her making process drive her work. Here, she details her first experiments with paper jewelry and explains how her work has evolved.
I can’t really imagine a time when I wasn’t drawn to design. I guess when I was younger, it was more like art. I remember being really a tiny child and thinking I was going to be an artist someday. I don’t quite know why I thought that, but I think it was always kind of in the mix. And then I was always drawn to design but whether or not it was really a viable career… but I decided to study jewelry.
Though I was interested in art, this was something much more practical and hands-on that really spoke to me. That was the drive, it was the investment at about 17; I just knew it was something I wanted to take further.
When I look back and actually analyze it, I realize that I’ve used paper as a mean to communicate the ways I’m creatively thinking for years, since back when I was in high school. I was actually working with paper then, not just using it to actually draw with, but also working with it in 3D as opposed to a 2D material, which is the way most people think of it.
I decided to do a collection of huge big leather belts. When I was making the actual models for these belts, I was making them out of very heavy watercolor paper, and I was stitching things to them to show where I’d actually like the designs to go. It was more like working as a dressmaker, working with actual patterns.
[The final leather belts] were so masculine, heavy and dark in color. There was just nothing feminine about them to me. They weren’t very elegant. I just didn’t feel like they represented me in a way that I wanted to be. At that point, I just thought, “I actually preferred the models that I did.” They felt more intuitive to what I was aiming to do than actually the final pieces.
I just thought, a lot of fashions are very transient, you only consider buying a particular “in” piece for one summer, so why does jewelry have to be forever lasting? Obviously I work with paper that I do use to make it longer lasting, but of course it’s not going to last the same way that metal does. To me, that’s part of the beauty.
I was asked to write a book on paper jewelry, and off the back of that, got offered a lot of workshops. I did a workshop for maybe a year or so, and people really wanted to know exactly how to make my jewelry but obviously, I’ve refined what works for me. I was trying to find a way that I could enable people to use paper, but in a more 3D way, so I actually found this really, really beautiful paper yarn.
It wasn’t necessarily paper, it was the fact that it was a new material that hadn’t really been used in jewelry before. That’s where the intrigue is. So if I’m then bringing in cotton, or if I’m bringing in wood, or if I’m bringing in different types of stones, or a non-precious stone, that’s then me evolving my business in a genuine way.
Absolutely. My full design process is definitely though making. I hardly draw at all; I don’t have sketchbooks full of sketches and that’s always been the way. I used to go mad at my university teachers for making me draw because it wasn’t actually helping any of my thought development; I was doing it for the sake of it. I take lots of photographs of the models and so my iPhone is just full of me refining the products – pictures of my hand and pictures of the products. It reminds me of what I do in the first place and how I’ve evolved it.
Trust your own judgment. You’re going to be very influenced by people around you, so it’s important to really know what you want and to stay true to yourself and not be pulled in too many different directions.
It’s about tenaciousness, really sticking to your goals. And really knowing what they are in the first place, because if you don’t know your goals, it’s difficult to know how you’re going to get there and what steps you should take to get there. In my studio, I have a big blackboard right in front of my desk with goals for that particular year. They might not be achievable, but if I don’t keep looking at them on a regular basis, I will never know whether I’m heading in the right direction. Sort out your goals, know what they are, and then sit with them and be damned determined that you’re going to get there. Stay true to your dreams!