Finding treasure with artist Kirsty Dalton

February 23, 2016
Image: Jade Thoms

With this years DWA program coming together project coordinator Lauren Herd was pleased to catch up with Kirsty Dalton, an exciting mixed media artist and contributor to DWA15.

Images Courtesy of Jade Thoms


LH: Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be making wearable art?

KD: For me, I have a big heart for found objects, like when you see that one shoe on the street and you just feel sorry for it.  I feel like objects and materials have a lot of heart in them, a lot of personal meaning, there’s a lot of nostalgia in objects,  especially in found objects. Dundee at the moment, because it’s going through so many transitions,  it has a lot of rubble. The smaller resin pieces I made encapsulate bits I found from the Olympia ( iconic swimming pool now replaced). My art practice is going to go into that more, looking at Dundee’s rubble, it’s really fascinating how much we’re changing. For me, I feel the need, I see things on the street, I think it’s really important not to loose this stuff.  (about the jewellery department bins) Seeing all the beautiful bits of metal people are throwing away from the jewellery department, I know they are training to a perfectionist standard , whereas I was like “This is amazing! This is beautiful!” I guess I’ve always been interested in layering things, it’s like collage with metal.

LH: Have you had any formal jewellery training?

KD: My formal training with wood  has all been through local craftsman  Jack Anderson who took me on after I won the Sculpture prize in 3rd year  Moncrieff Hill. Through him I met Tracey McSporran (NEO Design) and they have taught me about pricing , something I really wouldn’t know how to do.  Both shops were really happy they thought it was really accurate, so I was like “phew”. The kind of help I’ve had has been amazing.

‘people throwing away from the jewellery department …  I was like “This is amazing! This is beautiful!” ‘

LH: Have you had other help?

KD: Recently I had some advice to go and talk to cultural enterprise from Charlie, a fellow Tin Roof Studios member, so I went and spoke to Sandy Thomson. She gave me so much advice, how to approach things, how to represent yourself. That’s support I didn’t even know was available. Tin Roof is great for advice, I am lucky to have an internship there, the artists support each other, there’s lots of sharing information. Charlie ( fellow Tin Roof artist) who told be about the Cultural Enterprise,  I told her about the Scottish Design Exchange so now we’re both going through to launch our collections together. Dundee’s got such a hub of friendly people that are very approachable and very informed, it’s a good city to be in.There’s always someone to learn from, help you out with some new project or put you in touch with someone else who can help. I feel very lucky.

LH: How did you make the move to  jewellery ?

KD: That was just by complete accident, but really good accident! ..So I’m really interested in assemblage and mixed media and when I was trying to create my more sculptural fabric pieces but I started just placing them together and then being like oh don’t really want to just sew the on to fabric or paintings so I kept leaving them aside… I was already experimenting with resin and realised I didn’t really have a way of putting the jewellery together because it was all really sharp and scrappy! So I painted each one individually rubbed some metal powders in and it stops them from being uncomfortable corners. the back was a mess tho so I took it to NEO Design  and Jack and between the two of them giving me advice and putting the work into the finish, it came together.

LH: Have you found that jewellery students have been quite supportive?

KD: The one I know has been, she was taking a step back and gifted me an actual box of metal scraps which allowed me to continue. Sourcing scrap metal that is suitable can be challenging.

LH: How did you develop your ‘discerning eye’ between something that is potentially something beautiful and could be worn and something that is ready to be smelted or put in the bin?

KD: To be honest, you don’t know until you try. For the new one’s that I made up to 25 pieces and only turned 20 into jewellery. It’s really hard to tell until I’ve worked with the material, to visualise it. Also size, scale, if you can’t sand it down, some ceramics can be brittle, if it’s durable… you just have to be realistic, if someone is going to pay for it you want it to last.

LH: This is now how you primarily work?

KD: Because I got the place in Glasgow and the place in Edinburgh, I had to make a new line! So I have some newer pieces now, (materials) courtesy of a jewellery graduate.

LH: How did you to come to have that demand?

KD: Creative Scotland, I was really ambitious and answered a few open calls, but I had no idea it would go so well! I was angling for my older stuff, my wooden work, but when I looked up one of the shops I thought they would be more interested in the pendants…. only I hadn’t finished them yet! I wasn’t expecting either of those reactions from either of those places as you can see the layers and the materials that have been used, they haven’t been finished to the standard I would like.

LH: They look beautiful to me! What kind of feedback have you had?

KD: Really positive. To be honest, I had never been there before and I didn’t realise how fancy it was! I was terrified, I was there super early with my little bag of jewellery and naturally had a complete faff!

LH: So were you a bit intimidated by it?

KD: Terrified! But the shop owners were lovely, totally delightful people. They were so informative , they spoke so much about the variety of products and what they like to do. They were really interested, I think for them they were not too fussed about it being not perfect finish, they said it was more arty and they didn’t have anything else like it. They liked that there was a bit of a story to the pieces too. I thought some of the backs not being pristine might have been an issue but they said it was fine and it added character. The only thing the stockists were particular about what really good photography online, which was good to learn about the standards expected.

‘that’s memories, it’s what someone has used, it’s  a part of someones life.’

LH: Is it difficult to put a collection together when two bits of found material won’t be the same?

KD: No I think it’s more fun! I think I have enough of a style that they all look  like my work. I think it’s good because each piece of jewellery will be unique I can’t recreate that.  There will be elements of similarities in materials like I was given lots of clock parts recently so they will feature. I like it that it is different, when someone buys it, it will be completely original,  their own individual piece.

LH: So what’s next for your artistic practice?

KD: I’m a little  bit nervous about going through to the design exchange launch tomorrow night. I’ll be around real jewellers that have graduated in this, with real techniques, and I’ll be there thinking ‘I’ve just put bits of rubbish together with resin and now I’m selling it ‘…it might seem a bit ….

LH: (playing devils advocate) So what would you do if someone said ‘That’s just a bit of rubbish” ?

KD: Auw it’s not though.

LH: So what would you say if someone didn’t understand why you were collecting a material off the street?

KD: I’d probably use that lame catchphrase of ‘one person’s trash is another persons treasure’, I feel like they are treasure to me, I’ve collected these materials, I’d probably tell them that’s memories, it’s what has someones used, it’s  a part of someones life.

LH: Is there a chance you might become a hoarder?

KD: Not too much , I do tend to use things, I’ve been very good with myself and not allowed my house to become full of stuff, it also helps to have a studio to keep your small collections of strange bits, the other thing is jewellery is small , so you are just collecting small things, not huge materials for sculpture  which is what I was doing before.

LH: So after this collection, what’s on your calendar next?

KD: So Tracey McSporran from NEO designs has taken me on for work experience, talking me through various processes and again we’re hoping to maybe do a launch with the jewellery I make under her learning… She’s going to be running workshops soon too, she’s amazing.

LH: That’s Amazing! We’ll need to look out for that!


You can buy Kirstys’ beautiful collection RELICS at The Scottish Design Exchange which is located  in Ocean Terminal  in Edinburgh or Wear Eponymous which is located in Glasgow’s Princes Square. 

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