The Griff

Forging a career out of copper

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Forging a career out of copper

MacEwan University design grad Kristine MacDonald creates copper jewelry with a local flair.

Sitting in the sun on the patio outside of the 109 Street MacEwan University pedway, Kristine MacDonald sips on a coffee and animatedly discusses her ongoing exploration of the line between craft and art. For the past four years, Kristine has been running Smithstine, a local jewelry business that she founded and runs entirely by herself.  Kristine, a 2015 design and digital media graduate, sat down with the griff to discuss how she made a business out of creating miniature pieces of artwork from scratch.

Q: How did you get into jewelry design?

I started doing classes at the City Arts Centre around the same time I started my program at MacEwan. I did silversmithing, which is a basic class in how to do jewelry and metal work using silver. I took that a few times, and I really liked it, so I continued to do it and bought all the tools I need over time and just taught myself the rest using videos and books and stuff. Then I just continued to do it while I was in school, doing markets on weekends.

Q: As a design graduate, did you find it came to you pretty easily?

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. It was nothing I had every really done before, but as soon as I started, I was like, “This is so fun!”

Copper Jewelry
Copper jewelry

Q: How did you start your business, Smithstine?

That started with markets. I did the 124 Street [Grand] Market with a friend, and then from there, I started applying for different markets around Edmonton — not necessarily farmers’ markets, but Christmas markets and stuff like that. Then it became a business from there, and it’s been really good. I can do it full-time now, which is really cool, so it’s just, like, at this point of choosing whether I want to be making jewelry full-time.

Q: Do you ever branch out of jewelry making into more large-scale work?

I recently did a show at Latitude 53 with a friend, and it was the first time that we got to do a gallery that was our own with, some larger copper art pieces and sculptures, which was really cool. This was an opportunity for me to do more artwork instead of just jewelry and accessories, but that’s what I normally stick with.

Q: You work exclusively with copper. Why is that?

I like the way it responds and it’s nice to work with, and it’s really uncommon in jewelry. I think the more you can set yourself apart from other people who are doing similar things, the better it is and the more interested people are.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your creation process?

It’s all totally handmade. I’m not laser cutting it or anything like that. I actually have a little saw — it looks like a coping saw, but it has a hair-thin blade in it and I saw it all out by hand. [Each piece of jewelry is] different and I do them all in batches, so I’ll saw a bunch out, and then I’ll file them all, and then I’ll drill holes in them all.

Q: A lot of your stuff is custom-made. Do you ever get any interesting requests?I would say 50 per cent of my business is custom orders. Sometimes I have to go back and forth with the customer. It’s like, “Okay, that’s not exactly what I do, but this is how I can make it more like what I would do.” [laughs] But I do get a lot of things that are definitely not my theme and not my style, but I do like how they turn out, usually, because it’s something different.

The Moneymakers
The Moneymakers

Q: Most of your work follows a prairie theme. Why did you choose to do that?

That’s the type of thing that inspires me. I really like being in the outdoors and camping and things like that, so the landscape and the creatures of Alberta are where I draw my inspiration. Lately, I’ve been doing a little bit more mountain and arctic-themed stuff for some of my newer pieces. It’s fun to expand the collection. I don’t want it to just be Edmonton, even though I like Edmonton.

Q: Do you find you have any pieces that a lot of people gravitate toward?

I have a necklace that’s the shape of the North Saskatchewan River going through Edmonton, and that one’s really popular.

Q: Why do you think people should support Edmonton-based artisans?

I think it’s just so much more interesting to give someone a gift and be able to say, “I know who made this. I know where it came from and I’m supporting someone who could be my neighbour.” Because I do all these markets, I always buy my gifts from other friends and people I’ve met at markets. I just think it has so much more meaning if you buy it from someone

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photos by Kristine MacDonald.