‘Go with the glow’ with wanshu li

Wanshu Li was scheduled to help us celebrate our 4th year Anniversary and to share with you all her work as part of a talk and exhibition this month. 

We didn’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to see her amazing work and hear her story! So, with her help we have written an article for you all to enjoy. 

What do you wish more people knew about your work?

I make fun and playful jewellery, and I would like to convey a happy and positive message through my work. I am challenging myself to think about how wearing and viewing a piece of jewellery can be enriched in a more interactive way.’

If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice for the start-up phase, what would that be?

Listen to your own voice and trust yourself. Follow your heart and don’t forget your original intention so that you can get the result you want in the end.

Wanshu Li studied Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Beijing University of Technology finishing in 2013, she then achieved her 2-year master degree at the Edinburgh College of Art finishing in 2016. Wanshu then spent a year as an Artist in Residence in the jewellery department of Edinburgh College of Art. She is now doing a PhD at Birmingham School of Jewellery. Based in the Jewellery quarter right around the corner from us at the Artisan Alchemy Gallery. 

Wanshu Li has her work represented globally by various galleries and has participated in many exhibitions, shows and fairs. Winning the JOYA price in Barcelona in 2017 and having a solo exhibition in 2019 at the Bini Gallery, Melbourne, Australia are just a few of the highlights. 

Can you describe the method behind the making? 

I like to experiment directly with materials and probably not like to sketch much before I design. If I really need, I will do a very simple and quick sketch. Then I may lay out some of my recent pieces on my table and thinking if there are any new colours and shapes that I can try based on my current work. For me, making and experimenting with materials excite me more than having a very specific plan.

Why have you stuck with jewellery over other mediums, what is it about jewellery that excites you?

‘I enjoy immersing myself in making jewellery and also enjoy the feelings of concentrating and meditating on something. When someone appreciates and loves my work, it will make me really happy and rewarding. I think those encouraging moments is one of the most important reasons that make me keep stick with jewellery over other mediums. Besides, I guess most of the women cannot resist the love of owning a big box of jewellery, in order to match their different outfits. Thinking in this way, I am feeling I am already lucky enough.

The inspiration for her jewellery series “Go with the Glow” stems from capturing movements of sea anemones and free moving marine life. The illuminating jewellery is focused on exploring a multisensory experience and making tactile wearable pieces, which involve vision, sound, and touch. Through vibrant colours, curvy shapes and repeated beading Wanshu Li creates pieces that invite the wearer to look a little closer! Play with light, iridescent and glowing provide an enticing dancing, laser light show.

I first met Wanshu briefly at JOYA in 2018 when I was living in Barcelona. I remember the friend and fellow contemporary jeweller lover I was with saying ‘her work is really, really good; her brooch is on my wish list.’ Since then our paths crossed again in Birmingham, as a newbie in the city it was nice for me to make the connection! Despite the obvious attraction of colour, joy and something unusual that Wanshu’s work encapsulates. The real magic behind Wanshu’s work is her thoroughly genuine love of what she does. Mixed with a true humility and gentleness, it’s hard not to be intrigued by her work. 

What do you do when you are lacking in inspiration and ideas?

In this situation, I may try to think what if I am not a jewellery designer and maker but a filmmaker or poet, how could I express my ideas, emotions and feelings through my work. It could be inspirational to rethink and review the work I am making from other perspectives and find new sparkles for my work. Moreover, I may take a break and do something not relevant to jewellery and let the brain enough time to rest and get refreshed. I also enjoy talking to people from a totally different background with mine. Listen to other people’s stories can help me to open my mind and drag me out from my own jewellery world for a little while.

What would you do if you saw a very similar piece to your work during your development process? 

I believed in the art field, and artists can be influenced by each other, which happens in all kinds of art, like music for films. First of all, I think it’s important to accept it that we all create arts based on the world we live in, so it’s okay to face this situation that there may be a very familiar piece to my work. I will try to be aware of the other artists’ work and always keep thinking about what’s the highlights of my work, how to differ mine from others. 

When you start making a new piece, what is your process? How much of it is a pre-formulated plan and how much do you let the material spontaneity lead you?

In most cases, when I start making a new piece, I will let the material to inspire me. I like to do experiments with materials and try to use different colour combinations in my work. In the designing process, I will try to challenge myself and ask myself can I use the same materials but making different combinations or using the same inspiration but express it with other materials?  I may also review my previous work and see if there are any new materials that can be involved in or replaced to present a different style and variety in my work. ‘ 

What/who has been the biggest influence in your career?

Dorothy Hogg who is internationally recognised as both an artist jeweller and a teacher of jewellery and silversmithing. She was my tutor during my postgraduate study at the Edinburgh College of Art. She encouraged me a lot during my study and told me not to be afraid of challenging myself and be brave to take risks for my work.  To me, her inspirational and powerful words have kept influencing me and my life. 

The last work, book, film, city that moved me was…

Work: “Secret Garden” series

Book: The Moon and Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham

Film: The Legend of 1900

City: Edinburgh

Describe yourself in 3 words, describe your work in 3 words.

Independent, adventurous and a bit introverted.

Vivid, playful and interactive.

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