Emma Bugg on design process
We talk to jewellery designer Emma Bugg about her journey as a designer and the making of now iconic jewellery pieces.
What is the most iconic piece you have made?
The piece I’m most proud of is a crown that I made for the wedding of Kirsha Kaechele and David Walsh. It’s a part of the MONA collection and is currently on display at MONA in the Ladies’ Lounge. This piece required a grandiose amount of problem solving to create. When you’re asked to make a crown in the 21st century, it’s not as if you have much practice, but that’s what I love about my job.
Another slightly less elegant iconic piece is a brooch I made from a Big Mac purchased in 2015. It’s intermittently on display at State of Flux, and is an amazing tool for bringing awareness to healthy eating.
It was featured on ABC News in 2020.
What is your favourite from the work we stock?
At Design Tasmania, my favourite items are simple and elegant. When shopping for jewellery for myself, I’ve found there are a lot of options for over decorative pieces, but like finding a great black dress, a pair of earrings that have a design edge and can be worn effortlessly are priceless.
The concrete dome studs are a classic. They contain particles from the Tasmanian landscape, so wherever you go in the world, you’re literally connected to Tasmania. I see my jewellery as gentle, elegant and empowering, for all genders.
What has been your pathway to becoming a designer?
In 2000, right after college, at the age of 18 I went on to study a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). In hindsight, I could have done with a break to learn more about the world, but I don’t regret the way it happened.
At UTAS, the key learning elements of my degree were learning how to curate and run an exhibition, concept development and speaking about work to an audience. I majored in sculpture.
I’m thankful that I got the chance to travel, which I did for 7 years on and off in between hospitality and computerised embroidery jobs. I went to around 8 different countries and I found I had a lovely collection of jewellery. These small and diverse objects connected me right back to the memory of the places I’d bought them from. This was a catalyst in realising jewellery was an area I’d like to learn more about.
In 2009, I returned to study silversmithing and jewellery design at Polytech in Hobart. The best thing for me about this experience was the physical act of making - hands on learning about how to work with metal. The year I went through, the budget had been cut, but with what I learnt at UTAS I was able to confidently take on the role of executing an exhibition of our final year’s work, with help from my fellow students.
Tell us about your practice currently and what brought you to this stage?
Over the past twelve years I have worked with concrete. I have a vivid memory of walking along Swanston Street in Melbourne, Victoria, with heightened senses in new surroundings. I was struck by the observation that concrete and asphalt had covered the earth’s surface. It was everywhere but its ubiquity made it somehow invisible. The contrast was apparent compared to my home town of Hobart, Tasmania, where wilderness is much closer. From this experience, I began exploring ways to use concrete in jewellery, re-contextualising it by framing it on the body.
I continue to work with concrete, finding new ways to approach the material. I was lucky enough to have my personal jewellery hero Su san Cohn as a mentor throughout a residency I had with Arts Tasmania. The most valuable piece of advice I got from her was to ‘keep going’.
It was along the lines of ‘if concrete is your thing, keep pushing it. Sometimes it can take people a few years to pick up on any new and less traditional materials, and if you step away too soon, the audience just be catching up as you walk away’. I was grateful to receive this advice.
Parallel to my work with concrete, my practice also investigates emergent technologies and how they can be adapted to jewellery without creating e-waste as they become redundant. In 2013 I began making pieces with embedded sterling silver QR codes, before they became a thing. These codes lead the viewer to data and information, giving a vice to the object. As the codes are made from sterling silver, they can be melted down and used again. There are no components of the piece that cannot be recycled easily into a new object.
What do you feel is significant about designing work? What is it about this process that you are drawn to?
A part of the process I enjoy is getting to understand materials on an intimate level, the way they behave, what works and what doesn’t. The calmness you need to exercise when things challenge you. Frustration does not help, and I’ve learned appreciate my mistakes as they become my teachers.
As I mentioned in the crown, I really enjoy problem solving. Every day in the studio there is a new challenge, and the reason I enjoy jewellery is the time scale and the size. Working with a client to design a piece with a narrative is something I love doing.
What does design do for your creativity that other practices cannot?
Thinking about the problem you are trying to solve, and the endless possibilities and diversity of materials which can be used. I like the pragmatism of jewellery design, and having the body as a framework guides you with certain parameters you need to work within.
What do you feel is significant about being a Tasmanian designer?
As my practice grew, I aspired to have work in Sydney, which I achieved, but what I was surprised to discover is that my audience was stronger in Tasmania, due to its changing nature in the past ten years. Through having work represented at Design Tasmania, MONA, State of Flux and Handmark, my work is presented to a local, national and international audience of people who are looking to take a way a piece of the Tasmanian story.
What are your thoughts on design in Tasmania generally?
I believe Tasmania has the highest number of practicing artists/designers per capita in Australia. I wonder if it’s because we are all just a few streets away from the wilderness at any given time? Even in the cities you can look up and see undeveloped bushland. Maybe we have more time to think and reflect, and as the weather closes in in the colder months, it keeps our minds busy as we spend more time indoors. I am proud to be one of the artists represented at Design Tasmania. If you take a look around the gallery, there is so much integrity in the work, both with respect to the materials used and the approach to design.
View Emma's work in-store.
Image credit: Crown, Jonathan Wherrett; courtesy of Emma Bugg
Emma Bugg, Big Mac, photo courtesy of designer
Emma Bugg, Dome Stud Earrings, photo courtesy of designer
Emma Bugg, Galaxy Brooch, photo courtesy of designer