I love to share with you interviews with the jewellers because behind each handmade piece there is love, energy and story of an artist. I talked today to Mackenzie Tessa Cameron, the one behind Invidiosa Jewelry, made with love in Montreal.
Tessa tells about merging art and jewelry, affection to wax-carving and wax-drawing and vintage inspirations and business. And, of course, as we like it, about an "ordinary" artist day.
What brought you into the jewelry world?
My introduction to jewelry-making was through my uncle Larry Cameron. Jewelry-making was never his main career, but it was certainly a passion of his. Although I don’t believe he had any formal training, his pieces were quite remarkable. I remember my sister and I would go to visit him and my aunt and in their basement, he had his jewelry workshop. It was filled with all kinds of equipment and machines I had never seen before, and he always let my sister and I choose out one ring each to keep. My favourite was this giant stainless steel ring with protruding brass prongs.
The ring was definitely not what you would expect a ten year old girl to be wearing to school, but I was always a bit of a tomboy growing up and “dainty” pieces have never really been my style.
Larry was definitely an inspiration to me. I was always fascinated by how he could take these crude materials (he scavenged for stainless steel pipes and nuts and bolts from metal scrap yards if I remember correctly) and turn them into polished and elegant pieces of jewelry. He made signet rings from stainless steel nuts! It still kind of blows my mind to think about. It wasn’t until after finishing university that I decided to give jewelry making a try myself. I think it was a subconscious inspiration.
A bee choker
What education do you have?
I studied Studio Arts at Concordia University, specializing in drawing and painting. I also took some ceramics classes, though most of my technical training in sculpture and ceramics came from attending the Regional Arts Program at Canterbury High School in Ottawa. After graduating from University, I worked for a few years in retail and got myself a painting studio. At that time I was mainly working on oil paintings and charcoal drawings. My primary subjects were animals, insects, skulls and taxidermy — not too different from my subject matter now. When I was 25, I decided to go back to school for jewelry-making, and enrolled in the Continuing Education program at L’Ecole de Joaillerie de Montreal.
What inspires you? What materials and ideas?
I absolutely love wax! There are so many different kinds and different ways to use it. Seeing that I’m naturally drawn to animals, plants, and generally speaking more organic forms, wax is really the ideal medium for me. Sculpting pieces in the hard purple wax reminds me of artists like Rodin, working in marble, chiseling away bit by bit.
For my newest collection, Animalia, I used the soft pink sheet wax. I realized that I could essentially draw directly in the wax, and thereby transform my illustrations into jewelry pieces. I was super excited about this because although I love jewelry-making, up until the age of 25 I had always been a visual artist.
Even as a very young kid I was always drawing or painting, and I had really been missing it. This new technique allowed me the merge these two passions.
What does your ordinary workday looks like?
My standard work day starts with coffee, like most people I suppose. I’ll usually go for a run or head to the gym for a quick morning workout. I think running helps me to think, organize my thoughts, and just sort energizes me for the day.
Then I’ll head home and get ready, answer emails etc, then head to the studio. I share a studio space at Le Chat des Artistes. It’s a beautiful studio, with huge windows and lots of space.
When I was making my Animalia collection, it was really trial and error. I’d come into the studio, do a few drawings in my sketchbook, then try to recreate them in wax, which is harder than it may look.
There were a lot of failed attempts and designs that didn’t work out. I have a sad little wax creature graveyard in one of my bench drawers.
Sometimes, it wouldn’t be until after casting that I’d realize a piece just wasn’t going to work out, which was always a bit disheartening. Even so, these early stages of design are definitely my favourite part of the process.
I do a lot of the initial planning in my head, often in bed while trying to fall asleep. But I also use my drawings and artwork as inspiration. I’ll look at a watercolour I’ve done and try to figure out how I could recreate it in metal.
I really want to focus my jewelry practice on creating wearable art. It’s not always the easiest feat to make artwork that you can easily wear in everyday life, but it’s a fun challenge. Many of my pieces, however — my Queen Bee Ring for example — are not everyday pieces. Even as far as cocktail rings go, it’s pretty over the top, but I kind of love that. I love experimenting with different textures and imagery and symbolism and while I appreciate minimalist design, it’s definitely not my wheelhouse.
A Queen Bee ring
Any quotes, artists or people that inspire you?
I’m inspired by a lot of painters. My brand name Invidiosa takes its name from the bewitching Pre-Raphaelite painting, Circe Invidiosa (1892), by John William Waterhouse. The painting features the sorceress Circe, half hovering, half balanced, on top of a sea creature in a dark and murky grotto. Circe pours a luminous turquoise potion into the pool, a poisonous concoction intended to transform Scylla, Circe's romantic rival, into a terrifying and grotesque monster. It is a truly striking painting. Circe is so beautiful and yet so dangerous, like most of Waterhouse’s heroines or anti-heroines. I want my jewelry to capture the same allure and mystique of this painting.
Circe Invidiosa (1892), by John William Waterhouse
Another artist that I love is Kees van Dongen, the Dutch-French Fauvist painter. If you see his paintings in real life there is so much texture! And I love how he paints eyes. Even the eyes of his animals have so much intensity. They’re often made up like human eyes. I was definitely inspired by this when working on my Animalia collection. Many of my animals have the same intense, larger-than-life eyes with full, thick eyelashes. My next step with these pieces is to add a little sparkle. I want to set diamonds in my animals’ eyes to make them stand out even more.
Alexander McQueen is probably my biggest fashion inspiration. The couture collections always blow me away. So much detail, so much texture, so much over the top, outrageous beauty. Whether it’s ostrich feathers, or sequin birds, or jeweled insects, there is just so much to feast your eyes on. I can’t get enough Alexander McQueen!
Tell a bit about your other business of vintage clothing! It is interesting!
I started my vintage business around the same time that I started jewelry-making actually. I had been working in a vintage shop for a couple of years and became pretty obsessed with vintage fashion. I learned a lot about sustainability, quality of clothing, and the cyclical nature of fashion.
When I decided to go back to school for jewelry-making, I launched my Etsy shop, Damselfly Goods, hoping that it would bring in enough revenue to live off of (albeit frugally) while leaving me enough time to properly commit myself to learning this new craft. After about 6 months or so though, the business really took off, so I’ve kept it going ever since.
Running my vintage business has never really felt like “work.” Thrifting is my favourite part. I have a few favourite spots that I like to do my buying at, usually once every two weeks or so. Basically, I go shopping for myself. I only sell items that I would be proud to have in my own wardrobe, which by the way is probably 90% items that I bought for $4 at Renaissance.
Next I photograph all my new stock on my model/friend, Katarzyna Chmielarz, while we drink way too much coffee, chat, listen to music, and goof around. It’s a very organic process for me. At the end of the day, it’s about curating an aesthetic, which is something I feel I’ve developed an eye for.
Leaping rabbit necklace
Anything else, if you want to share with us!
I am very excited about an upcoming event that I’ll be participating in. I’m going to be a vendor at the SPCA fundraiser event Museau Au Trot on September 16th in Montreal. It’s an annual dog walk in Mont Royal Park, but there are lots of other festivities as well. I’ll be there selling my Animalia and Bee collections, as well as some new watercolour prints that I’ve been working on! Best part is that 30% off all sales from the day go directly to the Montreal SPCA, so that they can continue to do what they do best: protecting animals and representing their interests and rights.