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For many people, jewellery is as much as about self-expression as it is about style, and for Canadian designer Rickson this is certainly true. Rickson’s work is astonishingly diverse, featuring detailed designs that she describes as “sculptural art”. Today on Little Wed Hen we chat to Rickson about her work–and about her signature “song rings”, which she can inscribe with the musical score to any song you choose.

Jewellery as art

Rickson’s history as a dancer has informed her work: “I find the connection jewellery creates between the body and art fascinating. And so when I enrolled in OCADU to study fine arts I chose jewellery. The idea of wearing my art really appealed to me.” For Rickson, jewellery is far more than accessories that catch the eye. “Jewellery identifies a person and speaks about their entire being from who they are, to where they’ve been, and what they value in life.”

Rickson’s sophisticated view of jewellery has influenced the way she approaches her designs. “I work exclusively using the casting process. I carve the piece into wax, and then turn it into metal. The first time I tried carving wax, it came very naturally, and I was able to carve whatever was in my head. I describe my work as sculptural because wearing my jewellery is like wearing little sculptures.”

The song ring range

One of Rickson’s highly successful ranges is her Song Ring range, which is part of her wearable sculptural designs line.These stunning rings are etched with sheet music from songs chosen by the client.

“My first song ring was created for my aunt, who asked for a ring for her husband. I had previously created a ring for my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night on the inside, and she wanted something similar. Instead of artwork, though, she wanted something musical because her husband is a professor of music at Brock University. She mentioned that their song is I Will Always Love You. I played around a bit with the idea of images to represent the music, but eventually the actual notes seemed like a better representation. When I wondered what I could put on the inside, the lyrics to the song was an obvious solution. It wasn’t until later I realised I could offer to transcribe any song onto a ring!

Because Rickson likes to ensure that the design remains in her clients’ hands, she has them request a specific part of the song to use on their ring. “If they don’t have a particular part of the song in mind, I like to take the chorus, or the most recognisable part of the song. The only restriction is the notes need to all be within the staff, or the 5 lines. This isn’t too much of a problem with popular music, since the notes are often within the staff. Also I usually do from 2-4 bars of music, so you get a good portion of the melody.”

Rickson’s clients vary considerably, and include couples, musicians who have written songs for their lovers, and people who simply adore music. “I’ve created rings for graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and weddings,” says Rickson. “One woman had a ring made to commemorate her new book called Across the Universe and of course she got that song.” (You can see a video of Rickson making this ring here.)

Another client asked for a ring to commemorate her father who had just passed on. “He was a jazz musician and she chose a song he used to perform for her, the song was Unforgettable by Nat King Cole.”

Rickson relishes the challenge of creating each ring, as they’re invariably so different from each other. “My favourite rings are when I am introduced to a new song I’d never heard of before. I’ve even made a playlist on YouTube of all the songs people have gotten!”

Balancing style and wearability

Although Rickson’s song rings feature designs on their exterior surfaces, she acknowledges that some people prefer something less ornate. Her husband’s Starry Night ring, for example, originally featured the image on the exterior of the ring, but was redesigned so that the design was on the inside. “It was such a challenge because he likes really plain designs, so my artistic talent is wasted a bit on carving jewellery for him! I finally realised if I was going to do any carving it would have to be on the inside. Since the painting is not long and narrow like the inside of a ring, I put us on the other side in a tree looking at the painting across from us.” This piece remains one of Rickson’s favourites, and you can read more about it here.

On the topic of ornate, is there such thing as too ornate–not aesthetically, but in terms of what can be done using jewellery? “I’ve never had an idea I couldn’t create in jewellery,” says Rickson. “But there is a process involved in taking you from the raw idea to the finished product. It’s a balancing act between what you want, and what can be done in jewellery, but I have a bit of a talent for custom designs, so I love getting as much as possible of what a client wants into their piece.”

In general, the restrictions relate to wearability. “Jewellery can’t have really sharp points, or places that might catch on clothing. It always has to be comfortable, and not too heavy. But in terms of my own abilities, I try to never let that curb a design. Even if I am not sure I can do it, I try, and I have never failed yet! Each time I surprise myself and become a better artist for it.”

In addition to her more commercial work, Rickson continues to create wearable art on the side. “I have a line of art jewellery that incorporates materials like hair and resin. I worked with concepts around the feminine ideal in relation to the female body. Even though I’m out of school and running my art business full time, I still create at least one line of art jewellery every year to satisfy my less commercial leanings.” This year, Rickson created what has been dubbed her “Skeleton line”, and is currently working on a range that incorporates real dead insects! You can read about my skeleton line here and purchase prints of it on Etsy.

Caring for jewellery

Given that Rickson’s jewellery is so ornate in design, does it need any special care and attention to keep it in good condition? Rickson’s answer is her jewellery will thrive with loving wear. “If you’re purchasing silver wedding bands, they”ll stay clean simply because you will wear them so often. What makes silver ‘dirty’ is oxidisation. Simply put, air gives your silver a dull or dirty look. So if you keep a piece in your jewellery box for a while, it will become oxidised.”

If you don’t plan on wearing a piece for some time, Rickson recommends putting it in a small ziplock bag, or using a polishing cloth, which can usually be found at most pharmacies. “You can also use cleaning solutions, which are liquid, but do note that these are made of harsh chemicals and can damage stones.”

A charitable cause

Rickson also donates a portion of her sales to charity. “My donations started when a local shelter had to put down over 100 animals because of a ringworm outbreak! I was so upset, and then I realised that since I already sell cat jewellery, I could potentially help animals through my art. I started giving a percentage of each cat jewellery sale to the Toronto humane society, which is a no kill shelter, and it’s gone so well I now make a monthly donation of $18. I wanted to extend the idea to other pieces, so I started ‘Jewellery Activism’ and asked people for suggestions.”

Rickson has donated to many organisations since. “A client wanted a custom guitar pick to honour her classmate who was killed by a drunk driver, and we decided to donate a portion of the sale to MAAD. You can read about it here. Another time, after finding a dead bird that had flown into a building, I created a bird cage necklace. When I wrote about the experience in my blog  a professor from OCADU pointed me towards FLAP, which is a group that lobbies buildings to turn off their lights at night to reduce bird fatalities in the city. So now I donate to them whenever I sell one of the necklaces for this range.”

For Rickson, donating through her work connects the pieces to real issues in our society. “Jewellery itself is very important in expressing its wearer’s identity, so donating through my jewellery sales reinforces both my own and my clients’ identities as responsible members of society with a social conscience. I find it’s a really rewarding element of my art and jewellery.”

Contact Rickson

Rickson can be found online at her Etsy store, on her blog, and on Facebook. Don’t forget to say that we sent you–using the coupon code LittleWedHen when checking out will net you free shipping on your order!

Your turn: what song would you have engraved on your song ring?

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