Narratives Worth Celebrating

Karen Westland, Silversmithing & Jewellery

In April 2018 GSA alumna Karen Westland visited the GSA to speak to students and staff about ethical jewellery sourcing and making.

She took us through her journey towards a more sustainable practice, before delving into discussion group workshops exploring students’ own practice to visualise the social and environmental impact of work and the various ways creatives can make positive changes.

Karen Westland graduated from GSA in 2015 and was awarded the SiAG Sustainability Award alongside the New Designers Silversmithing Award, proving that incorporating high ethical standards into design can lead to innovative outcomes. Karen now continues to improve her responsible practice in her Glasgow based-studio, making collections and designing to commission.

Find karen Westland on Facebook and Instagram

Event co-hosted by GSA’s Silversmith & Jewellery Dept., GSA Careers Service, and GSA Sustainability.

Download the event’s presentation Below are the results of feedback from students and staff during the workshop.

Narratives Worth Celebrating: Responsible Design Practice Karen Westland

Post-it Question Response
(Exactly as written by participants and in no particular order)
Q1: What is most important in a responsible practice to you?
• The benefit the product has on the workers/miners sourcing the product
• Transferring skill: able to combine ideals and finding balance between customer and the designer
• Cooperation skill: how to deal with problem with others and seek advice to enhance myself
• Being happy and content with your own work/practice & having fun!
• Being content with my work and process
• Testing on/ making small samples before making piece so I don’t waste material
• Having research to back up my ideas and showing my development
• Enjoying your work and the environment you work in
• Materials
• Environmental issues: Fairtrade? – Responsible sourcing
• Recycled materials
• I’ve never really considered where my materials have been sourced from – make choices purely based on aesthetics (Year 1)
• That materials are ethically sourced/ with minimum impact to the environment/supporting communities
• Thinking of creative ways to combine art materials without using only metal
• Reduce waste material – only use exactly what I need
• Understanding the importance of sustainability in our practice
• Local Resources
• Reducing waste
• Educatedness. Mindfulness. Purpose
• Responsible – sourced metals
• Reducing waste
• Not harming people or animals in the work I create & material I use, as much as I reasonably can
• Transparency & traceability
• Benefitting the communities that mine our materials
• Being aware of where your materials have come from (locally sourced)
• Appropriate working, appropriate methods, appropriate materials, appropriately sourced etc
• To enjoy
• Using discarded metal/ paper towels
• Materials! In the future- the most responsibly sourced and fitting to my requirements- appropriate
• Saving scraps in such a way as to reuse/recycle where possible
• Selecting materials wisely and responsibly- doing the most, within reason, that you can to be sustainable in a way that fits your practice
• Not using precious metal wherever possible
• I do consider sustainability in materials I buy however only in overtly non-ethical materials e.g. plastic

Q2: What is most important to you in your practice now? (after Karen’s 10min talk)
• Being resourceful and not wasteful of materials. Looking after my tools and thinking of their longevity
• Exploration/Experimentation
• Less waste
• Doing what I can to reduce waste and buy responsibly
• To consider what you’re going to make so there is limited waste
• That materials are easily accessible for me (and not too expensive) but can be used to the best of my ability, making the most out of them.
• To finish pieces on time and in a good quality
• The source: where have the materials come from
• Finishing degree show collection
• Value for money: ethical, affordable, pleasant, durable, effective, ergonomic
• Responsibly sourced materials/metal
• Still reduce waste but also think about where material is coming from
• Reduce waste and experiment
• Responsibly sourcing future materials and being more aware of this
• Facilitating jewellery making/adornment by non-jewellers using everyday objects/found
• The source: where have the materials come from
• Using small suppliers
• Developing my designs and learning new techniques
• To consider my environmental impact as I progress through my degree- explore new recycled materials
• Using local businesses
• Not sure- First year so still experimenting
• Communicating morals and ethics
• Having fun and enjoying my design process/ being happy with my final outcomes
• Being happy with the pieces that I make
• Having fun – no stress
• Trying to implement more eco-friendly techniques and practices
• Having fun but being aware of where your work came from
• Concept of my work
• The idea behind my piece and the skill that’s behind it (the actual making skill)
• Sampling in papers/more sustainable materials than metals
• The quality and authenticity of the work I produce
• Not putting chemicals down the drain and into the water table
• Least waste as possible
• Bringing awareness of ethical issues
Q3: Has anything changed? If so, why?
• Yes, this knowledge should be shared and encouraged
• Enthusiasm & confidence in what & how you are doing it. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: Purpose
• Looking for a non-creatively limiting palette of materials
• I am now considering how materials are made, e.g. I’ve never considered the sustainability of silver before. However, I need to reconcile this with a limited budget as often being sustainable is more expensive
• Changing web host, for sure
• Yes, out with studies I am considering a lot more
• Awareness of smaller things I can do- responsible paper sources, non-bleached paper, catching silver dust
• I’m more aware of other impacts other than sourcing ethical materials
• Everything helps, even the small things
• No, as personally I’ve always tried to save scraps and use small supplies
• Want to make more changes to practice. More aware of environmental impact practice as jeweller has
• Think about ways to reduce my studio waste
• More aware about what I am using
• Yes. Have to plan and manage time very well.
• The idea of responsibly sourcing my products/materials in the future is something I would really like to change
• I do care about how ethically sourced the material I use is. Recently I have started working more with casting to reduce waste but not quality
• I wouldn’t say changed but it has broadened.
• Sourcing from smaller businesses
• Yes, my ways of thinking is growing wider. Instead of focusing on a narrow idea, I am thinking more of an open option
• I focus more on the meaning behind my work, not only the technique showing through the appearance
• Thinking about materials
• My eyes have been opened to new practice
• Nope
• I am more conscious about the materials I am using
• Thinking more about ways I use materials/sourcing
• I like to consider both (morals & ethics) during my own practice but with others material takes priority
• Definitely feel more encouraged to explore recycled materials
• To consider my environmental impact as I progress through my degree- explore new recycled materials
• Thinking more about practice than before. Realising that practice is quite environmentally friendly already. Ethics … with perspective

Workshop Activity
Here we explored things to consider/do in a responsible practice (notes from group sheets, divided per group, hence the overlaps/repetition)
Work/Products you create/make
• Consider where things are sourced from
• Local- transport of materials- speak to supplier about their process
• Maximise use of materials
• Longevity – of work as well as moulds & samples to create pieces.
• Use- functionality of piece
• Design trend based? Fashionable – avoid

• Materials: precious materials get kept longer-heirlooms
• Customer service: quality and design (timeless), tell a story (emotional attachment), packaging (fsc/reuse old/recycled packaging)
• Silver: cost to maker and consumer
• Tools: need new ones?
• Silver source – 100% post-consumer recycled silver, Fairmined
• Solder & other materials (provenance): natural vs manmade, biodegradability

• Accessible to general public
• Well-made and durable – timeless
• Ethically sourced silver
• Recycling paper for models/making plans

• 1st Year- still exploring…
• We can think about reducing our waste
• Saving all scraps and making the most of our existing samples/materials
• Think about experimenting with found objects rather than buying more

• Durability & Accessibility
• Sourcing: animal ethics, materials, eco-friendly, supporting small businesses, impact on environment
• Reconsider/research different materials to find more eco-friendly materials
• Invest more into materials that will last longer
• Be more aware in the development stages of future projects
• We haven’t had much time/experience to experiment with
• Found objects/recycling – however we do not know where the objects actually came from

• Currently making things from found objects so am recycling them but they are mainly plastic- I don’t know where it came from, so I would like to utilise natural materials.
• Using recycled spoons- would like to know where they came from, how they were made
• Using mdf offcuts
• Using a lot of 2nd hand materials & find & recycle. Attempt not to buy
• Minimise plastic use
• Recent project I used plastic bags found on street

• Kinds of materials- lasting
• saw blades
• responsible companies
• travel/distance
• shop local- where do they get it?
• Business cards, packaging
• Tools
• Cleaning products- is animal testing involved?
• Water
• Plastics- lifespan
• Useful
• Amount of stuff you are buying
• Fashion or one of a kind
• Carbon casting

• Concrete- could source from builders
• Exhibition project, using as many borrowed items as possible- not buy new
• Used recycled plastic- used lots of energy
• Enamelling- trendy now but can’t recycle & uses lots of powder
• Resins- waste – can’t be separated
• Acids- bad for environment- are there alternative materials that can be used?

Studio Practice
• Reuse & recycling paper properly
• Not having lights on in day- turn heating down
• Cloths instead of paper towels
• Consider water use
• Make the most of sketchbooks
• Use scrap paper
• Keep offcuts

• Home pickle: salt & vinegar (not harmful)
• Sinks- catch harmful materials (filter) protect wildlife & environment

• Chemicals: etching use salt water & electricity (no chemicals/acids)
• No plating
• Use citric acid for pickle (not hydrochloric)
• Gallery visits: public transport
• Other materials- bio resin
• Sketchbook- reuse pages, fsc paper, recycled paper
• Energy: switch off gas when not in use, switch off lights when done.
• Use not so hot pickle- only switch on when in use
• Pickle: citric acid vs chemicals
• Processes/ treatments: electricity etching, avoid plating
• GSA’s energy provider?

• Turn off electrical plugs when not in use
• Instead of buying sketchbooks, make your own
• Share materials and reuse old offcuts
• Even if using non-environmentally friendly materials you should still be aware of alternative materials
• Use fabric rather than disposable tissue

• Recycle
• Gas
• Air
• Make your own books
• Mending apron
• Use dish towel instead of paper towels
• Ebay- tools and toolboxes
• Sharing tools
• Collective studio
• Heating/insulation- type of space
• Type of fuel
• Display – Eco pouches: 90% recycled plastic
• Reduce/reuse/recycle
• Eco phone/laptops
• Packed lunch box – recycle wrappers
• Reusable coffee cups

• Small samples
• Test what works before going ahead with final piece- save money and wasting material
• Keep all scraps

• Gas, pickle, etching acid
• Sourcing from small companies
• Tools- buy second hand. Try to make your own
• Tool sharing
• Use fabric towels
• Collage on computer instead of in paper to save waste
• Use sketchbooks with recycled paper and not starting new ones all the time

• Walk/bike
• Eco cards/boxes
• No bubble wrap – dissolving (lush) wotsits
• Deliver by hand
• Postal service
• Don’t sell abroad
• Local customer base
• Good, lasting shoes (for walking)
• Driving: fuel- electric car, good tyres, don’t drive in a low gear

• Fine line- got to live
• Turn switches off

• Public transport > car > plane
• Economy mail
• Mail: ship > plane
• Send to post office instead of to the door
• Presentation – no bubble wrap
• Sending work: less plastic wrapping, plastic alternative packaging

• Source in Glasgow
• Buy local- markets, charity, homemade
• Walk, bike, trains
• Hand deliver

• Yourself- best option for environment- people power
• Work- travelling already, then organise time
• Organise/maximise time: combine shows/people/clients when visiting a certain place
• Place yourself near what you need: gsa, workshops, suppliers etc
• Packaging- reusable, recycle your own.
• Use boxes that you receive materials in
• Environmental packaging – (gift wrap)

• Recycle old packaging for reuse sending work
• If travelling with work wrap degree show in clothes
• Send objects together to use less packaging where possible
• Use public transport to get to shops instead of car
• Electric car $$$
• Collect packaging for future use

• Go to shops instead of delivery (if available)
• Avoid planes- care share- avoid diesel
• Use stairs instead of lift

• Carbon footprint
• Cycle
• Public transport
• Bla bla car
• Hitching/sharing lifts

• Energy providers: Workshop/home renewable (possibly expensive long term)
• Gas- any more eco alternatives? Riveting/welding other ways of joining

• Energy providers-smart meters
• New tech- more eco friendly

• Tech designed to die
• Limit phone use- see people & meet up
• Email limits carbon footprint
• Horse postmen

• Solar panels
• Using the library to research
• Use public computers
• Purchasing eco-friendlier tech
• Write instead of printing when possible
• Recycle old technology

• Search engine: Ecosia (not google)
• Fair phone, computer, phone etc.
• Website hosting
• Long battery life- less charging
• Hand methods instead of machine: polishing by hand instead of using polisher
• Borrowing from libraries instead of buying books
• Energy: renewable sources, energy provider, smart meter

• Turn off lights- led, timers
• Jumpers to keep warm
• Screen brightness
• Power saving
• Don’t leave things on standby
• Unplug laptops
• Recycling batteries
• Energy providers
• Solar kettle

• Look after technological items so they last longer

Work Ethos & Personal Way of Life
• Cautious with kettle
• Soap bars- naked cars lush
• Turn plugs off
• Towel dry hair
• Don’t use lights: fairy lights + lamps
• Dilute drinks
• Reusable bottles e.g. aluminium
• Rainfall collector
• Boycott plastic bottles
• Handwashing
• Charity shop clothes
• Lose tea
• No kitchen roll- use cloths & tea towels
• Walk everywhere

• Wellbeing
• Personal recycling
• Buying from other independent practices
• Be more interested in Fairtrade options- self-motivated to buy for longevity
• Being aware/conscious, able to learn, what works for you

• Organic fruit, compost
• Lush- ‘naked’ toiletries
• Freeze milk
• Face cloth instead of cotton wool
• Recycle batteries
• Less plastic bags
• Charity shop clothes
• Use a teabag twice
• Gift wrap using fabric, reuse gift bags
• Car/taxi sharing
• Bla bla car

• Exercise
• Self-love and appreciation
• Socialise and talk to other artists
• Eat well- organic, Fairtrade
• Meal prep
• Treat yourself
• Hang washing outside as much as possible
• Stuff to charity
• Use food wastage bin

• Buy plants
• Take break for self: do something relaxing e.g. walk, have cake, nap
• Buy as much food without packaging as possible

What an incredible number of things we can do- all thought about within an hour! With more time and thought you will start to unearth more and more things and be able to pursue the ones most meaningful to you.

Notes from Karen
Many thanks to everyone who got involved in the workshop last week! I really appreciated your consideration and time at such a busy stage in the academic year. I hope you found it informative and that it helped your awareness of the control you have over your creative practice and the choices you can make moving forward. Below are a few things which might interest you:

Free things you can do:
Ecosia: web browser which plants trees every time you search!

Give as you live: when you order online from participating websites, a small donation from your purchase goes to a charity of your choice (ensure it is enabled before purchasing)

On the GSA website there is a link to shop on Amazon where a small donation from your purchases go to GSA. I bookmark the link so its easy to get to.

Please remember:
• Everyone will have a different approach to their practice- and that’s great!
• This is a very personal thing and we will all be motivated in different ways and to different extents.
• Try to respect other peoples’ points of view
• We all make mistakes, and that’s part of the process
• There is a lot of uncertainty and unknown elements involved in working out what the ‘best’ options are.
• Try to research, apply common sense and consider what works for you in any given situation.
• Though we are governed by many elements are can’t control, there is a lot we can do to make a positive difference
• Things might be tough to change at first but become second nature over time- much like wearing a new style of clothes- strange at first but soon becomes very normal/comfortable
• Take things slow, choose what you are passionate about and let the authenticity of your practice & ethos shine!

Places to start your research:
• Ethical Making Resource (mainly for jewellers):
• Creative Carbon Scotland:
WWF carbon calculator:
• Green Crafts Initiative:
• Green Arts Initiative:
• On my Instagram @karenwestlandsilver I had a ‘responsible countdown’ 10 days prior to this event where I shared little things I have been doing recently that are responsible. It may help you visualise what you can do.

Common things I hear:
‘Ethical materials are more expensive’:
• Generally speaking, for small items it is your time which is most costly and the material value has little impact in the overall price.
• Simply incorporate this into the cost of the product, so the customer is paying for this, not you.
• Can you offer a more responsible alternative on a commission basis?
• Can you make a small range of responsibly made products to go alongside your work?
• Can you incorporate even one eco-friendly element into what you make/do?
• Are there some materials that are affordable to you which still improve your practice? (set realistic goals or a way to aspire to where you want to be)

‘Having a responsible practice is expensive’
• Most of the things we looked at in the workshop saved money and were relatively simple to implement.
• A responsible practice is generally about being very resourceful which saves you money in many ways:
• Offcuts of wood/acrylic/metal/textiles etc from local businesses (or on Ebay) can be cheaper than buying ‘regular’ materials, and you may even get them for free as most offcuts were just waste to them, but ideal sizes for us.
• Re-using postal packaging saves lots of money
• Many renewable energy providers and website hosts are cheaper than many popular companies. Search for ‘Top eco-friendly/green website hosts’ etc to find more info on this
• There are lots of things you can do which don’t cost any money
• Eco-friendly sketchbooks can be very affordable if you shop around
• Consider sharing materials with friends to share cost and reduce waste (especially for things that go out of date like resins.)
• Eco friendly laptops, printers, phones etc can be expensive, but not as expensive as you may think. Perhaps plan to save up for these so you are in a position where you can replace what you have (when it ‘dies’) with a more responsible alternative. This doesn’t have to be the ‘best’ on the market if you can’t afford it. Its about finding a compromise that best works for you.
• Where you save money you can use this for other parts of your practice where more investment is required.
• Karen: So far in my creative practice- I have found that being responsible is more time consuming than money consuming. I haven’t had any major issues with the cost of materials etc, but have struggled more with finding time to research, find solutions, implement changes etc

Finding the time: set yourself goals and deadlines:
Making improvements to your practice is rarely a priority when we have so many more pressing things to do…
For me, I find attending events and being part of the Green Crafts Initiative give me the ‘kick’ I need to make sure I keep on progressing. It helps me to have a small bit of pressure to make sure I still make time for my goals and to think and reflect on these things that we are more passive about on a daily basis.
Think about what you might put in place to ensure you reach your targets.

The Wider Context
If sustainability is really important to you there are many directions you can go in which utilise your skills and passions, including:
• Making your practice more responsible (on your terms)
• Keep asking your suppliers questions about their sourcing and operations
• Pressurising/encouraging large jewellery companies to improve their practice
• Moving into antique silver preservation/conservation
• Working with companies who share your values
• Move into other industries (other areas of design, science etc) where you can influence & improve current practice
• Anything else you can think of that suits your passions and skillset!

Karen: I have recently begun a PhD research project combining physics and design. I am utilising my hand skills and experience with silver to make solar concentrators from pure silver, to improve the performance of solar lasers, a form of renewable energy. This ties in with the inspiration behind my creative practice and work, so was a natural direction to progress in.

I hope this helps and remember that it’s your choice about how much, or little, you adopt into your creative practice.