Charlotte Adams, who sells as C E M Adams on Felt, is an artist and film technician based in Wellington, New Zealand. As a contractor at Weta Workshop, she paints props, costumes, and prosthetic make up. Her personal practice is angled more towards sculpture and jewellery, with a particular interest in the beauty and elegance of animal skulls.
What do you make?
Hand sculpted skull jewellery, cast in pewter and Sterling silver. I also sculpt, and paint sculptures/figurines on commission, although my Felt shop is strictly jewellery at this stage.
How did you get into your craft?
I had this idea for some jewellery I wanted, but I couldn’t find anything that quite matched what I had in mind, so I figured I’d just have to make it myself. Not having access to the particular skulls I wanted, I sculpted them from scratch using photos. (Cheers, Google image search!)
I was working as a prosthetics painter at Weta Workshop at the time, and was surrounded by some very talented and knowledgable people who kindly taught me the basics of mould-making. From there I was able to work out how to make pewter casts of my work, and pretty soon I was getting orders and commissions.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Traditionally I’m a painter, and I majored in painting at Ilam School of Fine Arts. I’ve always had a soft spot for sculpting though, and since graduating I’ve enjoyed pursuing a more 3D direction. Most of the jewellery techniques I’ve picked up from co-workers, Mum, You Tube, and good old trial and error.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
For the initial sculpt, definitely Plasticine. A good chunk of my childhood was spent playing with plasticine, making hoards of tiny horses (while my brother took care of robot construction!), so working with it is like second nature. I also work with wax, for the sterling silver pieces I do.
For moulding, I love silicone because it is flexible, and allows me to prise pieces out of the mould easily despite the complexity of the skulls.
Sterling silver is my favourite for the finished piece, but since I don’t have the necessary equipment, I send waxes up to Auckland to be cast. Pewter however is a fairly easy to work with at home, since it has a relatively low melting point. It polishes up very nicely, or can be left to develop a soft patina over time.
Pouring the molten metal into the moulds is one of my favourite parts of the whole process, closely followed by opening the moulds and easing out the completed piece (hopefully with no casting flaws in it!) Polishing the pieces is not quite so exciting, but there is a certain satisfaction in seeing the metal transform from dull and lumpy to shining glory.
What inspires you?
Big books with lots of glossy photos of skulls! Walks on the beach gathering bits of shell and bones. Walking in general, preferably somewhere far away from civilisation.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I like to show the beauty of skulls. Too often skulls are seen as dark, evil things, whereas I like to concentrate on their elegance and sophistocated design. There is nothing frivilous about a skull, every curve or indent is there for a reason, and put together in a way that is beautiful.
Describe your workspace:
I don’t have a dedicated studio, so it tends to be a cramped and chaotic ever-expanding corner of my bedroom, or the kitchen bench.
What are you currently listening to?
Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here.
Recommend an album:
The latest album by kiwi band Jakob, Sines.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The Velveteen Rabbit. Melancholic but with a great ending, and beautiful illustrations.
Who is your hero/heroine?
Gromit, of Wallace and Gromit fame.
Do you have any pets?
No. But there’s a lovely Tui that hangs out on the flax bush by my bedroom window a lot.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A beautiful poster of NZ fish, each hand painted in water colour, by the talented Giselle Clarkson!
You can see more of Charlotte’s intriguing, beautifully detailed work in her Felt shop here.
Charlotte has generously offered a prize of one of her gorgeous small penguin skull pendants (below) to one lucky Felt blog reader. If you’d like to be in the prize draw, just leave a comment below telling us what inspires you about C E M Adams and Charlotte’s story. The draw will be made on Friday 21 November and is open to New Zealand residents only.