As soon as I saw Melanie LeBlanc’s jewellery, I knew I wanted to interview her!
Melanie has been creating organic, tactile and utterly unique pieces for the past nine years. Influenced by nature and the environment around her, she incorporates found objects, discarded and ethically-sourced metal and stones. Metal is no longer cold or mechanical when Melanie is done with it; her work comes alive with warmth and new life.
Her focus is one-of-a-kind pieces, but she also creates suites of limited editions. As everything is handcrafted, no two are ever exactly the same.
Based in Toronto, Melanie lives with her partner Mark, dog Stella and cat Pierre.
What is your background, creatively speaking?
I’ve always been creative, and I was exposed to the arts at a young age by my mother. She enrolled me in art classes on weekends and encouraged me to embrace my creative side. My father comes from a family of artists and musicians, so it is very much in my blood.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in painting from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I also have a Metalsmithing Diploma from Georgian College, in Barrie, Ontario.
You’ve lived in two very different parts of Canada – Ontario and Nova Scotia. How has your environment influenced your work?
Well, I feel I’ve lived in THREE very different parts of Canada: Urban Toronto, Northern Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
Being raised on a rocky island in Northern Ontario has influenced my art making the most. I had free reign to run around and discover all manner of things in the natural world – trees, leaves, pine cones, berries, special places, secret hiding spots, all sorts of great little treasures. I feel that childhood experiences are a facet of a person’s life that always stays with them, just beneath the surface.
Living in Halifax was a phenomenal experience. The architecture and natural and physical beauty there is just incredible, and the people are so friendly, positive, and accepting. My time there really helped reinforce to me that I had to follow my heart and make a career and life in the arts.
Urban Toronto is in some ways the wildest of all places I have lived. We currently live in the west end neighbourhood of Parkdale, where there is a crazy mix of artists, lefties, environmentalists, addicts, and disturbed and homeless people. There is also a huge Tibetan and Polish community, and lots of new Canadians, and so it is really an inclusive place. And the neighbourhood is also gentrifying, in a really organic way, so there are great coffee shops and restaurants, galleries and boutiques interspersed with second hand stores, dime stores, drop in centres and methadone clinics, and also Tibetan cafes and Polish delis. It’s wild, and wonderful, and we love it.
What is your studio like?
I have two work spaces and both of them are usually structured chaos-which is a good sign of productivity. I work from a studio gallery with metalsmiths alike in our neighbourhood, just a few blocks from home. This is my professional setting where I meet clients, display my jewellery and work on current projects. The front is a gallery and the back is an elaborate metalsmithing studio where we run our businesses independently.
But I also have a small studio in the basement of my home where I have quick access to a jewellers bench and can work into the wee hours of the night….or I can resort to when I cannot sleep. I guess you could say I have the best of both worlds.
I find a kind of beauty in everything… whether it be happy or sad…. cherry blossoms, flowers, a crack in the pavement on a city road, rust on an old street sign or fire escape, industrial landscapes….
What are your favourite materials to work with?
I enjoy exploring various materials and techniques….it just depends on the project. My current metals of choice are sterling silver because it is a soft, forgiving metal and reclaimed gold due to its environmental aspect. I commonly carve wax and work it with my hands and with tools to sculpt the piece I want and then cast it in metal.
You’ve been making jewellery since 2003, how have your designs changed since then?
My style has evolved and progressed over time but there is a thread of consistency because almost all my pieces are recognizable to those who know my work. Over time I have learned to better edit my ideas. My earlier designs were more embellished and highly stylized, where my more recent work has similar design elements but is scaled back and refined.
Do you imagine a finished piece before you begin, or do you start creating and see where it takes you?
I always have an idea of what I want the piece to look like but it doesn’t always end up that way because I sometimes change my mind and take the piece into a new direction. I enjoy this element of surprise because I learn more. Many of my colleagues design pieces fully before they fabricate them, so it is not wrong when people describe them as ‘jewellery designers.’ I tend towards starting working or creating before my ideas are fully developed, so it is more of a journey, which I like.
Do you take fashion trends into account when designing your pieces?
Not intentionally. But I love fashion so I may be influenced on a subconscious level once in a while. Trying to capitalize on trends and what is popular is just not me, and so it wouldn’t work for me. I like to create items that I think are beautiful, rather than try to make something I think other people or society will like or be drawn to because of certain trends.
I am greatly influenced and inspired by my surroundings – everything visually compelling around me. I find a kind of beauty in everything… whether it be happy or sad…. cherry blossoms, flowers, a crack in the pavement on a city road, rust on an old street sign or fire escape, industrial landscapes…. I am constantly stimulated and inspired by all of this stuff I see. When I need to be inspired it is best for me to just get out and explore, or travel, and open up my eyes to see new things.
What other creative things do you do?
I draw and paint, but a big creative outlet for me is gardening – I just love it because everything takes on a life of its own and is unique. I also take a lot of pictures with my iPhone, I am constantly decorating, I love music and I love to dance…
What are your goals?
My top priority is to be true to myself and maintain my artistic integrity. To me it is much more about this than about some sort of career goal or objective. I think ‘keeping it real’ means a lot to me in defining personal and professional success.
But having said that, I still need to consider the business end of things. And this is a goal in itself – to live and succeed as a professional artist. Success as a professional relies on connecting with my customers and giving them real beauty and value in exchange for their patronage. When I see, in my customers, real joy and satisfaction in wearing my jewellery, I know I am succeeding.
Thank you, Melanie!
Visit Melanie’s web site to see more of her jewellery.
All images courtesy of Melanie LeBlanc.