DESIGNER FINDS BEAUTY IN THE UNLIKELIEST PLACES
Story by Erin Ryley
Photos provided by Ashley Winnington-Ball
The old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” holds special meaning for jewellery designer Ashley Winnington-Ball. Her self-titled jewellery line is entirely assembled by materials she finds on the streets of Toronto, ranging from washing machine parts to strewn cigarette butts deposited on sidewalks. Instead of viewing these discarded items as waste, this designer offers them new life by incorporating them into her one-of-a-kind pieces. Plaid had the chance to chat with the designer about the qualities she sees in adaptive objects and her upcoming plans for the brand.
When and how did you get started in jewellery design?
I have actually always been making art and jewellery. As a 10-year-old, I had a business making friendship bracelets and selling them at school, though after that it was mostly a hobby and for gift-giving. My practice in its current incarnation has been around for about five years. I had been collecting interesting and beautiful pieces of rust I found in the streets of my neighbourhood, and wanted to preserve them so they could be worn as pendants. That got me experimenting with topcoats and resins, and gradually, I realized that I had something I thought was a highly unique design in the world of jewellery. I am entirely self-taught, so the process of working on this collection has been very experimental, a lot of trial and error and just figuring it out as I go.
Your pieces are entirely constructed by recycled materials. What draws you to the materials you use?
What I love about them is the two-fold: that is very much my aesthetic, something a little rougher around the edges, something unique and maybe unidentifiable. I’ve never been into brands or slogan t-shirts; I really love when you are attracted to something but you can’t tell what it is; it doesn’t scream at you. And these weird little objects are just like that. Much of the time, I can’t even tell what they would have been used for. Which brings me to the second thing I love: the stories. I like thinking of what use this object might have had before I found it. How did it end up where I found it? There is such a long way back there, thinking about the tooling of the machine that made the piece of metal, the engineer who designed the part to fulfill a task, the production, shipping, assembly, and use. This tiny insignificant thing, a washer, for instance, really comes from somewhere, and that rusty pattern in it somehow conveys some of that. I also really love telling customers what the objects are, if I know, and where I found them. In a world where people are interested in getting closer and closer to where their stuff comes from, I get to explain that I found a pile of washers at the base of a telephone pole on Dufferin Street, north of Bloor. That’s amazingly hyper-specific, and those details are kind of magical to me.
Do the raw materials catch your eye and inspire you to create a piece or do you have a specific idea in mind before beginning the creative process?
Mostly the work comes from the materials. Often times they are such odd shapes that you have to think in new ways each time you want to use something different. My style of work tends to require that I have all my materials and doodads laid out in front of me, so to sit down in front of that mess is really amazing. Picking up a washer here, and finding the right kind of embellishment from a pile of old costume jewellery. The work feels very intuitive. It kind of figures itself out.
How long does it take to create a piece?
This depends. Often I collect objects and hold onto them for years before I figure out what to do with them, so there is that incubation period. The resin process itself doesn’t take too long per piece, but it adds up. I tend to do 8-10 coats per object, more if the surface is wonky, because I really want to the resin to be smooth and dust-free. I’m a perfectionist, so I want the end result to be pristine, and I will continue to layer resin on until I’ve gotten there. From there, the finish coated pieces get sorted until I feel like sitting down and assembling a necklace, say, or some earrings. A really large necklace can take a few hours to assemble. Choosing each component, and trying to balance size and weight and the colour of the rust can be tricky, because it really needs to feel right on the body, so there’s a lot of playing around there. For a more conceptual necklace, like my “Cgarette Butt” necklace for instance, I re-worked it numerous times over a few years until I was happy with the composition.
What is your favourite piece to produce?
Picking a favourite piece is like picking your favourite child! I love the new line of rings I have out right now, as most of them are embellished with an eclectic mix of costume jewellery and other small colourful bits. (It’s nice to have a bit of colour in a collection that’s often quite dark). I do love the larger, more conceptual necklaces, like the “Cigarette Butt” necklace, and what I call the “Crushed Specslace”, a piece made by stacking actual crushed wire-rimmed glasses I collected from the road over a few years.
What statement is a woman making when wearing one of your designs?
I love thinking about the kind of person who can wear my work, because she (or he) is definitely a little daring. The pieces tend to be on the larger side, so she is willing to make a statement. She wants to wear something that no one else has, and she is happy to be asked about it; she is intrigued by the story of those objects, and wants to tell it to others. She has a unique aesthetic and believes that even the strangest things can be made beautiful. Her style is not traditionally feminine, she likes to push boundaries.
What makes for a good accessory? What piece of jewellery should every woman have?
I don’t really believe that every woman even needs to wear jewellery, but for ones who are inclined, I think a big and gorgeous cocktail ring is the thing. Something bold and eye-catching, something people are going to notice as you talk, and are going to ask about.
If your designs could be worn by any celebrity, who would it be?
I did have the good fortune of designing for Sarah Slean on her “Recessionista” tour a few years ago, and that was amazing, as I’m a huge fan and the tour concept was so in line with my own ideas. But for dream clients? Helena Bonham Carter is so gorgeous and has such wild style that she could pull off some of the bigger, more experimental pieces. Tilda Swinton’s clean and modern look could be an amazing backdrop for something edgy and masculine. I’d love to make something for Alan Cumming, too, he has a great look.
Where can readers buy your designs?
Right now my work is available at Shopgirls Gallery Boutique in Parkdale, and online through Etsy and SupermarketHQ. I also am happy to have clients come to my home, where I work, to browse stock and talk custom (because I do tons of custom work!). Also, the Art Gallery of Hamilton is opening up a design shop separate from the gallery, called Design Annex, and they’ll be featuring my work. Look for that to open in the Summer!
Do you have any upcoming projects or ventures that we can look forward to?
I am currently working on some art pieces made from larger pieces of rust that aren’t so wearable, and I’m really exciting about putting together a show of that work, for later this year sometime.