Aurélie Guillaume’s enamel creations sport offbeat titles and curious characters, but color – bright and glossy – is the first thing you notice. Take Honey Dog, a brooch of an abstracted animal in tans and browns with a rim of light blue. The juxtaposed shades play off each other, strengthening the effect; the coolness and light of one spot enhances its warmer, earthier neighbor.
Guillaume often achieves her remarkable colors with cloisonné, a technique that involves applying silver wires onto a sheet of copper, using a layer of transparent vitreous enamel in between. To reduce the weight of her larger pieces, Guillaume has recently begun using another technique, cutting shapes out of pre-enameled steel and painting liquid enamels directly onto the lightweight surfaces. “This process is much faster. My brooches are not as heavy anymore, but I can still go big,” she says – up to 6 by 4 inches.
The 27-year-old French-Canadian says that her love of hue stems from her early childhood in Martinique, where her family moved when she was 4. The tropical climate allowed her to stay outdoors most of the time, absorbing her lush surroundings. Interested in becoming an illustrator, Guillaume studied fine arts and graphic design at a technical college in Montreal, but it quickly became clear most of the design work was done on a computer. She realized she didn’t want to give up sketching on paper or building things by hand and began to search for alternative areas of study, transferring to another technical school that focused on jewelrymaking. The technique-based coursework provided her with the hands-on approach she’d been yearning for.
While in school, Guillaume became increasingly fascinated with combining her first interests, illustration and color, with her jewelry. She began experimenting with materials – resin, paper, plastic, wood – but after taking a one-day enameling workshop in her last semester, she found the technique provided more durable results and was just what she’d been seeking. “It was a revelation,” she says. She graduated from the Montreal school in 2012 and later that year enrolled at NSCAD University in Nova Scotia, where she took every enameling class available. “I just fell in love with it,” the artist says.
Since earning her BFA in jewelry design and metalsmithing from NSCAD in 2015, Guillaume has continued to look to enamel as her go-to technique, and she completed a stint as an enameling instructor at Chicago’s Lillstreet Art Center this summer, before returning to her native Montreal. Pointing to her brooch Le Croque Luciole, she says, “Right now, I am looking for ways to work with colorful lines instead of black ones. I also want to use my colors without having to separate them by lines at all.”
Technique is nothing without an emotional connection, though. Guillaume confesses she enjoys people-watching and observing others as they guess at the stories behind the brooches. “People come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I look at their behavior and gestures and find that inspiring,” she says. She specifically likes spotting a grin or a chuckle, some indicator of joy. “There always has to be an element of humor about my work. I like to live in Happyland.”
Hide and Seek
Wearable stories: Guillaume makes all kinds of jewelry but likes brooches for their versatility. “I consider my pieces drawings and sculptures. They can be worn or just displayed like any other artwork.”
Learn by doing: Guillaume draws a lot, but what’s in her sketchbook doesn’t always appear in the finished piece. “I learned that in the process of enameling I can’t control everything. So lately I’ve allowed myself to improvise more. I find it very enjoyable to work this way, and I often surprise myself with what comes out at the end.”