Isabel Borland is an Austin based designer, creating unique pieces that explore organic, balanced, essential forms, and the beauty and flexibility of precious metals. The creative process takes place at her home in South Congress, Isabel kindly welcomed me into her beautiful space showing me how the process unfolds and how the hand-carved and hand-finished pieces take form.
Tell me about the organic nature and progression of each piece through the process of carving and casting.
Isabel: My approach to jewelry design is largely an exercise in editing. I have years’ worth of sketches and ideas, and I have pages of the same idea sketched out in slightly different ways. From there I decide which ideas are the strongest, the freshest and also the most timeless and that is my starting point when I begin carving.
The initial step of carving often requires some brute force – especially for the bracelets which are carved from single blocks of wax that have to be sawed down to size. Out of that I cut the rough form as a starting point for the filing. And from here the piece emerges out of hours (and hours!) of filing and forming. Sometimes the finished piece is very close to the sketch I brought to the bench, but more often it is something different; either a mistake that I embraced and turned into something more interesting, or the form just took a different turn as a result of choices I made during the carving process.
How has your vision of this jewelry line changed from the sketches of paper to the actual product?
Isabel: My vision is about creating essential forms that are beautiful and maybe even surprising in their simplicity. Designs that look and feel simultaneously modern and ancient. Pieces that can be worn everyday, combined or alone, and that will become heirlooms handed down over time. The details of the final pieces are often different from the starting idea or sketch, but this vision remains at the core and is a key part of my editing process.
Where do you draw inspirations from?
Isabel: I have always craved details – in storytelling, in what I see around me every day. I am always scanning, sorting and filing information in my mind’s eye. I’ll get ideas from people I see on the street and what they’re wearing; of course art, fashion and design books and magazines, movies, architecture, sculpture, plants, a crack in the sidewalk. Nothing is too precious or mundane to be a source of inspiration. Ideas crystalize for me during walks or runs and the carving process itself. And a lot of it is just based on the kind of jewelry I like and want to wear myself. This line is 100% me.
Your pieces are entirely hand carved and handcrafted, tell me about why this is important to you and the challenges that you face during the process? > Could you describe why incorporating the “roughness” of the pieces in the finish is important to you.
Isabel: The idea of handmade was core to my philosophy as I first envisioned the line. Technology has allowed for some amazing details and efficiencies in jewelry making, but there is something soulful and meaningful in wearing a piece of jewelry that has been conceived, hand-carved and hand-finished by one individual. I think people can feel the difference.
And the feel is a big part of it – the tactile element I wanted for the line. This comes directly from embracing the process itself, and not fighting with the metal. Each piece comes out of casting with different lines and marks, and I accentuate these in the hand finishing process. To this end, I also like to keep traces of the sprues, a nod to the casting process and more importantly, beautiful marks that are unique to each piece. My pieces have a weight and texture that is special – I notice people love to touch and hold the pieces. They feel substantial. And I think the simplicity of the forms showcases the patina that emerges and evolves as people wear them over time, which I love.
In some ways the carving and finishing process can be tedious – hours and hours and hours of careful and slow filing and sanding, milling what starts as an awkward chunk of wax down to an elegant, balanced form. But from that focus and repetition comes the subtle details of texture and form, as well as ideas for the piece I’m working on, or for whatever might be next.
Many thanks to Isabel Borland, who was just a delight to talk to, sharing the creative process that lead to her beautiful designs, introducing her adorable puppy and welcoming me into her charming South Congress home. I hope you love the interview as much we do here at Eliza Page! Congratulations Isabel, on being featured in the January issue of Travel and Leisure!