If you've ever wondered what to do with those pesky dead lightbulbs, you will surely find inspiration in Spanky Spangler Design. Denise Humphrey has been creating wearable art using broken watches and bulbs since 2009.
Each piece is carefully hand-made, inspired by science-fiction. With over 4,000 orders on Etsy, these fantastic pieces of jewellery and sculptures are very popular. They've even featured in a BBC documentary. Read on to hear from Denise!
Why is upcycling so important to you?
So much of our waste ends up in landfill (surprisingly, even some of the items you think you’re recycling) and I wanted to help prevent that in some small way. Every single item you have ever owned during your lifetime, all of the toys you owned as a child, all the clothes you’ve ever worn, every box, packet, wrapper and bottle you’ve ever touched, is still somewhere on this planet, in some form or other, whether it is now owned by someone else in its current state, been upcycled or recycled into something else, buried in a landfill or degraded… it’s a scary thought!
I know it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind but our rubbish doesn’t just disappear and unfortunately there’s not an infinite amount of space for all of our waste! We need to think about where that piece of trash will be in 50 years time before we casually drop it in the bin.
Tell us how you first got started?
I started out experimenting with some old vintage watch movements and cogs about 15 years ago, I turned them into steampunk earrings which sold quite well. Watch movements are beautiful and so intricately made. It’s so sad they’re hidden away inside of a case most of their lives!
The larger watch movements and clock cogs I had were incorporated into necklaces, these designs took inspiration from traditional Victorian mourning necklaces and chokers. After that I became interested in and moved on to Steampunk militaria, my collection includes pocket watches/kilt pin brooches made to look like old military medals. All of this jewellery was exhibited at The Biscuit Factory art gallery in Byker a number of years ago.
My latest creations incorporate old lightbulbs, these are used to create clockwork insects, which include dragonflies, wasps, bees and flies. I have always had love of nature, in particular creepy crawlies. I was an odd child and I used to spend hours searching the garden collecting insects and spiders and observing them, watching the way they moved as they scurried and across my hands… A lot of people find them disgusting and are even afraid of them but I find them fascinating and when I became interested in steampunk it seemed natural to me to try and create clockwork versions… On some strange level I guess I want people to find them as interesting as I do but without the negative reaction.
The idea using bulbs was borne out of a popped bulb from one of my lamps, I wasn’t sure if it could be recycled and I didn’t really want to throw it in the bin! It was one of those small candle bulbs and I thought it looked a bit like an insects body, maybe a firefly so I bought some wire and acetate and the rest, as they say, is history…
How much do you enjoy the process of upcycling or reclaiming materials?
It’s a challenge trying to find upcycled materials to match up with the ideas I have but it’s always worth the time and effort once a piece is finished. I enjoy browsing the stalls at car-boot sales and antique markets looking for bits and pieces for my makes. Bulbs usually come from family and friends, online market places and occasionally, I have contacted bulb manufacturers for bulbs that didn’t pass quality control. The best steampunkesque paraphernalia comes from pestering local watch tinkerers for broken watches and clocks, they nearly always have boxes filled with interesting horological scrap they no longer need and it’s usually perfect for my jewellery!
Some may call this junk… me, I call it treasure!
Can you tell us a bit more about how one of your brooches ended up in a BBC documentary?
I was contacted by someone who works for BBC wardrobe, asking if they could use one of my brooches for a presenter to wear during a TV show. Of course I jumped at the chance for this type of exposure! The brooch was worn by Hannah Fry for her documentary about Ada Lovelace. The sales of that particular brooch went through the roof the week the documentary was aired (and every time it gets a rerun)! Another of my brooches was chosen recently by a costume designer. I was told it was for an Amazon TV show but a non disclosure agreement prevented any further info on which one as it’s still in production.
I noticed your 'Save the Bees' collection and wondered if you could say a little about that?
Yes, bees are important pollinators and they are pretty much essential to our survival. Unfortunately, our bees are in decline because of changes in agricultural practices that have largely removed flowers from the landscape, leaving the bees with little to feed upon. Most UK species have declined greatly in recent years, and two have become extinct in the UK since 1940.
10% of the profits from each sale of any of my ‘Save the Bees’ jewellery goes to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust Bees via Work for Good. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust work to raise awareness of the plight of the bumblebee amongst the general public. They provide information about bumblebees and work with farmers to help them farm in ways which are sympathetic to bees. I hope our fuzzy little helpers get the support they need to recover their numbers.
Do you have a particular vision prior to creating your designs, or do you get creative with what materials you have?
A bit of both really… I spend a lot of time researching insects (I’m a bit of an armchair entomologist), I’m drawn to the more unusual and often intimidating creatures for some reason… I’ll come up with an idea and write it down, sometimes months in advance, I work full time so I have to fit making new pieces around my job and all the jewellery orders I get through Etsy and my website (I’m also a part time artist/illustrator but that’s another story!). I try to find objects that somehow resemble the body of the creature I want to replicate which is a challenge sometimes. I also make fantasy insects, they are much easier and don’t really require much planning, but every so often, I’ll make a piece to look like it’s natural counterpart. These pieces usually require a lot of planning, sketching out ideas and collecting reference pictures as they usually require a little bit of sculpting.
Which art galleries feature your work in the North East?
My work is currently on display in The North East Art Collective gallery in Eldon Garden. The pieces on sale are framed sculptures and aren’t available anywhere else.