Derek Tan has been teaching metalwork, more specifically silversmithing, for about a decade.
He now runs Fine Metal Studio in Kuala Lumpur, where he continues to teach students how to make jewellery with precious metals.
“I started off teaching [how to make] beaded jewellery and wire works,” said Tan. “Over the past few years, I have had students who have completed all the courses that I have to offer. They would then ask me if I had any more things to teach.”
The question led him on a quest to learn new skills and eventually teach them.
“Whenever I have an opportunity to I travel, I make it a point to learn new skills,” Tan explained.
“Once I went to visit my friend in Australia, and attended a workshop on making Murano glass. So I came back, practised a lot and then I launched classes.
“As time went by I picked up new skills, like metalsmithing, which I learned from a friend who is a jeweller. Using the skill, I can work with brass, copper, gold, and silver. All these are under the category of metalsmithing”.
For Tan, going from beads to metal was a natural progression, born of curiosity and the desire to learn new things to expand his creative possibilities.
“A lot of people like to make jewellery out of gold and silver, because the result is not costume jewellery, and they get to work and create using precious metals. Turns out this form of art is very attractive to many people,” said Tan.
He pointed out that for most people, the biggest barrier to metalworking is taking that first step. Once you learn the fundamental basics and establish a strong foundation, it is an easy skill to pick up.
“I have structured my lessons into four levels for metalsmithing. When [students] come to level one, I still teach them the basics, like making a textured band ring. So you will learn how to hammer in texture, how to measure ring size, and how to calculate the length of silver wire and silver sheet that you need to make the ring that fits the size.
“At every level of the metalworking class you will work with wires and sheets of precious metal, but you will learn more skills and techniques, from shaping the silver, to how to set a stone.”
In addition to metalwork, or more specifically silversmithing courses, Tan also offers specialised one-day courses at his studio, and a rent-a-bench service for students who want to practice their skills using the specialised tools available at his studio.
He also teaches enamelling, a technique to embellish the silverwork, as well as art clay silver courses.
“The clay is basically a very clever invention from Japan. One is Art Clay Silver made by Aida Chemical Industries Co. Ltd, and the other one is PMC (Precious Metal Clay) made by Mitsubishi Materials Trading Company.
“Imagine fine silver particles suspended in water and binder. Together it behaves like clay so you shape it into whatever shape you want.
You then dry it and you can refine the shape further using files and sandpaper.
“When all the shaping is done, you can use a small kiln or even a gas stove and it will become a silver object.”
He sells Art Clay Silver products, tools, kits, and sets at his studio and online shop. The sets and kits contain almost everything one needs to make silver jewellery at home.
That is, except for notepaper, baking paper, cling film, a pencil, a hairdryer, a stove, and an experienced teacher.
His students come from all walks of life, from the young to the elderly, and from locals to expatriates. There are even foreign tourists who stop by and stay in Malaysia just to attend his classes and learn the skills.
“Some of my students pick up the course as a hobby, but there are also some who do it to make a business, and make jewellery that they can sell,” said Tan.