Artist Spotlight #84: James Hamilton

What: Sculpture in the Garden
Who: James Hamilton
When: 1 August – 31 August
Where: Newman’s Nursery, 1321 North East Rd, Tea Tree Gully.
Trading Hours: 9am-5pm Mon-Sun (Free entry)

Born and raised in the Tea Tree Gully/Adelaide Hills area, James Hamilton went
through schooling excelling in Art and wood and metal work. After finishing his
schooling he did many machine background courses which led to an engineering
role. From engineering and manufacturing, he moved into mining and then to an
operations manager for a chemical company. After much of his life spent dealing
with CNC machining and modelling, Mr. Hamilton decided to follow his gut and do
what he loved, creating beautiful pieces with different metals.

His business, J Hamilton Designs, prides itself on quality custom made pieces and creativity. In the last 12 months, he has got into more ‘artsy’ projects and has had the opportunity to explore different materials and see how far he can stretch them to create beautiful sculptural pieces.

S: Hey Jamie, how are you feeling leading up to the exhibition?

J: A bit nervous because this is our first one. I am a little tired as well, I think I will be
nervous on the first day. I still have a lot of work to get through.

S: Do you think it will be a bit of a relief once everything is all set up?

J: I think I will need to sleep for a week after this, but I won’t be allowed to because it
will be back to my other jobs. There won’t be any rest for a while.

S: Can you explain the style of your work for those who aren’t familiar?

J: Not in a very arty way (laughing). Probably freestyle because everything I do is by
hand and it’s the way I see things. I like to make things that are visually beautiful to
look at. I make custom sculptures, from metal. Some are functional like wood-stores
and fire-pits to huge water features that stand taller than me and I’m over 6 foot.
To vault doors! Yep, for a customer’s front door of their house. Seriously, with cogs
and huge rod pins that deadlock into the floor. It was almost the death of me that
job. At the moment I work with a lot of Corten, that’s the metal that looks rusty, as
well as copper and brass. I do love working on big 3D pieces – like George. Shaping
the metal and working through how to incorporate the different types to bring the
piece to life. I guess my own personal style is still evolving. I class myself as a one-
stop-shop as well, I can do most things given I have the right sized machinery to do

James 3
S: So, how many pieces are you exhibiting, you said around 20?

J: At the moment it’s going to be around 19, but it will probably be over 20 by the
time I add a couple during the month.

S: Is there a general theme around your exhibition?

J: It’s actually looking like the theme’s butterflies at the moment, I guess the theme is
just beautiful stuff that uses different metals, that’s what I wanted to try and get
across. I just want to show my diversity and hope that people can appreciate the

S: And how do you come up with the concept and what’s the process of turning that
concept into the final product?

J: Usually I come up with an idea and from there I sketch it. Then I have a book with
random squiggles and it just sits at the back of my head. After, I sit on it for a while,
I’ll decide whether to let it go or I’ll go ahead to see what I can do. I am quite good at
visualising in my head what they are going to look like when they’re finished. When I
have decided to do it, I will go through and see if I need to get it laser cut or if it’s
quite large I will just cut it myself. Then I will get my pieces and just start assembling
it all together, something like the butterfly ring has a structure underneath it. So it has
a mainframe and then it’s basically working from what I have visually and adding to

S: Do you face any challenges in the process?

J: Time is always a challenge. It just takes a long time from the idea to a finished
product. Sometimes, the things that look the most simple are the most complex to
make. I have so many ideas in my mind and I like to take my time making things
properly, I want to be known for quality as much as creativity. My wife says I’m a
perfectionist. Before I started J Hamilton Design I used to work at my own pace and
now I have commissioned pieces with deadlines… I hate deadlines (laughs). Being
self-taught means I learn from my mistakes too. So much of what I do is custom
made and so there are times I’ll spend hours making a jig or trying to form a piece of metal only to have it go wrong and I have to start again. A few tools have learnt to fly
in those moments (laughs). I’m sure I’m not alone in those scenarios. The other day I was trying to finish off one of my sculptures and I somehow knocked my drill off the bench onto it and dented it. I almost cried. Tens of hours of work down the drain. It’s
not easy some days.

james 5
Photo Credit: James Hamilton

S: How do you feel about your work?

J: I still worry that people won’t like what I create, it’s really hard to spend hundreds
of hours on something and put it out there for the world to see and have an opinion
on. Any emerging artist will tell you it’s probably the hardest part. I remember the first
time I had a stall at a local fair. I was so nervous. Everyone was giving really good
feedback and then a couple came through and I could hear them say something like,
they could get that from Bunnings. I felt like, excuse my language, shit. Even though,
I knew there was no way anything I made could be bought in a store like that, it still
dented my confidence. A good mate of mine, who is also a maker (shout-out to Tom
at Farrah Design) once said to me, “mate, don’t worry about those comments. They are just not your customer. Your customer will see the detail and craftsmanship and understand the work you’ve put in”. It was good advice.

james 4
Photo Credit: James Hamilton

S: So, how long have you spent on the exhibition so far?

J: Two months, a few pieces I was already in the process of making, hoping to get a
shot in SALA.

S: You’re exhibiting at Newman’s Nursery, are you excited about utilising such a
beautiful space?

J: I’m so excited to be exhibiting at Newman’s. When I was little we used to go there
and I remember walking around thinking when I’ve saved enough money I’ll buy this place and then I can walk around it whenever I want. Back then I had a paper-round, so it would have taken a while. So yeah, to have been chosen to be the exhibiting
artist by Dianne and John was amazing. For all the big pieces, I know almost exactly
where I want to put them and Newman’s have been really good too, like with the fish
we wanted to set some plants up to make it look like it’s swimming over coral and
things like that, so there are a few different textures of bushes that we want to use. It
really is a great set up there and when people are finished, the Topiary restaurant
and tea house are in the same location. It makes for a perfect SALA experience and
day out.

james 2

S: How long can it take to make a piece?

J: I write down all the hours I spend on making a piece. It took me about five hours
yesterday to draw all the leaves on a round fire-pit and position them so it is
functional as well. All up, on the show, it has taken me close to a thousand hours.

S: So on a normal day how much time do you spend in your workshop?

J: I’m usually out here by around 8:30 am and I work out here till seven, but normally
I am out here till about five. Lately, I have been working till nine-ten o’clock some

S: Do you take breaks?

J: I have lunch, that’s about it. I get annoyed by my dogs as well, they have to be
patted every now and then, but that’s the only break I get.

S: How long have you been creating metal sculptures now?

J: I’ve been in business for just over two years, with a little push from my wife and
family, but I have always enjoyed making things from metal and wood or stone. I
used to come home from my ‘normal’ job and go into the shed and make things that I would give to people as gifts like signs for their business and little sculptures. I guess I’ve always been creative and I enjoy building things. I used to work as a mechanical engineer, but if my Mum was here doing this interview with me, she’d tell you it started decades ago when I was still in primary school. I should probably explain she’s travelling around Australia and not passed away (laughs). Anyway, I remember she came home one day and I was so excited because I had a birthday surprise for her. I’d made her shut her eyes and walk around to the backyard where I’d installed an outdoor “spa bath”! (laughs). I’d cut a great big hole into her brand new outdoor deck and using bits of wood and ropes I levered her old bathtub from the side of the house into it and filled it with water. I think I even put bubble bath in it. She looked
more shocked then pleasantly surprised. Don’t know why! (laughs again). I was a
weedy little kid back then so she couldn’t work out how I’d managed it.

S: So, how did you get into making sculptures specifically?

J: I’m self-taught. I come from a long background of a family who works with their
hands though. My dad was a toolmaker and my mum was a sign writer and both are
good with their hands. So were my grandparents. I was always fascinated by my
poppa Hamilton’s shed. He’d take me out there when I was little and I’d pick up
almost every tool and ask what it was for or how it worked. He’d tell me all about it or
give me a demonstration, they are some of my favourite memories as a kid. He and
my nanna Hamilton worked together in a factory back in Scotland making glass for
the rangefinders in spitfires and other things during the war. Actually, one of my
sculptures is named after my other grandfather, George. It’s a big Lion Fish. He was
a tough old guy, bit prickly and grumpy (smiles). I think they’d both be proud of what
I’m doing now.

James 1
S: And what do you want visitors to take away from your exhibition?

J: pieces! Lots and lots of pieces, as many as you can handle! I want them to walk
away thinking we can make anything we envision. I want them to be happy they
made the effort to come down, that it was worth it. Maybe, they’ll feel inspired
enough to find me on social media, give me a like and share with their friends
(laughs). Like all things, positive word of mouth and local support are so important to
local artists and small business owners. I’m just really excited and hope people like
the exhibition.

S: Well thank you for the taking the time to chat!

J: Thank you.

-Shannen Wilkinson

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