How I was Inspired by the Beatles to Make Two Brooches That Travelled the World

Everybody has a favourite Beatles song, whether it’s the simplicity of a song like “We Can Work it Out” or the complicated and psychedelic experimentalism of their later career after Sgt Pepper. Using their 1965 single, I was inspired to make two brooches that travelled to exhibitions in Italy, New York and Chicago.

What Does “We Can Work It Out” Look Like Through My Synaesthesia?

I was struck by the sparse nature of the music production on We Can Work it Out. Especially when you compare it to the lush, fill every corner, soundscapes of modern music production and the Beatles later work. As a synaesthetic artist, I like both. They are just different. I draw very different drawings after I’ve listened to a Beatles song than I do after listening to a Muse song.

The Beatles show me different colours, shapes, and each instrument tends to sit it’s “shape” in a particular part of my synaesthetic landscape. The dominant form in We Can Work It Out is made by Paul McCartney’s bass. A beautiful vibrant green leaf shape. The accordion is russet orange and gently climbs in horizontal lollipop shapes around the green bars of the strummed guitar. The tambourine is brighter orange and dark yellowy gold and hovers just above the bass. The black and grey spiral is the snare drum.

We Can Work It Out – Sketchbook page by Poppy Porter

The Connection Between Synaesthesia and the Psychedelic Age

The visual connection between my synaesthetic drawings and the psychedelic style of the late 1960s and early 1970s is a curious one. It tantalisingly hints at a common form of visual thought. Suppose you look at the drawings of several synaesthetic artists. In that case, you will notice some shapes repeat between artists. You will see spirals, dots, firework-like shapes, shapes that radiate from a central point, grids, clusters and amorphous blobs. These shapes also occur regularly in the often chemically inspired art of the psychedelic era. 

There’s even been some research into this phenomenon. In his book “Wednesday is the Colour Blue” Richard Cytowic references experiments as early as the 1920s that tried to replicate the effects of synaesthesia chemically. The results were that the subjects drew or reported a growing range of “form constants” or similar shapes that the researchers put into four categories.

Pg 58 fig 2.13 Kulver’s Form Constants from Wednesday is Indigo Blue by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., and David M. Eagleman Ph.D.

These shapes can occur in other non chemically induced states as well as in synaesthesia. These include the aura phase of a migraine, in a sensory deprivation chamber, just before you fall asleep, during fevers, reactions to drugs and low blood sugar. Why does the brain favour these specific shapes? It’s fascinating to think there is a common structure in all our minds that uses this kind of automatic visual thinking.

Why Was I Making These Brooches?

I made both the Brooches in response to the exhibition brief from Italian art jewellery organisation Gioielli in Fermento, meaning jewels in ferment. Sponsored by wine producers Torre Fornello. The themes are often effervescent and wine connected. This one was “Freedom and Constraint” and was related to the processes of creating wine. It was easily transferrable to the freedoms and constraints of my creative process. As a result, I explained why the brooches I had made fitted the theme for the exhibition as follows:

“Freedom: I am synaesthetic, I see sound as shape, colour and movement it is incredibly beautiful and moving emotionally. I love to listen to music and “see” the vibrant but ephemeral shapes play in my mind’s eye. Constraint: I try to draw and make jewellery from these fleeting images to share with you. I can only catch brief wisps of remembered sound pictures with my pencil to put in my jewellery. I made these brooches after listening to The Beatles “We Can Work it Out” which represents the possibility of moving beyond the constraints we feel now.”

Quote taken from my application to the exhibition.

How did I Make The Brooches?

I started with the drawing above as the inspiration using the most pleasing shapes and colours to bring out the spirit of the song as I saw it through my synaesthesia. Consequently, I made both brooches in similar ways, using wood, aluminium and silver as their core materials.

The orange shapes are aluminium sheet, hand-cut with a jeweller’s saw to be exact and satisfying shapes. The green is made of sycamore wood, shaped and smoothed. I achieved the graduated and crisp lined paint effects with my airbrush. I chose and mixed the colours to match the colours of the song as closely as I could. Golden yellow, dark orange, and crisp greens are graduating to dark forest green and not forgetting the clear circle of white.

They are held together with silver tube rivets; such long rivets are technically challenging to keep straight and neat at the ends without hitting the painted wood underneath! Each brooch contains a gorgeous clear olive quartz to add some glittering movement and balance the design.

We Can Work It Out I – on the sketchbook page that inspired it.
We Can Work It Out II – photo Poppy Porter

Some Of My Most Well Travelled Pieces of Jewellery

They are large brooches for maximum drama on a jacket lapel or robust fabric. I was excited that they were worn and shown at the Gioielli in Fermento exhibitions all over Italy in 2016 and the Master Collection 2017. The two brooches were shown in Barcelona at the Art Jewellery festival Joya. They also went on tour to the United States where they were displayed at SOFA, the Sculptural Objects and Functional Art Fair in Chicago. Gallery Reinstein Ross in New York was their final stop in America as a result these two pieces are some of my most well travelled jewellery.

Out and about in the Italian vinyards at Torre Fornello – Photo by Gioielli in Fermento

I loved making these brooches, the bold colours and mix of materials and I’m so happy they managed to travel so far to be seen by so many people. They are back with me now, perhaps destined for another exhibition. These two pins are part of my past work but also an influence on what I make in the future.

If you enjoyed this post about brooches read this: How To Get Brooches Working in the Style You Need Now.

These two brooches are for sale – We can Work it out I – £2,678.00 and We Can Work It Out II – £2,453.00. If you are interested in purchasing one or both drop me an email

Or you can take a look at the brooches I have for sale in my shop.

Modeled at A Night at the Cinema with Gioielli in Fermento – photo by Gioielli in Fermento
Dramatic model shot by Thomas Lisle Coe-Brooker, model Toni Coe-Brooker