Harriet Kelsall's reply:
There are all sorts of different ways to learn whilst being paid and all sorts of useful courses. You can do anything if you want to enough – you just have to find a way. Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking...
You could work full time in the jewellery field in order to get relevant experience whilst studying in the evenings. For example you could work in a jewellery shop or helping set up a show like IJL, or working in an administrational or operational role at a local jewellery company. You will learn loads in any of these fields which will be relevant to you as a goldsmith later. And whilst you work there, study a local evening course in silversmithing and jewellery making to make a start on your bench skills and see where that takes you.
You could consider an apprenticeship. You could contact the Goldsmiths Company (or to find a potential employer who might take you on via their apprenticeship scheme). An alternative would be to go into an apprenticeship via Holts in London as they operate a scheme too. It would help if you had already tried your hand at the bench and had a little work to show and then you would stand a better chance of finding an apprenticeship role. Whilst you are not paid loads as an apprentice, you do get a wage and earn whilst you learn. Following an apprenticeship is undoubtedly the best way to become a full time goldsmith, and in my opinion the Goldsmith Company scheme is the best if you can get on it.
With your background in illustration you might take well to a CAD course which is jewellery making but not goldsmithing as things you make are then cast but still need to be finished off by a professional goldsmith. You could look into doing a CAD course at Holts to find out more they can also give you suggestions on where to learn the bench skills to back up your CAD work and finish off your work yourself.
There are lots of short courses on gold and silversmithing. Depending on where you are based there are particularly good courses in Birmingham and in London and many evening courses available at colleges all over the country. You could try contacting some local colleges and seeing if they do good courses which inspire you. Alternatively you could contact local goldsmiths/jewellers who may be able to offer advice.
Good luck – I’m sure you will find a way to get the skills you need in a way which suits you.