Her parents met in Kew Gardens, so it’s no surprise that Holly Suzanna Clifford is inspired by plants and flowers!
Her gorgeous art jewellery is like miniature botanical paintings and is so original.
Find out about her life and inspirations here…
First things first – you studied at Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter (just down the road from me!) What’s your favourite thing about Birmingham?
Birmingham was an amazing place to study. The arts scene has grown so much in the last 10 years. There are more and more independent businesses popping up in places like Digbeth, Moseley, and of course the Jewellery Quarter – where the school is based!
As a jewellery student in Birmingham, one of the best things was having everything you needed right on your doorstep. Including the Assay Office, casters, platers, powder coaters…and of course all the industry themed pubs too!
How would you describe your jewellery?
I have two quite different sides to my business – and jewellery! On one side I create vivid, often bold and botanically inspired art jewellery (under the name Holly Suzanna Clifford). On the other I work with clients to produce bespoke wearable maps and wall art from contour lines of locations meaningful to them. . These Contour Map Collection pieces are really special, I love the stories that are behind the chosen landscapes or cities.
What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
That’s a really tough question, as usually each new piece I finish is a new favourite! My favourite piece to wear has to be the Botanical Gemstone Shard Earrings with little silver spring studs.
They’re so light, but the faceted eco-resin drops catch and refract the light wonderfully. I love the delicate leafy details on the studs. Oh, and they’re green/blue, which is obviously my fave!
Where are you based now?
In October 2018 I moved up to Sheffield to start on the Yorkshire Artspace’s Silversmithing & Jewellery Starter Studio Programme, a two year ‘course’ including a bench space in an amazing communal workshop in the heart of Sheffield. Whilst on the programme, you also have access to mentoring, technical support with some lovely tutors, support from The Design Trust and an exciting commission opportunity in partnership with Sheffield Assay Office!
What materials do you use?
For my art jewellery I layer up colourful paintings inside eco-resin – a brilliant material with a small carbon footprint, sourced from a lovely company in Cumbria. This is combined with sterling silver (recycled where possible) which is finished in different ways, sometimes oxidised or gold vermeil plated.
Silver is also the base of my Contour Map Collection jewellery, although I often use large pieces of sheet copper to create the large-scale wall art.
There aren’t many people who combine painting with creating jewellery – how did you come up with the idea?
Art was always my favourite subject at school, I always thought I would end up doing a Fine Art degree! But after discovering 3D Design during my art foundation year I discovered a love of making that lead me to apply for the BA Jewellery Design & Related Products degree at Birmingham Jewellery School.
Lots of my early work was always quite colourful and involved elements of painting. It was a process I really didn’t want to drop from my practice or leave behind in the design process – but it wasn’t until the 3rd year where I discovered incorporating it into resin.
Where do you create your jewellery?
I spend a lot of time in our lovely shared studio in The Persistence Works building, run by the Yorkshire Artspace. There are eight of us in total, all totally inspiring, hard working ladies running our own individual creative businesses.
We’re a mixture of jewellers and silversmiths (although most of us do both) so it’s a hugely inspiring place to work, with constant sharing of ideas, techniques and knowledge. I’m also lucky enough to have a work room at home, a (relatively) non-dusty space where I can paint and pour resin.
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
Since joining the Starter Studio programme, I’ve pushed myself to experiment more with larger scale silversmithing techniques and make the most of the incredible kit (stakes, huge hearth, fly press) that we have access to in the workshop.
So I’m pretty pleased with my most recent multifunctional trinket box. It’s a small oval pot, handmade from sheet copper, with a silver lid set with layered painted eco-resin. And the really clever thing about it is that it can also work as a brooch! I like the fun element of it and the mustard yellow baize the pot is lined with really sets it off when the lid/brooch is off.
This piece will be on display from November until Christmas at Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, alongside a collection of my art jewellery.
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
Having so much freedom to make what you feel, and then for someone to love what you’ve painstakingly created so much that they then want to wear it, as an extension and expression of themselves – that’s quite special.
Do you work directly with customers? Or sell your work to galleries?
Both – I find meeting people face to face at fairs and open studios is the best way to make sales and get commissions. And I combine this with showcasing my work at different shops and galleries across the country.
Sometimes I get the chance to be involved in some really exciting and different kinds of events locally. I’m really looking forward to taking part in ‘Art in the Home’, a curated interiors showcase at Kommune (Sheffield) in partnership with our open studios.
I’m creating a large contour map wall piece to display, depicting the Edale Skyline – a crescent ridge of some of the highest points in the Dark Peak area. This exhibition opens on 1 November and will then travel to The Persistence Works Gallery for the 16 November, then onto Nomad Atelier, Barnsley.
What’s your design process?
It varies. For my art jewellery there really is very little design based work. I kind of just grab the materials and make or paint what I’ve got in my brain! But for the Contour Map Collection it’s a totally different story. The designs come straight from maps. The whole essence of these pieces is that they’re true to the landscapes they’re depicting.
That means there’s a bit of tracing involved. Lifting all the contour lines from the customers chosen location, playing around with the positioning of the location. And I also give the customer different personalisation options, such as setting stones as map markers or engraving of initials, location names, dates. I really enjoy giving the client options, to make sure they end up with a piece that truly evocative.
Who else inspires you?
I adore the works of Klimt, Turner, Hockney and Monet to name just a few. There’s also an ever-growing list of contemporary jewellers whose work is overawing. I recently visited Goldsmith’s Fair in London. This was an incredible opportunity to meet some of these people and see their creations.
Closer to home though, I feel so lucky to be based in the same building as some incredibly talented, well established makers – like Brett Payne, Rebecca Joselyn, Jennie Gill. They’re willing to share how they’ve got to where they are, which is amazing. Each of them has built up their businesses from the ground into commercially viable professions; it’s so encouraging to have them around! It’s also wonderful a number of previous Stater Studio holders have also stayed with Yorkshire Artspace. They now have their own workshops in the building.
What inspires you?
The initial starting point for my ‘Botanical’ & ‘Botanical Gemstone’ art jewellery collections came from botanical gardens; the beauty of the plant life & the otherworldly, ethereal quality of glasshouses. During university, I spent a lot of time taking pictures and painting in Oxford and Birmingham’s botanic gardens and also Kew.
The palm house there has always been my favourite. Kew gardens themselves are important to me, as it’s where my parents first met. This ‘planty’ theme in my work started off a quite literal and obvious. However, a lot of my work has become more abstracted. It focuses in on the mark making by the brushstrokes, the movement this brings, and the colours.
Green, blues and turquoises though are still very much prominent in my work, although I’m trying to branch out and embrace the whole colour wheel! It’s clichéd, but true. I’m inspired by nature.
In particular, I’m inspired by the landscape. This has led to the development of the Contour Map Collection. I think this work came to be because of the landscape around my parents’ home in the Cotswolds. Almost every chance we had, we’d be out exploring the hills above the village.
I find maps themselves just so transfixing. The details of some makes them endlessly interesting, so there’s always something new to discover.
A jeweller has to be very multi-skilled. How do you find that?
It’s always a challenge! Especially with a part-time job thrown into the mix as well. I’m constantly being pulled in so many different directions. However, I see this as a good thing. I have to be pretty strict with how I spend my time and it usually encourages me to be focused when I am working on my business!
Well, I do enjoy most aspects of the job. I do almost all of my own photography, build and manage my own website/online shop and make sure the books are kept in reasonable shape (probably the least favourite task!).
I’ve done a lot of googling to work out how things are done. So it’s not always an easy process. But I’m continually learning and adding to my skill set.
It’s also vital to know when to outsource certain jobs. Right now I’m looking at getting some modelled shots taken, which I know will be incredibly useful for my website and social media.
Jewellers often have to work quite flexible hours, how does that fit in with the rest of your life?
I’m lucky in the respect that I’m self-employed in both my areas of work. This means I can make my part-time job completely wrap around my business. I generally try to stick to a ‘normal’ working week, but the nature of the job means that there’s always something you could be working on. Its difficult to totally switch off – or you’re doing long hours at craft fairs over the weekends!
I always make sure though to squeeze in time to do things for me, I’m a keen trail runner and go out with a group into the peaks twice a week. I also love a bit of yoga.