The Craft team were lucky enough to sit down (virtually) with the talented jeweller Abby Seymour, to discuss her love of adornment, the development of her collection 'Australis' and its celebration of Australia's rich and timeless ecology.
Your striking work is recognisable for its refinement, detailed markings and balance of elegance, delicacy and bold sculptural elements. The jewellery pieces you create are sophisticated and easy-to wear, simultaneously feeling contemporary and timeless. Could you share with us more about the development of your unique aesthetic and the way you develop bodies of work/collections, and how these speak to each other within the breadth of your practice?
Intuitive human made marks are organic, soft, not quite perfect, sympathetic to nature and incite a spirited human connection. In stark contrast, technical and precise elements that are either bold, proud and crisp or minimal and allow breathing space, reflect a contemporary refinement and consideration. In equilibrium these two counterpoints have a distinct interplay that I try to showcase in all of my work as a constant visual narrative. Classic details and forms, sumptuous textures that capture the light, and luminos solid precious materials, in my view are all timeless and have become an ‘Abby Seymour’ recipe so to speak.
Over time it becomes easier to articulate and find common threads that reappear consistently in each body of work or collection, which initially I could not see as integral or inherent. This understanding of focused principles, paired with a strong vision in the early stages of each design or collection are the main driver for all my creations. The technicality and problem solving, figuring out how to bring my vision to life to suit its function is equally important and is often a highly considered stage of processes. Allowing the time for consideration and refinement is important and enables a consistency in my visual dialogue, functionality and connection to the wearer.
As an artist I am aware that not everything needs to be made or bought into the world, so I strive to contribute work that reflects my values and unique aesthetic in a considered way, to honour material, the storey and the function for longevity and a relevant connection.
More specifically, I am fascinated with light and surface so naturally texture is an important feature, capturing, diffusing, reflecting a myriad of light qualities to show off the materials and design as being of equal value. I try to show respect to the chosen material and I don’t use any gemstones in my retail collections, I value the story and quality of the materials foremost.
The balance between subtle, detailed and organic marks made by hand in counterpoint to crisp, bold and refined architectural forms features across each of my collections. Therefore I am able to span multiple and varied subject matters or themes and still be able to display a consistency and cohesion between different bodies, each showing my ‘makers mark’ and signature style.
Your latest collection ‘Australis’ is a celebration of Australia’s rich and timeless ecology, and references landscape and flora forms. What are some of your favourite moments in this collection? How did the collection come about?
As a child of creative parents, I draw on memories of walking through the bush with my father and sisters, and exploring different landscapes with my mother, observing the sounds, smells and the landscape around, collecting a vast array of delicate pods, leaves, rocks and bugs through a lens of soft dappled light or in opposition; harsh sun revealing it’s vivid coloured surrounds. Once an all absorbing cloudy world of intriguing ‘alien like’ forms from childhood I now see as unique beauty. Australis combines these observations from nature through style and memories which manifests as a contemporary reflection.
Delicate and detailed designs are referenced alongside striking natural architecture, like the land itself, simultaneously geometric and fluid, bold and delicate, each element breathes a new life into the finished designs which are transformed into wearable pieces of jewellery. Through the Australis collection I wanted to capture both the complexity and simplicity of Australia’s unique native flora, ever evolving land and distinct light. Each piece is either an abstraction of botanical life, balancing intricate and organic details with understated beauty or evocative of the richly textured connections to stone, sand and fossil surfaces, deeply etched and patterned, transformed by the light diffused on each surface.
It is these details and remembered fossicking joys from childhood, many Australians share, which enables a connection to each individual's history or time spent in the bush or outback, evoking unique memories and stories to the land and allowing the wearer of these jewels to connect to a celebration of our rich and timeless ecology.
I had been eager to create a collection that referenced Australia's botanical flora for quite a while but felt in order to do this commonly explored reference in jewellery, I needed to be able to offer something new so that I wasn’t just rehashing what already existed. This collection was years in contemplation, a year in the designing and prototyping phase before I felt comfortable to release it into the world. I really wanted to make sure that I paid homage to the referenced origins and kept the important representative details alongside the remembered essence and prominent aspects in-relationship.
Half of the designs were recreated from scratch and others were cast or moulded directly from my collected specimens, then reworked and over numerous iterations paired alongside the other designs, evolved into a collection where each design spoke to each other or could stand alone.
One of the specimens I had collected for the Australis collection was a few twigs and pod clusters from a Melaleuca - Myrtaceae tree that was removed from my partners garden and who had grieved it’s demise... I selected and saved a few bits of the tree as a nice way to pay homage and remember the connection in creating something new and adding to the memory. This specimen inspired these items:
Melaleuca hoop earrings, Melaleuca bracelet, Melaleuca ring, Melaleuca Pod ring, Melaleuca Pod earrings.
You have a background in printmaking and ceramics, and also make homewares and prints as part of your expanded studio practice. Could you share with us a little more about these elements of your work?
This crossing over of disciplines is one of the keystones to my practice. By working with a variety of mediums, I am able to constantly refine the shapes and themes that I am drawn to. This process allows me to pare back and refine the final shapes you see in my finished work – predominantly; jewellery, paving the way for resolved pieces that ‘talk’ well with each other.
I use the most appropriate materials for the task, the design comes first and then the medium. I have specialised in several areas to build up my understanding and skill base of a few bespoke disciplines and draw inspiration and techniques from my expansive meandering explorations. My formal training is as a printmaker and bookbinder, and then later hand built ceramics, of which I worked and practiced for several years before I decided that I really wanted to start specialising and making my unique jewellery and artforms – to take a more sculptural and wearable art approach that might perhaps be seen as talismans and heirlooms.
It’s nice to pull out the elements that are coming across in one medium and put them back into my jewellery. It’s a process of reinterpreting. Sometimes it’ll start from particular metal pieces, which might have started from sketches, but then something else happens to those – it might be that the shapes change – and then I go back and draw those shapes and everything is paired. So each piece will interlink and reference each other, and I think that helps keep my work cohesive, with a common thread to it all. There is a lot of similarity in the work, whether it is the shapes or the mark making. Each design feeds into the other.
My illustration and mark making link the surface to the three-dimensional. Detailed visual prints link across to the carved detail in my jewellery and then across to my porcelain objects with both the surface detailed and the forms imprinted and carved.
This dialogue is one that I have built into the story as a maker of all that I create now. Perhaps helping to set me apart, create continuity and consolidate what I am now known for; my distinctive marks and illustrative textures that inform my signature style.
Can you talk about the significance of adornment and what it means to you?
Creating any item from start to finish by hand is a beautiful and rewarding journey of growth as the creator but also a very personal signifier of one's expression, time and occasion.
Considered, self expressed, crafted by hand, and technically refined, this ‘wearable form of art’ that is sculptural can directly respond to the body and act as an important and special signifier of culture.
All jewellery, gifted objects, heirlooms, amulets, can imbue a deeper significance and act as symbols or tokens of one's time; past present and future endeavours, experiences and aspirations.
Throughout history, communication, and therefore symbolism, has been an integral part of human interaction. Symbols play a powerful part in the rituals of expression and we employ thousands of them every day. More overt symbols of power, love, strength, spirituality, and belief bind us together and provide a common language that bestows upon us a unifying platform. Cultures, countries, religions, clubs, and rituals all rely on symbols, some imbued with talismanic power, to unify, protect and link those who believe in or belong to their group.
Symbols found in jewellery demonstrate their visual diversity as well as their myriad of interpretations and can go on to be selected or worn as an added means of self-expression. The fact that jewellery can tell a story, encode a journey and give insights into cultures means that it is an art form that can transcend another form of language for humanity. These are all the things I love about creating jewellery.
Special jewellery pieces can be a reminder of the beautiful things in the world, as we engage the real things that make us happy every day. This is why I have an affinity to the craft, the process and the continued life the object takes on.
You created your own unique studio environment in Brunswick – could you talk about what it was like to make a space for your studio and one which so actively connects to your community and clients?
After I moved out of my last studio space that I shared with a vibrant community of other creatives, I was looking for a space where I could shape the ways in which I work and create and be positioned where my growing customer base was.
I moved into my current studio / showroom in 2017 in Brunswick (North west of Melbourne) I have a lovely little shop front showroom that overlooks a park away from the hustle and bustle but still positioned in the hub of my local community. My showroom showcases my permanent display of offered jewellery collections for my customers to shop, look at in person and be fitted or discuss custom alterations.
I also have an intimate area for client consultations where bespoke commission projects can be designed and personal service facilitated. Both of these areas look onto my workspace / studio where all the work is created, start to finish. I think this is really important and fascinating for my customers to get a glimpse into a working jewellers environment and be involved in the artistic process. I also run private jewellery workshops from the space, my pupils seem to love stepping into my creative bubble, they can weave in and out the many visuals, inspirations, look behind and deeper into the designs they know and love. A layered environment and complexity of the tools and process needed to create these miniatures unfold at each inspection and as shared knowledge is passed on. Inviting my customers and community into my space is such a rewarding journey – I love sharing my passion for the craft and forming this connection and spark with each individual.
Like many other jewellers, I do like a good process and order, I function my best when I’m in environments that are clearly arranged or set up for their specific purpose and therefore equalling efficiency or rather ‘flow’.
I have many different working stations suited to each stage of my process and equipped with appropriate tools. It is these orderly systems that I am so familiar with, practicing them day in day out, over many years is a lovely state of my being, it's meditative, perhaps as a result of built up varied muscle memories that have enabled and act a bit like a zone where my mind can switch between a deep and detailed focus and then wonder in and out of creative thought.
There are ‘clean zones’ and ‘dirty zones’ in my space and the layout reflects how my production work needs to function and also my more creative areas where I can contemplate and dream up new works and collection. Shelves filled with books, plants bustling in every nook, collected specimens of flora, minerals, fossils, textures, patterns, flowing over onto benches with still life sketches and then into technical drawings and three dimensional prototypes.
Drawings and jottings, work in collaboration with the picture boards hanging around the studio. Full of the visual imagery, they illustrate the shapes, forms and themes I am drawn to. I can then collate the visual imagery on its own and pair them together with the colours or designs or textiles – whatever it is that I am making – and cross reference the written ideas and my visual linkages.
These linked ideas form the starting point for new work – whether I am working in print, porcelain, metal or textiles – and it is this act of crossing mediums that has helped carve out a style that feels innately my own and create a special home for my creative process.
What does a typical day at work in your practice involve for you?
I cycle to work every day for a start at 8.30am - 9am, open the shop which always follows with a strong coffee, as I empty out my tumblers (polishing machines) from the prior days work, then sit down at my computer to attempt to go through my inbox and return any calls. I’ll firstly fit appointments and actions into my schedule and address mostly administrational tasks up to about 11am depending if I have staff or interns in. I’ll address their tasks and job lists for the day and then package online shop orders up to about lunch time.
On an ideal day I would sit down at my jewellery bench after lunch to focus on production work for re-stock and commission jobs, but this varies depending if customers come into the shop, I need to focus on wholesale orders, have an upcoming event to plan, it’s BAS time or stocktake, press enquiries, have a new collection to work on, chip away at and consolidate, list goes on... By the time it gets to 5pm and I haven’t made it to the jewellery bench, I whittle it down to two most pressing jobs that are due the next day, work on those for an hour or maybe two before having to wrap up before my scheduled consultations. Half of the weeks evenings generally consist of ‘afterwork’ client commission consultations or workshops that go between one - three hours, then I’ll pack up, turn off equipment, put goods in the safe, put the days work in the polishing / tumbler machines and cycle home for the day around 6.30pm - 8.30pm.
How would you describe the evolution of your practice over time?
I feel like I am constantly having to reinvent either the ways in which I work, my output or evolve as the world around me does. Nothing is ever constant or forever and in order to survive and thrive in this field I’m of the opinion that you need to be open to adapting and seeking your own opportunities, as long as you remember what your core values are! In the early stages I used to say ‘Yes’ and commit to numerous seemingly enticing press and collaborative opportunities (not all great experiences!) some of these experiences helped me to gauge what went well, which avenues were worth pursuing and most importantly which avenues I wanted to pursue and align myself with.
It’s easy to get burnt out and to be taken advantage of as a ‘small fish,’ so I’ve found that you really do need to put the importance where you want your efforts to be focused, it’s like that saying “where focus goes, energy flows” If you are focused on that big ‘opportunity’ because that’s what you think you should be doing or what others are doing, then all of your energy will be channelled away from where you may actually want to be focused and you’ll end up being known for work that your not passionate about – which isn’t sustainable.
As a creative there is always a drive to push yourself and see things from different perspectives and try new things. From my experience, I now understand my limitations more and really try to stick to my core values - I don’t want to be consumed by travelling and selling volumes around the world, expanding for expanding sake. I feel more connected when I can deliver a unique product and service that helps create an experience and sentiment long term. I love what I do and I am fortunate enough to make a living from my practice – where many are unable – ‘thriving’ for me is not financially determined as the first priority, though it is important to have the financial acumen for a sustainable practice which I always keep tabs of and track.
Ultimately, I can set my own course and stick by my principles because that's what I believe in and where my passion is, I am never short of ideas or techniques and mediums that I want to explore, being able to have a language to explore multiple views is as elating as it is humbling, and I think we all need a little bit of that! As a creative individual and for my business I needed to find an avenue that could keep up with this output and natural evolution of a creative practice. I try not to pigeonhole or define myself too tightly as to be limited in the ways in which I like to work and is required.
I think I’ll always need to keep evolving and pushing the boundaries, advocating for considered and sustainable pathways and industry standards, biting off more than I can chew – but as long as it aligns with my core values then I’m okay with that!
Would you share with us the story of one of your most precious collected objects or tools?
As someone who loves tools and is a tool makers daughter I do have an affinity with the relationship to tools and their possibilities. I employ so many different mediums in my work that each require different processes and I use a vast array of tools for any one piece.
I have a beautiful set of carving tools that I had made for me in Japan by a master toolmaker. They are lovely to use for carving printing plated or wax prototypes and I think of that time in Japan every time I use them.
Though one of my most precious pieces of equipment I own is a special and rare printing press. It’s a beautiful Albion iron hand printing press made in 1857 and was brought out to Australia during the gold rush to Ballarat. The press was used to print newspapers and posters during that period, later finding a home in a local bookbindery. At the time I was doing my Masters in printmaking and working on the side as a bookbinder, I had heard that the owner was looking to part ways with the press as it didn’t get any use anymore. During my postgraduate I had always loved printing on the Albion press there and dreamed one day to come across one, but as they are very rare here in Australia I never actually thought I’d get that opportunity. Fortuitously at that time I was put in contact with the owner of one (due to working in the industry) I had also just won and received the Siemens Scholarship for my postgraduate work for the same monetary amount of the asking price for the Albion press, so it was a rare moment where all the stars aligned! The press is incredibly beautifully built, I spent months cleaning and recalibrating (reading through a rare manual about the history and working mechanisms) this added a layer of appreciation and made it all the more special. The press stands at about 2mtrs tall, weighs 2.1 tonnes, is a reliable workhorse that I get immense enjoyment from whilst printing on the press.The ornate and striking design of the Albion was made to last and is definitely a special piece of history.
These are challenging times for so many artists and creatives. What are you looking forward to?
I’m excited about a slight realignment and focusing on some projects that have been on my list for a while now but I have not had the time or driver to pay attention to.
I am in the process of updating my online store and working on delivering a stronger experience for my customers. Little by little I have been working on some new designs and ideas for my next collection release. I’m hoping to share some of the stories of connection from my customers to their jewellery items and build on this narrative.