Sharna Flowers is a multi-talented artist, having tried her hand at everything from murals to jewellery design. Based in Bellingen, she shares her artistic background and what inspires her creative ideas.
Have you always been artistic?
As a child, I always loved painting and making things, so I knew I wanted to work as an artist from a very early age. My mum and grandmother were both great seamstresses, so being creative was a constant activity in our household.
You were trained as a jeweller originally. What drew you to this profession?
I trained as a jeweller and completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Jewellery and Silver-smithing at Sir John Cass School of Jewellery in London, after having finished a Degree course in Theatre Design.
Prior to embarking on my jewellery qualifications, my original intention was to work in the theatre, which had been a passion of mine since I was a child. However, after completing my degree, I felt a need to create pieces of artwork that were entirely my own design and that would be treasured for life.
I had always played around making jewellery from beads and sculpting clay, so moving into precious jewellery seemed a natural progression.
After coming to Australia, you decided to explore a different side of your creativity. How did you become involved with Opera Australia?
Before coming out to Australia in 2002, I had worked as a jeweller for a couple of years, but being in my early twenties, I found the profession to be quite a solitary one! So I decided to venture back into the world of theatre.
I worked throughout the UK painting sets and backdrops for major theatre, dance and opera companies, and I came out to Australia and worked on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
However, after returning to London, I was given the opportunity to apply for The Head of Scenic Art position at Opera Australia, and luckily the interviews were being held at the same time that I had planned a holiday in Australia and, very fortuitously, I was offered the position.
As Head of Scenic Art, I was responsible for producing large-scale specialist paint effects on the scenery for all of the productions for Opera Australia at Sydney Opera House and for Melbourne’s Victorian Arts Centre.
It was my role to advise on the creative processes, liaise with designers and production managers and be responsible for budgeting and costing. Once a design had been approved, I would translate the designer’s concept onto scenery using a range of skills and techniques – and very often some mind reading as well!
You’re also known for your mural arts …
I have painted a variety of murals and artworks for clients’ homes, cafés and retail shops, but one of my favourite recent projects was working with a fellow artist and a group of talented students on a mural for the Youth Space in my hometown of Bellingen. We looked into the world of street art for our inspiration and used artists such as Keith Harring and Banksy as our starting point. This was a very rewarding project, and we had a lot of fun doing it!
You work in so many creative mediums, from huge murals to intricate jewellery. What’s your favorite, and what’s the most challenging?
Recently I established my jewellery studio, and now I work in both artistic fields! After many years, finally the solitude of sitting at a jeweller’s bench is something I crave!
I think that both professions are similar regardless of the scale, as they both require a high level of skill to creatively execute the finished result. In these two areas I work with either a client or designer, so in each process a measure of collaboration is required, which I really enjoy. So in answer to your question, I am unable to pick a favourite!
In the world of theatre, it can be quite a challenge to diplomatically mediate between a variety of strong personalities and still come out with a highly professional result on time and on budget! However, the process of painting is always a joy.
As a jeweller, the physical techniques of soldering and forming a piece of work, manipulating the metal within its limitation can also be quite a challenge, but it is exactly these challenges that keep me interested!
What inspires your creative ideas, and how do you stay motivated?
In my jewellery work, I am really inspired by nature. I am particularly drawn to the sculptural form of trees. I often incorporate a spiral or circle symbol in my work as a way of highlighting our connection to the eternal cyclical process in nature.
Australian jewellery maker Marion Hosking is a source of inspiration for me, as her work addresses the personal meaning of place, evoking memory and identity within an intimate object, using the natural world as her influence.
With regards to motivation, as soon as I form an idea I must act upon it quickly in order for everything to stay fresh. My sketchbook is my bible; it is something I always carry around with me in order to jot down ideas at any time.
The mural and canvas art commissions are usually a collaborative process with the client. Often a client has particular requirements on subject matter, colour and size; this then becomes my design brief and forms the basis of the work.
What have been some of your greatest artistic achievements?
As a jeweller in the UK, I won several awards for my jewellery and silver-smithing designs from the Goldsmiths Hall exhibitions in London. As a scenic artist, I worked behind the scenes, so sadly there was limited prestigious recognition, apart from within Opera Australia itself, although many of the productions did receive awards.
These days you’re working again in your original profession – jewellery. What’s that like for you?
Well, it is totally fabulous. I am lucky enough to design and create one off handmade pieces using silver, gold and semi-precious stones. Since officially starting my business at the beginning of the year, I have been working on private commissions and have also completed my own collection, which can be viewed on facebook/Sharna Flowers Contemporary Jeweller.
Life is very busy with a five year old, so the time that I have working at my jewellery bench is very precious!
Where do you see yourself and your creations heading in the future?
I plan to continue working on private commissions, and I’m looking to have my collection available in a small number of boutique shops around the area. I am currently preparing to do the Bellingen Markets in November and would like to have an online store in the near future.
It is also an ambition of mine to continue my education in the area of object making and design, with a view to exhibit future work at specialist galleries around the country.
As well as this, I continue to paint murals and canvases, which makes for a very busy and varied life!