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Sue Tyson: Clearwater Bay’s unsung star jewellery designer

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Designer Sue Tyson: Inspiration from nature

Sue Tyson the designer may be Sai Kung’s unsung star. The Clearwater Bay resident has been turning out inspired jewellery from her home workshop for many years, but is relatively unknown, unless you are a regular at Sai Kung Market.

Certainly Sue’s gorgeous necklaces and pendants are underdistributed. They used to be on show at The Phat Shack, which closed. Soon Sue says they will be displayed at the new Sai Kung boutique, Maven at 37 See Cheung Rd. Meanwhile, you can see them only at the Market and Facebook.

Sue works in sterling silver, Murano blown glass and Omani shells.  An animal lover, she takes her inspiration from nature — butterflies, leaves, feathery twigs, birds. The best products sell themselves.  Take a look.

Here are Sue’s answers to questions from SAI KUNG BUZZ:

Where in CWB do you live? 

Currently I live off Clearwater Bay Road above Hang Hau, with my husband and adopted Lamma cat, Bodie.  We’re tucked away in a Chinese village house, surrounded by amazing Hong Kong forest, and assorted wildlife from very talkative pheasants, baby boars and the odd falcon.   My husband joked once that it was a bit like “Wind in the Willows” as on our terrace we’ll see the occasional toad and rat but no badger yet!

Do you have kids and what are their names?  

Sadly none of our own but I get to play with lots of other parents’ children during the school week

What are you doing at ESF?  

I work as an Educational Assistant supporting a bi-lingual class at a Kindergarten where no two days are ever the same.

What other interests and activities in SK?

Having moved back to Hong Kong for the second time in 2013, I am still interested in dragon boating (previously Captained a team and raced in Discovery Bay and Stanley) however I absolutely love the outdoors so currently, my main interests are exploring and walking through Hong Kong’s and Sai Kung’s wilderness and parks sailing and honing my very basic skills on friends’ sailing boats joining local business owners at the Sai Kung Sunday Market at HK Academy supporting and following organisations close to my heart such as Animals Asia, HK Dolphin Conservation Society, Jane Goodall Institute, Roots & Shoots HK the Royal Geographical Society HK (husband and I are both members)

Apart from my jewellery design, I also love textiles, patterns, textures and interior design, so am always taking photos or notes for future printing ideas (a tangent I’d like to explore)

Due to my busy week schedule I’m unable to foray as much as I’d like but I also love wandering through the older parts of HK that still exist such as the Jade Market, Mong Kok and Lantau.

Where and how did you learn to create jewellery and make it?

I really don’t know where my love of designing comes from.  As a child I used to draw and sketch a lot and my father thought I would become a storybook illustrator!  Regarding jewellery design, I am largely self-taught although I did do a summer course at the wonderful Central St. Martins School of Art in London.  Also evening classes of silver metal work and soldering in Dubai. At St. Martins I was taught the crucial importance of accurate measuring, training your eye and developing patience when soldering and polishing. My first foray into creating by hand was in 2003 during our first stint in Hong Kong, following my trip to Venice and Murano.   My husband loves the Italian culture, opera, music, food and insisted I had to see Venice for myself. I think that was definitely the trigger – seeing the explosion of eye-popping colours, the vibrancy and lucidity of the glass.  The almost unbelievable breathtaking beauty in the mouth blown glass creations: Venetian shop windows will glow with their “jewels” as the sun goes down.  And the heat of the furnaces, the noise of the flames, the Italian glass blowers twisting and pinching the glass before it cools make you realise it is exhausting and back-breaking work – and thus mostly a male generation-led tradition.  My very first pieces were small colourful charms which I turned into bracelets and pendants on fine gold chains.

jewellry2Actually creating a new piece has always been – and still is – a huge learning and exploratory curve for me. Molding the sterling silver wire around my wooden blocks to shape and form into for example a Contour pendant, working out how to balance a piece, which pins to use for a delicate and fragile glass focal piece or choosing quirky and contrasting textiles for a hand-stitched Collier necklace.  I use a jeweller’s block when needed and my tools – pliers, cutters, crimpers – are my loyal key items. And yes, sometimes what you think is a “mistake” in a design can actually turn out to offer you a fresh angle and I have learnt something new!

Where does your inspiration come from?

I feel very grateful and blessed for my inspirations. I always tend to look up and down and around me when I’m out and about – and used to assume that what I see is what everyone else sees too. Loving the outdoors, I tend to notice shadows and patterns on foliage, e.g. sun-dappled ferns against a wall, nature’s pattern on the back of leaves (the veins), the dazzling shimmer of sunlight on water,  the almost army type camouflage pattern of old tree bark.

When I lived in Dubai, I’d always notice the huge tyre wheel marks of the 4×4 cars on the beach sand as they slalomed along the water’s edge and I realised the imprint reminded me of a giant chain link. I tried to incorporate that into one of my later designs. Also the shape and colours of some oversize interlocking anchor chain in a HK marina as it lay drying on a dock. The colours on the metal ranged from grey to pink and made me think of knitted fabric, very strange!

However, I can also be walking down a mundane, drab street in HK but notice the pattern and shape of a barbed wire blade on the top of a wall.

Recently, I visited Peng Chau and a tall housing block wall was climate-worn and yellowing – it had this wonderful geographical contour appearance; to me it looked like an ancient old-world map of several continents.   But my friends thought I was slightly mad and couldn’t see it at all!

Inspiration really can hit me anywhere when I am least looking for it. I don’t think too much about it.  

What materials do you like working in and why?

I do love the fine and flawless Italian blown glass (although I also appreciate other blown glass such as that from the Lake District in the UK or the Czech Republic) – especially when it is lucid and transparent. My favourite pieces at the moment are the almost invisible Iridescent “Air Bubbles” that I’ve been working into short pendants and paring with gold, silver or copper leaf foil.

Also sterling silver – without the rhodium coating (although it reduces tarnishing, for me it dulls the overall effect of the silver and I personally prefer the lighter shade). Silver is relatively easy to work with, pliable and always looks elegant and youthful, I think. One customer recently asked me to repair a piece which had 18k gold wire, which I did. I have not ruled out working with gold in the future as have been asked to consider this by others and would like to explore this further.

Soft and natural textiles such as linen, bamboo, silk, mohair and handmade felt also inspire me and I have worked these into some accessories like my Collier necklaces, a scarf, a cape, a sofa throw. 

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