People and Places

Hollie Ryan’s floral creations last forever

Aucklander Hollie Ryan’s pretty creations will bloom forever

After graduating from law school, it didn’t take long for Hollie Ryan to feel the pull of creative pursuits. I should’ve figured that out before incurring five years of student debt,” she jokes.

In an old Grey Lynn villa in Auckland, which she shares with her flatmates and cat Sophie, Hollie now spends her time beading bouquets of vibrant, colourful flowers. Her work is unique, ethereal and everlasting, not to mention utterly captivating. Each Hark Handmade creation sells out with every drop she does, but this is only the beginning of her bead journey. With so much success, it seems these days the only thorn in her side is the occasional swipe from Sophie. “She observes the flower-making process all the time, but her main contribution is knocking my beads containers onto the floor at least twice a week,” Hollie laughs.

What drew you to the art of beaded flowers?

On a boring evening in lockdown, I was reading an article about funerals in 19th century France and saw some photos of beautiful wreaths adorned with beaded flowers. They were so homespun and sentimental, and I adored the innovation of creating floral memorials when flowers were unable to be sourced due to civil unrest, poverty or war. I researched beaded flowers for days. I learned about peasants gathering beads left over from dressmaking and creating flowers and leaves for religious altar decorations, and that there were even beaded flower shops in the late 1800s and early 1900s in some European cities. Beaded flowers combined my three great loves – decorative objects, jewellery making techniques and flowers. I just had to try it out.

Can you walk us through your creative process?

I look at photos, botanical drawings, books and the plants if I can source them and work out the shapes and sizes of all the parts. Then I string beads onto wire and wrap them around support wires until the petals start to look the right shape and size. This often results in many, unused petals, but the beauty of beads and wire is that you can unwind those imperfect pieces and start again – no waste.

How long does a single flower take to make?

Depending on the intricacy and number of bead colours used, a flower can take a few hours for a simple daisy to a few weeks for a giant foxglove. The longest time I’ll spend on something is when I’m making it for the very first time. This can involve making dozen and dozens of petals to get the perfect sizes and shapes. When I’ve got it all figured out, I can then take that ‘pattern’ I’ve made and replicate it much more quickly.

What’s the secret to designing and creating the perfect bouquet?

I have a very strong sense of colour and get an immediate feeling of knowing when I’m onto a good combination. I also think abundance is always perfection – more, more, more. I’m currently doing a lot of reading and research on ikebana and minimalist sculpture to see if I can learn to be more confident with simple arrangements. It’s not going well, so I’ll continue to embrace being a maximalist at heart.

Do you see yourself exploring other beaded objects, or are you firmly a floral gal?

Has someone told you my secrets? My interior design obsession demands I venture into other beaded objects, but you’ll have to wait and see.

Who are some creatives that inspire you?

I could write an encyclopedia about this. I adore New Zealand floral designers Isadia and Greenpoint Florist, and Julia Atkinson-Dunn of Studio Home for creating a multi-faceted business out of her passions. Australian interior designer Tamsin Johnson is my all-time favourite and her recent book of projects is just the best thing I own.

What’s the story behind the name Hark Handmade?

Hark Handmade was the name of my first creative project where I made very loud earrings. I made so many pairs that I could fill a shop, but I just couldn’t decide what to call my little brand to start selling them. I brainstormed it for years. Then I eventually thought to myself, ‘I’m committing to the next suggestion whether I like it or not’. I went to a barbecue that evening, asked for name ideas, and a guy I’d never met who had been sitting at the barbecue without saying a word for several hours cleared his throat and said, ‘Call it Hark – Hark sounds ear related,’ and that was that. The shock of him speaking was so funny to me I had no choice but to take it.

How has Hark Handmade evolved since you started?

With my completely random branding ready, I sold earrings at markets all over Auckland and had the pleasure and privilege of teaching the craft through Studio One Toi Tŭ on the weekends. When lockdown put a hold on markets and workshops, I finally had time to create art for art’s sake and think about putting earrings on the backburner in favour or something else. I wanted to make my next creative project more thoughtful, more personal and work with more sustainable materials. Beaded flowers found me, and I remain as obsessed with them now as I was when I first saw that article. I take
such pride in being self-taught and continually improving.

Where do you see your brand five years from now?

I still work full time in the interior-design-products space, but it is an ambitious dream to be a full-time artist and maker. I’m so full of ideas for Hark I’d need at least another entire lifetime to be able to fulfill them all. Due to the sheer abundance of possibilities, I don’t know what things will look like in five years,
but I do know I will still be surrounded by flowers both real and handmade.

Any exciting developments in the works?

I’d like to do a solo show in Auckland before the year is through. I have flower releases every couple of months and will be opening commissions soon. @hark_handmade

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