When I first saw Lost Forest at the RDS National Craft & Design Fair 2016 I was literally bowled over with the pieces on display. They are unlike anything that I have seen in the past months and are breathtakingly beautiful. They are timeless, elegant and I think are something that you would also pass down to the next generation.
Gillian handcrafts every piece herself and she collects the natural elements herself from Irish woodlands; wild windswept mountains; sun-speckled meadows, and tumultuous Irish shorelines. I love that you carry a piece of the Irish land with you in each of her pieces. And I am delighted to be featuring an interview with her today on Floralesque.
Have you always been interested in nature?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a love of nature. When I was young I would collect daisies and other wildflowers around the local parks and fields, and either make little daisy chain bracelets or press them between the pages of old books, often forgetting them for years. It’s still a nice surprise to discover them to this day when I open a long forgotten book.
My granny also had a beautiful garden just outside the Phoenix Park. It was like entering into a secret world bursting full of sweet smelling roses and every flower imaginable cascading over trellises and walls. The memories of it still resonate with me today, and I’m sure my love of all things botanical is influenced by her.
Nature features a lot in your designs – where does your inspiration come from?
It comes from Mother Nature herself. I draw my inspiration directly from the finds I discover while out on my daily walks in the forests and mountains. I’m forever scanning the leafy trails and meadows for flowers and unusual natural finds, and once I spot them, there’s an instant lightbulb moment and I’m already conjuring up design ideas in my head. I’m often distracted by miniature scenes on the forest floor, and I like to re-create these within my jewellery. There’s such an intrinsic harmony when creating pieces with elements that naturally grow together within the wild. That tiny little portion of the woodland is then preserved forever in a wearable piece of art.
Do you have certain forests or areas that you like to go to for the natural parts of your pieces?
The woodlands in the Dublin mountains are always a favourite spot of mine to forage for moss and lichen and other little treats, such as tiny Mottlegill mushrooms. During the summer months, it’s fun to travel to many of Ireland’s historic walled gardens to pick wildflowers and find feathers hidden amongst the tall grasses.
The wild beauty of Brittas Bay in Co. Wicklow would be my favourite beach to gather tiny seashells, seaweeds and even sea rolled pebbles, which I use to make molds for my pendants.
The act of preserving flowers is one that takes a lot of skill to perfect to the level that you achieve. Are you self-taught or did you train with someone to be able to do this?
I’m completely self-taught. I’ve been preserving flowers for such a long time now (it all started with a Dryad flower drying craft kit when I was about 10 years old), and it has become such an integral part of my process. I learned a lot through trial and error and constant experimentation until I felt fully confident with my technique. I’m proud to say I collect and preserve every natural element that’s seen within my jewellery.
For a complete amateur (ie, me) who would have preserved flowers in the pages of a book, would you have any tips on how to preserve flowers and leaves?
I do have some helpful tips over on my website to guide people through the process. I work a lot with brides and brides-to-be, who want to preserve their flowers before they commence with their custom resin projects with me. I also offer to dry the bouquets myself, as it is quite a specialised craft and you have to be mindful that not every flower will dry as well as others. Generally pale, ivory toned flowers and deep reds are a lot more stubborn to retain their colour. Less temperamental blooms; like statice, hydrangeas, ferns, lavender and gypsophila are a breeze to preserve for those who may not feel 100% confident with the process.
It may seem very obvious, but one of the most important tips before pressing flowers would be to make sure they are dry and free from any moisture. Blot the petals carefully with some kitchen towel, then place each one onto some blotting paper and leave within a heavy book away from strong sunlight and heat. A few weeks later you should have some beautiful little-pressed blooms.
I saw that you don’t just preserve leaves and flowers, but also starfish and feathers. What has been your favourite piece created to date?
I’ve worked on many amazing projects for clients all over the world, and each one holds a certain amount of gratification and pride for me. I recently created a small heart-shaped pendant for a client who lost her beloved horse, and she wanted a few strands of his hair to be made into a memorial necklace. It was such a lovely project to embark on; as well as being a new material for me to work with, I was also allowed a lot of creative freedom from the client. The end result featured the horse hair gently weaved around the contours of the heart, with sparkling hand gilded rose gold leaf at the apex. It was just stunning and the client was over the moon with it.
The customer’s reaction is the greatest satisfaction for me as an artist, and I really feel quite honoured to be trusted with making such wonderful creations which embody so much meaning for people.
Do you have any advice to those thinking of entering design as a career?
The best advice I can give is to find your own individual style. In the digital age, with so much emphasis on social media, it is easy to tap into the latest trends, and subconsciously or consciously become directly influenced by them. This is where many people lose their own individuality, aesthetic and objective. I have lost count over the years of the number of shops who have replicated my designs and concepts, and although it’s very frustrating to deal with it, I find it sadder more than anything else. You can never discover your own style and pave ahead with something new and different by being lead by someone else’s vision.
In the end, it is an aimless endeavour to reproduce what someone else is already doing. Being unique, progressive and honest are the best attributes a designer can have, and to remain true to that is even more of an achievement.
Your pieces have been featured in some of the world’s most respected publications. Was there a moment where you had to stop and had a ‘pinch-me’ moment?
Yes definitely! Being featured in magazines such as Vogue and Tatler were very proud moments for me. As a one woman business, I’m not only solely responsible for the designing and making of each piece, but I also have to juggle the other tasks such as bookkeeping, photography, website design and management, social media, advertising, emailing clients etc. There’s quite a list and it’s a very tough job but it’s one I’m immensely proud of as it’s all my own achievement. To then be acknowledged so notably in such prestigious publications is a little pat on the back for me, and to remind me that all the hard work pays off in the end.
What does the future hold for Lost Forest?
I never plan too far ahead, as I’m far too occupied with the present moment and daydreaming! However, I would love to have my collection in more brick and mortar stores around Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world; so world domination may indeed be on the horizon!
More realistically, I want to keep expanding the Lost Forest brand, especially internationally, and keep pushing forward and developing my style further. As a creative person, you grow with your craft and you never stop learning and improving. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Lost Forest and hopefully it’ll be full of more exciting opportunities and plenty of magic and sparkle!
A massive thank you to Gillian for doing the interview. I find her process, the attention to detail and the elegant, beautiful end products are some of my favourite Irish Designs. They would make the most wonderful gifts for someone.
Images kindly provided by Gillian for use.