Art, Interviews, Upcycling
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Interview: Bryony | Crazy Bird Designs

Woodstock rings by Crazy Bird Designs

New Zealander Bryony of Crazy Bird Designs may work as a specialist in chronic pain management but she has also found an outlet for her creativity thanks to, of all things, an earthquake.

When a series of dramatic and traumatic earthquakes hit Canterbury in 2010 Bryony found a way to re-use some of the beautiful native New Zealand timber leftover from homes that were damaged or destroyed that would otherwise go to landfill. Come and meet Bryony and find out why she loves giving someone’s home a second life.

Window art using upcycled timberWindow art using upcycled timber

Please introduce yourself – what’s your background and how have you ended up where you are today?

I go by B, as the name Bryony tends to stump a lot of people. I was born in Toronto, Canada and came to New Zealand as a young child. My parents dabbled in the creative pursuits of enamel jewellery, stained glass lights and boat building and encouraged my siblings and I to get the creative juices flowing from a young age, so it probably wasn’t a surprise that I was drawn to all things art, dance and music orientated.

My younger years were very much taken up with music and dance, the latter became a career which took me travelling and also found me my future hubby. With other interests calling we returned to Christchurch, New Zealand and I re-trained in Chronic Pain Management and Injury Prevention. All through my life two of the things that have kept me sane are my music (flute and piano) and art.

I’ve always had something creative on the go, sometimes selling through local cafe galleries but mostly giving it to family and friends. It took the aftermath of the earthquakes that devastated our city (and our 100-year-old home), to give me a shove and actually do something with my ideas.

Art made upcycled timber of demolished houses by Crazy Bird Designs

Art made upcycled timber of demolished houses

Tell us a bit about your creative process – how you work, where you work, where you get your ideas from.

My family would say I work everywhere. I tend to spread my creative love and use almost every room in the house! We’ve recently moved to the country into a 1880s property that happens to have a very romantic (ie half-derelict), quaint (ie rat-infested), historic (ie freezing and leaky), shed that has ‘my cave’ stamped all over it. But until we do it up, I’ll just have to share my creative crazy.

Ideas will often spring from a colour or design in a textile that I might come across at a market or it could be as simple as the colour of a piece of timber. I love antique nature prints and rethinking how to incorporate them within a piece of art or furniture, to create art that can be sat on or useful in some way.

Recycling depot, NZ

Visiting a recycling depot where all the timber has come from demolished homes.

Upcycling and sustainability is clearly important to you. Tell us how you ensure you follow these principles in your work, work practices and home life?

On a personal level I really do feel it is every individual’s responsibility to do their bit to help reduce their own footprint on our planet. What we do today is going to have a direct effect on the quality of our planet, life and the lives of generations to come.

When our region was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes from 2010 to 2013, our city was pretty much levelled and thousands of homes were lost. Watching a city re-build and try to get back on its feet raises massive issues of where and how we progress. The horrific waste of wrecked homes that was left drove me to come up with something creative involving the repurposing of materials that would otherwise go to landfill.

kauri and silk by Crazy Bird Designs

Pieces made from upcycled Kauri wood and silk by Crazy Bird Designs

Where do you get your materials from?

All of the timber I use is reclaimed from buildings lost since the earthquakes, most of it is native New Zealand timber: Rimu, Totara and Kauri, that has come from some of the oldest homes in Christchurch. I’ve forged a good relationship with some of the demolition crews and visit demolition and recycling plants that have sprung up all over the city where huge mountains of materials are just rotting away. I also get approached by people who are still in the process of losing their home and want something positive done with some of the  timber.

The textiles I use range from retro wallpapers to old silk saris. I love to use photographs of old china and textile designs. I’m also a horrific hoarder of treasures found at vintage markets and so am never in short supply of materials.

What do you do or where do you go for inspiration?

I love trawling vintage markets and finding things that can be repurposed. I love the thought that something that has a bit of history and is a bit used and bashed up can have another life. Just walking on the beach can trigger a host of inspiration too. The middle of the night is also a popular time to start dreaming up ideas.

'Petit Bleu' earrings by Crazy Bird Designs

‘Petit Bleu’ earrings

How easy/difficult was it going out on your own?

In the past I’ve struggled to put a price on something I’ve made; I’m not alone there! But after I began using the quake timber and seeing how people connected with my pieces, I wanted to keep coming up with ideas to turn something truly awful into something that made you feel better.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?

Do it for yourself first. Try not to think, “How can I make Money out of this?” I found that would almost always squash any good creative flow and would leave me feeling frustrated and scared to just get on with it. Find something you really enjoy doing/making. Maybe sign up to a craft or art group to bounce ideas around and when you’re feeling brave enough maybe try a local market or festival and see what response you get.

'Silk Road' necklaces by Crazy Bird Designs

‘Silk Road’ necklaces by Crazy Bird Designs

My guilty pleasure is …?

What just one? Um, I love cranking up a CD and playing along with it on the flute with all the doors and windows firmly closed.

I’m currently working on …

Reusing old window frames and cupboard doors with antique prints to make functional art.

The best thing about living in Canterbury, New Zealand is …?

Seeing Christchurch get back on its feet. There are some fantastic new spaces evolving and some very creative people doing great things for the city. In saying that, it’s great to escape to our new home in the country.

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

Pretty much all the time – actually just around Christmas when I found myself sitting on the veranda drilling holes in 750 Rimu decorations I had on order. And when I’m trudging through the demo yards with my trailer and Hi-Viz vest – that is always a goodie!

Thanks so much, Bryony, for your inspirational story. You can also find her on Facebook.

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