For most people, the idea of a tree-change symbolises a shift towards a quieter or simpler life. However, for artists and designers Hannah & Mark Surtees, the opposite is almost entirely true.
After migrating from England to Australia, the husband and wife team settled initially in Clovelly, with Mark setting us their design business in the garage. “I was making all the furniture that I wanted to,” explains Mark, “but it was more arty, and not that commercial. When we brought the business up here and found our place in Blackheath, that was actually a bit of a leg-up for things.”
Blackheath not only gave the Brit ex-pats a chance to reconnect with the seasons, it gave them all the space they need to continue to drive their business, Studio Ham – an enterprise they describe as having “that particular blend of artistry and originality that’s just the right side of ‘what the…?’”
Their practice, now run out of an outdoor studio in their back garden, is balanced between the two pillars of commissions (furniture, lighting and installations) and original artwork. The former includes a large, and growing, body of work for the Mad Mex chain – the centre piece of which is Mark’s impressive chandelier made from Corona bottles that can now be found in many stores across the country.
The latter, their original work, can now boast an award-winning sculpture in the mix. Earlier this year, Hannah developed two totemic sculptures for the fourth annual Sculpture At Scenic World event – Australia’s only rainforest exhibition, based in Katoomba and featuring works from all around the world. Her work, Tall Tales, won one of the major awards and an opportunity to exhibit at the flourishing Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.
Without a commute or, indeed, without having to be anywhere other than their own back yard, the duo find themselves having much more flexibility around their creative process. “Our creative work is really part of our lives and I actually like that. I hated the whole nine to five creative thing – who can be creative in that time? This lifestyle is perfect for me because I can do a bit of creative at any time, whenever it works.”
“The benefits of working for yourself and working from home really suit us”, agrees Mark. “You don’t need to make as much money, you don’t have the same overheads, and you can really enjoy the quiet times – those unassuming times where ideas pop in and pop out. You do your best thinking in those lucid moments – and here those moments just happen without you even knowing it. It’s really effortless sometimes.”
More: Studio Ham on MTNS MADE