Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Holly Daniels Christensen

November 3, 2017

Photos by Christa Smith

There is something very nostalgic about Holly Daniels Christensen’s jewelry. Holly has collected sands from around the world, and her super talented team of artists sets them into jewelry, bottle stoppers, and snowflake ornaments, creating personalized keepsakes.

I was beyond excited to see Holly’s studio, meet her team, and see her sandbank in person. In the time we’ve been working together, her bank has grown from about 1,200 sands to over 3,000—and it’s still growing! I wanted take a peek at granules that hold a special place in my heart—Stone Harbor, New Jersey and Santorini, Greece were two that I especially was excited to see—and the sandbank definitely did not disappoint. A collection of samples from around the world, each with a distinct texture and color, her collection encompasses beach sand, sports sands (think golf courses and baseball infields), and crushed power stones.

Sharon & Mekah

Holly and her team work in a converted manufacturing building outside of Boston. The space is a designer’s dream—hardwood floors, sky high ceilings, and lots of light. Her team was warm and welcoming, and the studio buzzes with creative energy. Besides her sandbank, a highlight of the tour was seeing the very table Holly launched her business from—formerly her dining room table, now in use in her conference room.

After a tour of her space, I wanted to take a crack at creating my very own piece of jewelry. It was a tough choice deciding which sand to use, but I finally settled on Santorini, a gorgeously grainy volcanic sand with bits of white and terracotta. One of Holly’s sand artists, Mekah, led the way, showing me how to carefully place the sand within the pendant. It’s an exacting process which requires a fair bit of precision. Mekah was a super patient instructor, and within about an hour, I had made a piece of jewelry!

It was a magical day, and I’m so grateful to Holly and her entire team. Read on for a Q&A with Holly and a sneak peek into her sandbank and studio, complete with mentions of lunchtime excitement and dance parties.

What are your most essential tools?

My most important “tools” are sand, earth, and unique natural elements from around the world. Every piece of jewelry is handcrafted to capture a specific experience that is meaningful to the recipient. We create tangible reminders of precious memories and adventures.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?

I find inspiration within our sandbank. We stock sand, earth, and elements from over 3,300 locations worldwide including beaches, golf courses, hiking trails, canyons, and more. If I’m feeling lost or confused about what’s next for our designs, all I have to do is take a look at the newest additions to the ’bank and I’ll find inspiration. Just recently I was rifling around element submissions and found bark from the California Redwoods that will be added to our Nature Bank. The customer had picked it up off the ground and sent it to us along with gorgeous photos she had taken while traveling—that was really all I needed to fuel my creativity.

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?

I’m a mom of two young girls and also work full-time here in the studio so every day is packed with activity and tons of “to-dos.” Really the only downtime is during lunch. We all LOVE good food so it gets lively around 11:30 when the lunch discussion begins. Our team is so uniquely creative. The conversation can quickly get off track but that’s what’s so fun about it!

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?

Not everyone is going to love what you create and that’s okay! Sometimes it’s healthy to listen to the people around you and what they envision and want for themselves. For me it’s most important to capture special experiences for our customers and if they want a design that we don’t offer, I’m open to creating it with their input.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?

Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the success of being able to share your art with the world, but also enjoy the stressful moments because everything is going to be okay. I was very sick a few years ago with Graves’ disease so now as long as I’m healthy and my family and team are happy and healthy, then it’s all good!

How do you set goals for yourself?

Spontaneously! I’m not a great planner so my goals change quite often and I’m much better at the “one week at a time” mentality. I’m working toward a better plan, but I mean, unless you have a crystal ball—for me, planning too far in advance is a guess. If I stay engaged in the moment and execute each day the best that I can, with enthusiasm and kindness, then my plan tends to evolve and work out in the long run.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?

Always! Every victory, small or monumental, should be celebrated. When we receive an email from a happy customer, I print it out and pass it around the studio. I want everyone around me to know that they’re part of our success.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?

Henry David Thoreau. “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?

I’m reading and planning to learn how to enamel. I think it would be amazing to be able to fuse sand with clear enamel for a rich, glossy finish. I’m not sure that it’s going to work, but I’m going to try. There are many places to take classes in the Boston area but most likely I’ll take the “mad scientist” route first and try it out on my own. Trial and error has always been my main source of education.

How do you recharge your creativity?

Dance parties with my girls. They’re usually fighting for Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, while I’m trying to play Stevie Nicks and Otis Redding. The musical struggle is real in our household.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?

Collaboration is what feeds my craft. Every single day I’m collaborating with my team, with our customers, with our casters. We’re extremely quality driven so we’re always trying to balance the best quality and designs with what works for our sand and elements. I would be nowhere without the help of the people around me.

See more of Holly’s sandy creations here »

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