Cleo Barbour grew up in the glorious surrounds of the Bolesworth estate and now, after finding success in London, has returned to create her art in the green and peace she loves

‘I always knew I’d come home to Bolesworth,’ she says, ‘and the timing and the opportunity came together at the perfect time, so here I am.’

Cleo sells her light and bright artworks online, and now through the studio, where she showcases her limited-edition designs, which she can also tweak to add unique elements for buyers who want something more bespoke.

Great British Life: The new gallery space provides room for a studio too, at least until Cleo's new home is completeThe new gallery space provides room for a studio too, at least until Cleo's new home is complete

She first built her reputation for creativity not as a 2D artist, however, but in a more 3D form.

‘I grew up at Bolesworth, which was amazing and beautiful, and was always creative at school. Both my parents were art collectors, so I was surrounded by art. Then when I was about 16 or 17, I started reading fashion magazines and learned about shoe designers. I liked the fact that shoe design was niche, and very sculptural – 3D. Also, shoes just have something special about them; they’re sort of magical things. They’re so powerful and can change how you feel the minute you put them on. I decided it was what I wanted to do.

Great British Life: Holbox Shop, one of Cleo's most popular designsHolbox Shop, one of Cleo's most popular designs

‘I discovered Cordwainers College, which is now part of London College of Fashion, and was where Jimmy Choo, Sophia Webster and Joseph Azagury studied, among others. I just set my sights on going there. And I did.’

Cleo went on to launch her own footwear brand, Cleo B.

‘When you’re young you’re completely naïve and clueless, aren’t you? I found manufacturers in Spain, so I travelled there quite a lot. At one point I had a shop, in London, with a workshop and studio and after a few years I launched a shoe accessories range, clip-on jewellery for shoes, which was really successful, too.

‘I think, though, I got a bit disillusioned by fashion. I felt like I didn’t fit into that world, and I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I thought, there’s more to life than this. I knew I had a lot to give, artistically, but I was also swamped by the business; the design was what I wanted to do, but the running of it was just too much and no clear solution presented itself, so I thought: I’ve got to stop.

Great British Life: Palma Pink by Cleo BarbourPalma Pink by Cleo Barbour

‘It was a huge decision. I thought it would be my life. I was 30 at this point and I think this is also a time in your life when you reassess. A year after making that decision I moved to Brighton for a fresh start. It was an escape and it allowed me to explore different artistic routes.’

Cleo started tinkering around with the avenues digital design would open to her, learning various software packages and developing her art in that direction.

‘I have always loved textiles and embroidery and have done various projects using stitching and machine embroidery over the years, so I combined this with digital designs and in my first series of prints – the geometric series – I was trying to combine this really clean design style with the craft of stitching, stitching through the paper, and it developed from there.’

Great British Life: Pearl Moon by Cleo BarbourPearl Moon by Cleo Barbour

Cleo creates beautiful, happy artworks using a mix of endorphin-inducing colours and stitched embellishments. Her pieces combine neat, almost tailored structuring and lively, vibrant tones and themes.

‘I have always been a bit obsessive about art deco, and during this time I also did a bit of travelling, to Mexico, Cuba and Australia. I was inspired by the tropical colours.

‘I did my first art fair, The Other Art Fair, in 2018 and it was amazing to have the immediate feedback you get from meeting potential buyers. It made me feel I was entering a new world and had something fresh and new to offer.’

In 2018 Cleo also met her future husband, Fred, and they started their family with Indigo, now four, then Rex, two, and the bump, due this month. Covid acted as both a brake and a catalyst for some big changes.

Great British Life: Miami Pool by Cleo BarbourMiami Pool by Cleo Barbour

‘We were meant to marry in May 2020 but had to move it to September 2021, six months after Rex arrived. We spent a very sunny chunk of the first lockdown at Bolesworth; it was just empty and wonderful. It’s a big place, and the offices are in the house, so there are always comings, goings, and events, and it was amazing to be there while nothing happened. I had never really seen Brighton long-term, as I knew we had a duty to come back here and I wanted my children to grow up in the countryside, but it happened earlier than we predicted.

‘The opportunity to renovate a farmhouse came up, and we thought there was little point starting a whole life in Brighton, with schools and everything, when we were going to uproot anyway. Also, it’s nice as my sister Nina has her son, William, aged between Indigo and Rex, and we wanted them to grow up together. It was easy for Fred to move, too. As a financial tech consultant, he can work from anywhere.

‘The gallery studio was a bit of a last-minute thing. We’re living temporarily in Burwardsley, and don’t have room for a gallery there. This space came up and so Fred and I both work here. When we move into the farmhouse, there’s an outbuilding that is going to be my studio. That probably won’t be until 2025. If we’re lucky it will be before that, but I am never optimistic when it comes to building timelines.’

Great British Life: Cleo has created a light and bright gallery for showcasing her artworksCleo has created a light and bright gallery for showcasing her artworks

To launch herself in Cheshire, she recently held an open studio event and is keen to build a local network of buyers.

‘My first open studio was very, very positive. I learned a lot, and sold a lot, which was reassuring. It’s been hard to know, until now, who my buyers are. People make their purchases online and then I don’t always know where they’re going to be, unless I am tagged on Instagram, for example, when the piece is hung, or they send me a photo.

‘I sell a lot to private buyers but have been commissioned to provide artwork for commercial spaces too. I recently completed a project for an office in London, taking it from a bland space to a happy place.

‘I really believe strongly in the power of art. I feel I am on a cusp – I can’t wait to see how it evolves.’