Art lover and jewellery maker Libbie Coulson can turn grey skies to blue with her colourful designs, and she owes it all to her beloved Mum, who's birth date is sure to become a household name

'I want to be the place in Portsmouth that people think of when they want creative, colourful and fun jewellery and accessories, gifts and cards,' says designer Libbie Coulson, who's 26th of May business is named in tribute to her mum's birthday, who lost her battle with cancer when Libbie was 22.

'One of my earliest memories is my mum cutting up potatoes for me to use as stamps, I had a little easel and loved painting with them,' she smiles. 'I think she would love that I named my business after her, she loved that she had a creative daughter.

'Now I can't wait to bring my own daughter in to my studio. I can teach her all the things I've learnt over the years. It will be something that we do together.'

Great British Life: Libbie can be found in her studio at the Hotwalls in Old PortsmouthLibbie can be found in her studio at the Hotwalls in Old Portsmouth (Image: Libbie Coulson)

Libbie has just been taken on as one of the artists at the Hotwalls Studios in Old Portsmouth, which provides affordable workspaces for the city's ever-evolving creative community. The design and layout of the site means visitors can see artists and makers at work, meet the creatives, take part in workshops and purchase or commission professional pieces from the artists firsthand.

It's a dream come true for Libbie, but she admits it's been a journey of ups and downs to get her where she is now.

'I just always loved anything creative, anything where I can make things with my hands becomes my bag and growing up, art was always the thing I loved at school,' Libbie explains. 'Heading into sixth form at Portsmouth High School, I did A-level art and DT,' she continues. 'I remember asking my teachers what I should go forward and do. They both said design but I didn't really want to cut off the art, so I did an Art Foundation course. At the end of that, I was still unsure about what I wanted to do so I did a Fine Art degree. It was probably the wrong decision as it's so hard to do anything in the art industry. But I loved it.'

Great British Life: Beaded necklace in Tropic, £20Beaded necklace in Tropic, £20 (Image: Libbie Coulson)

The degree gave Libbie a springboard into a 15-year design career, first working in web design and then specialising in web application design before life took a bit of a turn and she found herself going through a divorce and feeling unhappy in her work environment.

She remembers: ‘In the end the stress got too much and I decided to reset pretty much everything before I broke. It wasn’t a fun time, but it did allow me the space to explore painting again and that really helped to sort my head out.

'I set up a studio and just had fun with it. It was just an outlet, I didn't think it was what I wanted to do long term.'

It was Christmas 2019, while searching online for ideas for homemade gifts, that Libbie first discovered polymer clay and, using a marbling technique, created some trinket boxes, keychains and earrings for friends and family.

Great British Life: Libbie tube bead bracelet, £16Libbie tube bead bracelet, £16 (Image: Libbie Coulson)

She admits she thought no more of it, until one delighted recipient suggested she sell her designs.

The following year, feeling ready to go back into the workplace, she got a job as a contractor for an aviation software company but continued to create her clay products on the side.

Her role came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic kicked in, giving her the time to concentrate fully on 26th of May. Ploughing her efforts into the business, she began to see things taking off on online selling platform Etsy and on Instagram. But, knowing she wanted to start a family, Libbie was drawn back to the financial security of a full-time job, and started a new role in March 2021.

It was here that she met her current partner ­­­– someone she had known for several years and had began dating during the year of her divorce. When she fell pregnant that same year, her creative efforts took a backseat.

'When I was on maternity leave I wasn't paying any attention to 26th of May, so I wasn't sure if there would still be any support there.' But after taking part in a market hosted by Hotwalls, she realised that her designs were still very much in demand.

Great British Life: Ettie beaded necklace, £26Ettie beaded necklace, £26 (Image: Libbie Coulson)

'I'm not amazing at social media but when I'm in front of people that's when I tend to do really well.'

Libbie was made redundant in May last year and having found a new confidence through the creative markets, she decided to take the plunge and when the studio space became available, she leapt at the chance. Being in a studio at Hotwalls means she is surrounded by other creatives, and she thrives on meeting the people who come in to buy her work, or find out more about what she does. 'Before, I was just sat in my spare bedroom on my own, putting stuff on the internet, not knowing if anyone was seeing it,' she laughs.

Looking to the future, Libbie is constantly searching for ways to enhance her jewellery, through reading books and discovering new skills and techniques online. But her inspiration comes from her own artistic background, as she explains: 'I'm often inspired by a piece of art rather than anyone else's jewellery, so I will often try and emulate what I've seen in a painting.'

In fact, Libbie still has a yearning to use her fine art skills and, as well as creating her own ideas for jewellery and creating commissions for customers with a specific vision, she's keen to draw more on her love of painting.

Great British Life: Libbie also runs workshops from her studio where you can take away your own keychainLibbie also runs workshops from her studio where you can take away your own keychain (Image: Libbie Coulson)

'I've got my background in fine art and I want to do more painting again,' she says. 'I've got all my artwork on display as well. Last year, I brought out notepads with some painting backgrounds. They did really well over Christmas. That was a test to see if I could sell things that weren't jewellery.'

As well as plans to expand her jewellery range with new necklace and bracelet designs and running a series of 'make your own' workshops, Libbie would love to branch into selling some cards and prints, all featuring her bright, colourful signature style.

She is determined to use her five-year stint at Hotwalls to make a name for the business.

'I think I have too many ideas,' she smiles. 'I find it hard to stop doing the creative part of it and focus on the admin side. One of my New Year's resolutions was to get better at business.'