Suzie Zamit Sculptor - London, UK

You began your study at the London College of Fashion – film/theatre make up in 1980-83, how did this lead you to Sculpture?

I was always more interested in the body painting and special effects/character makeup side of the work- modelling false noses and creating skin eruptions etc. – great fun!
It seemed like quite a natural progression – working on a head in clay; with the added benefit of not having to get up at 5 am for a film shoot!


While you were studying Sculpture @ City and Guilds of London Art School, you won the Tussauds Excellence Award and a travel scholarship to Florence. Can you explain how these propelled your career?

It was great in terms of confidence boosting and confirming my direction. It was a difficult time making representational, skill based work in the 90’s at Art School – swimming against the conceptual tide. Going to Florence and immersing myself in Renaissance art reaffirmed my drive to get as good as I could at modelling the human form.

You state, “The face seems to contain the essence of personality”. Can you expand on this comment in relationship to your work?

Probably because of my background I am particularly drawn to faces and eyes are especially compelling in a portrait. You can read so much and subsequently express so much of that person’s character and mood. However it is the whole stance of the head, neck and relation to shoulders that makes a piece really come to life

You teach and also continue to take classes yourself can you tell us what you get from both sides?

I started teaching as soon as I left college – and I found not only that I really enjoyed it, but it greatly improved my own work – having to look at a class of 12 clay heads and work out exactly what’s wrong and how to rectify that really sharpens the eye. It’s also a great buzz to be in a room full of fellow clay modelling enthusiasts.

How large is your studio in North London and what have you had to have fitted?

Iit’s way too small but has wonderful north light which enables you to really see the form – much harder to ‘see’ properly under fluorescents etc. it has lots of shelving and LOTS of half-finished clay heads wrapped in plastic .. And a whole range of different height stools, chairs and boxes. I also use the room next door for all my books/office etc., and most of the garden is an extended workroom.

Studio Shot

Can you explain some of the processes you go through in your work?

Working from the sitter:

We discuss scale; pose etc. and then I have them sitting on a swivel chair a metre in front of me and turn every few minutes. I sit and kneel and stand
To get a range of different angles. I keep the clay really soft and elastic. If they can’t do many sittings I take photos from all sides and under and over.

Working from photographs:

Much harder, and prefer not to but I would take some basic skull measurements if possible and sometimes use a model who looks like them for initial stages.

How do you work through the process from model – clay – firing – casting in either plaster or bronze?

If I am going to fire the piece then I would not use any armature wire inside – just model onto a straight post wrapped in plastic. When leather hard I cheese wire the top of the head off (hidden in the hair) and hollow out then replace top of head by crosshatching and slip on the surfaces. If casting, then a silicone rubber reusable mould (I have a friend do this part) inside a fibreglass or plaster jacket is made which allows you to take multiple copies. I do the plaster casts myself and swill mould them and often put some pigment into the plaster mix. For bronze – all done at a foundry – they have to make a wax version first from the rubber mould.

‘The Kiss’ is plaster and pigment can you expand on this technique?

I soak the plaster so it isn’t too porous and experiment with painting on water colour and sponging back… I’ve naturally progressed to making up my sculptures.

Suzie Zamit The Kiss

The Kiss

In 2009 you were commissioned by the Royal Mint for the Charles Darwin Coin and more recently the Britannia Bullion Coin. Tell us about these commissions?

Suzie Zamit Coin

For every new coin the Royal Mint ask approx. 5 artists to submit up to 10 designs on paper… they then choose several to be developed further, and then finally 3 are chosen to be made into plaster reliefs… they then choose the final design. So it’s quite a lengthy process and lots of research. I was lucky enough to get to the final stages on both of the above. However it is not a medium I enjoy – I made the reliefs approx. 30 cm wide and had about 2 mm height to model in – very frustrating!

Suzie Zamit Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Can you take two or three busts you have sculpted and give us some of the background to these works?

Well, following on from last question… after poring over photos of Charles Darwin for this millimetre high relief, I just had to get to grips with him in the round – so no commission, just made him for my own enjoyment.
Bruno Manini is a fellow sculptor and friend who I asked to sit for me; he has such a wonderfully sculptural head – I generally enjoy doing non-commissioned portraits much more as you are not trying to interpret someone else’s vision.

Suzie Zamit Bruno Manini

Bruno Manini

‘Richard’ is a fast sketch made on top of a polystyrene cup – I like the vitality and life in maquettes and often prefer work in the first 30 mins when it is fresh – it’s all about knowing when to stop!

Suzie Zamit Richard


You also work in terracotta when does this seem to be the best medium?

I love the feeling of modelling in clay… it suits flesh so well and is so fluid and expressive… so works well on sketchier pieces like ‘Richard’.

Some of your work is life size plus while others 30cms or less. Can you expand on this?

I like to play with scale and find that sometimes a head can be more powerful condensed into a smaller scale… more of a presence. I also have a small studio!

‘Florence Parsons’ was my introduction to your work. Who is she and how did you manage to give her such personality?

Suzie Zamit Florence Parson

Florence Parsons

I was looking around for someone who was 100 for a millennium exhibition…
I found her after one phone call in an old peoples home two streets away, she was even born on Jan 1st 1900 – so it was meant to be.
I couldn’t work in clay in her room as it’s too messy so we chatted for a while & I took lots of photos.

On a much larger scale ‘The Pieta of a Fallen Soldier’ exhibited in the Winchester Cathedral you have taken from a known and familiar sculpture by Michael Angelo to the much more personal knowledge of a mothers love for her son? Was this your intention?

Yes… my children are in their early 20s and at the time had friends who were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Young men dying in the prime of their lives are in the news daily and it is very affecting when you have a son the same age.

All this intricate, highly demanding work must be very physical; you stretch and relax by doing the tango. Tell us about your other life?

There’s not a lot of time outside sculpture and tango! My husband is a musician – my daughter does improvised comedy, my son – recently walked from our house to Spain..! and the most important member of the family – a grumpy little terrier called Ringo.

Can you please explain the huge importance of being a member of the Society of Portrait Sculptures has been to you personally and your career?

It has helped in so many ways- support from fellow sculptors – commissions – contacts – and an annual show in a prestigious London gallery… which now attracts work from all over the world and is the only platform solely for showing portrait sculpture. It really gave a focus to my life post art school – thank you SPS!

On a much lighter note, tell about your work being used by Ralph Lauren for the opening of his London, home store?

They contacted me wanting to use some clay figure studies for the launch of their new stores… torsos, reclining nudes etc and I managed to come up with quite a few from my shelves.

Suzie Zamit Ralph London

Used at the Opening of the Ralph London, Homestore

Suzie Zamit Ralph London

Used at the Opening of the Ralph London, Homestore



Suzie Zamit, London, UK.

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, August, 2012