MEET THE MAKER

Meet the Maker: Liha

Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan, the duo behind all-natural beauty brand Liha, are on a mission to bring highly-prized West African beauty secrets to the UK. Now in their third year, the business partners and lifelong friends focus on small batch and sustainable production, balancing their burgeoning brand with family life. We talk to Liha Okunniwa about the pair’s work…

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

Hi Liha! How would you describe your brand?
Relaxing, luxurious, unusual.

What inspired you to set up Liha, and what did you both do before?
We both knew we wanted to do this since our university days in 1998, but life got in the way! I’d studied English with American studies and moved back to Cheltenham from London when my daughter was born, where I ran a successful art publishing business. Abi had studied politics and sociology and had a career as an Olympic athlete, but we had both always had been making natural beauty products on the side. When Abi had retired from athletics, we just knew it was the right time. All along, the little voices in the back of our heads would not go away! We finally gave in to it and took the leap from totally different fields. It was worth it.

Initially, we tried to do a soft launch to test the market, but the demand was so great we just had to keep pushing and it forced us to develop quicker. At the moment we are raising investment, and it is exciting to pause, map and regroup, as we take each step in growing our brand to the next level. 

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

What is the ethos behind your business?
Minimalism is key - buy less, and choose well. This is why we make all our products multi-purpose and don't inundate people with new product lines, which can be commonplace in the beauty industry. We also take a lot of inspiration from family - we describe Liha as 'natural African roots with a quintessentially British attitude’. My mum is an English aromatherapist, and the unique mix is what makes us stand out. Much of our aesthetic - an extreme minimalism with African touches (what we call ‘Afro-Scandi’) - comes from my dad. He came from Nigeria on an engineering scholarship and ended up hitchhiking around the world in the early 60's, nearly settling in Scandinavia.

There is a West African philosophical concept, Asé-Ase, by which you conceive the power to make things happen and produce change. It’s somewhat similar to the idea of Chi. We want to show people how to take self-care to Goddess levels and keep that Asé up! All our products take a while to become familiar with - you can find your own unique ways of using them, or even make your own creation with them. They also force you to slow down – for example, it takes time for the Idan oil to melt, and you have to really work the shea butter into your skin.

Our values are also influenced by political crops and sustainability – the medicinal plants that grow in West Africa have huge potential in the west, with the correct legislature and scientific testing in place. We are aware that most people don’t associate West Africa with beauty secrets, but introducing people to shea butter is just the beginning. There’s a wealth of ingredients that have yet to be introduced to the western world which are centuries old, and tried-and-tested. A big reason we want to scale up our business is to be a true innovator in our field, by showcasing these new ingredients and wellness secrets. As we grow, we hope to transform what has been a traditionally destructive trade route (oil, gas) with new socio-economic cooperatives for West Africa.

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

How do the two of you work together, day-to-day?
We’re like Yin and Yang, and we work together really well. Abi is super-practical and I am more ‘head in the clouds’, but we are both very creative. We can talk about a tweak to packaging for literally months, and are both obsessive and perfectionists in different areas, which is a plus! Abi is amazing at visual merchandising and keeping up with the industry news, and I am always hunting for new ingredients and experimenting with mixes. Day-to-day, I live in Cheltenham and Abi is in Hackney, so we are constantly texting back-and-forth, but it really is essential to have face-to-face meetings as well, as that is when the ideas really start flowing.

Describe your workspace…
Our workspace is in Queens Park in a wonderful place called Kindred Studios. It’s a former college that has over 170 artists and makers in studios, spread out over two huge buildings. Every so often there are open studio days for visitors to look around and buy, which is a wonderful way to meet customers. In true 80s movie style, the developers are trying to move in on the building, so the artists, makers and supporters are all coming together to try and raise money to buy it back - hopefully this arts haven will stay safe a little longer.

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

Do you have a background in health and beauty?
In African Yoruba culture, making your own cosmetics is something natural that you learn at the same time you learn to cook. My mum studied aromatherapy, and my parents had shops that I grew up living above - she would test me from about the age of 8, so I've been learning a long time!

My first job was in the Body Shop in 1996; Anita Roddick came and said ‘hi’ and I nearly fainted! Then I worked for SpaceNK when I went to Uni in London - it was my mecca before online shopping, it was the only place to get cult beauty products. I’ve studied the industry for years, so when I saw there was still a gap for the idea we had been brewing for so long, we had to jump.

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

Where do you sell your products?
We sell in Being Content in Marylebone, Glow Bar, lots of other lovely independents. We also have a stand on Broadway market every Saturday which works as our shop for now, and we have a huge and very exciting new stockist we will be announcing soon!

Where do you find creative inspiration?
Everywhere! We try to make time to step away from working constantly, to enjoy the smaller things and let the ideas flow. I love the luxury of taking an afternoon to go to the cinema, and Abi is always losing herself in novels. It's an obvious answer, but we both love to travel too, and meditation or just good old daydreaming are essential for any creative person - and we get loads of our ideas from these!

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

What are the joys, and challenges, of being an independent maker?
The joys are when people say how much they love your products - that never gets old! The challenges are having to ‘make’ on top of everything else, and feeling like you never have enough time! 

Which products do you most love making?
Our Ose Gidi Black soap, because it took so long to perfect the recipe and now it is absolutely spot-on. It smells phenomenal, and always takes me back to being in our kitchens or our first tiny studio in Cheltenham with no windows! It was so hard to make at first, but now it’s second nature to us. It’s so nice when you can see your hard work pay off like that.

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

Do you hold workshops and events?
We do bespoke workshops for up to 15 in which we teach the absolute basics of making with shea butter, these can be booked through the website. It's great to inspire people to start their own journey and give them a crash course in aromatherapy. It’s amazing how much people bond, relax and open up when they are crafting with their hands.

Where do you source your ingredients?
At the moment we are sourcing from a number of different ethical places. In Ghana we work with the Shea Cooperative, and the Nigerian shea comes from Abi's dad's town, so we know exactly where it’s coming from. As we grow, our goal is to have our own farms and cooperatives in West Africa.  

What have been your highlights for Liha so far?
All of it! We wouldn't change one bit of our journey, even the tough parts. 

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

How valuable is the online community to your work?
We are not as good at posting as we should be, but we love Instagram. I’m not so keen on the algorithm but it’s a great community for wellness and makers. Our social media followers are all very valuable to us and we believe in quality over quantity.

What does the next six months hold for Liha?
We have some really exciting things coming up and we are growing pretty fast, so keep checking back for social media updates @lihabeauty

Any creative pastimes or hobbies?
I play music in my spare time, and Abi and I both write. Abi loves photography and we are both massive bookworms. Dancing around naked every so often is also a must for me to stay sane!

Liha Beauty - Meet the Maker / 91 Magazine

How do you approach marketing and PR?
We have been lucky in that we have never had to chase, and all opportunities have come to us directly through the website or via Instagram.

Any advice for makers starting out?
Just jump in and crack on! Trust the process and you will find your path. 

Quick Fire questions:

Describe your work in three words? Satisfying, fun, amazing.

What are your making rituals? Loud music (or Radio 4 on peaceful days), old clothes, self-belief, and a little alchemy.

Tea or coffee? Tea, always.

Mountains or sea? Sea.

Night owl or early bird? Abi is a night owl, but I’m an early bird.

I wish someone had told me... It's never too late to change direction. As a kid you are taught to find a path and lock on to it. That just isn't how it works, you can always change.

See more from Liha at: www.lihabeauty.co.uk

Meet The Maker: Jessica Ford

For many of us creatives, the idea of stepping away from our computer screens and connecting to what we’re doing is something high on our wish lists, but is not always practical with looming deadlines and other commitments.

Fine artist Jessica Ford (who also works as a illustrator and has designed everything from children’s books and packaging to advertising campaigns and fiction covers, as well as this year’s Valentine’s box for Godiva Chocolatiers!) has done just that and carved out time in her schedule to focus on her paintings.

This ‘happy hobby’ has become not only a creative outlet, but also become another business - with her work now hanging in homes across the world (including in the home of social media influencer Zoella).

We chatted to Jessica to find out how she creates her abstract work, divides her time and tips for starting a new venture.

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Hi Jessica! Why and when did you decide to become a professional artist?

I’d been working for ten years as a commercial illustrator (and still do, for half of the time!) but was dying to get away from a screen and get back to physically making art. I love having a varied working life, and still really enjoy the buzz of illustration commissions, but there’s something really exciting about making art for yourself, and not to a brief.

 Photography: Joe at Nash Watson

Photography: Joe at Nash Watson

Can you tell me a little about your work? How would you describe your style?

My paintings and colourful, abstract pieces. When I started painting, I was really conscious that I wanted to have a happy experience in the studio, and I wanted the paintings to feel joyous and light - and not depressing. I’m not interested in digging around my soul for melancholy! I want the owner to feel positive when living with my paintings in their home. They’re very easy to live with. 

The whole process for me started out as a happy hobby, that wonderfully evolved into something much bigger. 

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That’s so lovely to hear! How do you go about creating your work?

I like to work on quite big canvases. Strangely I find working on smaller canvases much more challenging! I use acrylic paint, gouache, and graphite pencil. I achieve the different textures by using different mixing mediums. I’m a big fan of a palette knife! I’d probably make a great plasterer!

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Which paintings have been your most popular? Why do you think that is?

I have three prints that sell extremely well: ‘Brood’, ‘Lark’ and ‘Dusk’. I’d say the number one favourite has been ‘Dusk’. I’ve had so many enquiries about that painting, I could have sold it ten times over. Ironically it was on sale for over 6 months, appeared in different galleries, and then as soon as I sold it, the enquiries came piling in. Always seems to be the way!

 Harbour by Jessica Ford

Harbour by Jessica Ford

Doesn’t it just? Hard question, but do you have a favourite?

My favourite is ‘Brood’. It was such a favourite that I decided to keep it and it now hangs in my bedroom at home. Again, I’ve had so many offers from people wanting to buy it, that it’s been quite tough to stay firm and not sell, but I’m glad I haven’t. Some things are worth more than money. I’ve lent it out on photoshoots on various occasions, so it’s travelled around a fair bit, and even appeared on one of the room sets at The Ideal Home Show this year.

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That’s exciting! Where do you create? Does your location inspire you?

I have a little, cosy studio in Hove, East Sussex. It’s pretty teeny, but it has a big window, which as all artists know, is the main consideration with taking on a space! I’m very close to the sea, which is always really inspiring! And I love Hove. There’s such beautiful architecture everywhere, and lots of creative people live here. 

Unfortunately I will be leaving this studio soon, as the developers are moving in and turning the workspaces into flats. I do fear for the creative people of Brighton and Hove, as this is increasingly happening, and it means there’s no longer affordable studio space left. A lot of my artist friends have already left the area due to the rising costs, so the future is looking a bit uncertain.

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I divide it up doing my illustration work half the time, and then depending on what my deadlines are looking like, I’ll disappear downstairs to do some painting. I’ve been really lucky that my painting studio has been in the same building as my illustration studio all these years. I can pop between the two, often when I’m waiting for a layer of paint to dry!

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So handy! You use Instagram for your business - how does this work for you?

Instagram has been amazing for me. It’s the only social media platform I use for my painting, as I only really use Facebook for personal use, and Twitter... I’ve never really loved at all!! I’ve sold lots of paintings directly to customers through Instagram, and then it’s been such a buzz to see the paintings in situ, popping up on my client’s feeds. It’s brilliant to be able to communicate directly with your audience. One of my paintings has ended up in a home in Australia, so I’m thrilled the reach of social media travels so far.

 Dusk by Jessica Ford

Dusk by Jessica Ford

With already having a successful career in illustration, what tips would you give to those of us looking to start a new venture?

Just start! I talked about painting for years, tentatively planning, dreaming, wishing. Two years ago, I made the decision to properly carve out time in my schedule to commit to it, starting with Friday being my ‘official painting day’. I really believe that it was that New Years resolution that propelled me forward. Sometimes these things just need proper time to grow and to be able to get off the ground.

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What's been your highlight so far?

It was pretty exciting when Zoella bought one of my paintings. It frequently pops up on her Instagram, or in her videos. 

Last year I had a lovely feature in Breathe magazine, and I’ve had loads of lovely support from fab interiors bloggers, such as Sophie Robinson, Little Big Bell, and Emily Dawe. They’ve been so great at featuring my work and helping to raise my profile, which has been such a gift. 

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That’s so fantastic! So, what's next for you?

In my dreams I’d actually love to move into interior design. Perhaps own a shop. Be a stylist. Why are there not more hours in the day! I’m such a career glutton! Haha. I’d love to create a lifestyle brand that brings together my love of painting, colour and interiors.


QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words:  

Colourful, abstract, bold.

What are your making rituals? 

Change into my painting clothes, pop on my favourite podcast and make sure I have a cup of tea by my side!

Tea or Coffee? 

Tea!

Mountains or sea? 

Sea!

Night owl or early bird? 

Early bird!

I wish someone had told me... 

It will all work out! I remember the deep seated fear of leaving university and heading for London to kick start my creative career, armed only with an art degree and not able to do anything else (I couldn’t even work a computer!), and thinking "NOW WHAT?!!" I'm so happy that my creative career actually panned out and I'm able to create art for a living. I feel really lucky.

See more from Jessica at www.jessicaford.co.uk.

Meet the Maker: Wallflower Weavings

A creative year spent abroad as a teenager sparked a love affair with woven art forms for Sophie Cotterill of Wallflower Weavings, igniting a passion for making her own whimsical works using beautiful, sustainable materials, as she tells 91 Magazine’s Sine Fleet.

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‘I suppose when I first saw a piece of woven art, my immediate reaction was “Wow, that's so different!”’ says Sophie Cotterill of Wallflower Weavings. ‘Woven wall art is such a unique and creative way to decorate a room, it brings warmth and movement to the space it hangs in, and can't often be found on the high street,’ she says.

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Sophie’s business is now situated in her home town of Warrington in Cheshire, but her love of weaving first began in a small corner of the Netherlands, the city of Delft, which she visited in 2014. ‘I was only nineteen at the time, and had moved abroad for a year. I found weaving through Instagram initially, and the moment I tried it, I was hooked!’ she says.

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Sophie initially set up an Instagram account, soon followed by her online Etsy shop during her year abroad, which helped to fund her trip. ‘I set up Wallflower Weavings following my sudden hit of inspiration in what I was learning. It developed as it grew in popularity online, which encouraged me to keep going, and it has been a steady and lovely practice in my life alongside my other work, running an Alice in Wonderland-themed tea shop.’

College studies included textiles and photography, but Sophie’s interests and skillset have been honed through independent self-development and the pursuit of her own personal passions. ‘I've loved art since I was very young, and at high school I found it was the textile world that called to me, especially when it came to anything free-form and unusual.’

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Over time, Sophie’s unique style evolved – her textural pieces have a playful, whimsical feel. ‘Where many of the weaving world's pieces are classic, neutral and minimal, my work organically took a different direction over time into deeply tactile and colourful work. They're very feminine pieces, quite delicate with intricate details – a real feast for the eyes, like a bouquet of yarn! That's part of the reason for calling them “Wallflowers”,’ she says.

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From there, Sophie continued to build her skills, venturing into spinning yarns, experimenting with natural dyes, and processing farm-fresh sheep's wool to use in her work, and sell on to fellow makers. ‘It's always a pleasure to sit at the loom or wheel and make something that is entirely one of a kind,’ she says. ‘As I spin and dye yarn, it’s my responsibility to ensure I'm choosing the best sourced fibre that I can. Instead of aiming for mass-produced materials, at fibre fairs and markets, I discover new businesses and suppliers of unique fibres and yarns. Even though I make my own, I love to buy and support other spinners and dyers - everyone has a different style. On my travels I buy local yarn as a memento, whether from a modern city like Oslo, the bustling streets of a town in Thailand, or the Welsh countryside. A little part of the culture and charm makes its way into my weavings,’ says Sophie.

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Discovering weaving answered a cry for inspiration at the perfect time for Sophie, having tried sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, and many other crafts. ‘Weaving was the one - it gave me so much confidence in myself, and I could finally identify with the side of me that always felt like a ‘maker’. It was everything I had been looking for as a creative who hadn't found their outlet yet,’ she explains.

Creating in a free and instinctive way is central to Sophie’s work, and inspiration can come from the natural world, design trends, fellow artists, and travel. ‘My weaving method is free-form, so rather than drawing up a design or following a pattern, I let my hands get to work, using my understanding of the fibres involved to build on texture and create a strong, but beautiful piece. My materials are my ultimate inspiration, which is why I taught myself to spin and dye, to get closer to the fibres and understand every part of the weaving process,’ Sophie explains.

 Lovebirds Cheshire Photography

Lovebirds Cheshire Photography

Commitment to sustainability, resourcefulness and eco-friendly materials also shapes Sophie’s work, and ‘getting back to the roots’ is intrinsic to her working ethos, stemming from traditional weaving practices through the ages. ‘I love to visit smallholders of sheep and alpacas in the countryside, where I can meet the animals and learn from their owners. This way I'll know exactly how the animals live - simply for the love of them and their wool. I choose 100 per cent personally sourced, organic wool – usually straight from the sheep, goat or alpaca – and also experiment with plant fibres like hemp, organic cotton, bamboo etc. for their wonderful strength and range of textures. I like to work in as eco-friendly a way as possible, limiting any chemical and water use, using mainly wooden equipment such as looms and spinning wheels, and follow the tradition of working with natural dyes.’

Sophie’s wonderfully natural dyes come from the simplest and most resourceful of means, ‘I source ours from our family allotment - some of our favourites have been the roots of rhubarb, which create a glorious golden yellow hue, and beetroot, which of course can lead to a lovely hot pink! Berries, onion and avocado skins, nuts, coffee, flowers, tree bark – there are so many sources for natural dyes, so there is always more to learn. These colours blend together very harmoniously, and my work over the years has taken on a more natural palette,’ she describes.

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Like most makers, Sophie works best when her workspace around her is ‘just-so’. ‘I'm quite particular about my workspace, with lots of warm and cosy colours and textures around - a nice tidy desk and a series or album to keep me going! I can sit down at 6pm to work and look at the clock to find it's suddenly midnight, and I barely notice - so being comfortable is a must. I have all of my equipment to hand, which ranges from spinning wheels to looms, bobbins to a drum carder (a tool for combing the wool before spinning), as big and unusual as they are.’ The work of other makers also constantly inspires Sophie, ‘I surround myself with these - the results of art swaps within the online community, and purchases from local artisan fairs. These works are important as they are all inspiring in different ways - I find them really encouraging to work around.’

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From day one, the online world has been a linchpin for Wallflower Weavings, providing a community of like-minded makers, and a vital launch-pad to potential customers and commissions. ‘My business wouldn't exist if not for Instagram and online shopping platforms, and both of these aspects have made my life as a maker so much more interesting. There's a big community out there filled with the nicest people I've ever met, and they're all online, happy to share and encourage. Many of my customers and fellow artists I meet are from overseas. We share knowledge, inspiration, advice, and even share materials with each other,’ says Sophie.

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With a deep love of nature inherent in her work, when time allows, Sophie loves to retreat to the Scottish highlands to feed her creativity. ‘If I could turn my work into a place, it would be there - up in the depths of Skye. These retreats take me on fleece-hunting escapades, natural dye foraging and a chance to soak up the magic of the mountains! I also love interior design and to thrift, especially furniture - I even thrifted and renovated one of my spinning wheels, from the ‘80s.’

Sophie’s future plans for Wallflower Weavings include a move to a more rural setting, ‘With a big move to my first house on the horizon, I'm excited to see how my new space helps my business come into its own, with a beautiful countryside setting to inspire new pieces and a studio to devote to my work.’ Collaborations lie ahead too, which Sophie hopes might inspire others to try their hand at weaving, ‘A new addition to the shop comes from my project with an independent woodworker in the highlands – we have created our first prototype for one of a kind, all natural lap looms. For those who enjoy the out-of-the-ordinary, these luxury looms have been designed to accentuate the natural wood, and to feel like an organically grown piece of equipment. We will be producing them simply for the love of it. I'm obsessed with mine already,’ she says.

 Lovebirds Cheshire Photography

Lovebirds Cheshire Photography

Quick-fire questions: 

Describe your work in three words?
Whimsical, organic, tactile

What are your making rituals?
House to myself, comfy clothes on, a pot of coffee brewing, my two cats, and a tidy workspace to enjoy. 

Tea or coffee?
Coffee!

Mountains or sea?
Mountains

Night owl or early bird?
Night owl

I wish someone had told me...

Not everything has to be perfect – as it turns out, imperfections are even more beautiful

Find out more about Wallflower Weavings via Instagram, Etsy and Facebook.

Meet the Maker: O-M Ceramic

O-M or Object-Matter Ceramic is the product of artist Carrie Lau, working from her studio in Los Angeles.With playful forms and striking surface pattern, Carrie’s designs have earned her cult status among fans of modern pottery, and, for Carrie, encourage mindful making.

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Carrie Lau first fell in love with Los Angeles, and making ceramics in 2014. Previously working for a Hong Kong-based fashion magazine, graphic products were clearly in Carrie’s creative blood, but her journey to ceramics was almost accidental. ‘I decided to come to LA for a graphic design program, since then I have been working in graphic design and art direction,’ explains Carrie. ‘but about four years ago my friend introduced me to ceramics and I fell in love with it as a hobby; I got tons of support from friends and family who encouraged me to join a craft market.’

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine
Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

O-M Ceramic’s range includes playful cups, contemporary planters, striking glaze-dipped vessels and colour-splattered mugs. ‘The journey has been great - fun and challenging,’ continues Carrie, and her genuine consideration for creative practice through mindfulness results in playful but considered design. ‘Objects {everything} around you are made up of matter, it has its own beauty,’ she muses.

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

‘I get inspiration from surroundings, experience, communication, interaction, travel, landscapes, other artists, and so on.’ This widely-drawn inspiration results in playful shapes with splashes of delightful and surprising colour. ‘I love studying colour and shape, they give me a lot of room to play around and see the possibilities,’ confirms Carrie. ‘I sketch and draw here and there, and when I come to make ceramics, it may or may not turn out as what I was planning - there is always a surprise which I love!’

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

This flexible ethos has led to O-M’s distinct aesthetic, with a contemporary vibe yet reverence to the nature of clay. ‘My work is playful, minimal and modern with a bunch of colours and graphics,’ she adds, but making the transition from two to three-dimensional design wasn’t simple. ‘It took some time for me to craft by hand, since I am so used to creating digitally,’ she describes. ‘There’s also a blockage of perfection - how to make [the pieces] look perfect,’ continues Carrie. ‘The more that I do, the more I realise the beauty of handmade work is the uniqueness of itself.’

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

With this modern expression of graphic design influencing Carrie’s work, O-M is singled out among the popularity of handmade ceramics through its bold minimalism - she was making terrazzo-style glazes and Miami-style graphics long before high street brands picked it up. ‘My collections are full of colour & graphics with a minimal approach,’ adds Carrie. However, Carrie’s audience is steadfast in its love for handmade in whatever form that takes. ‘I have met a lot of people during craft markets, art shows, events and workshops that are also into design and even creatives themselves,’ she considers. ‘They really appreciate the time and effort of the things that are made by hand - it means a lot to me and motivates me to do more.’

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

Refreshingly, this doesn’t seem to impact Carrie’s making processes, nor does it pressure her to create something outside of her aesthetic or ethos. ‘I’m not led by seasons or trends, it’s more about realising my sketches,’ says Carrie, ‘but I also enjoy collaborating with different brands on exclusive collections.’

Meet the Maker - O-M Ceramics - 91 Magazine

Carrie enjoys the flexibility of life as a freelance artist, valuing the unique balance of work and personal life. However, like many other makers, she finds it tricky to switch off her creativity. ‘I work pretty much every day, since I work from home,’ Carrie describes. ‘It’s easy to work here and there when you have a little bit of free time - it’s just so easy to keep working.’ And like other creatives, each working day is completely different to the next. ‘A typical day starts with morning coffee, then I walk my dog, Bowl, for a bit,’ begins Carrie. ‘Starting work depends on what projects I have on hand - sometimes I will be making ceramics or drawing, some days I will be taking pictures for my website and social media, or packing and shipping ceramics.’ This flexible approach is as unique as each of Carrie’s pieces, and easily as fabulously interesting.

Quick-Fire Questions:

Describe your work in three words?

Fun, minimal and colourful

What are your making rituals?

Meditation and drawing

Tea or coffee?

Coffee

Mountains or sea?

Both!

Night owl or early bird?

Night owl

I wish someone had told me...

The importance of presence.

Find out more about O-M Ceramic via omceramic.com

Meet The Maker: Forage Botanicals

Creating natural products for women, Forage Botanicals aims to help ease the pain of periods and the stress they can cause our bodies and minds each month. We chat with professional herbalist Natasha Richardson, the maker behind Forage Botanicals, to find out more about painful period remedies and the magic of British herbs. 

Hi Natasha, why and when did you create Forage Botanicals? 

I created Forage Botanicals last year to serve people with terrible periods as I've had. I'm a herbalist and have always made medicines for my patients partly by foraging - a process which connects me with nature.  

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What had you done previously?

Since graduating from uni in 2010 as a herbalist, I've helped patients dealing with period pain, endometriosis, PCOS and infertility. I've also taught people how to use the plants around them through medicine making workshops. 

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Why was it important to you to create products that helped with periods? 

It literally took me years to find herbs, supplements and lifestyle changes that helped my periods. Period pain isn't something we learn much about school but 1 in 4 of us will experience it and have to take medication or time off work for it. I wish I'd been able to walk into a shop and get a natural remedy all those years ago and I aim to make such things available in the future. 

 Photo:  Rachel Hudson

Where and how do you source the herbs that you make your products with?

The ingredients in my products all come from British suppliers. I focus on herbs which are native to the UK as much as possible to reduce air miles. At the moment everything I've made is vegan as it's all plant based. 

These are herbs which have been used for thousands of years to help with period problems. But I give them a tweak to suit the demands our modern lives have on us. 

 Photo:  Rachel Hudson

How do you create and test your products?

I have used my own journey and over 10 years of treating patients to inform the creation of my products. I have tested them on myself and given them to friends who suffer with severe period pain. I was lucky that my period pain wasn't caused by a serious illness like endometriosis but I give my products to people who do suffer with that to check they're effective at the extremes of symptoms too. 

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Which are your bestsellers?

My Goddess drops and Strengthen + Soothe powder. The Goddess drops are a botanical extract made with Raspberry leaf, Lady's mantle, Rose and Mugwort. This blend helps people embrace their bodies. You take drops of it on the tongue. Sadly with most period problems they go unnoticed for a long time, ignored as they only happen once a month. We tend to put it to the back of our mind, when they are usually a symptom of a bigger problem such as stress. Which leads into the second bestseller; Strengthen + Soothe powder. This is a blend of Ashwagandha, Oat and spices which can be added to smoothies, porridge and the like. It's delicious when added into a nut milk as a chai. It's adaptogenic which means it helps to strengthen your resilience to stress whilst also soothing your nerves. Good for the tired and wired. 

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We can imagine it's a hard question to answer, but do you have a favourite product?

I'm pregnant at the moment so I can't use my absolute favourite: Waning Moon Bath Salts, because they have clary sage in. As I can't have that, I've been really enjoying the Strengthen + Soothe powder instead!

 Photography:  Rachel Hudson

Photography: Rachel Hudson

Where do you make your wares? Does your location inspire you?

I make my products in my kitchen where I have access to hundreds of dried herbs, tinctures, essential oils and powders. The herbs inspire me as I can't help but imagine their taste and smell when I see them. It is intoxicating. 

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually start my day with a swim. It clears my mind and keeps me fit. Then I'll come home to a smoothie with some of my Strengthen + Soothe powder. I'll start my working day with setting up a to-do list in my calendar if I don't already have one. Then I run through it hour by hour. I flexibly change my priorities as things arise during the day. I like to work on my book in the morning, break for lunch then make products in the afternoon.

After my work day is done, I cook for myself and my husband's return from work. Then we both go and check on the allotment in the evening before settling into bed with a book and a cup of herbal tea. At the moment I'm having Elderberry syrup with hot water to keep my immunity up as the seasons change. 

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Sounds perfect! What's been your Forage Botanicals highlight so far?

I have most enjoyed writing my book on stress and menstruation. It's due for publication in a couple of years' time. I hope it can help raise awareness of common period problems and help people get the support they need rather than just accepting their lot as someone with ovaries.

That's exciting! Apart from the book, what's next for Forage Botanicals?

I will be crowdfunding in the next few months in order to launch my next product; a balm for cramps.   

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: 

Wild, empowering, soulful

What are your making rituals? 

I NEED a completely clear and clean surface. So important.

Tea or Coffee? 

Herbal tea, duh!

Mountains or Sea? 

Mountains!

Night Owl or Early Bird? 

Early bird. That's why I do my writing in the morning! 

I wish someone had told me... 

To take imperfect action. 

See more about Forage Botanicals at www.foragebotanicals.co.uk

Meet the Maker: Paper Covers Rock

We chat to Rachel Caunt, the artist behind Paper Covers Rock about her stunning collages, finding inspiration in ordinary places and her love for all-things paper… 

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Hi Rachel! How did you know you wanted to become an artist? 

I enjoyed creative activities from a young age but, like many people, I have been employed in all sorts of roles over the years - from care assistant to retail buyer. Life takes twists and turns and I never really had a very clear career plan. It has only been in the past three years that I have been able to properly develop my small business and generate an income doing something I have always loved. 

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When and why did you start Paper Covers Rock?

I started working with collage about nine years ago during a short period of time living in Driftwood, Texas, about an hour’s drive from Austin. Located in the woods and unable to drive, I filled my days with walking, cooking and creative projects. l became fascinated with a collection of old kaleidoscopes, the patterns and colours that they produced and attempted to recreate them using tissue paper, tweezers and a great deal of patience. 

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My ‘Kaleidoscope Collages’ received unexpected interest from friends and later stockists and led to the creation of Paper Covers Rock, my brand of prints and greeting cards based on original paper collages. 

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Where do you find inspiration?

With each collection and project, inspiration is drawn from colour, shape and texture, and how these elements work together to tell a story, create a mood and form a composition. On a daily basis, I am inspired by my surroundings, paying attention to the smallest details and finding beauty in ordinary places. I like the way that paint peels on derelict walls revealing colours beneath and the unintentional collages that are created by torn advertising posters.

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The most striking colour combinations can often be found in nature, with different places having their own colour palette. Bodnant Garden in North Wales has become a very special place to me in recent years. Its beauty is magical and fills me with ideas. During my trip to Japan last year, I spent a day walking across Amanohashidate, a pine covered sandbar that spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay. It was stunningly beautiful and evoked all kinds of emotions. Some places just stay with you once you’ve left.

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Sounds magical! What has been your favourite 'career high' so far?

During the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, I exhibited a collection of collage prints at my friend Helen's beautiful café, Fieldwork. This year I created work for an exhibition entitled 'Into the Haze' at Botany on East London's Chatsworth Road. I would definitely consider these exhibitions to be my 'career highs'. It was truly lovely to see my designs displayed in such inspiring, thoughtfully curated surroundings. It is also wonderful to receive positive feedback, every complimentary word at a market or kind comment on social media, is a boost of confidence and validation of what I am trying to achieve.

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How would you describe your style?

It evolves with every collection and sometimes I worry that I do not have a clear and recognisable style, however I hope my use of colour, shape and texture somehow unites the work.  

I tend to use gentle, muted colours to create simple and thoughtfully constructed, abstract compositions. 

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Can you talk us through the process? 

Every design starts as an original collage, these are largely made solely from paper but I have recently started to experiment with other materials, such as fabric. Most projects begin with a trip to Shepherds on Gillingham Street – paper heaven! I also bought some beautiful handmade papers during our visit to Japan last year so I have incorporated those into many of my most recent pieces, including those created for my exhibition at Botany. 

I sit at my desk or on the floor, surrounded by any new papers I have sourced as well as the large collection I have accumulated over the years. I experiment with colour and texture combinations and then spend time creating a composition using the chosen fragments. 

Sometimes the original collages are the finished pieces but I often develop my designs a little digitally at this stage so they can also become greeting cards and Giclée prints. 

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Speaking of Japan, some of your most recent work was inspired by your trip - how did it inspire you?

Last year I travelled around Japan for three weeks with my partner, Adam. Before the trip, a number of people told me that, once you've visited Japan, you will want to plan a return visit almost immediately after stepping off the plane. They weren't wrong! 

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Japan was everything that I had hoped it would be and so much more. New designs began to take shape very naturally on my return. My mind was full of all the beauty we had seen and the joy I felt discovering new and inspiring places each day. The attention to detail and thoughtful consideration in every aspect of Japanese design is astounding and yet it is presented with an effortless simplicity. I wanted to create pieces of work that captured the colour palette that emerged from my memories and photographs, as well as the feeling of calm that I experienced whist gaining an insight into their wonderful way of life.

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Can you tell us a little about each of your collections? 

I have always enjoyed working in 'Collections', I decide on a theme or aesthetic and then allow a set of designs to develop from this. My earlier collections, 'Pie' and 'Arrow', were more geometric. They were still inspired by colour and texture but with a focus on balance, repetition and pattern making. The next collection I produced was the 'Sightseer Collection', these are fun, little postcard style designs. Each one is a memory of a place visited or an emotion felt, like holiday snaps. Then came the 'Fragment Collection', a set of abstract collages inspired by fragments of songs, dreams and memories. My most recent work was created for my exhibition at Botany. These designs have a more fluid, organic feel to suit the environment in which they were to be displayed. I enjoy challenging myself to create something new and develop my style with each collection. 

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Is there one piece that you love a little more than the others?

Some designs seem to come together with a lot more ease than others and they often tend to be my favourites. At present, I am most satisfied with 'Flow I' because of the colour palette and fluidity of the shapes. The design I have most consistently favoured over time is 'Rotation I', I love the cornflower blue background and the overall balance of the composition. The cards that I choose to send out the most are 'Whirl' and 'Into the Haze'. 

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You've just finished exhibiting at Botany (a concept plant and homeware shop in East London) - do you have any advice for other artists wishing to exhibit (but perhaps aren't sure where to start)?

Have confidence in your own work. It's not easy to put yourself out there but I think if you try to produce work that you personally like and are proud of, then other people will like and appreciate it too. 

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Perhaps you have more advice for those starting out?

Just keep plodding on... having a small creative business is a complete rollercoaster. I have really positive times when I think it's all going brilliantly and then other times when I question what on earth I am doing with my life. I think the key is to accept that there are highs and lows and just try to enjoy the ride. Being able to generate an income doing something you enjoy is a very fortunate position to be in so be grateful for that and work hard. 

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What does the next six months hold for you?

I’ve just had a baby boy (Isaac, born on 28th May), so, over the next six months I will mainly be embracing all the joys and challenges that come with being a new mum. As I work from home, I fully intend to continue with all things Paper Covers Rock as soon as I feel comfortable to do so. I hope to find a nice balance and one of the first projects I would like to work on is a children's range of prints and cards. 

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Congratulations! As well as the children’s range, do you have any other goals you'd like to share with us?

My dream is to move to the coast and have a studio/retail space. I would like to expand my product range and also work on more commissions and collaborations. Earlier this year I worked with Henri, a contemporary women's shirting brand to produce a series of collages for their new London store. The artwork used offcuts of fabric from the shirts and the compositions were a response to the imagery that had inspired the SS18 collection. The collaboration took me nicely out of my comfort zone and led to the production of work I was extremely happy with. I am always open to interesting new projects and like to keep an open mind in regards to the future of Paper Covers Rock. 

Quick-fire questions

Describe your work in three words...

Gentle, thoughtful and abstract

What are your making rituals?

A pot of coffee, my Spotify Daily Mix, a desk covered in paper and a little fresh air in the afternoon. I'm sure this will all be far less leisurely now I'm a mum. 

Tea or Coffee?

Coffee

Mountains or Sea?

Depends on my mood, it's just lovely to escape the busy city.  

Night Owl or Early Bird?

Early Bird

I wish someone had told me...

Never to wish the time away and to appreciate every stage of life a little more because it is constantly changing and it flies by! 

Visit Rachel's website at: papercoversrock.co.uk

Images by Jon Aaron Green

Meet The Maker: KANA London

London-based ceramicist Ana Kerin explores her love for sculpture and all its textural possibilities through KANA, distinctive stoneware that embodies both function and form.

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While ceramics seem to be having ‘a moment’ for design lovers, they have been a somewhat paradoxical artform for Ana Kerin, whose conceptual fine art has come full circle and now encompasses earthy, simplistic form in her ceramics. ‘I studied fine art at degree and post-graduate level in my native Slovenia, and there was a lot of theory, art history and traditional drawing involved,’ recalls Ana. ‘It was an amazing experience, and I had such thorough training, but it was quite intense,’ she admits. Her background in sculpture was founded here, where the art students were encouraged to use all kinds of materials in their sculpture work, ‘I always came back to clay!’ she exclaims. While Ana was led to a ‘high-end’ art career after studying, producing works such as large-scale installations and conceptual pieces, it was the smaller elements that had the mark of human touch that interested her: ‘while I was working on large fine art projects, I enjoyed the non-pretentious side of making functional ceramics in the studio,' explains Ana, ‘so when I moved away from Slovenia it gave me license to pursue more functional forms- which was of course more financially sustainable.’ 

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Ana’s studio KANA now sells hand-crafted dinnerware, gifts and vessels, each with a modern aesthetic and unique use of beautiful, mottled glazes and finishes. Ana has collaborated with Petersham Nurseries, illustrator Alexa Coe and London restaurants to produce smoothly-hewn pieces that have a hand-finished edge. Small, glossy pinch pots have gilded curse words gently brushed on, while traditional handmade tea cups have blue pigment applied with a brush to mimic the effect of Ana's etchings or watercolours. With the rough edges and personal traces of the artist left on each piece, Ana’s work wasn’t immediately received when she launched in 2012. ‘A lot of my pieces toe the line between “fine” art and function,’ Ana says. ‘What happens when you take a conceptual piece away from a gallery or exhibition space and put it in your kitchen? Does it de-art it?!’ However, she doesn’t detract from the work of fellow ceramicists. ‘I admire greatly the skills of potters who throw pots,’ Ana continues. ‘A great potter is trying to achieve perfection and produce thousands of identical cups that bear no trace of the human touch- which makes the commercial potter much more anonymous.’ 

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In the past six years Ana’s work evolved to the point where she found need of her own studio, and in May 2017 moved into the space she now occupies in Hackney, East London. ‘I’ve moved spaces five times in London- studios are so expensive and rare- and I often outgrew previous premises,’ she says. ‘Having my own space is so important to me, and I’ve found it interesting how my spaces affect my work.’ Often producing a range or collection for a shop or restaurant, Ana found it necessary to have a large enough space to accommodate large volumes of ceramics and has found the freedom of  ‘a room of one’s own’ to be a huge influence on her. ‘There’s no point being frustrated by someone else’s timetable or habits, or being confused by the lack of light or windows- here I have so much natural light and I find my colour palette is often dictated by my mood,’ she adds. KANA’s collections are not led by trends or fashions, instead Ana can work on a collection for as long as two years before producing a cohesive range, which seeps into smaller releases such as vessels or a certain colourway before a big collection is unveiled. 

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In the meantime, Ana finds time to share her expertise through teaching at her Kana Clay Parlour. Small groups can attend one-off workshops or even a series of more intimate classes to learn about how Ana uses her medium as expression and for function. ‘I’ve been teaching art since as early as high school, and I still really enjoy it as every group is different,’ says Ana. ‘Sometimes it can be the combination of the people in the group that’s interesting, and sometimes it’s more like a therapy session!’ While the idea is to learn Ana’s technique of clay building and create a finished piece, learning new muscle memory and skills, it can be quite therapeutic for some students. ‘I really get a lot out of these sessions,’ continues Ana. ‘I often need to introduce the idea that we need to turn off our expectations, let go of ego and allow yourself to be new at something- ultimately most people are surprised by the quality of what they’ve made and it’s just great having that time to yourself to be creative.’ 

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Being conscious and respectful of one’s time is something Ana is very enthusiastic about, especially as an independent business owner. ‘Although I have some sort of routine, planning my days can be tricky- I feel like I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to find a routine!’ laughs Ana. ‘It’s important that I find some quiet, alone time each day- either with a coffee at home or here in the studio,’ she continues. ‘After that it might be five meetings in a row with no time to eat or pee, or it might be a three-hour work lunch with a friend and colleague- either way I have to tell myself that it’s OK to spend time in this way rather than at the studio until 2am every night.’ Routine, it seems, is as flexible as Ana’s work, and her incredibly philosophical approach to art and life. Whether she’s teaching, making or creating new connections, Ana’s business continues to grow with love and passion. 

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Quick-Fire Questions

Describe your work in three words... 

Tactile, personal, memories (stimulates or creates)

What are your making rituals? 

Silence and late nights 

Tea or Coffee? 

Coffee

Mountains or sea? 

Sea!

Night owl or early bird? 

Night owl

I wish someone had told me... 

How much easier life gets once you are past 30! 

Visit Ana's website at www.kanalondon.com

All photography by Georgia Gold

Meet the Maker: Skratch Ceramics

Inspired by Britain’s rugged mountains, rocky shores and folk history Kate Russell’s handmade ceramics, created in her studio in rural Wales, depict wild landscapes, escapist wildernesses and blustery harbours, with a folky twist.

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Over the last few years especially, ceramics have become swoon-worthy must-haves for the home. And for good reason too; is there anything better than being able to hold a precious piece of art that has been created mainly with just a pair of hands and the earth? Perhaps it’s this idea of going back to basics (although no-one - especially if you’ve ever tried your hand at pottery yourself - could ever call making ceramics a simple or easy process!), that’s calling so many of us to give it a try.

Just a few years ago, busy mum of two, Kate Russell signed up for a pottery course at her local college, wanting to find a creative outlet. Within twelve months, the history of art graduate began selling her beautiful British inspired wares, mixing her love of folk history and the great outdoors.

“I came to ceramics fairly late,” Kate explains. “I studied history of art at university and worked in arts-related jobs until I had my first child. I spent the next five years as a stay at home parent, but once my daughter started school and her younger brother was 2 years old, I was keen to find a new interest for myself. I had in the back of my mind that I would ideally like to start a creative business down the line, but I wasn't sure in which field or if I was capable. I signed up for classes at the local community college and pottery was the one that stuck. After a year I started posting images of some of my pots on Instagram and the interest they received gave me to confidence to start selling my ceramic work.”

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Kate now creates her hand-built ceramics from her home studio in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. Growing up in between the picturesque peaks of the Lake District and the Pennines, and then living in cities such as London and Amsterdam, Kate’s return to her rural roots continues to inspire her work and has seen her adding welcome traditional touches. “I love wild landscapes - mountainsides and rocky shores,” the ceramicist continues. “It seems to be something in-built, perhaps because I grew up sandwiched between the Lake District and the Pennines. I absolutely love the Highlands of Scotland and, closer to home, Snowdonia. Our location in Wales prompted me to think about including Welsh ladies in my work. It just started on a whim, when I was decorating a piece in college, but they have since become a key design motif in my work.” This Welsh lady whim has paid off, as they’re among some of Kate’s bestsellers - each piece is currently sold on the Skratch Ceramics website, until the next shop update takes place on 24th June. “I like to take those long-standing trans-national folk traditions of pattern-making and colour, but give them my own contemporary twist,” she adds.

Skratch Ceramics - Meet the Maker

As well as Britain’s landscape and Welsh history, Kate’s pieces also feature sgraffito - decoration created by scratching away at a surface, to reveal a hidden colour - a talent she also rediscovered at one of those inspiring ceramics classes: “I made a couple of sgraffito decorated panels at secondary school, which my parents had kept all these years, and I remembered I'd really enjoyed it,” Kate smiles. “When I went along to ceramics classes at the community college, it was top of my list of things I wanted to try again. I was also following Vicky Lindo, a fantastic sgraffito ceramicist on Facebook. I was really inspired by her modern take on traditional slipware, using bright colours. As soon as I tried it again, I was absolutely hooked. There's something about carving through leather-hard clay, that I find both therapeutic and thoroughly addictive. I really felt like after years of searching for 'my thing' I'd finally found it.” Sgraffito plays a big part in Kate’s work - appearing in almost every piece - hence the name Skratch (which also incorporates Kate’s initial too).  

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Not only did social media start Skratch Ceramics, but it continues to provide inspiration and connects Kate with other ceramicists as well as potential clients. “I have found it so inspiring on Instagram to see so many women with creative businesses, making it work on their terms,” she says. “That's been a really positive influence on me - to just to go for it and do things my way. I follow a lot of ceramicists on Instagram, but more out of interest to see their daily working practices and relish in the sheer variety out there.” As Instagram has been such a “valuable resource” for her, Kate recommends other makers starting out to “make the most of social media as a free marketing resource. I haven't spent any money on advertising, all my custom comes from Instagram and Facebook.”

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“Share your making process and don't be afraid to bring your own personality to your brand - it's what sets you apart from the big guys and people really like to know where products come from,” she advises. As well as a scroll through Instagram, Kate’s also a fan of podcasts, gaining “businesses tips, reassurance and inspiration from those who've been there and done that,” including Hashtag Authentic, Raw Milk and Creative Biz Rebellion.

During her daily practice - although she tells us there’s not really a ‘typical’ working day, instead favouring a monthly making cycle (one week of making the clay blanks, a week or two of sgraffito decorating the leather-hard pieces, a week to bisque fire, glaze and fire again and finally a week of product photography, product website listings and posting orders) - is when Kate listens to podcasts while she works: “I find it's a great way of picking up some useful small business and marketing tips while my hands are busy.”

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Kate’s light and airy studio, just a few steps away from her home, is where she designs, creates and sends out her ceramics. Her favourite product so far? “My favourite changes depending on what I'm working on at the time,” she says “but I find that my pinch pots always fly out. I get enquiries about them after every sale, especially those with Welsh ladies. I think there's something about a pinch pot, with it's handmade organic form, nestling in the hand, that's hard to resist.”

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As anyone who’s ever enjoyed ceramics knows, it’s not a quick procedure. Instead, it’s all about taking time and enjoying the process. This is something that Kate takes pleasure from, as it allows her to go with the flow - constantly tweaking designs and making changes, when creating each of her unique pinch pots, platters, dishes and bowls. “The best thing about being a maker is the satisfaction of an actual physical product to show for your work at the end of the day,” Kate adds.

It’s been a busy twelve months for Kate, exhibiting at The Good Life Experience last September and selling out during each online shop update - so what’s next for Skratch Ceramics? “I'm finding it hard to keep up with demand at the moment, so I'm looking for ways to increase my productivity,” Kate says. “Next month I'm going to learn to slip-cast, which I'm hoping will prove a useful way to speed up the making process a little. I also want to learn how to digitise my designs so that they can be applied to other products and I'd like to do some more lino printing too! So many ideas and never enough time! My son starts full-time school in September, so I'll have a bit more studio time and I'm so excited to see what the next few months bring!”

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: 

Tactile, bold, folksy. 

What are your making rituals? 

 Lots of half-drunk cups of tea and a good podcast playlist. 

Tea or Coffee? 

Tea - Yorkshire Gold in the morning and Earl Grey in the afternoon. I love the smell and idea of coffee, but I hate the taste. 

Mountains or Sea? 

That’s a tough one! I love both, but if I really had to choose one to live in/by, it would be mountains. 

Night Owl or Early Bird? 

Most definitely night owl! Even though I have young kids who wake me early, I can’t get out of the habit of going to bed late. I often get some of my best work done in the evening. I’m looking forward to the days when my kids’ body clocks are more aligned with mine! 

I wish someone had told me... 

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. During my art foundation course in the 90s, there was a push towards towards conceptualism. I felt I had to be the next Hirst or Emin, or there wasn’t worth in what I was doing. That knocked my confidence and put me off taking up my place on a practical art degree. I wish I’d understood at the time that there was equal value in traditional, decorative arts and crafts, so that I might have found my way to this sooner. 

Visit Kate’s website at www.skratchceramics.com

Meet the Maker: Kathryn Davey

Nature’s palette is beautifully harnessed by textile designer Kathryn Davey with her naturally-dyed linen products, all hand-made in Ireland.

 Photo credit: Jo Murphy

Photo credit: Jo Murphy

‘Sustainability’ and ‘provenance’ are both popular concepts in modern consumerism nowadays, and for the conscious shopper they’ll always be at the forefront of their mind. However, there are few designers and makers that offer truly eco-conscious products with a local history - Kathryn Davey is one of them. Her textiles are grown, produced and hand-dyed in the Republic of Ireland, making the best of nature’s rich bounty.

‘I discovered natural dyes when I was living the Bay area of California, as I was somewhat involved with the west coast’s creative community,’ explains Kathryn. ‘The Dharma Trading Co. was nearby, and I was amazed by the selection of raw materials, organic fabrics and dye supplies - everything you could possibly need.’ With all the supplies at her fingertips and good drying weather year-round, Kathryn began experimenting with indigo dye in her own home, and quickly grasped the technique. ‘A friend of mine opened a studio and workshop, and invited me to teach indigo dyeing techniques, and I soon moved on to other natural dyes,’ she adds.

Difficult personal circumstances encouraged Kathryn to move back to her native Ireland, and she set up home in Dublin. ‘At first, I found the move difficult for my work,’ admits Kathryn. ‘It wasn’t so easy to source wholesale supplies, but in other ways my life had improved immeasurably,’ she continues. ‘My life had simplified, giving me the physical and mental space to grow my business - my perspective had shifted, giving me a renewed drive.’ The past year has proved a learning curve for Kathryn, as her work load increased, and she found suppliers for her bags, table and kitchen linen in Ireland, the UK and USA.

 Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

 Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

‘My work definitely connects me to a sense of place,’ explains Kathryn. ‘When I was living in the USA it was important to use what was local to me as much as possible - although very little fabric was actually produced locally, I used whatever I could.’ Now, Kathryn uses world-famous Irish linen, which is grown and woven in the South of Ireland and dyed by Kathryn in Dublin. ‘To be able to come home and have Irish linen that’s been woven here is something special and I feel like I have no other choice!’ she laughs. The linen is first sewn into bags, aprons and napkins by a local sewing studio before Kathryn commits them to the dye vats that live at her city studio. The range also features organic cotton gauze scarves, and socks knitted from Jacob wool, and Kathryn is introducing a looser, more rustic weave linen this summer. 

 Photo credit: Jo Murphy

Photo credit: Jo Murphy

‘All my products are completely ethical; it’s important that they include no chemical dyes- natural is what feels right to me,’ Kathryn adds. The subtle variations in finish and colour are all part of this philosophy, and Kathryn’s recent workshops in Edinburgh and London (at Kristin Perers’ Flower Factory studio) teaching shibori dyeing prove exactly that. ‘There are so many ways of using natural dyes- shibori produces more abstract and linear designs but the magic is that you never know what something will look like when it comes out of the dye pot,’ she enthuses. ‘The possibilities really are limitless, and one has to surrender to the unpredictability.’

 Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

Photo credit: Kathryn Davey

 Photo credit: Jo Murphy

Photo credit: Jo Murphy

One area of predictability, however, is Kathryn’s daily routine. With three children and her own business, balancing life can often be tricky. ‘I’m trying to bring more balance to life, as I have found I’m always putting myself last,’ Kathryn admits. ‘Since I launched the linens last year I’ve found I’m working every day, so taking some time for myself and doing some exercise is important.’ Kathryn cycles to her city studio every day, once her daughter is at school. ‘My studio is based in an old school building- however it’s rather cold and far from romantic!’ she says. ‘Renting in Dublin is expensive, but I use my studio space for everything,’ adds Kathryn. ‘Once I’ve arrived at the studio, my routine is much the same every day- I check emails, deal with admin and orders and collect the sewn products before getting the dye pots going,’ she adds. Kathryn dyes for the rest of the day, each day producing her products for stores in Dublin, California and London as well her website.

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: Inspiring, Challenging, Addictive

What are your making rituals? I clean the space and organise the workflow, make a cup of tea, get my dyeing clothes on and get to it!

Tea or Coffee? Always and forever, tea.

Mountains or Sea? Both! But if I had to choose one: Sea, water’s good for my soul.

Night Owl or Early Bird? Early Bird (only because I have to get my daughter to school, otherwise I'd probably be a Night Owl)

I wish someone had told me… The story of Benjamin Button when I was a teenager!

Visit Kathryn's website: www.kathryndavey.com

Meet The Maker: Alex Collins

Alex Collins is true creative; trained in the fashion industry, like so many others she became disillusioned with its fast and throwaway nature and turned her talents towards the slow making movement. A self-confessed obsessive knitter, her beautiful project bags feature original hand-printed fabric with consciously-sourced materials. A visit to her Instagram page reveals a fondness for natural colours, minimalist palettes and the joy of making. We caught up with her in early Spring to discover her approach to making and her creative lifestyle.

Alex Collins - Meet the Maker

‘There are so many bag makers doing beautiful work, but I saw a gap in the market for eco conscious project bags that wasn’t being filled at the time. I had been sharing my personal makes on Instagram for a while before starting my business and it was my friends there that gave me the confidence to set up shop,’ begins Alex. ‘I’ve always wanted to do something creative and pursued a career in fashion for a time, working first on the business side for a label and later more creatively as a make-up artist. I had some amazing experiences, but it never felt like quite the right fit for me,’ she admits. It’s probably not that surprising that it was when Alex decided to step back from working in fashion she found that there was no pressure associated with her making, and her creativity bloomed.

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‘My eyes were really opened - through Instagram especially - to how diverse the creative world is and just what is achievable on a small scale,’ Alex continues. ‘For the first time I saw small artisanal makers and crafts people doing things on their own terms and sustaining a living from their work.’ This epiphany led Alex to the conclusion that fashion, and more specifically fast fashion, was less and less appealing - ‘not just because of the environmental impact and waste, but the constant reinvention and chase for something new is exhausting,’ she says. ‘This slower more considered way of working that I was seeing was so much more relatable to me and made me excited to be a part of this new movement.’

Becoming part of this slow and sustainable way of creating appealed to Alex on many levels, and she is aware of the current interest in provenance. ‘I think people are slowly becoming more aware of what goes into making the things we use each day and I love that there is a growing group of people who care about the making process,’ she explains. ‘More excitingly, these people can appreciate the craftsmanship that makes handmade so special to own and use; when I sit down with a coffee in my favourite mug the whole experience is elevated because I know the artist that made it and I can picture the journey it’s been on.’

Of course, at 91 Magazine we’re all heavily invested in this experience and feel proud to be in this group of people. ‘I like to think that’s how people feel when they pull out a project kept in one of my bags,’ Alex continues. ‘That they have something really special that was laboured over with love and that each element was carefully considered.’ This handmade story is what is apparent in Alex’s pieces, from the hand-printed surface pattern, to the individually stamped logos in the lining of each roomy and attractive bag.

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What’s clear when talking to Alex or navigating her website is her clear ethos to produce environmentally-sound products. Her values are instilled in every aspect of her work. ‘I am someone who really cares about the impact we’re having on our planet so it was important to me right from the start that my work wouldn’t impact negatively on the environment,’ explains Alex. ‘I don’t believe you can force people to change their habits but leading by example is really powerful.’ One of the things she loves most about her business is that it has started so many conversations with people about the environment.

‘I often get asked why I’m only using organic cottons and it leads me naturally to share about the harm cotton production is having on the earth and those people who grow it,’ she adds. ‘When you’re using organic cottons, you are limited by what’s available - but I’ve actually found that has been a help rather than a hinderance as I’m more considered in my choices and it helps push my design work having those parameters,’ admits Alex. The limited choice of fabrics in soft, muted colours has led Alex to experiment with natural dyes, as well as designing the surface pattern.

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‘My design process starts out really loosely on paper where I’ll sketch freely with no pressure,’ she explains. ‘I’m really drawn to using botanical motifs in my work so I’ll often snap pictures of plants when I’m out and about to reference later and I use Pinterest to search for botanical inspiration.’ Like many others, Alex can find the blank page of a sketch book intimidating so she then likes to use the images she’s collected as a jumping off point to see where it takes her. ‘I’ll often draw the same thing over and over until I almost don’t need to look at the page - I find more interesting abstract shapes often come from these fast, loose sketches compared to those times when I’m really trying to capture something as I see it.’

For a repeat pattern Alex will then pull out some of her favourite motifs and start playing around with the layout using a pencil and a square of tracing paper. ‘I could design my repeats on the computer, but I like to use the traditional method of cutting and repositioning my drawings on paper to create a repeat design when I’m just starting to form my ideas,’ she says. ‘Once I’ve got an idea of how I want the pattern to look I’ll then clean up my drawings and transfer those initial sketches to the computer and print out my repeat pattern at different scales and mock up the bags to see what I like best before sending the final pattern to a screen maker who transfers my designs so I can screen print my drawings onto fabric.’

Her ideas for the bags, pouches and tool wraps come directly from her experience as a maker; Alex is a beautiful knitter and keen sewist and so understands the limitations of what’s available for other makers. ‘I knit and sew for fun just like my customers do so new product ideas will usually stem from me needing something that’s missing from the collection,’ she says. ‘I’ll have a clear idea of the function the product will have, and I’ll develop the idea from there.’ Once Alex has the basic shape she wants, she’ll carefully consider things such as the number of pieces that can be cut from a single print or metre of fabric to minimise waste and then makes a few prototypes to get the final piece just right.

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Working from her London flat, Alex is the epitome of an independent business owner, and she admits that she has found this enormously liberating. ‘I feel very lucky that I’ve created a life and a business where I get to dictate what’s on the agenda each day and to a certain extent the pace at which I work,’ she smiles. Everyday can look totally different, as many small business owners and artists will understand, and that brings joy to Alex each day. ‘I batch tasks and try to dive straight into my work first thing in the morning before I’ve had time to procrastinate and daydream the day away!’ she explains. ‘I check if any international orders have come in overnight and I set my three priorities for the day - I find picking three things to work on for the day is brilliant for keeping my focus,’ Alex adds. ‘Throughout the week I will be printing and dying fabric, sewing for the shop, working on new ideas and product development, Instagramming, keeping on top of my accounts and doing my freelance work for The Fibre Co.’ she continues.

The Fibre Co. is an independent yarn producer and dyer based in the UK, and Alex works on the promotional side of the business. ‘I work alone which suits me just fine, but I do love listening to podcasts which keep me company,’ she says. ‘My desk looks out over the garden and I’m easily distracted by the sweet little birds just outside my window; I’d love to find a way of incorporating these little feathery friends into my work- perhaps you’ll see a bird print in the future!’

Being a one-woman show does of course have its own challenges, which anyone who works from home will no doubt identify with. And with the rise of social media as an important business tool, it can be hard to switch off. ‘I find it impossible to separate myself from my “brand” or online identity,’ Alex says. ‘Perhaps you’re seeing a more curated version of myself through Instagram and my business, but it’s still me - I’d hate for there to be a disconnect when people meet me offline and I think it’s a positive that people are reminded there is a human behind the business.’ This personal touch is evident even throughout Alex’s self-confessed curated content. But her communications and inviting website carefully convey Alex’s warm nature and love for making. ‘I am quite a private person, so I find it hard to share on social media sometimes but it’s something I enjoy and I’ve found the Instagram community to be so supportive and engaged,’ Alex explains. ‘There are some people I follow who are doing some really exciting things with video which I would like to experiment with more, I’d love to share more of my process with my customers and bring them along on this journey.’

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As her business grows, Alex is working on new prints and designs inspired by the yarn-lovers around her. ‘This Spring I’m collaborating with Garthenor, who source, produce and sell certified organic wool products from their small family farm in west Wales,’ she says. The bags were of course hugely popular when Garthenor took them to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival earlier this month. ‘I have new prints coming to the store this Spring and I’m working on a personal project that I think is going to bring some new energy to my work,’ continues Alex. And to stretch her creative muscles, Alex is taking part in The 100 Days Project. ‘Starting 3rd April I’ll be experimenting for 100 days drawing, painting, block printing, screen printing and who knows what else on fabric,’ she ventures. ‘It’s easy to get stuck in your practise when you sell what you make so I’m excited to see where this project takes me creatively.’


QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: Functional, Timeless, Scandi

What are your making rituals?  A new knitting project always starts with hand winding my ball of yarn which feels like a ritual of sorts. It’s such a meditative process, I’d hate to switch to doing it by machine.

Tea or Coffee? Apple tea is a favourite but if I was pushed to choose I’d have to say coffee. Taking five minutes out with a really good coffee feels like an indulgent treat in the middle of a busy day and I wouldn't want to give that up.

Mountains or Sea? It has to be sea. I feel all the feeling when I’m near the ocean, its so vast.

Night Owl or Early Bird? Early bird...not too early mind you!

I wish someone had told me... It’s never a good idea to leave something until the last minute. Actually, I'm pretty sure I was told this all the time growing up, but it’s taken me a long time to learn that lesson for myself.

www.alexcollinsdesigns.com

Meet the Maker: Sian Elin

This month we talk to designer and illustrator Sian Elin, about her eponymous homeware brand. 

Our conversation with designer and illustrator Sian Elin starts with the creative process behind her vibrant designs - does she have any particular necessities to get the ideas flowing? ‘Boring music is pretty key,’ she laughs, 'I like to have music on while I'm designing, it helps me get into the flow, but it can't be anything too engaging or interesting - I'm very easily distracted!’

Sian recently moved from Cardiff to Bristol, which meant leaving behind her studio space and switching to working from home. Was that a difficult decision to make? 'It wasn't actually that tough, it seems counter-intuitive - a lot of creatives like to have a space away from home in which to work - but I actually prefer working from home,’ she says, ‘it’s more relaxing, I don't have to worry about extra overheads and I mix it up with lecturing work [Sian is visiting lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University], or attending trade fairs, so I don’t get too isolated.’’

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Having launched her eponymous brand in 2012 - Sian is something of a veteran when it comes to running her own creative business, what has she learnt over the last six years? ‘That starting your own business is never straightforward,’ she says, ‘it’s been brilliant but also a pretty intense few years; the entire process has been full of ups and downs.’

Sian Elin is on a definite ‘up’, with her designs stocked by Fenwicks, Heals and Oliver Bonas, alongside her own online shop. ‘It’s fantastic seeing my work in those stores,’ she says, ‘my friends message me if they spot one of my designs somewhere - it still feels a bit unreal.’

Art and design have always played a large part in Sian’s life - following her Art Foundation year she went on to study Graphic Design at the University of Reading. ‘To be honest, illustration was my first love,’ she says ‘but I thought it was sensible to study something more vocational - to ensure I could get a job at the end of it.’

After graduation, Sian moved into book design working for Oxford University Press and Penguin - and developed a strong understanding of brand, ‘My main aim with Sian Elin was to work creatively on something I loved, but I also wanted to create a thought-through, cohesive brand - and to create a clear design identity.’

Her bold, Scandi designs are unmistakable, so does she feel she’s achieved the cohesion she was aiming for? ‘I’d like to think so… I’ve worked hard to try and create a unique style, and a range of designs which sit well together.’ Her publishing work involved visiting trade fairs, like New Design, in hunt for new illustrators to commission. ‘Increasingly, I’d find myself at trade fairs speaking to designers and illustrators and thinking I’d love to be doing what they’re doing - so I started to build up my own portfolio on the side.’

In 2012 Sian and her partner moved to Israel for six months, which gave her space and time to build her first collection, ‘East Meets West’ inspired by her travels to India, the Middle East and South America. ‘I spent a lot of my time in Israel designing, pulling together the first collection, getting it photographed and ready for launch.’

On return to the UK Sian took the collection to Tent. ‘I thought it was best place to start as a new designer - it’s a great, creative event and it felt more manageable than some of the larger, more corporate fairs.’ Despite her design background, it was something of a nerve-wracking experience ‘I definitely had a bad case of impostor syndrome when it came to launching Sian Elin,’ she says, ‘I was happy with the collection but also hung up on my lack of experience in textiles - it made me worry that I might not have the right background to go it alone.’

Sian’s worries were misplaced, however -  the feedback was positive, and, more significantly, her designs received a lot of positive press attention. ‘The press coverage was unexpected and amazing in terms of what it did to help the business - it was a real kickstart to the whole thing.’

Sian’s design process can take months from initial idea to end product. She begins by collating ideas on a board, including an overview of trends, ‘It’s important to have a sense of trend,’ she explains, ‘and if I can find a way of interpreting that so it fits with my aesthetic then that’s great, but I don’t subscribe to rigidly following trends.’

Next, she starts sketching out ideas; ‘I take my time; working out ways of creating something unique but with a Scandi, bold graphic feel. I enjoy creating work that looks bold from afar, but on closer inspection is full of detail and texture.’  Sian’s hand draws or hand paints her design, then does work on the colour digitally. A range of samples are made - Sian works with manufacturers in the north of England -  then they are reviewed and adjusted until Sian is happy with the end result.  

Sian works on two collections a year, S/S and A/W - how easy is it to get into a good workflow? ‘I can definitely procrastinate with the best of them,’ she laughs, ‘I find that the administrative side of the business can really take over, so I can spend days working on the business and not doing much design.’

‘A big lesson for me over last few years is that I can’t fit design work around everything else - I need headspace before I can do the creative stuff. I feel that if you’re working up something new you need to give it uninterrupted time, so you can get into the flow and allow the space for ideas to develop.’

What’s next for the brand? ‘I’m currently working on the A/W 2018 collection - which will be quite different to what I’ve done before, in terms of both design and the product range. I’m also hoping to get into licensing this year - it seems the natural next step for the business.’

Does she have any advice for designers thinking of launching their own brand? ‘On a practical level - getting your manufacturers and suppliers right can be a long process - expect it to take a while. You also have to get used to the pressure of carrying the business largely on your own.

‘Know that mistakes are inevitable - but you’ll learn from them. Remember it’s important not to beat yourself up and make sure you enjoy the process. It is fantastic to have the creative freedom to do what you love and create work you’re really proud of.’

Quickfire Questions

Describe your work in three words: Scandi. Colourful. Graphic

What are your making rituals? Cup of tea, sparkling water, chilled music, heating on!

Tea or Coffee? Lots of tea and one 'coffee shop' coffee

Mountains or Sea? Both! Preferably at the same time...

Night Owl or Early Bird? Somewhere in-between?!

I wish someone had told me... That working the hardest doesn't always get you the results... it's important to take steps back along the way and assess where you are in order to move forward in the most efficient way.

www.sianelin.com


 

Meet the Maker: ProjektiTyyny

Nora Nilsson's love of the Scandinavian aesthetic and Indian design has led her to create ProjektiTynny, a beautifully eclectic range of home textiles.

Nora Nilsson’s decision to start ProjektiTyyny began quietly; with an evening at home, sewing. ‘I was just playing around with some fabric and decided to make a cushion,’ she says ‘it was an experiment really, but I was pleased with end result so I posted it on Instagram and didn’t think much more about it.’ The response from her followers was overwhelmingly positive. ‘It was amazing to see all these lovely comments and I thought, hang on, maybe I could do something with this.’

A couple of years later ProjektiTyyny was born - the name is a nod to her Finnish roots, ‘I’m from Finland,’ Nora explains ‘and wanted a Finnish name for my brand, which was simple and self-explanatory so Projekti (project) and Tyyny (cushion) seemed perfect!’

Setting up her own brand was not a new experience for Nora; shortly after graduating from university with a degree in art she launched an underwear brand - her first foray into design and running a business. ‘I really enjoyed having my own brand, and I was selling at some high end stores like Selfridges and Fenwicks but I was offered an amazing opportunity to join the buying office of a major international retailer, so accepted the position and moved into fashion buying.’ We'd also just recently had our first baby so it seemed like a ‘safer’ option.

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Nora’s time in buying meant working closely with designers and textiles, ‘I tended to buy woven rather than knitted materials - it’s my real forte! My years as a buyer means I really understand the potential of woven cloth and what can be achieved - it’s been fundamental to my design work.’

Buying also involved frequent trips to the Far East and India. ‘Those trips were a real turning point. They gave me the opportunity to see some amazing materials, techniques and the latest developments in fabric weaving.’ She discovered a passion for the aesthetic of Indian textiles in particular. ‘I always brought back treasure from India - and I always knew they’d feature in my home in one shape or form.’

Initially, Nora ran ProjektiTyyny alongside her job in buying. Working full time, whilst trying to build the business proved frustrating; ‘My time was so limited, I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to ProjektiTyyny and that was quickly becoming my priority.’ So, in early 2017 Nora left work for maternity leave - and a decision was made. ‘I had to choose to either go full steam ahead with Tyyny,' she explains, 'or give up and focus on buying. I decided to make the jump and leave my job. It felt risky, but exciting at the same time!’

The risk paid off: ProjektiTyyny has gone from strength to strength and has led to a change of lifestyle with a move from London to West Dorset. ‘We’re now living in the most beautiful countryside,' Nora says, 'I’ve not looked back - I craved a slower, simpler life after 20 years in London.’ The move has also given Nora the opportunity to rent a workspace, five minutes drive from her house. ‘It’s great to finally have somewhere just for the business so I don’t have to burden our home with all the clutter a growing business brings along!’

Nora structures her day around her three children - starting after dropping her eldest two at school, and working in ‘short bursts of productivity’ around Lumi, her youngest child. Work stops once the children are home from school and starts up again once the children are in bed. ‘I think once Lumi starts playschool and I have more solid time in the day, I’ll have a more structured approach,' she says, 'but for now, once she’s napping I work on whatever is next in line whether it’s working on a new design, setting up a new marketing campaign or working on accounts.’

Her design process is ‘layered’ and can be lengthy ‘it can take weeks or months to get from an initial idea to a proto of a product,’ she explains. ‘I collate ideas in a scrapbook, which percolate for a bit before I start designing. I’m inspired by lots of things - nature, people, architecture - I’m always ‘on’ when it comes to finding inspiration. Once I have a design I’m happy with, I create a colour palette - I buy swatches of materials and wool and play around until it’s perfect.’

Nora often weaves a miniature version of her design on a small hand loom to get an idea of what the finished sample will look like. Next, in Nora’s words, comes the hardest part - explaining the design to her maker in India. ‘It often takes a few protos until we get to the point where I’m happy with the product. We’ve worked together for a few years now, but it can be tricky to communicate my vision over email using images and drawings. The next thing on my list is to spend some time in India so we can do all the development face to face.’

Nora’s designs bring together a Scandinavian aesthetic and Indian design - was this blend of styles a deliberate decision? ‘Not really, I didn’t set out to do it but it seemed to happen naturally. I’m Finnish, so the Scandinavian simplistic aesthetic is solidly rooted in me. I grew up in a world of monochrome palettes and simplistic shapes.’

The opposite is true of the intricacies of Indian design… ‘I know! I love simplicity but yet I love so much about Indian weaving techniques. I try and take the elements I love most from both cultures and combine them into something which I’d like to have in my home. People say they love the result - so it seems to work!’

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Does she ever get creatively blocked? ‘I do, especially if I am trying to design to a specific deadline. I have learnt the best way to deal with it is to keep the process fluid, and not to stop and start. It helps to not worry about seasons or trends - it’s less limiting - and good design is always timeless.’

What advice would she give an aspiring designer? ‘Always follow your heart and never compromise on your designs. It never works. Know that you’ll have long, hard days but remember once you get it right you’ll reap the rewards - working for yourself means the sky is the limit, you are in complete control,’ she says. ‘And it’s hugely satisfying to be doing something every day that you absolutely love.’

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Quickfire Questions

Describe your work in three words: Luxury home textiles  

What are your making rituals? None for the moment - a little baby means there's no time for rituals!

Tea or Coffee? Tea in the morning and coffee in the afternoon!

Mountains or Sea? Oh this is tricky... I think it would have to be mountains

Night Owl or Early Bird? Early bird definitely

I wish someone had told me… to always have a backup plan and to keep all my receipts in order!

www.projektityyny.com