MEET THE MAKER

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

Meet the Maker: STALF

Paris Hodson’s journey through fashion has led her to creating her own sustainable brand, STALF, embracing gentle style and slow fashion with a clean and modern aesthetic.

When Paris Hodson studied fashion at university, she was happily ensconced in the world of ‘frivolous’, high-street fashion. However, within a few years, Paris became disillusioned with the ethics of fast-fashion and ‘fluff’ of the London working environment, and began to dream of owning her own label. Paris moved home to Lincolnshire, and began by creating her label, STALF, which started life as a high fashion boutique-style clothing line.

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Stalf Studio Lincolnshire

Some time later, Paris split from her business partner and in 2015 struck out on her own, designing, drafting, making and selling garments herself from her little pink studio. ‘I wanted to create clothing that is thought-about, and serves the wearer, and in many ways this is the antithesis of fast fashion,’ explains Paris. Even the name STALF - a contraction of her grandparents Stella and Alf’s names - pays homage to this concept. ‘My grandparents were a generation that treasured what they bought, and they bought far less,’ she adds. ‘In the post-war generation people had to look after their clothes - they weren’t cheap and were far better quality.’

The key words Paris uses throughout our conversation are ‘easy-wear’, ‘simple’ and ‘effortless.’ Comfortable, but never scruffy, the clothes would be equally suitable for a school run, a business lunch or a creative retreat. The simple, oversized shapes and calming palette help to create a capsule wardrobe, and Paris tends to change very little season-to-season. ‘We have a few core garments that help build the STALF look,’ says Paris. ‘The jumpsuit, cocoon trousers and linen tees are ever popular, and we concentrate on the ethics and quality of the clothing instead.’

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The tactile cottons, linens and silks are supplied by mostly British and Irish manufacturers, and Paris’s close relationship with her suppliers means she can always source the best quality fabrics, and even collaborate on exclusive prints and colours. ‘When I’m designing the collections I am in the mindset of the STALF woman,’ Paris describes. ‘I’m not interested in high street trends, instead I think about how I feel in the clothes, and how the clothes fit together so that the thought process of dressing oneself is taken away.’

The creation of the clothing itself all takes place at the STALF studio, a former butcher’s in Caistor, Lincolnshire. The shop front now serves as the workshop, with a small team of six seamstresses cutting and making the clothes to order every day. ‘With six people in the workshop it’s a really bustling workplace,’ smiles Paris. ‘Each piece is cut and made to order, so you can imagine how much it has grown from just me to having six people in the studio each day.’ The selling platform is a newly-refreshed website, and reflects the growing business. ‘Everything happens here at the studio, from me sketching the garment on a scrap of paper, to drafting and cutting the pattern, an experienced seamstress making the garment to it being packaged and posted internationally,’ Paris adds. ‘This is what makes us so special - it’s hard to find the skills to create this small-scale production here in the UK, and it could be a challenge in the future to find more as the business grows.’

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However, Paris’s commitment to the core ethics of the business means that she has no plans to outsource the work. In fact, work is well underway to expand the studio across the rest of the former butcher’s site. ‘We’re hoping to move the workshop into the former abattoir and use the shop front space as an open studio with samples on display - this way customers can come in, try the clothing on and advise on what they want to see in their next collections.’ As well as preparing for her first baby’s arrival, Paris has recently taken STALF to Edinburgh with a pop-up shop. ‘Meeting and having conversations with the customers was so, so wonderful,’ laughs Paris. ‘It was great to put customer’s names to faces, and really understand how our customers wear our clothes and how they interact with their daily wardrobes.’ Paris admits that it can take many months for a new idea to take form, but the renovation of the studio and her home, as well as the website, is enough to keep her inspired while she takes a step back for motherhood. ‘Ultimately, STALF is about provenance,’ she concludes. ‘I like to think it’s bigger than fashion, it’s simply connecting to the process of getting dressed.’

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Stalf - Indie fashion label

Quickfire Questions...

Describe your work in three words: Effortless, simple, loved

What are your making rituals? The ideas for a new collection will sit in my head for a long time before they’re ever committed to paper. After that, a really good pen is all I need to sketch the visuals before drafting. So, time is my making ritual.

Tea or Coffee? Coffee!

Mountains or Sea? Mountains, I really don’t like water much!

Night Owl or Early Bird? Early bird - mornings are important to take time for oneself.

I wish someone had told me... To have more confidence in myself and my work.

Photography: STALF Studio

www.stalf.co.uk

Meet the Maker: Jacqueline Colley

We talk illustration, house plants and scrapbooking with Illustrator and Pattern Designer Jacqueline Colley.

Our conversation with Jacqueline Colley starts on the subject of job titles, specifically the challenge of 'owning' one. ‘It's funny but I struggled for ages with calling myself an illustrator,’ Jacqueline says. ‘It’s only really recently that I’ve started to feel really confident and happy about using it as my job title.'

Considering a recent illustration project for high street fashion brand Oasis and a Best Illustrator Award from Mollie Makes Magazine, her reluctance to describe herself as an illustrator seems surprising - why the reticence?

‘I think it stems from choosing Graphic Design as my degree. I chose it because I thought it was the most vocational option. But I responded to all the briefs with illustration - essentially I was doing illustration from day one, even though I was technically studying graphic design. So, for a while I didn’t feel justified using the term.’

‘Then, earlier this year I won Best Illustrator at the Mollie Makes Awards, which was awesome and a massive confidence boost - I thought, right I'm definitely going to own that job title now!’

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Jacqueline’s focus on illustration meant finding a job was initially difficult. ‘After I graduated I found myself going for graphic design jobs which I had little chance of getting because I’d sort of sidestepped the foundations of graphic design like typography and layout to concentrate on my drawing. It was a tough six months.’

Her luck changed when a friend, who was on traineeship at H&M, showed Jacqueline’s work to her boss, who loved it and took her on. There followed a year and a half working in H&M's textile design department, specialising in textile design for the kids range, working in both London and Stockholm.

A couple of years later, and a job at Oasis saw the beginning of the development of her distinctive style. ‘We were so lucky to have access to the Design Library - going there, and working from a such a range of design and pattern was an amazing education and really inspiring.’

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Time spent at the Design Library helped Jacqueline to begin to shape her own style, which proved to be a ‘massively evolutionary process’.

‘My own personal style took a while to develop,’ she continues. ‘It only started to crystallise after a trip to the Jardin Majorelle in Morocco. I was so inspired by the colours, the plants and foliage - I basically filled an entire sketchbook in one visit. It sort of helped me set the tone for my work.’

One of those sketches of a cactus and palm leaf became one of her first designs and started a distinctive collection of work, which celebrates botanicals, plants and the natural world.

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Setting up as a freelancer three years ago, Jacqueline now works from her home studio. ‘I’m slightly concerned I’m becoming a bit of a hermit,’ she laughs, ‘but I love working alone - I like the freedom to play around with ideas without feeling self-conscious.’

What does a typical day look like? ‘I definitely have work rituals,’ she says. ‘I always have to get ‘properly’ dressed - like I’m heading into the office. Once I’m ready I like to grind my own coffee, so I’ll do that. Once I’m caffeinated I’m ready to focus,’ she laughs, ‘I do the difficult stuff I don’t like - admin, invoices etc in the morning and more creative work in the afternoon. I love a podcast while I’m creating - I enjoy having someone talk at me.’

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Each project - large or small - starts with a digital moodboard. ‘I’ll put images on there, scan in stuff from my scrapbooks and refer back to it constantly for inspiration. I always have it open on the computer when I’m working - that’s something of a ritual as well!’  

Jacqueline’s time is divided between her own design work and client commissions. She continues to work on projects for Oasis - the most recent a perfect fit for her aesthetic - a collaboration between the company and London Zoo. ‘It was a brilliant project to work on. I got to spend a couple of days at the Zoo taking photographs and having access to their archive. It’s always exciting to see my work ‘walking around’ too - I recently spotted someone on a train platform wearing a one of my designs for Oasis. That was a very special moment - I was dying to say something but managed to keep quiet - I didn’t want to freak her out!’

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The range of her work suggests someone for whom ideas just flow - does inspiration come easily? No - I definitely get blocked, but I’ve tried to develop ways around that. If I get stuck I go to my collection of collage scrapbooks. I’ve always collected paper ephemera and have five or six sketchbooks which I’ve filled over time, so they represent different stages of my life and contain a really broad range of designs and styles.'

‘In a way, I've created my own reference books. I’ll get a few of them out and just scan in anything which catches my eye, and start to build a mood board from that. The end design might be completely unrelated to that, but it’s a great way to just try and get the process going.’

Botanicals feature heavily in her work - and are also having something of a moment in interior styling - how much does she follow trends? ‘It’s part of the job to be aware of trends. I try not to be influenced - chasing trends is a quick way to lose your own particular style. Plants have always featured in my work, even before they became a big trend - so I like to think I got in slightly ahead of the wave!’

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Jacqueline has just finished working on a limited edition screenprint for The Wallace Collection - due to go on sale in November. Is building up the collaboration side of her work a priority? ‘It’s always good to try and grow the number of clients, but I also want to do more screenprinting and to expand my own collection of illustrations and products.’

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Three years into life as a freelance illustrator, what are the best and most challenging parts of the work? ‘Managing the business side has been hard. Somehow you have to find a way to pay the bills, but always keep your own visual voice clear. But it’s worth it for the best bit; the freedom and time to create work I’m proud of. ’

Quickfire Questions...

Describe your work in three words: Maximalist, Colourful and Explorable

What are your making rituals? Lots of research and a mood board is essential

Tea or Coffee? Coffee!

Mountains or Sea? Seaside as I grew up on a tiny island

Night Owl or Early Bird? Neither, I love to sleep but if I had to choose early bird!

I wish someone had told me… That creative jobs are many and varied, especially in the UK, don't be scared of going to art school!

www.jacquelinecolley.co.uk
 

Photography: Jacqueline Colley

Meet the Maker: Kathy Hutton

This month we chat to artist and printmaker Kathy Hutton about the delights of her 'inky world'

‘It was a big moment,’ laughs artist Kathy Hutton, describing her first experience of printmaking, at the ripe old age of 9. ‘I’d gone with my family to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and we took part in a family screen-printing workshop. I clearly remember the magic of seeing my own image beneath the screen. That feeling of sheer wonder has stayed with me ever since.’

Kathy’s path to printmaking was set, and she went on to study Art at school and to take a degree in Printed Textiles at Dundee University. On graduation Kathy won the prestigious Habitat UK New Designers Award, which led to design placements with big industry names. ‘I mainly worked as a surface pattern designer, creating designs that would be reproduced on all sorts of products, from bed linen to ceramics and paper.’

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Freelance life was challenging however, ‘I was so young and really lacking in self-confidence, and so I found freelancing very difficult,' she says. 'In the end I took a job in buying and product development for homewares, and that was that for a long while. I didn’t print at all during that time, but it was always on my mind, and I knew one day I would come back to it.’

That day came after a move from London to Wiltshire, starting a family, and signing up for an evening class in printmaking at a local college. ‘It gave me the confidence and freedom to start creating prints again. The move to our current house - which had space for a studio - is when I seriously started thinking about building up a small business.’

The small business has gone from strength to strength, with Kathy’s delicate, minimalist work gaining lots of fans. In addition to running her Etsy shop and working on specific commissions, Kathy also runs workshops in printmaking. How does she find being her own boss? ‘It can be difficult,' she says, 'the reality of working for yourself involves being the designer, creator, maker, admin, marketing and finance person all rolled into one. That takes discipline! At times I feel like it’s a constant juggle. Having said that, it’s wonderful to be able to follow my inspiration in whatever direction it wants to take me in.’

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Do ideas and inspiration come easily? ‘I’m not sure about easily,’ Kathy laughs, ‘they certainly seem to wait until I’m in the middle of a big project, and then I’ll have too many, right at the point when I’m too busy. The result being many, scribbled in and over-filled notebooks.’

This scribbling away in notebooks takes place in Kathy’s home studio, a light filled space, tucked away in a corner of her home. ‘My children are still young so it’s perfect – because it has access to the house I can nip in to do something quickly, or they can pop in and see me. I think even if it was just down the garden I wouldn’t be able to use it as much. I love spending time in here, each of the three windows overlook the garden and fields beyond, so there’s inspiration every time I look out of the window.’

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Pride of place in the studio is a large, antique table which Kathy salvaged from the shed in the garden, which, with the addition of a sheet of glass on top, is perfect for rolling out large areas of ink for Kathy’s mono-print work. Surprisingly, Kathy doesn’t own any professional printing presses;  ‘It works for me. I do love to be able to show anyone who comes to my studio that you can do so much with printmaking on a shoestring.’

Kathy uses a range of techniques to create her work, but mono-printing is a firm favourite. ‘The process of mono-printing is completely magical every single time. It’s unlike a lot of printing processes in that it’s a direct and immediate way of printing so I feel very connected as I’m creating the print,' she explains. 'Using nothing more than a roller to lay down the ink surface and a pencil to draw with, I love the unique image that can be created. Even after years of working with this technique, it’s not possible to completely control it so there’s always that moment of anticipation as you lift up the print, it gets me every time.

With young children at home, Kathy currently works on her printmaking for two days a week, which can be tricky, ‘It’s difficult trying to fit it all in,' she says, 'a lot of my work is done in time grabbed during naps or in the evening. I do find it frustrating at times, but know I’ll get more time in a few years when she’s at school, so it’s a waiting game really.’ She makes most of the daylight hours for her creative work, catching up with admin in the evenings.

The variety of Kathy’s work means time on each can vary hugely. ‘A multi-layered stacking bowl print can take many days to complete from its initial sketch,' she says, 'It takes time to create the screens and slowly layer up each colour allowing inks to fully dry between each. Whereas a simpler print can take just a couple of hours to complete.’

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Botanicals and nature feature heavily in Kathy’s calm and delicate work, it’s safe to assume nature is a source of inspiration? ‘Being outside is almost always where my inspiration will come from. Often it may be something that I’ve passed by and each day and thought nothing of it, then one day when the timings right, I’ll just see it in a new light. I find inspiration in nature-writing too, I love the descriptive and poetic imagery of Kathleen Jamie, John Lister-Kaye and John Lewis-Stempel.’ 

Kathy recently set herself a challenge of creating 100 different botanical prints, creating and sharing one a day - a treat for her Instagram followers, but has it been a useful project for her? ‘When I started I was worried I would run out of options really quickly, but it was the opposite – lots of ideas and not enough time to get them all down on to paper. I’ve relaxed the rules slightly, I’m no longer forcing myself to do one a day, but giving myself a bit more space to create the work and the ideas simmer away for a bit.’

Next up, Kathy it taking part in the Peacock Arts Trail a week long open studio event. ‘It’s really exciting, I love having an open studio, I always have some form of printing set up for people to try for themselves, it’s a great way to introduce people to my inky world!’

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She is also in increasing demand as a tutor – does she enjoy teaching others? ‘Going back to that magical first time that I lifted the screen and I saw my own image printed is something that I relive each and every time I make a print.  To be able to share that magic with other people is something I relish.’

‘I’m always closely watching the faces of my students as they lift up the screen or pull back the paper. The sheer delight and wonder is clear to see, and that’s the thing about printmaking – the delight it produces – is simply priceless.’

Quickfire Questions

Describe your work in three words: 

Simple, minimal & characterful.

What are your making rituals?

Fresh cup of tea in hand, radio on (usually tuned to Radio 5), sharpen pencils…

Tea or Coffee? 

Always tea, strong with a dash of milk.

Mountains or Sea? 

That’s a tricky one, I love both. There’s a sense of freedom, calmness and adventure in both environments, being surrounded by nature.

Night Owl or Early Bird? 

I’m an early bird, I love to be in my studio listening to the birds foraging for their breakfast.

I wish someone had told me...

Keep sharing your work. Let others see it, put it out into the world.

www.kathyhutton.com

Meet the Maker: Harriet Elkerton

This month, Harriet Elkerton tells of her creative path to ceramics and the pros and cons of running your own business.

London based ceramicist Harriet Elkerton makes beautifully simple, contemporary, yet timeless ceramics by hand in her garden studio. They are slip-cast and glazed only on the inside, creating a tactile and visual juxtaposition between the raw edges and the glossy, smooth interiors. “High-fired porcelain vitrifies; you get a beautiful, matte, almost self-glazed surface. I exploit this by only glazing the interiors” elaborates Harriet.

The pieces are made using paper models, as Harriet explains “I work through ideas in paper, in maquettes, seeing the forms in three dimensions, and how the pieces work together as a collection. The maquettes are the models for the moulds.” She then creates the pieces in white porcelain, cleverly incorporating natural materials, such as leather, to add further texture, function and beauty to the pieces, as illustrated in the hanging pot with the butter-soft grey leather strap below.

Harriet’s earliest memory of using clay was in primary school. “I made a coil pot with a lid, it was a (horrendous) riot of colour. I don’t think it was even fired and the ‘glaze’ was probably poster paint.” she recalls in amusement. However, it was only later whilst on her foundation course that Harriet developed a passion for working with clay, “I was on a textiles pathway but was using every non-traditional textile material going: wire and wax, and then clay. I began by making simple press moulds. I loved the ability to translate forms” she explains.

Her career has evolved along a creative path, beginning at school studying A-Level Art and Textiles, followed by a Foundation Studies course in Art, Design and Media at Buckinghamshire New University. This led to a degree in Design Crafts at De Montfort University, which Harriet describes as: “An Applied Arts course, on which I learnt about almost every material: metal, wood, glass, plastic, paper, textiles, ceramics. Over the three years I began to specialise in ceramics, but still incorporating other materials.”

Harriet started her eponymous business in 2014 producing her work at home in a converted space. “I have a studio. It is not necessarily a thing of beauty, but it is practical. My talented uncle made me some custom benches and I have my own kiln. I am very lucky to have the creative space” she shares.

Starting a small creative business brings both rewards and challenges, for example working alone can be isolating and Harriet confesses “The transition from studios and workshops at University, filled with creatives to spark off and get input and encouragement, to working for the majority of my time, on my own, without being surrounded by all the creative energy, was rather a challenge to adjust to.”

However, there are also huge positives to taking the plunge and for Harriet the most rewarding element has been “getting to make work I believe is beautiful, which people buy and put on display in their house or gift to a friend or family. It’s a simple concept but it means so much, that people will part with their hard-earned money because they consider the work beautiful and want to see it every day.”

To see more of Harriet’s work and find stockists, visit her website: www.harriet-elkerton.weebly.com. You can also find Harriet on Instagram: @harrietelkerton

Meet the Maker: Karolin Schnoor

This month we meet illustrator Karolin Schnoor, creator of two beautiful prints designed exclusively for 91 Magazine (lucky us!)

First of all, can you tell us what was the inspiration behind the 91 Magazine prints?

We wanted to make something light and bright for spring and I really liked the idea of a simple line drawing as I normally rely so much on block colour. It's hard to really see in the photos but the paper has a beautiful flecked texture and the ink has been mixed with metallic powder so the images are designed to work as just one element in a combination of effects. I'm really pleased with how they came out!

What was your path to becoming an illustrator? 

I never really planned to become an illustrator! To be honest, my main motivation in applying to art school was a determination to meet interesting people! I studied at the London College of Printing and actually started freelancing while at uni. My very first job after I graduated was copying vintage t-shirt designs for a clothing label but luckily I could soon just freelance full time and haven't looked back since. I prefer being my own boss.

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What’s your workspace like? Do you work from home or studio?

I've tried both and I prefer working from home - I'm a definite homebody. It requires a lot of self discipline but I find it useful that when I get stuck with work, I can do something unrelated like washing the dishes! This can really help get me unstuck and I'm doing something useful at the same time. I really love the freedom that home working brings.

Talk us through your creative process - what do you need to help you work productively?

My process is the same for each project, a pencil sketch followed by a colour sketch on my tablet and once approved I do a line drawing by hand and then colour that in Photoshop. Deadlines can help productivity! Some editorial commissions need to be turned around within 24 hours. Other work, like the Seasonal Series, develop over a series of weeks. I enjoy having a bit more time, and being able to revisit things until I get them just right. It's great to be able to come back to something after not having looked at it all day, it helps to adjust things with a fresh eye.

Podcasts are pretty essential. I always work with one on as I need something to keep me entertained and music makes me space out. Sometimes when I look at an illustration I'll suddenly have a strong memory of the podcast I was listening to when I drew it! 

You have a lovely bold aesthetic – how did you find your style?

My work used to be much more timid; I rarely used colour in uni until a tutor at college specifically asked me to. I thought he was wrong of course (because when you are 18 you think you know everything!) but I am grateful he started me down that path because colour is now my favourite tool.

Your work often has a strong female presence at its centre - is celebrating womanhood important to you?

That's so nice to hear! I absolutely consider myself a feminist and am very much interested in depicting women in a celebratory fashion. There is no shortage of men being depicted or images of women created for the male gaze so I'm hoping that drawing women for women is a small attempt at creating balance.

Who or what influences and inspires you? 

When I was studying I tried really hard to avoid looking at other people's work - I found it quite intimidating and, at times, a bit paralysing. The amount of work which is now accessible online feels overwhelming to me, so I much prefer to look back in time at things that really remain in my memory. I grew up on German children's books and folklore illustrations for instance, and both have influenced me. I'm also a fan of bold Scandinavian brands such as Marimekko.

I often find that switching styles helps inspire me. For example, if I'm doing a lot of big bold colour work I like to do a 'palette cleanser' and do a simple line drawing or a black and white piece. Since most of my work is commercial, I'm often restricted to a brief and I almost prefer the limits of a specific job to having too much freedom.

Do you ever get ‘block’ and if so, do you have any techniques for getting over it?

Of course I do! It initially stopped me cold but when you have a deadline you have to push through it and that taught me that a block isn't real. I have days where work is easy and days where work is hard but you can get it done either way and that's been a helpful realisation.

Sometimes just telling yourself that this job doesn't have to be the best thing ever can help. If it's really bad I just set a timer and tell myself I can stop after half an hour. Usually that helps to get things going and it doesn't seem so bad after the initial effort. It's that first bit that's scary - and you just need to get through it.

You undertake a wide range of work from design to illustration to screen printing – do you have a preference of one over the other?

Not really, I think I thrive on being able to do them all and I wouldn't want to just choose one. I do love screen printing as it allows for some time away from the computer and there's just something about real paper and ink that's very lovely.

Do you have any particular favourite projects?

All my collaborations with The Future Kept have been such a pleasure to work on and Jeska who runs the shop styles the prints so beautifully. They are printed by a great studio here in London and overall it's a very satisfying work process.

On a practical level, how do you get most of your work, and how do you balance your time between commissions and your own work?

At this point in time I'm lucky in that I don't have to do much outreach, I get a fairly steady amount of requests. But it took a solid 5 or 6 years of emailing art directors, running my Etsy shop, doing blog interviews, giveaways and collaborations to get to this point and I imagine I will keep having to do rounds of this as I go along. I run my Etsy shop as a way to stay personally creative outside of commissions and now that I (finally) have an Instagram account I've found that a nice place to put up small bits and pieces that aren't commercial. Commissions do however always take precedent and I don't mind that. Gotta keep that money rolling in!

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What are the best bits and challenges of working for yourself?

I love the independence but that can sometimes be a double edged sword. I like being my own boss but, obviously, I'm also responsible for everything. It's hard to clock out at the end of a day but I am slowly getting better at that... 

Any advice for an aspiring illustrator?

Oh boy! I never know what to say to this question! Just work a lot and don't expect things to take off straight away. Everything takes time, but the more you work then the faster you'll get there.

Quickfire Questions...

Describe your work in three words: 

Colourful, flat & bold

What are your making rituals?

Listening to podcasts!

 Tea or Coffee? 

Tea and never with milk (sorry English people, that's just gross)

 Mountains or Sea? 

Sea please

Night Owl or Early Bird? 

Early Bird all the way!

 I wish someone had told me… 

That stressing out about work is the worst way to get anything done!

ORDER YOUR EXCLUSIVE PRINTS BY KAROLIN OVER IN THE 91 MAGAZINE SHOP.

 

Meet the Maker: Imogen Owen

This month we talk to Imogen Owen, a modern calligrapher, teacher and author, about the beautifully analogue world of hand-lettering.

Meditative, unique, elegant and beautiful are just a few of the words that can help to describe the resurgence of hand-crafting, and none more so than when considering the gentle and quiet art of calligraphy. ‘I think it’s all to do with the immediacy and homogenisation the digital age has brought,’ says hand-lettering artist and designer Imogen Owen. Her delicate script and hand-printed stationery has encouraged hundreds, if not thousands, of paper-lovers to pick up pen and ink and try their hand at lettering and revive the lost art of letter-writing. ‘Let’s face it, we never comment when we receive a nice email!’ laughs Imogen. ‘But we treasure a special letter, written by hand just for us.’  

This dedication to the hand-written word began at Camberwell College of Arts, where Imogen studied graphics. ‘They have a great Letterpress department there, and I became fascinated by the idea of owning my own huge press.’ Despite researching smaller table top presses, Imogen found her dream- a ‘hulking great 1940s vintage machine, that had to be delivered by three men.’ The three-phase electronic machine encouraged Imogen to work from home, and she honed her unique script and hand-printed wedding stationery to be exhibited at Top Drawer in 2013, which immediately led to work for Paperchase, amongst others. ‘I’m always looking at trends, particularly from the US, but I suppose my fluid style of design is quite different to the traditional calligraphy here in Britain,’ Imogen muses.  

After teaching herself the Copperplate method of hand-lettering, Imogen set up an Instagram account, and within hours had received two requests to teach workshops. Luckily, alongside the business she was building, Imogen had been teaching at a university, so she partnered with stationery store Quill in London to offer her first Modern Calligraphy workshops. ‘It got to the stage where I was teaching full workshops- around 25 people per class- all weekend, every weekend, it has been totally bonkers!’ explains Imogen. One of Imogen’s most popular workshops has been The Art of Elegant Swearing at West Elm, or ‘Pottymouth Party’. ‘It’s fun to write “bollocks” in fancy writing!’ Imogen laughs. ‘It’s not offensive if it’s pretty…’ And this notion has extended to Imogen’s range of mugs, which feature her signature elegant script, neatly and prettily announcing all sorts of profanities.  

Imogen’s teaching experience and exploration of her art are never more present than in her first book, Modern Calligraphy (Quadrille, April 2017). ‘I was first approached to write a book in 2014, but I look back on my work then and feel I’ve improved so much,’ admits Imogen. ‘The book had to be about simplicity, and ultimately something I would like to have bought when I was starting out.’ The book features brush lettering, calligraphy and other styles of hand-lettering such as chalk lettering, to offer everything for the beginner and experienced hand-lettering enthusiast. ‘There are lots of tips I’ve learnt from teaching beginners, and really help ease the kind of impatience we experience when learning something new,’ continues Imogen. ‘Coming from a design background, I’m keen to encourage people to explore their own style- and so in the book I’ve explored things like weight, placement of lines etc. and typography so that the beginner will be able to compose their own ideas.’  

Imogen spends at least one day a week in London, but her studio is at her parent’s home in Leicestershire. With sculptors for parents, there is no shortage of huge studio space there and Imogen revels in the daily routine of a 6.30am swim and rambling dog walk before settling down to work. ‘I’ll usually answer emails in the studio, and then get the presses set up with my studio assistant and letterpress assistant,’ Imogen explains. ‘After that I’ll often make samples for a wedding client, then perhaps make up a wholesale order, write a magazine piece or prepare for a show.’ Imogen will be exhibiting at New York City’s National Stationery Show in May, and is also sourcing some unique Japanese equipment for the hand-lettering kits she sells on her website. ‘The appeal of my work, for me, is the ability to zone out, away from a screen, focussing on shapes and playing with form.’ With the soundtrack of a favourite audiobook and without the distraction of a digital screen, this could be a metaphor for all hand-crafted hobbies, and a satisfying one indeed.  

 Image by Courage and Dash

Image by Courage and Dash

Describe your work in three words: Fun, naughty and luxurious

What are your making rituals? Audiobook, hot drink, clean desk, sharpened pencil, new nib, I am pretty chaotic in lots of ways, but before starting any new project, I like to start with a clean slate, so desk tidied and clean, fresh sheet of paper, clean water, new nib etc, and a great story to get lost in for hours…

Tea or Coffee? Tea first thing & last thing, but coffee in the day and I’m a total arse about how I like both!

Mountains or Sea? Sea, I love to snorkel for hours and never get bored. Although to be honest, I just like to be outdoors as much as possible in any kind of environment (apart from caves, they freak me out)

Night Owl or Early Bird? Both, for action I’m a total early bird (work/exercise etc) but I’ll happily stay out and dance till dawn… and then probably get up a few hours later and start work. 

I wish someone had told me… That your knowledge is just as valuable as your products are to your business, so think carefully about what you want to share. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, then trust your instincts on it. 

www.imogenowen.com

Meet the Maker: Flora Jamieson

This month we talk lead lines, flashbacks and catching the light with stained glass designer-maker, Flora Jamieson 

A couple of weeks into an adult education evening course in stained glass design, Flora Jamieson had a flashback... ‘I suddenly had this clear memory of a school trip I’d been on many years before to Salisbury Cathedral. I’d snuck off mid-tour of the church, and found myself in the cloisters, where they were running a huge stained glass restoration project. I was totally captivated by these delicate, stunning pieces of glass and remember thinking how amazing you could have a job working with such beautiful materials.’

Back at school, the trip was soon forgotten, ‘but a seed must have been planted deep in my brain,’ Flora recalls, ‘because, in the middle of the evening class, the memory of that trip, and my excitement at seeing the stained glass work came flooding back. It was something of a turning point for me, a long dormant idea came back to life, and I thought maybe this is something I can do – maybe I can learn to do a traditional skill and never have to do a boring office job again.’

She wasn’t a huge fan of office life then? ‘Not really,’ she laughs, ‘I knew I had to do something with my hands, to create something or I was going to go a bit crazy. But until that point, I hadn’t been sure what that ‘thing’ would be.’

  Collaboration with artist  Vicki Turner

Collaboration with artist Vicki Turner

The evening class gave way to a more advanced course at Kensington and Chelsea College, which she balanced alongside her work as a studio administrator –  first at Madame Tussaud’s and then in a photography studio. ‘They were both great environments to work in,’ she says, ‘I was surrounded by brilliant, creative people, but had been feeling frustrated that I wasn’t creating anything for myself. I’d studied art at school, but didn’t feel I was good enough so didn’t pursue it once I’d left school. Instead, I opted to do a degree in Media Studies, but it soon became clear that although it was a good course, it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.’

The Kensington course completed, Flora approached thirty stained glass workshops looking for a work placement. One, in Wandsworth, replied, ‘they came back to me and said they’d take me on as their ‘Saturday person’ – and that’s how it started. Over time I increased my days in the workshop, and dropped down days in the office until I was working in the stained glass workshop full time. I stayed there for three years, and learnt so much during that time from a group of really talented craftspeople.’

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Pregnant with her first child, Flora and her husband left London for Bridport, in Dorset. The move influenced her work on both a creative and practical level. ‘Living in Dorset has cemented my love of the natural world. I love trying to capture the beauty of nature in my work. More practically, I had to change how I worked. The sheer volume of domestic stained glass in London meant that there was always work to be found. There just isn’t that level of domestic glass in Dorset,’ she explains, ‘so I had to start creating my own work.’ 

Flora began focusing on making smaller pieces and building up an online presence. ‘I was pregnant with my second child just as things like Instagram and Etsy were really starting to gain ground. I realised there was a market for smaller, more contemporary pieces and so I started an IG account, blog and Etsy shop. Apart from keeping my skills going, it was also a great way to learn about the social media side of things – and how to market my work.’

Flora’s own contemporary designs use bold, jewel colours and have an almost graphic feel. Where does she get her inspiration from? ‘I think smaller pieces of stained glass work, lend themselves well to the sort of strong, 60s and 70s aesthetic. I’m influenced by the work of Marimekko, Paul Rand, Dick Bruna – I love the confidence and simplicity of their designs. I’m also influenced by the medium itself. The nature of working with glass is there are limitations to what you can do, and I enjoy trying to find a way of creating my vision within those limitations – the problem solving is quite an inspiration!’

With both daughters in school, and more time to work, Flora has found her business growing quickly over the last couple of years. ‘I hesitate to call it a business, as I never set out to be a business person, but I’m definitely getting busier, and I’m really enjoying how the business is growing organically, and around my children, really. It’s gently expanding to fill my time – which is good.'

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Flora works during school hours, from her home workshop. ‘I’m very lucky – I have two outbuildings. One I use as a designing and making room, then a second smaller space is my painting and firing room. It’s useful to keep them separate, so I can keep the paint as dust free as possible.’

The final part of the process – cementing – gets done in the bike shed. ‘It’s really messy, so I’m afraid the bikes suffer at times!’

Flora’s workload is a pretty even split of her own design work and client commissions, and she takes a collaborative approach to the commissioning process. ‘After an initial discussion about the sort of design the client is looking for, I’ll create a Pinterest board which we can both add to and edit – a sort of online mood board, and I’ll use that to work up a design concept. Once the client is happy with the design, I create a full size plan and send it, along with glass samples, to the client. Stained glass can dominate a room, so it’s really important that the client can see the design and glass in situ, so we can be sure it will work in the space and won’t clash or overwhelm other features in the room.’

The approved design is initially created in pencil and then overlaid with a cut line – a 1.5m thick black ink line, this indicates where the central line of the lead will lie.  Next, Flora will cut the glass and then add any decorative painting required for the design, firing each piece in the kiln to fuse the paint to the glass. It can take several firings to get the right levels of shading and detail.

The pattern is then created by alternating glass and lead until all the pieces are laid. ‘Basically it’s like creating a giant, complex jigsaw puzzle,’ Flora says, ‘once the pieces are all laid, I’ll solder the lead and then the final part of the process is cementing, using a runny putty which is brushed into all the gaps to strengthen and waterproof the piece.’

As you might expect from a traditional craft, Flora is also kept busy with restoration work, mainly of Victorian and Edwardian domestic and church stained glass.  Is there an interplay between her restoration work and design work, between new and old? ‘I really enjoy the balance between restoration and contemporary work.’ Flora says, ‘Seeing the craftsmanship of Victorian stained glass makers close up, is wonderful. It really inspires me to apply the same discipline to my own, modern work.

‘I’ll often be working on contemporary and restoration pieces at the same time and I love the look of my kiln shelf when it’s a mix of my work, and work which was created over a hundred years ago. Last week I had a shelf full of my contemporary bird designs, and a set of Victorian birds – an aviary from across the ages, it was wonderful.’

Commissions aside, Flora is currently working on some pieces for sale as part of the Makers 4 Refugees project and is hoping to create some more pieces as part of a collaboration with  artist and designer Vicki Turner. ‘We created some pieces together last year, and I loved working with Vicki, so I’m keen to do more when we both have time.’

With multiple pieces and projects on the go at one time, does Flora find it difficult to focus on one thing? ‘I have been known to procrastinate at the design stage, definitely,’ Flora laughs, ‘but once I’m in the workshop I’m totally in the flow. Getting my hands on the work in the studio is what it’s all about for me. I just can’t wait to hold the finished piece, and see how it catches the light. It’s always a magical moment.’

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: 

Playful, narrative, idiosyncratic 

What are your making rituals? 

After I've got my daughters off to school, I'll often go for a run (and sometimes a swim in the sea if I have time).  Then I'll get in to the workshop, tidy up a bit, find a good podcast to listen to and then get down to it.  But if I'm really busy as it has been lately, then it's just: music on loud and get to work.

Tea or coffee?

I just got an Aeropress for Christmas and it makes the nicest coffee.

Mountains or sea? 

I think probably sea, but if the mountain in question had a waterfall tumbling into a crystal clear pool then it'd be a hard call.

Night owl or early bird?  

Definitely night owl.  I'm terrible at putting myself to bed.

I wish someone had told me...

To take up running sooner.  I started when I was 39 and it seems such a waste when I think of all those years I could have been enjoying it.

www.florajamieson.co.uk