How did I start my creative career?
- Not a quick question to answer but I'll have a go!
I’m what you might call a late bloomer in this field as I didn't start my design career until I was in my late 30s! I also haven’t taken a conventional route to get here, which will hopefully be of some inspiration to you.
Picasso said that all children are born artists but the challenge is to remain an artist when we grow up. I’m a child of the 70s and loved making things, painting and playing the violin. My parents weren’t particularly creative but did encourage me and my sister to follow our dreams.
A bit about my background -
I left home at 17 and moved to Manchester where I spent 5 years at the Royal Northern College of Music studying the violin and piano. I then did a PGCE before spending 2 years volunteering in Cambodia for 2 years.
I then moved to Brighton where I taught music for 14 years.
In 2002 I wrote a kids book for my two nieces in the style of a Dick Bruna 'Miffy Book' using simple poster paint illustrations crudely cut out and glued onto coloured cardboard backgrounds. (*Little did I know that many years later I would be doing this for a job!)
In 2004 I started selling vintage fabrics on Ebay that I bought online from all over the world. I became a fabric geek and specialised in fabrics from the 50s and 60s. I made them into cushions and these sold really well.I had a regular customer in New York who turned out to be one of the largest Mid Century Modern collectors in the world. Selling handmade Mid Century Modern cushions was a relatively new idea at the time so I developed a popular following. This was long before social media and iPhones and I was still a full time music teacher. I was using a little digital camera with very little experience - learning as I went along.
In 2006 I discovered a Screen Printing Studio round the corner from where I was living in Brighton so I signed up for a 6 week evening course.
It felt like ‘coming home’ and I was immediately hooked. I booked into drop in sessions in the evening and printed fabric to make into bags and prints. The print studios were called BIP (Brighton Independent Printmakers) and were run by two fabulous inspiring women called Jane Sampson and Ann d'Arcy Hughes.
Shortly after, I took part in the Brighton Festival Open House Studios and was spotted by a company called The Art Group. It was a huge surprise as the work they chose to use was the work I’d produced during the evening classes, literally a few weeks earlier. I was screen printing simple Scandi style monochrome prints such as these shown below.
I subsequently signed with them for 10 years and they produced prints and cards using my designs.
My work was also spotted at another Open House event and I began designing clothes and toys for the company Clothkits. It was really fun designing items that I knew children would enjoy.
*I was still teaching full time but getting other career ideas!
In 2007 I opened an Etsy shop and I started to sell to local shops in and around Brighton. I also opened my first Big Cartel web shop. Selling online was still relatively new then so the method I usually used to sell my products was to book appointments to visit Independent shops to show them my work and then they’d either dismiss it or agree to sell on a sale or return basis. Everything I learnt around this time was trial and error - there was no social media to learn from or books on the subject. I made lots of mistakes!
In July 2008 I left teaching for good and a week later we adopted a baby girl! I was so happy! It still seems like a miracle even now. My challenge was to carve out a new career so I could work from home around Polly and not have to put her into childcare.
That very same week I pushed our daughter's buggy past Habitat in Brighton and spotted my cards in the window alongside Dick Bruna’s!
I was so determined to make my new career work, I seemed to have an abundance of energy and drive. I worked every second my daughter slept in the day and worked every night. I spent lots of time filling note books with ideas, future goals and dreams. This method has always worked for me as I think the act of writing these down helped me to focus on what I actually wanted.
It was also in 2008 that I started my first blog. (which I naively deleted some years later before I knew anything about how algorithms worked!) My work attracted some publicity and in 2009 I was featured in a large 4 page spread in the Independent on Sunday and in Coast magazine. I remember naively buying 200 cardboard print tubes thinking my sales were going to go through the roof, but they didn’t. I learnt these things as I went along!
In 2010 we left Brighton and moved to Devon.
I started screen printing from home - my partner Jim made a cheap exposure unit and taught himself how to expose screens in our windowless utility room.
It was also around this time that I invested in a better website and designed the logo of my head that I still use today on everything.I guess this was the start of me becoming a brand!
For the next few years I screen printed fabric to make into toys, bags and cushions which I sold all over the world from my website and Etsy shop. There was an ethos of people wanting to buy handmade so this helped. I invented new products and designs on a regular basis testing them out in my web shop. Some would sell well, and others didn’t sell at all. It didn’t matter as I could produce small quantities and test the water. I believe in the idea that you need lots of bad ideas to increase your chances of good ones! It felt incredibly liberating to experiment on the world showing my work online. (albeit a bit scary at times too!)
Despite working incredibly hard and doing what I loved, I often struggled with the uncertainty of being self employed and rarely had time off. I think all my hours of being in solitude practising the violin at music college for years helped me to keep motivated when at times, I could easily have been tempted to return to teaching! Every morning I would wake up and ask myself the same question - 'How am I going to earn a living today? What can I make / print / do differently?' I'd have many days where I didn't earn a penny and would worry about the lack of certainty all the time.
2012 'Tipping Moment'
In 2012 I had what I often refer to as my ‘tipping moment’. I was approached by a talent spotting company literary agent asking me if I wanted to write a book. I met the woman in question and she suggested we put together a book proposal to then take to some publishers to see if we could get a book deal. She became my literary agent and I accepted a three book deal with Pavilion books to produce three craft books. I couldn’t believe it! I developed insomnia for a few weeks whilst I lay awake wondering what to write! I was also incredibly excited!
In 2012 my Fish Supper collage was sold as a poster in Ikea world wide - I was gradually being noticed around the world.
Also in this same year, my home in Totnes was featured in the Ikea magazine and online - they were doing a special Scandi fabric issue and must have found me online. I think it was around this time that my publishers suggested I start Facebook and Pinterest.
My work life was becoming incredibly busy and I made the decision to get some help with sewing toys whilst I juggled running my small business and writing my first book Fun With Fabric.
I continued to appear in magazines and one in particular was Mollie Makes. I designed the free cover gift for an early issue.
In 2014, Mollie Makes magazine introduced their first Mollie Makes Awards and I won the Established Business Award.
It was around that time that I attracted my first ever product commission. It was for a Japanese Department store called SHIPS and I licensed my designs for mugs, blankets, bags and hot water bottles.They'd found my work online.
2014 Make Collaboration