Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet Lennie Ware, mother of Jessie, and one half of the very successful pod cast Table Manners

In her sixties, Lennie has, almost fallen, into a new exciting and creative career. She is the mother of Jessie Ware the English singer-songwriter. In late 2017, together they launched their podcast Table Manners, now in its eighth series they have broadcast over 80 podcasts and been listened to more than 8 million times.

Table manners is about ‘family, food and the art of good old chit-chat.

JB Tell me a bit about yourself, and your background?

LW I studied social science at University in the 1970’s. I then

worked as a social worker, and  later trained at the Tavistock Institute  to become a psychiatric social worker. Since 1989 I have worked as an independent social worker and a children’s guardian, often representing the case of the child in court cases.

JB How did the idea for“Table Manners” come about?

LW It was initially Jessie’s idea. She had thought of doing a pod cast based round food and entertaining. She asked if I would cook and I said yes, as I’d do anything to help her.  From when the children were quite young, we would have Friday evening dinners. We had friends round to eat and talk, it often ended up with us dancing and singing. Jessie loved the Friday night get together and the good positive memories.

JB It sounds like fun. Do you have a large family?

LW Jessie is the middle of three children. My eldest daughter Hannah is an actress in America and is currently filming a new Net Flix series. Jessie has a younger brother Alex, who is a Doctor working in a London Hospital. They are all good cooks and love entertaining.

JB How did the pod cast evolve?

LW Well initially Jessie opened up her address book and invited friends, people she knew in the entertainment business. Ed Sheeran, Daniel Kaluuya, Sam Smith, So it started by asking people if they’d like to be involved. The idea was that I would be in the kitchen cooking, sometimes with Alex. In the event it wasn’t like that, I just couldn’t keep quiet. I wanted to join in with the conversation. We then discovered having an intergenerational podcast worked really well. People identify with the mother and daughter dynamic- the bickering, the laughing and I hope, my good one-liners. People often say ‘that is just how I talk to my mum’

JB Who does most of the cooking?

LW I have always done most of the cooking and if Alex isn’t working, he helps too. When we used to record in Jessie’s house she did some of the cooking. I am a good cook but I would say that Jessie is a more creative cook. John Lewis and Waitrose have sponsored a few of our episodes in this latest series.

JB I hear you have a cookbook Table Manners coming out next March how did that come about?

LW We were getting feed back from the podcast with people saying ‘that sounds lovely I’d like to make it ” and similar comments, so when we were approached by Ebury about a book, we agreed.

JB How do you find your guests now?

LW Some people approach us and in other cases it is people that we’d like to meet.

I really wanted to meet Tim Dowling, Guardian Columnist, and Sandi Toksvig who Jessie already knew. Neither of us knew, but really wanted to have Alan Carr on the podcast. We have had Haim and Stacey Dooley, Cheryl Cole and many more, just too many to mention all of them.

JB Have any of your guests ever tried to join in the cooking?

LW We had Loyle Carner, the rapper on. He runs a cookery school called Chilli Con Carner for children with ADHD.

JB Have you had other cooks on the programme?

LW We have had Antoni Porowski the cook from Queer Eye. When Ottolenghi came he cooked me a turbot.

We entertained Raymond Blanc. I was cooking Halibut with garlic fume. Raymond came and took over.

He said to me’ I can tell you are a really good cook’

I replied ‘Do you think there might be a little opening for me at Le Manoir’

His answer “I can also tell you don’t take orders easily”

We entertained Nigella, and she is gorgeous, really generous, polite, and has fantastic manners and she brought a present. We served lamb with a pistachio crust. Alex did most of the preparation that day including custard tart with big blackberries on top. He made two, to be sure, as that’s the sort of man he is. Nigella left him a little note saying how delicious it was. She also sent us thank you cards.

JB How many pod casts do you record a week?

LW We usually do 1, but we once did 4 in one week and that was exhausting. Currently Jessie and family are living with me whilst their house is being done up. So living and working together has its challenges. Last week we interviewed Nicole Scherzinger, and that was fun.

JB What next?

LW We did three live shows at the last Edinburgh Festival, each in front of an audience of 200 people. It went down very well, and so we are considering doing more live events.

JB Thank you.

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the Maker Craft author and Illustrator Clare Youngs

I went to meet Clare Youngs with my photographer Antonia Attwood to interview and photograph her in her Thanet home. Clare writes craft books for the publishers Cico, and whatever the subject, they are always of the highest standard, beautifully styled and informative. I was curious how Clare had got into the business of being a craft author. She works from a studio at the bottom of her garden.

J.B. Tell me about your design background.

C.Y. I did an art foundation course in London and then I went to Canterbury to do a degree in graphics and packaging design. It was a great course very creative we covered lots of skills as well as graphic design, including styling and art direction.

After art school I worked mainly for small design groups designing packaging.

J.B. How did you get into writing books?

C.Y. My husband, Ian bought me a book on vintage style and I was flicking through it when I had a light bulb moment. I have always made things including curtains cushions and blinds. I had an idea for a book on making things for the house out of paper. I went to Hamlyn and my first book was published by them. Then Cindy Richards the M.D. of Cico books got hold of me and asked if I would like to write a book for them. The first book I did was on making bags out of recycled materials.

J.B. Do the ideas for your books originate from you or from the publisher?

C.Y. It is half and half, sometimes I come up with proposals and sometimes they do.

J.B. How long does it take to produce a book.

C.Y From start to finish probably 4-5 months, but that is working full time on it. From the concept to publication is usually a year.

J.B. Who does the photography and styling?

C.Y.  I do the styling and Jo Henderson does the photography and my husband Ian does the illustrations.

J.B. What are your favorite and your least favorite parts of creating a book.

C.Y. I love making things, so the designing and making is what I enjoy doing best.

When I started, I found writing step -by -step instructions challenging. The secret is to write them as you go along.

J.B. What and who inspires you?

C.Y. Vintage Children’s books,particularly those published in the 60’s and 70’s. I like the work of Brian Wildsmith, and Eric Carle, Alice and Martin Provensen an American couple who illustrated more than 40 children’s books together. Mostly between the late 1940’s and the 1960’s.

J.B. Are there any modern illustrators you like?

C.Y. I enjoy the work of Joohee Yoon

J.B. What other things or people inspire you?

C.Y. I like old bannisters. I love humour in design. I like the textile designer Marimeko. Scandanavian design and Japanese crafts both interest me. I like the work of the following painters and designers. Howard Hodgkin, Ben Nicholson, Robert Tavener, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious and Charlie Harper.

J.B. Are you a collector ?

C.Y. Yes I am a collector I have 23,000 czechoslovakian matchbox lables that I bought on line. I will probably sell some as many are duplicates.

J.B. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working from home?

C.Y. It is great to have a purpose built space that is just at the bottom of my garden. So I don’t waste time travelling. My husband who is also a designer works in the house so we often meet up for lunch. However the down side of working from home is it is sometimes isolating as you don’t have feed back from other designers. As a result of this, last year I took an on line course called ‘Make Art that Sells’ . I wanted to study illustration as my craft projects have become more illustrative, for example I produce designs to embroider or collage. The boot camps that the web site runs are excellent and give you prompts rather than teaching as such. They have a face book group so that you can get feed back from like minded designers.

J.B. Apart from the boot camp do you use other social media?

C.Y. I do instagram and find that is a very useful way of making contacts in the design world. Last year I participated in the 100 day project.

J.B Do you teach workshops ?

C.Y. When we first moved out of London, our kids were young and we thought it would be nice to move to the Kent coast. At this time I ran a few family craft workshops at the Turner Gallery.

J.B. If you hadn’t been a graphic designer what would you have studied or done as a career?

C.Y. I think I would have done a craft, been a print maker or a potter.

J.B. What are you doing next?

C.Y My latest book by Cico came out in October it is called The Mindful Maker

J.B. Clare thank you very much for letting us have a glimpse into your working life.

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the Maker Joy Fitzsimmons of London Pooch

As Christmas will be with us all too soon, I thought it would be nice for you to read about some independent makers and designers from who you can buy original cards and presents directly . The first is Joy Fitzsimmons from London Pooch.

JB I know you as a card designer and maker. Can you tell the readers did you train as a graphic artist?

JF Yes I went to Liverpool Art School 1971 -74 and studied Graphics and Illustration. It was in the days when we all learned to set hot metal type and the Tate Liverpool was an atmospheric derelict Dock.

JB What is a typical day for you?

JF My typical day starts at 8.15am with a bracing walk round one of our local parks with our 2 dachshunds. I walk with a friend who has 2 dachshunds and during that 45 mins the we compare thoughts and experiences and leave the park utterly refreshed.

As I work from home there is always the invitation to be distracted by domestic matters. I dispatch these as quickly as I can. Then spend a large part of my day in the workroom at the computer as I produce all my work in Illustrator. 

I do fit in a certain amount of admin work for my husbands business then of course have to address my own admin work. I like a change of air midday when possible. When you are working alone it is good to meet a friend even just for a coffee. Give the eyes a rest.

My working day usually finishes as I address the evening meal preparations after 6. I enjoy this as it involves more active movements over a stove! And a change of scene.

JB What do you love most about what you do?

JF I love the fact that I have developed a routine of sitting and drawing to develop the theme of the artworks. My ongoing theme is placing a dachshund in a well-known painting or sculpture which totally changes the meaning. It has been so rewarding to copy from the great masters then give it a humorous slant.

I love to engage with the buying public in person although setting up a stall at a market can be demanding! I have to admit the pleasure I get from anyone wanting to buy even a card. It endorses your work.

JB What do you dislike most about what you do?

JF I dislike the fact that there is so much admin and trouble shooting which gets in the way of design time too often. Time management is a fine art.

JB Have you ever worked for anyone else, or done any collaborations? If so, with whom?

JF My early career was as a book designer and I worked freelance for 25years in the world of book publishing. Working for Weidenfeld and Nicholson and Studio Editions and eventually Partworks. During this time I also produced 2 illustrated children books. I think my timing was unfortunate as the recession of the 90’s hit too many old publishing houses. Including my own! But my time at Dorling and Kindersley was spent visualising. I was the only person employed to use a pencil. This was good and bad as the mode of book design went totally to computer. I had only worked with paper galley paste ups, unheard of now. At the end of this time I found I was not trained to design books in the now required fashion. So I slowly taught my self to use Illustrator in order to illustrate.

JB What made you want to start your own creative business?

JF London Pooch came about when I unfortunately had to have prolonged treatment for breast cancer. I suddenly had time on my hands recuperating. So we acquired 2 dachshunds. I had bought a small die cutting machine and collaged doggy cards seemed to be emerging. At that time I was printing all at home. From here I practised in Illustrator and London Pooch slowly started to develop. When my mother developed Vascular Dementia she came to live with us and producing greetings cards was an easier way to work round my additional job as carer. (Her attempts to help with the packaging were hilariously disastrous and short lived.)

JB Have you had any training recently? If so where and why?

JF I have had no further training although my Computer/Illustrator skills are all self taught. But I have been delighted to join a local Life Drawing class. Working from life straight onto paper again with pen and charcoal is immensely rewarding. And to work along side others who produce a totally different vision of the same object is a constant delight.

JB Can you describe your creative process?

JF Most of my designs at present are based on parodying Art and popular Architectural sites in London. All with the addition of a dachshund printed or collaged onto the card. 

The cards and prints are all printed in Kent by a well established printer. The Tea Towels printed in Lincolnshire. I have help to finish and pack the cards. We send out orders from here. 

JB What are your biggest challenges ?

JF Deciding what quantities to invest in when it come to production. Finding a good agent. Leaving enough time for new designs by delegating more to others. I handle the website largely myself since it was setup for me which is not perhaps the best use of my time. Fascinating though web design is I fell I need more purely creative time and must address this.

JBWhat advice  would you give to someone starting out in your field today ?

JF Talk to people already in the field at Trade Fairs and Local markets. All maker seller crafts people are generally keen to share stories as we all work in isolation and find that many working lives are running parallel.

JB Compared with when you started, do you think it is easier for designers to set up on their own nowadays or more difficult? Why?

JF I think it is easier to get an public awareness of who you are these days through social media. 

Also the trend towards small businesses and the spread of fairly high end Craft Fairs are all in the interests of young new makers. In these days of highly sophisticated marketing the public are definitely move towards small producers. See the spread of farmers markets at a time when sales in the High Street are suffering. Heartening. 

JB. Have you exhibited? If so, where?

JF Only at Trade Fairs. But my print collection is expanding now so I am looking to Exhibit at some point.

I have done Artists Open House in Dulwich

JBHow do you find Clients?

JF I have an agent for the London area and home counties. I have until now, sold myself into Galleries and Museums around the country but I am now looking to hand all of it to agents. Social Media has been good, but taxing on time. This takes me back to back to time management!

JB What are you currently working on?

JF I am always working on new designs. I usually have 2 or 3 in various stages. It is easier to be more objective about how they are shaping up unless I have a precise commission.

JB What is next?

JF I am gathering together enough work to produce a book. I loved word play. My first book was written in rhyme. I would like to produce more in this field. Would like to start all over again really. I have just produced my first Pooch plate.

Many thanks Juliet

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the hooked rug designer maker, Debbie Siniska

As Charleston, the Bloomsbury home of art and crafts, holds the exhibition ‘Post impressionism living Omega Workshops’ 14 Sept 2019- 19th January 2020 . I interviewed one of the designers selling in their shop, Debbie Siniska.

Debbie at work in her studio

I know you as a Hooked rug maker, Can you tell me did you train in textiles?

No, I’m self taught

Did you go to art school and what did you study?  If not what did you do when you left school?

I used to practice drawing at life class, but never went to college. I did a City and Guilds in Feltmaking.  My very first job when I left school was for Barclays bank in a tying pool, it was deathly boring

Rug hooking is a very old rural craft born out of necessity.  What got you into hooked rugs and why?

I was interested in learning to weave, but that didn’t quite do it for me. One day whilst foraging for fabrics, I came across some old hand tools, and began to make hooky mats, its recycling in its purest form. 

Have you ever worked for anyone else, or done any collaborations? If so, with whom?

I have been part of Creative Partnerships, a government initiative, in schools.  I was also sponsored by Brighton and Hove City Council and Kent County Council, with the War on Waste team, to take my ‘Creativity in Schools’ textile eco-art project into primary schools in Brighton and Hove, and in Kent, which was televised  on local TV, and culminated in a public exhibition of children’s work in Brighton.

How do you get your commissions?

People see my work at shows and commission me.  I also get commissions via my website . http://www.debbiesiniska.co.uk

One of my most recent largest commissions was a 7’ x 4’; Treescape, which I made for a friend of mine who had just retired

What is a typical day for you?

No two days are the same for me – If I am teaching at a school that day, the morning will sometimes be prep – I often have work on the frame, so I may do a couple of hours in the workroom.  I have to attend to emails and also spend a lot of time searching for teaching opportunities, and contacting galleries. If there is hand stitching to do or assembling prints and cards, I can work listening to great music or watching a film.

What do you love most about what you do?

Making, and watching pieces come to life on the frame.  I love hand stitching and working with colour.

What do you dislike most about what you do?

I don’t really dislike any of it, It’s all your own work and it’s what you make of it!

What made you want to start your own creative business?

I couldn’t work for anyone else – if I wasn’t following my own creative passions, what was the point of anything.  Being true to my own instinctive creativity is what keeps me going. Sometimes its not all about the money!

Felted boots

Can you describe your creative process?

For my own work, I get an idea, an image in my mind, anything can inspire me, music, nature, colour, texture, stories, bonfires and people.  This idea stays with me, and I start to search for textiles in the colours I need – I wait and watch for an image to come to me, then I will set my frame up and chalk out my design.  If I am working on a green man, or animal, I always begin with the eyes. If they work, then the rest of the piece does!

I do love hares, the green man, birds, fishes, plantlife, sky, trees – lots of my inspiration comes from nature, of course.

Hare inspired chair cover

If I am commissioned, I have already spoken at length with the client, and if we agree, I can begin with confidence that I can create what they are asking for.  The best commission is from someone who likes my work and trusts my judgement!

What are your biggest challenges?

Working to commission is always a bit nerve racking  – talking about your work to 250 people, while you are being filmed, that’s quite challenging.  Making decisions about a certain colourway, when nothing is working, and putting the right price on a piece of work, when its taken a month to create! Working on your own, in your studio, making all the decisions is hard sometimes.  Lastly, trying to find time to experiment and go off on a tangent, a rare thing for me.

In what way has social media impacted on your work

I am on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/debbiesiniska/this helps me chart my pieces of work, and I get feedback from other artisans that I follow – and sometimes I get commissions/sales from Instagram.  I advertise workshops, and of course it’s a great way to see what other people are doing.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field today?

Starting out, starts with learning your particular craft, and having a passion for it – go to textile shows and events, and talk to the makers.   Don’t be put off by mistakes, see a project through even if you don’t think it’s working – because it just might.  Sometimes great things happen when you least expect them.

Green Man rag rug being made on the loom

Compared with when you started, do you think it is easier for designers to set up on their own nowadays or more difficult? Why?

Everybody’s doing the ‘creative thing’ these days – I try to be true to my ideas when I work, and not be too influenced. Sometimes people cannot tell the difference between mass produced or hand-made, and won’t pay the price for pure artisan hand-made piece of work.   There is a certain saturation point and seeking of approval that comes with social media.  In the end it all becomes a blur.  Creating/designing something new is becoming harder and harder. 

Debbie’s mantle piece full of her work and inspiration

One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and or aged parents. Have you ever had to deal with either of these of issues and did it impact on your creative life or business?

As a mum I had to care for both my parents, whilst running my shop and working as a maker, and teacher. At times, it was impossible to keep focused and find the momentum to continue creatively. 

Have you exhibited? If so, where?

I have been featured in the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph newspapers, My work has been exhibited in the V&A, I appeared on channel 4 TV with Kirstie Alsopp, on her Homemade Home series 2. I created several Bloomsbury rag rugs for the Tate Gallery shop in London to accompany an exhibition of Bloomsbury art. 

I was commissioned by Charleston Farmhouse, home of the literary and art group of the 1920’s and open to the public, to create a facsimile of an old Bloomsbury style rag rug, that now lies in Maynard Keynes bedroom in the house. I take part in Brighton Open Houses, and am part of the Heritage Crafts Association.

Bloomsbury Acrobat rag rug inspired by door panel by Duncan Grant 1913/14

Have you written or contributed to any books if so which ones ?

I self published my books Rag Rugs Old into New. Most recently I contributed projects to ‘Craft’ by Dorling Kidersley, and have also had projects in several other project based ‘how to’ books in the past. I created projects for two craft magazines, and was sponsored by a couple of beadwork companies.

What are you currently working on?

My next two shows coming up this month, and in November. I also have three commissions that I am currently working on.

Wren

What is next?

I want to exhibit with my daughter, who is a painter, and do a ‘makers’ book for kids. 

Do you teach or run workshops? If so where and to whom?

I run my own textile workshops in East Sussex, and I occasionally teach for the National Trust and in adult residential colleges, including West Dean College near Chichester.  I also teach in schools, and sometimes visit a school for a day for arts week/green week/eco week. I currently run Eco Art Club, at two primary schools in East Sussex.   I have done, and will be doing many one day workshops for the WI, these are great fun, and I get asked to talk/teach for the Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and Embroidery Groups.  

Thank you very much

Blog, Meet the Maker, Uncategorized

Meet the Maker, the Queen of paint, Annie Sloan

Annie Sloan has just launched her third Bookazine , The colourist (hard copy, editorial like a magazine, no adverts like a book). Here is the interview I did with in her, in her eclectic studio and headquarters, about her life, passion and rise to fame. Annie Sloan is known for her paint company and in particular her chalk paints. She also produces at least one book a year on different aspects of painting, decorating and up-cycling furniture. Recently she added a limited edition of printed textiles to her products. 

JB Did you go to art school originally and if so where and what did you study?

AS I went to Croydon art school to begin with and then I finished at reading University, I was at art school for seven years. Stared off doing a foundation, which I actually did for two years whilst I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to do everything!! In the end I chose Fine Art because Fine Art seems to be the basis of everything.

JB Annie I met you many moons ago when we were both craft authors. Can you tell us how you made the leap from being an author to running your international paint company?

AS Yes I remember well!! I wrote books and I was also going out and painting for people who had commissioned pieces. I had a young family and I wanted to be able to have something that I was doing and making but that could be sold whilst I was still raising my children. I was looking for something, I got the idea for paint from other paints that were around at the time. People were beginning to think back to traditional paints such as milk paints. From that idea I started to think about what I could make, and one thing led to another.

JB What made you want to produce your own paint and was it difficult to find a manufacturer?

AS Once I became keen to make a paint, I happened to mention it whilst out for dinner in Utrecht. I spoke to a Belgium man who just happened to know someone who owned a paint factory and made paint.

JB You have to create a range of colours and obviously some will sell better than others, was it difficult in the beginning to know which ones would sell best?

AS I wasn’t thinking about selling to be honest, I was thinking about what colours I would want and need. Money doesn’t come first.  I was already painting furniture and I was after certain traditional colours that weren’t available. It was important to me that I could mix colours to make other colours, just like an artists paint palette.

JB Can you influence sales of certain colours by presenting a fabulous upcycled project on your web site or blog?

AS We do know that when we get something printed in a popular magazine, we often see an influx in sales of that particular product. I think that’s the same in the shop, if I painted something in Antibes, people would buy more of that colour.

JB You sell abroad do any of your suppliers hold franchises?

If so, how does this work?

AS No we don’t have any franchises at all, the reason being that we are a creative company and I feel to offer someone a franchise is too restrictive. Creative people need to be able have there own style, we just look for wonderful shops to sell the paint, run workshops and be inspiring. We love passionate people to get involved.

JB Are any members of your family involved in running the business and if so what roles do they perform?

AS My husband works with me, he is in charge of the finances. He’s the calm cool one!! My middle son Felix is the Brand Director and has a Graphic Design background, he’s very much like me but also completely different. Felix’s partner Lizzy is also involved in the business, she does the Digital Marketing but at the moment has just had her third baby so she is on maternity leave.

JB What is a typical working day like for you or is there no such thing?

AS No such thing!! Every day is different, tomorrow I am off to Venice, we make some of our woven linens , so I am off to do some colour matching there- it’s important to get these things right! Last week I was at conference in Rotterdam with our European distributors. I was painting yesterday, working on some new products which I am excited about. We are painting furniture for photo shoot in London next week. I am also doing plenty of events this year. (Handmade Fair in London September and  I also do The Country Living Fair). Things are very busy!!

JB One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and or aged parents. Have you ever had to deal with either of these of issues and did it impact on your creative life or business?

AS Yes and no, I didn’t really start the business until my children were a little bit older, I was 42 when I started making the paint and running the business. I wanted be a around when the kids were small so I suppose I put it hold for awhile, I always worked but was able to be there when they were ill and look after them.

JB You run creative workshops at many different events and venues. Do you enjoy doing them?

AS Yes I do! I love meeting people, I find people so interesting.

JB You collaborated with Oxfam producing a colour for them how did this come about?

AS Well it was just one of those magical things. Oxfam are based in Oxford, hence the name Oxford and Famine, and they were looking for a paint company to work with. The discovered that we were also in Oxford, it was a marriage made in heaven. They asked us if we were keen to collaborate and I didn’t even think twice about it.

JB What did it involve and did you enjoy the experience? AS It was one of the most excellent experiences of my life, so impactful. I went to Ethiopia and made a colour inspired by my travels. It makes you realise that people are people, for me it confirmed that money is not what it’s about- it’s about other things. The people there are just amazing, they do need things but they are still vibrant and positive.

JB What is the best part of your work and what is the worst part?

AS Collaborating with some amazing people and groups, it’s just so incredibly special to work with some wonderful people and places. It’s open up so many worlds for me, such as Oxfam. Worst part endless days were there are just so many meetings and I can’t get any painting done.

JB Who or what inspires you?

AS The Punk approach to life is absolutely fabulous- anyone can do anything!! You don’t have to be posh, you just have to be interesting. People inspire me, I talk to everybody and want to find out as much as I can about others.

JB How long have you been working as a professional  designer?

AS I suppose since 1975, so guess over 40 years…oh gosh!!

JB What advice would you give to any designer starting out today?

AS Don’t give up, practice and keep at it. Trust your gut. It doesn’t happen overnight. Someone once criticized me in Art school and it really had an effect on me, don’t let criticism put you off!!

Many thanks Juliet. Photography by Antonia Attwood RCA

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet Kate Watson-Smyth from ‘Mad about the House’ and podcast companion of Sophie Robinson on ‘The Great Indoors podcast’

Kate Watson-Smyth is a journalist with over 15 years experience writing about interiors for publications including the Financial Times, The Independent, and the Daily Mail.

However it is her interiors blog ‘Mad about the House’ that has turned her into a very well known interiors expert. She was awarded the Vuelio number-one UK interiors blog award in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Have you always been a journalist? Or did you have a different career previously?

I have been a journalist since I started working – but it took me a long time to start working. I dropped out of university – I was doing French at Nottingham – and had to spend the third year in a French-speaking country. I went to Senegal and never went back for my finals. I moved instead to Paris where I stayed for three years. On returning my mother said I needed some training and insisted I go to secretarial college. While I was there someone came from the regional Oxfam office looking for volunteers to stuff envelopes and help out during its 50th anniversary year. I ended up running the press office and styling fashion shows and it was then I decided I wanted to be a journalist.

Did you study journalism or design originally and if so where and what did you study?

I went to Darlington to train on the NCTJ course for a year – it was one of the best years of my life and we recently all met up again for our 25th reunion. Then I returned to Birmingham, where I had done my newspaper work experience and they offered me a traineeship if I went to journalism college. Again. They sent me to the Westminster press training course in St Leonards on Sea, near Hastings.

I have never studied design.

Do you work as a journalist both on-line as well as for newsprint?

I started in print – because online didn’t exist – and have always been commissioned for print which is now shared online as well. Since I became so busy with the blog I tend to write only for myself online rather than newsprint any more although I often give quotes and contribute to articles.

Have you always been passionate about interiors or do you also write on other topics?

I began as a general news reporter but I always wanted to write features. I have always loved the writing part of the information gathering. When I had my first son I went freelance and it so happened they needed someone in the property section at The Independent – in the days when it was a 24 page weekly pull out… As soon as I started writing about houses and property I knew I had found my thing.

I have always loved decorating and styling. It began with my bedroom as a child and I graduated to other people’s houses – not always when they asked me to. I have been known to move and restyle a coffee table while someone nips to the loo!

Did you embrace social media from the start? If so which platforms were you using to start with and why?

I took to Twitter fairly fast as words are my thing. I loved it for ages and I think it’s brilliant for people who work from home as it gives you that chatting round the water cooler thing that you miss in office life. But it has changed over the years and can be a nasty place as well as a wonderful one. I’m on there less now as I have found Instagram. I was late to that particular party but I love it. I have found the interiors community to be very supportive and who doesn’t love looking at gorgeous pictures? I have also really enjoyed improving my photography skills, which I wasn’t expecting. Last year I bought my first camera although I still tend to use my phone more.

How and why did you start the web site ‘Mad About The House’?

In desperation! Newspapers were struggling and my freelance career was dwindling. At the time it seemed like everyone had, or was starting, a blog and I thought I would have a go to see if it would generate any work as a journalist. I thought it would work as a kind of online CV and portfolio. I had no idea it would go this far.

Did winning the Vuelio awards have a major impact on your work?

Winning recognition for your work is always lovely. I think perhaps it makes brands take you more seriously and widens your audience. Certainly the Vuelio awards, which selects a shortlist based on reach and engagement and content – tracking stats – and then calls in a panel of judges who are all experts in their fields. That definitely gives weight to the results as there is no campaigning for votes which can skew the results.

When did you set up your design consultancy?

When I started the blog in 2012 I began a new notebook so I could keep a record of what I was writing and doing. I wrote on the first page: Blog, Book, Business. I have done all three now – the books twice! The business came in about 2014 when people kept asking me for help with their houses.

Did you go on any courses when you set up your blog?

No! I figured as a trained journalist who had been writing for the national press for over 20 years I knew as much about writing as a course would teach me. I still don’t know about the tech side but I pay someone to do that for me. My brain is too full for that side of things and I can’t read an SEO document without falling asleep. My growth has been completely organic. I could probably grow more if I knew how to work the backroom details but I don’t.

I love the look of your blog/web site. Did you have it professionally designed?

Yes. It was done by Odysseas Constantine of Art & Hue. I saw his work on the beautiful Copperline site and then met him at the Amara Blog Awards in 2015. I asked him to do my site then.

Have you found Pinterest of use to your business? If so in what way?

I was a featured user on Pinterest when they first came to the UK. As a result I have 190K followers and it does bring traffic to the site but I have to say that I don’t go there very often. It’s partly a time thing and partly that I don’t need to use it for my own schemes so I have been ignoring it for a while. I wrote a chapter in my book about Pinterest being your frenemy. It’s so vast that I think it can be unwieldy and also unhelpful if you don’t use it in a very disciplined way. You fall down a rabbit hole of pretty pictures and completely forget what you went in for. I also think there’s a real tendency to pin pictures you like rather than ideas for things that will actually work in your own home.

I tend to do only do one platform at a time and at the moment that’s Instagram.

Floor boards transformed into a bathroom sliding door

Have you found Instagram a useful platform?

Yes. It’s inspirational. I love looking at great images, the community is lovely and I have enjoyed developing my own photography skills.

What do you think that the courses being offered to bloggers?

I don’t know about them so it wouldn’t be fair to offer an opinion. I’m sure, as with everything, that there are good ones and bad ones.

As a journalist how do you feel about ‘influencers’?

It’s one of those terms that everyone seems to hate but then again, I’m not that keen on the word blogger either! It is what it is – there are people who influence others rightly or wrongly. I wouldn’t use it of myself but then I have other words to choose from journalist/author/writer/whatever…. Makes a change from model/actress/whatever although I’d take it!

I love your ‘365 Objects of Design’. Has this been a popular section on your blog?

I began it when I launched the blog as a way of making sure I blogged every single day. I had read pieces about about how many people give up between three and six months in and I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. I came up with that idea and numbered them to make sure I didn’t miss a day. For three years I blogged seven days a week, now it’s five and while I don’t number them anymore it’s still a popular post. I think of it like a postcard among the letters. I write about design events and trends and advice and every now and then I drop in a short piece about a cool thing I have found.

Tiny Replica of Kate’s sitting room made by a fan of her blog

Here comes my how long is a piece of string question. What is a typical working day like for you?

As long as string…. It’s enormously varied and I’m very lucky as I love it all. No two days are ever the same. Yesterday I spent the morning with a client helping her choose colours and furniture for her flat and talking about the layout, then I went to a book signing at Clerkenwell Design week. Today I am writing, doing a photoshoot with you and taking my son to his piano lesson. Tomorrow another book signing and a talk to prepare for in the evening as well as gathering ideas for my next book. Between that I try to find time to go to the gym, wrangle my teenage children and see my husband over dinner.

How much time do you spend on your blog and how much writing features for papers and magazines?

I don’t really write for papers and magazines any more as I don’t have time. As I post five times a week I either spend a couple of hours a day on the blog or blitz it for two days straight. The rest of the time is meetings, clients, book writing or dealing with email and working on styling and brand jobs.

One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and/or aged parents or illness or had to follow a spouse abroad for work reasons. Have you ever had to deal with any of these issues and did it impact on your working life?

Before I had children I always assumed I would go back to work full time after one and stop after two. In the event I went freelance after the first and never stopped working. It was hard at the start. One year I spent nearly everything I earned on childcare and couldn’t really afford the tax bill. As they spent more time at school I could work more and I regarded it as an investment in my future. I basically worked solidly from 9-3 every day and only left the house to go on the school run – no meetings, lunches or events – or very rarely. I was glued to the phone and the computer during the school day. As they got older it got easier and now they are nearly 15 and 17 I have much more time. I’m still around to cook their tea most days and it’s fine when I’m not. I can go on press trips and they can get their own breakfast.

We have also had those episodes of life that get in the way of best laid plans. My younger son, now 15, was born at 25 weeks (three months premature). He was in hospital for three months and fragile for the first couple of years after that. He is completely fine now – we were very lucky. In 2014 I was diagnosed with cancer of the saliva gland. My type was chemo-resistant and I had surgery followed by 35 sessions of daily radiotherapy – about six-and-a-half weeks of five sessions a week. I carried on blogging for the first few weeks and then uploaded archive posts so that the blog never missed a beat while I was in treatment. I finished on 23 December 2014 and went back to work on 4 January when the boys went back to school after the Christmas holiday. I was approached about writing my first book the following day when I had just stopping taking Morphine and was still a bit high I think.

I didn’t carry on for any macho reasons but rather that it gave me something to focus on while I was well enough to do so. By the end of the treatment I was lying on the sofa under a blanket watching episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Do you run any workshops or give talks other than when promoting your books?

I have a plan for workshops but haven’t had time to work out how to do it yet. I think online will be the answer as I already tend to work on Sunday afternoons – the week invariably ends before I’ve had time to write Monday’s post so I’m not keen to add Saturdays into the working week as well. I’m currently developing an online course which will be a mix of written advice and video. I have taken part in panel discussions which aren’t book-related but recently that has tended to be the focus.

What is the best part of your work and what is the worst part?

When I get an email from someone who says the blog or the book has really helped them make their home how they truly wanted it that is wonderful and makes it all worthwhile.

The admin and the invoicing – always have to spend time chasing those – it’s irritating.

Who or what inspires you?

Mad about the house

Always a tough one. What? Restaurant loos and hotel rooms – often. Good design in a small space with clever ideas and bold colours. Who? The person who finds their passion, and follows their dream to make it work without compromising their ideals. My Instagram account is full of women like that and I admire them all. The woman with the disabled kids who decorates her home so beautifully, the dentist who started her own interiors events business, the mothers who get on with it all every day without complaining. They inspire me.

What advice would you give to any journalist starting out today?

Find your passion and write about it. Spellcheck. Oh and think laterally. You need to be a problem solver when you’re a journalist. On my first day at The Independent at Canary Wharf I was told to go to Kew Gardens to monitor a plant that only flowers every ten years. There was a tube strike and I was told I couldn’t take a taxi that far as the company wouldn’t pay. And there was a deadline to meet. I got there (bus, overland train, walking). You have to be able to think around problems.

What is next for your work?

I have just launched A directory  that lists companies who reduce their impact on the planet called DO LESS HARM

Many thanks Juliet Bawden

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the Maker: Deirdre Hawken currently exhibiting at Metropolitan Museum, New York

Deidre
radish salad toms opener

Deidre Hawken makes what might loosely be called hats or head pieces. However that description does not do justice to the exquisite intricate pieces of work created by this multi talented designer. I and my photographer went to interview her recently in her studio.

JB.I know you as a hat designer and maker, but I understand  that you also design and make jewelry. Can you tell us which discipline you trained in and how you came to practice both?

DH I trained in theater design, sets and costume, at the Central School of Art and Design, now Central St Martins.

I worked as a Theater Designer for some time and I was an Art Director for a couple of design companies, but I have always loved the design and making process. I have made costume accessories for The Royal Opera House, English National Ballet and the BBC, I also designed a run of windows for Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and made props for Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Asprey Ltd and I had an exhibition in Fortnum and Mason among others, and I created collections of jewellery with my sculptor husband for various fashion designers.

three hats

JB.What is a typical day for you?

DH. There is no typical day! I could be designing hats or jewellery or researching new work, seeing a client or dealing with boring administration.

into studio

 JB. What do you love most, about what you do?

DH.I love researching ideas, it is now so easy on the internet, and as I said I love everything about the making process, especially dyeing fabrics.

working pages with fabrics dyed

 JB.What do you dislike most about what you do?

DH Any kind of administration.

JB.Have you ever worked for anyone else? Or done any collaborations ? If so with whom?

DH.When you are a designer for the theater you’re basically working with and for the director, but I have been a freelance designer most of my life. I did collaborate with a jeweler, we were asked to make a joint piece, but I did not really enjoy the experience. I have also made jewellery with my husband.

mushroom onions etc

 JB.What made you want to start your own creative business?

DH. I love working for myself, although I sometimes have an assistant on a really big job, such as when I made jewellery for Saks 5th Avenue.

 JB.Have you had any training recently? If so where and why?

DH.Not recently, but in 1998 I won a scholarship to study couture millinery. This was through QEST, Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. There are no age limits and but you do have to fill in a very difficult application form. I trained with Rose Cory in Couture Millinery and had an internship with Stephen Jones. I also went to America and studied at the Met.

JB.Can you describe your creative process?

DH.First I have an idea, then I research, choose the materials. I only work with a few materials, leather, silk taffeta, silk velvet silk organza and organdie. I dye all the fabrics myself using Dylon dyes. I then decide how to make the headpiece or perhaps a collection of jewellery. Most of my headpieces are one off designs. I never make another piece exactly the same.

cigar making in progress

JB.What are your biggest challenges?

DH.Selling work.

cigars

JB. What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field today?

DH.It has always been difficult to be self-employed, especially in the Creative Sector, I believe good training is essential, also you must have self belief.

JB.Compared with when you started, do you think it is easier for designers to set up on their own nowadays or more difficult?

DH.I think it is harder, as everyone thinks they can be an artist or a designer.

JB.Have you exhibited? If so, where?

DH. I have had so many exhibitions it is hard to choose which ones to talk about. I have work in the following Public Collections: Victoria and Albert Museum – London, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute – New York, Kyoto Institute of Costume – Tokyo, Graves Art Gallery– Sheffield, Museum of Costume –Bath, Philadelphia Museum of Art-USA, Hat Museum- Stockport.

 JB.How do you find clients?

DH. Clients come to me and I sell at exhibitions.

JB. What are you currently working on?

DH.A very tricky Summer Pudding Headpiece for submission for the London Hat Show early 2018.

summer pudding

 JB.Do you teach or run workshops? If so where?

DH. Not now! I have taught at various Art colleges and was an assessor for the BA Jewellery course at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and design, Dundee for three years. I have given many talks including one at the V &A and many workshops all over the country.

lemons leather

 JB.What is next?

salad

DH. I am developing a range of headpieces which can be displayed as Still Life’s in acrylic cases, which I am finding very exciting.

JB. That is a great idea, your work is far too lovely to store out of site, in a hat box.

Many thanks Juliet

I did this interview over a year ago, however this week I had the email below and this image. So I wanted to share it with you.

‘I just wanted to let you know that a Cauliflower headpiece of mine  has been included in the latest exhibition at the Costume Institute, part of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
I was so thrilled it was included! I am attaching an image of it in situ, the exhibition is called ‘Camp’ Notes on Fashion.’

http://www.deirdrehawken.com/

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