Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet The Maker, Cookery Author Blandine Boyer

Blandine is a prodigious cookery writer and many of her  books have been on the bestseller list for years. Currently she has five books in the top 30 cookery books on French Amazon. She writes under her own name and uses a pseudonym as well.

Before becoming a cookery writer, food stylist and recipe developer Blandine worked as a caterer in Montreal and before that she was a costume maker for movies and doing textile creations for the iconic Cent Ideé magazine in the nineteen eighties.

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

I went to Beaux Art in Lyon but I left after a year because it was all conceptual art and I wanted to learn techniques. Also I couldn’t afford to study for 5 years and come out of art school with no practical skills. So I decided to go to the technology institute instead to learn fashion techniques. I applied to study both the fashion and cookery, I got onto both courses and tossed a coin to make the choice. So I ended up studying fashion.

Making Pesto from garden foraging

What happened next?

I started working as a pattern maker, producer and stylist, managing and overseeing the fashion output in a number of factories. Very soon I craved to do something more creative, so I made things, at night and during the weekend, for movies, advertising and DIY magazines like cent ideé. I also made models for Haute Couture shows.

I met my husband and followed him to Montreal for his career, and in Montreal there was less opportunity for fashion and design so I started a catering business, with a friend, from my kitchen. Within 6 months we were catering for hundreds of weddings and events. I started to design the food to go with the event. For example  if it was a biblical theme I only served finger food, fish, grapes bread and wine all served in the style of the last supper. I designed costumes for the waiters to fit in with the occasion. We only used unique platters and dishes rather than catering ones. I even designed my own vessels. My Clients were mainly galleries, fashion and movie companies

When and why did you return to France?

We returned to France mainly for my husband’s work.

As soon as I returned to France I started catering for private parties and met editors and started being a food stylist and writer and I never stopped.

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

There is no such thing.

If I am working on a book, I look for inspiration mainly in my head I write a summery and submit it to my editor. If it is accepted I write a rough for the recipes. I create a mood board for styling the book, and when that is approved I gather props together.  I find most of them in garage sales. Props become obsolete very quickly, I am always on the look out for them. I make most of my own backgrounds, painting and distressing, making a patina on reclaimed board or old shutters found in the garbage. I like using old metal shutters to get weathered elements.

I cook the recipe and style it with the photographer. After that I collaborate with the editor to check it all works.

Sometimes working on a book will included gutting a boar or finding a pig to dig truffles on the day of the shoot or milking a goat. Foraging wild plants and mushrooms that are the heart of my cooking. I had to do all this when creating my book Banquet Gaulous (eating like the Gaul’s)

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?

I was lucky to have a supportive husband and accommodating son. My son, who is now 30, says I could never eat anything from the fridge without first asking “ is it for a contract”  I didn’t work as much for the first few years when we came back to France, as I was working on the house, and  creating a garden from wild plants. One of my great loves is wild plants. 

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

The best part of my work is not working in an office and being my own boss. Not commuting and working from home. The worst part is when I have a difficult editor.

Do you broadcast at all?

I have been on radio a few times to promote my books. I have been invited a few times on shows to discuss particular topics for example recipes using milk.

What is the best book you have ever written?

My first book SOS Restès a left over alphabet book that wasn’t a huge success, as using left overs at that time was not trendy and you were considered to be a scrooge.

Blanquet Galois  is the best book I have ever produced. It was entirely shot in my house and on my land in Languedoc-Roussillon using locally sourced ingredients and wild plants from my land. Also because I was able to do my own art direction and my editor fully trusted me.

Image styled by Blandine Boyer, shot by Aimery Chemin

Who or what inspires you?

My mother inspired me, she cooked, knitted, sewed mended and foraged. She taught me about wild plants and mushrooms. It is very trendy now, but for her it was necessity. My father who was a forest ranger taught me botanic Latin and the love of gardening. I am connecting again with my peasant roots by butchering a pig every winter with my friends. This is an excellent mix of ancient recipes and modern creations.

What advice would you give to any cookery author starting out today?

I would encourage a beginner to expect hard work and not to fall into the internet cut and paste trap. Be as true as you can on the plate. Don’t rely on the photographer to photo shop it.

In spite of all the cookery shows and digital cookery videos and you tube, the cookbook still has a future, it is surprising and refreshing. The cookbook is not dead yet.

What is next for you ?

I am going to leave Paris to live in the country in my house in Langadoc and feed myself and forage as much food as I can and I hope to write my last book about it.

Styling Blandine Boyer image by Aimery Chemin

I love being creative, If I am on holiday, after 5 days I get very agitated if I am not making. I love to make and to create things. I particularly like building.

Thank You

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the creative gallery and shop owner Jane Will

With Christmas coming soon, now is the opportunity to shop local and support independent shops such as Will and Yates in Deal Kent.

Will & Yates Gallery + Homestore

104-106 High Street Deal Kent CT14 6EE

Tel 01404 374700 /07958 931 411 /info@willandyates.com

When we first met many moons ago you were working in the Shaker Shop in London. How did this come about?

Shaker was my favorite shop in London. I became obsessed with the whole look and loved everything about it. Had I lived back in the 1750’s I am sure I would have become a Shaker sister. I filled my house with all things Shaker, peg rails, boxes in all sizes. It got to the point where I visited the Shaker villages in the USA. Then I started to work for the Shaker Shop in London.

Deal is very different from London. What made you move down to a small coastal town and away from London?

I lived in London since I was 18 and I had my family there. We always said once the kids left home we would move down to the coast. We visited many seaside towns but as soon as we visited Deal we knew it was the place that we wanted to live. It ticks all the boxes, it’s architecture, independent shops, Saturday market, great restaurants and a fast train to London.

What are its advantages and disadvantages?

I honestly can’t think of any disadvantages. Family and friends visit all the time- we always have a house full. The pace is obviously slower, but that is what I want. After a full time job and parent hood, the simpler things become more important- sitting on the beach, riding my bicycle, lunch with friends.

Have you always wanted to run your own shop and gallery?

Yes, I used to make my sister play shop with me. I loved using my till and giving out change.

How long have you had your shop/gallery  in Deal?

We opened in October 2017

What have been the major challenges?

Keeping the stock fresh so that customers keep returning.

Is there much competition within the town?

There are a few independent shops, which is lovely, as we are all different.

Do you sell much on line?

Not yet but I intend to build up that side of the business.

Is it difficult to source original product?

Yes we are always on the look out for local artisans.

Jane I have known you for a long time I have written about your previous houses and I know you have a great eye. Have you had any kind of design training?  

No, but I do live with creatives. My husband ran an Ad agency before we moved down here and my sons both work in creative industries.

Had you ever had any experience in running your own business before?

No I’ve always been employed.

How did you find your premises and why did you choose the sea front?

Caroline, my business partner, and I had been looking on the high street and then we walked past this on the sea front and saw it was up for rent. So we went and bought fish and chips and sat on the beach and discussed it for a very short time. So after the fish and chips we went back to the shop and said yes.

Tell me about how you met your business partner and about the different roles you hold within the business? We met on the beach and got talking and immediately made a connection.We bring different things to the business.Caroline is an artist and she studied painting at the RCA. She is more creative than me. I am the more practical one.

What would you say is your USP?

We sell a mixture of original art, much of it Caroline’s but other artists too, plus vintage and new home wares. I attend antique fairs, trade fairs and open studios. Sometimes I find people on instagram.

Do you run any events from the shop?

Yes every three months we hold an event such as a Christmas sales evening or an exhibition launch. We advertise this on social media and we do door drops and we have a mailing list.

Can you describe a typical day?

I shall describe a typical Saturday. I will go to the market and buy flowers for the shop. Deal has an excellent Saturday market. I will buy a sticky bun from the Swedish lady who has a stand there and coffee from Deal Roasters. I take everything to the shop and open up at 10am. Normally we are busy with lots of locals coming to see what we have that is new. I try to remember to ask how people have found us. Often recommendation and some find us on instagram. I close the shop at 5pm. Walk home and have a glass of wine.

On Sundays the customer base changes, there are more dog walkers who walk past and then come in to see what we are selling. Up to now we have been closed in the week but as the summer progresses and we become better known we will open from Thursday to Sunday.

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

It was because of the children that I took a job as a school secretary. I needed to work, although it wasn’t particularly creative it meant that I didn’t have childcare issues and I could see my children after school and during their holidays.

Who or what inspires you?

Caroline my business partner inspires me. She has changed my life. Even though what I now have has been a long held dream, I am not sure that I would have done it by myself. I get on with the day-to-day stuff whilst she is painting. We make a good team.

From what part of your business do you get the most satisfaction?

I get a great kick when someone buys something I’ve chosen and when people say lovely things about the shop.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out today?

Do as much as you can yourself to save money. My husband, who is luckily very practical, fitted out the shop.

You do need financial security for rent, stock and to get set up. It will probably be a while before you can start making any income from it.  I overlapped with my other job for eight months in order to get established. I’ve given up the other job now to concentrate on this.

What is next for the shop?

Caroline would like to expand into bigger premises. I am not sure yet and would like to get this a little more established before we do.

Since interviewing Jane, she and Caroline, have bitten the bullet and, moved into much larger premises on High Street Deal. The move has been a great success.

Will & Yates Gallery + Homestore

104-106 High Street Deal Kent CT14 6EE

Tel 01404 374700 /07958 931 411 /https://www.willandyates.com/

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