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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Blog, Meet the Maker

Today is Just a card day.

Meet the artist and designer and brains behind the “Just A Card Campaign “ Sarah Hamilton

Sarah Hamilton is a designer of cards and prints, she started the not-for–profit  ‘Just A Card Campaign’ about four years ago.        

As it says on it’s web site, The Just a Card Campaign, aims to encourage people to buy from Designer/Makers and independent Galleries and shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small, even ‘just a card’ are so vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses.

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

SH I studied fine art and print making at Manchester and then I did a post-graduate course in print making at Central St Martins.

JB After art school, what did you do next?

SH I always knew what I wanted to do and I was very focused. I made myself a press and printed some sample cards. I took them to Paper Chase, Heals and The Conran Shop. They all liked them and took them. I sold 1000’s and printed every one of them myself by hand.

JB You have written a book called House of Cards? Brilliant name by the way, were you asked to do this or was it your idea?

SH The book was my idea and I had it for a while. I met my publishers, Pavilion, at an event and pitched it to them. They loved it and were so receptive that they went with it immediately.

JB Why did you come up with the concept of Just a card?

SH The campaign came about when I saw the quote “ If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had ‘just bought a card’ we’d still be open” by storekeepers who’d recently closed their gallery. This prompted a call to action! Designer/Makers and independent shops and galleries need a voice. People seldom realize the considerable costs involved in exhibiting at design shows or keeping a shop open. Stand fees, power, materials, wages etc, need to be met before even a penny of profit can be realized. Running a shop is often a labour of love. Without dedication and passion, and crucially sales, it would be another boarded up eyesore.

JB It seems to have taken off in a big way, how has this come about?

SH To be honestnothing much happened for the first year and a half of the campaign and then I got support from The Design Trust. I put out a shout for people to get involved and last year it became massive.  We now have a team of 11 of us working on this. Everyone gives their time for free.

 At the end of last year we got financial support from funding circle. As they say on their web site.

‘Funding Circle was born from the belief that when small businesses succeed, everyone benefits. We have been able to help more than 42,000 British small businesses to get finance through Funding Circle since 2010. However, we know times are tough for independent businesses across the country, which is why we are delighted to announce that we’ll be supporting the Just A Card campaign.’

JB What is next for the Just A Card Campaign?

CARD DESIGN MELISSA WESTERN

SH We have had 15 posters designed that are going to be put up in five different tube stations. We have photographs of different actors entertainers and those in the public eye each wearing a ‘Just a Card’ pin. Included are Twiggy, two of the actors from Game of Thrones, Michael Palin and many others. They have all given their time for free.

JB Describe your typical working day?

SH I am either in my studio making art, working towards exhibitions or fulfilling commissions. I may be chatting to the team about developments for the ‘just a card campaign’.

JB One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women 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?

SH Having a child had a big impact on my work.  Before I had him I worked from a studio away from home, once he was born it was more practical to work from home. My husband is also freelance so we were able to share the childcare. I didn’t have the option of stopping work, as I don’t have a private income, and I needed to make a living.  I wouldn’t have wanted to stop work anyway.

JB Do you run creative workshops?

SH Not at the moment, although I have done so in the past. I have run social media classes with The Design Trust and I taught on a foundation course for a couple of years.

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

SH Ever since I left art school 30 years ago.

JB I understand that you are a trustee for the charity Anno’s Africa a UK based children’s arts charity running educational arts projects for children living in slum conditions in Kenya, how did that come about?

SH I have lived in Africa on and off during my life and my mother was half South African. I felt it would be good to be involved in a charity that was relevant to my work and the arts in general.

JB How do you find your clients or do they find you?

SH They find me, often through word of mouth or they may have bought my work previously.

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

SH The best part of my work is having the creative freedom to do what I want. This is one of the reasons that I don’t license my work, as for me the most important aspect of it is the creativity and the stimulus to learn and not to be forever driven by what will sell. Obviously I need to sell my work in order to make a living, but that is not the most important part of my work.

The worst part of my work  is having to write so much. I need to do this for the Just a Card web site, but it is very time consuming and I am a perfectionist so it has to be well thought out and correct.

JB Who or what inspires you?

SH I am inspired by the creative community that I have around me. I have always taken part in group shows and love working with other people. As artists and designers everything we do is about communication and collaboration.

JB What is next for your work?

SH I shall be holding an open studio event at Christmas so I have already started working towards that.

Many thanks Juliet Bawden

Blog, Meet the Maker

• Meet Architect Jane Duncan

This month celebrates The London Festival of Architecture. There is an amazing programme of more than 500 unique events and activities. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Duncan OBE ex president of the RIBA

Jane Duncan is a British chartered architect, with her own practice based in Buckinghamshire. In August 2014 she was voted president elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects, receiving 52% of the vote and became the 75th president of the RIBA on 1 September 2015; her term of office finished on September 1 2017. She is only the third woman to ever have held the post of President.

Did you always want to be an architect and if so why?

I decided at the age of 13 when it became clear during a school art project – my friends were drawing the pots of geraniums and I was drawing the buildings. I was fascinated by buildings, spaces and people. I drew them, read about and visited them, formed pottery buildings rather than ponies, and made crazy balsa wood models all through GCSE and A levels.

Do you come from a family of architects? Yes my father was an architect running his own micro practice. I was taken to the office as a child for a treat occasionally (actually the ‘treat’ was a Chinese meal for lunch) but I was mostly bored there. When a local older friend of mine went off to study architecture, and took me for a trip around his college studio I felt absolutely at home, and knew I had found my future direction.  My father however was not supportive and told me he thought it unsuitable for a woman. I don’t think the concept of reverse psychology was well enough developed at the time! My mother was very pleased with my choice and supportive.

Which architectural college or university did you attend?

My friend had shown me around The Bartlett School at UCL.  I only applied there, and was luckily accepted.  My first degree was Architecture, Town Planning, Building and Environmental Science – quite forward thinking for the 1970s.

It is a long and grueling course do you feel it is a good education and does it equip you for work in an architectural practice once you leave?

It’s not the least bit grueling – it’s really fun, stimulating, challenging and tough. A good architectural education certainly helps you tackle the physical problems and ethics of design, but should mostly just make you curious and come away with an ability to think creatively and laterally, and communicate well.  Those are the two most important skills for an architect.

I question whether some current courses still provide students with those skills, as they now have so few hours of contact time, so little technical content and so much emphasis on clever graphics.

I have concerns too about the costs of the courses. I received a grant, and would probably not have studied architecture if it had cost the same as it does today.  I also had to live at home to reduce the costs, and commute daily from Barnet to Euston.

What made you interested in Architectural politics?

I started in politics early whilst working, prior to qualifying, in a huge international engineering company. I joined the staff in-house union and ended up at the age of 23 representing 3000 architects.  I set up my practice after qualifying, had a family (at pretty much the same time) and dropped politics for a while, although I always did other things such as acting writing and directing for amateur dramatics, running a salsa club and pro bono community work. 

I was ‘spotted’ at an RIBA conference for small practices, where I stood up and spoke my mind on charging properly for our work. I was asked to join the RIBA’s Small Practice group which is where it all started 15 years ago. From that point I was drawn into the maelstrom of architectural politics, and loved it.

Did you enjoy being president of the RIBA and were you able to influence the way the profession works?

I enjoyed every minute of it – even the ‘events dear boy, events’ – the long, long hours (as I was still running the practice so worked 24/7) flying around the globe, creating new initiatives and working with a really super staff team and some great supporters. I ran for office on a triple manifesto pledge of pride (in our work) profit (charging to represent our value) and people (diversity). I think I have influenced all of these, and added a whole heap more including directing a new Vision Strategy for the Institute, making it more global in outlook, and bringing social responsibility and ethical practices back to prominence.

Are you still involved in architectural politics?

After I handed over the presidential reigns the role requires a year as immediate past president, and I took on chairing three major committees to complete work started during my presidency. These were a review of the RIBA Awards, a complete Constitutional review and the Expert Panel on Fire Safety after Grenfell. The latter is probably the most political work I have ever done, and this role will continue. I am also President of the Architects Benevolent Society.

What were the best parts of the job as president RIBA and the worst?

My highlight was meeting, getting to know and putting the Royal Gold Medal around the neck of my architectural hero Zaha Hadid . My low point was being phoned up by the press team 6 weeks later and told that she had died, and I was to be live on BBC World News in 20 minutes.  I had a whole evening of live interviews from around the world, whilst coming to terms with the awful subject matter.

Other than that I loved meeting people – students, architects around the world, construction industry groups, community workers and many MPs and government officers.

It was hard work though to represent the profession after Brexit though with a government who had no idea how to handle the unexpected result of the vote, and with Ministers moving off almost as soon as a relationship had been developed.

I understand that as vice president of the RIBA you were Equality and Diversity Champion. Did you manage to make the changes within the profession that you wanted?

I think I was a good facilitator for change both in the Institute and in the Profession. I had a fantastic support from dedicated staff, and we did many things for the first time: welcomed LGBT group events, created an international women in architecture day, developed role models for the profession from all the 10 protected groups, and then role model practices.  The most important change was to get all parts of the Institute and the Profession thinking – perhaps for the first time about unconscious bias, representation, inclusivity and awareness.

When did you start your own architectural practice? How many people were in the practice to begin with and have you found it difficult to grow?

I set up in practice almost as soon as I qualified. I was working for a lovely young architect and asked for a partnership or I would leave. I left….. and set up in my back bedroom.

The practice grew slowly and steadily based on workload, and a very cautious business attitude. We now have 17 to 20 staff many of whom have been here for decades including interior designers, architects, technicians and students. We have no wish to grow this, but take on projects which we will enjoy. I am sure that our clients don’t realise that we go to interview them!

Your practice specializes in residential projects along with educational, community, commercial and leisure schemes. What kind of work do you most enjoy?

The best project for me is a site for a new house – I can literally build someone’s dreams. It doesn’t get better than that really.

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

Both really.  There’s a lot more knowledge and training in business, but also a lot more in the way of constraint from building and employment legislation, data protection, health and safety etc.

I know this question is hard to answer, but what is a typical day for you?

Early morning workout (if I wake in time), breakfast and then: site meetings/ client meetings/planning meetings/staff meetings/consultant meetings etc. In between hundreds of emails, (ugh) and a little design work. Trouble shooting and administration for the practice, plus writing lectures, minutes, writing articles, judging awards and still travelling a bit for the Institute.

What do you like most about what you do?

Every day is different and there are loads of challenges.

What do you dislike most about what you do?

Not much – I have a ball

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out as an architect today?

Go for it! It’s the best, most challenging, difficult, inspirational, exciting career on the planet. Don’t take no for an answer and have confidence in yourself. If you’ve successfully qualified you are amazing and need to take no nonsense from anyone. Be yourself and make sure you work for a practice which allows that – even if you have to start one yourself. There’s lots of help if you get unstuck – so ask.

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?

Everyone on the planet has to deal with these things – including me and my staff. It’s not an imposition it’s life and that’s as important as your business. People understand and you need to understand that too if you have a business, with staff/clients etc. I have not had a career break to deal with any of them.  I think architecture is in your blood so you have to keep doing it to be happy. If you are happy you can cope with most things.

What are you currently working on?

I am running about 30 projects with various staff – new houses, mixed developments, churches, historic buildings, green belt sites. On my board at the moment (yes we still use drawings boards and pencils to do our initial thinking) is a large shop which we are going to replace with a block of flats.

What is next?

Succession planning, more travel .

Jane Thank you

Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet The Maker Chantal Coady OBE. An award given for her services to chocolate making.

May 6th 2019 is the 300th Anniversary of King George I granting permission for the residents and landowners of Chelsea to use his private road, King’s Rd in Chelsea. One of the current residents is Rococo Chocolates owned by Chantal Coady

How long have you been a chocolatier?

I don’t really consider myself to be a chocolatier in the traditional sense. I would call myself more a chocolate designer or a curator of chocolate experiences. My love of chocolate goes back to my early childhood, so at least half a century since I made my first Easter Egg. It was an unbridled disaster, probably why I can still remember it.

You began your creative career studying Textile design at Camberwell School of Art, now part of University of the Arts London. After obtaining your degree did you ever work in textile design?

I have never designed any actual textiles since Graduating from Camberwell. In fact as a student at Camberwell, I split my time between the Printmaking, Photography and Printed Textiles departments, and my final show was my photographic images on silk squares. It was a bit radical at the time. I suppose you could say that my Rococo designs are a reflection of four years studying, so I have put the experience to good use.

What made you change direction entirely and start your own chocolate business ?

The moment of truth was when I went to meet my friend Nicky Cousins at Harrods (who was studying at Chelsea Art School), she was working in the Chocolate department on Saturdays. That job was like  a dream come true, especially when I was offered a place on the team, I jumped at it. I could hardly believe that I was being paid to sell chocolates. My very first customer was Michael Caine, though I failed to recognise him.

Today there are many independent chocolate companies but you were one of the first, when you started did you do your own making or did you buy in?

When I started Rococo, NO-ONE was making their own chocolates in store. Most chocolate businesses had factories outside London who made their chocolate and many companies bought chocolate in from Belgium, or France. A famous exception that I have been asked about is Floris Chocolates, in Soho’s Brewer St, founded by a Hungarian émigre, although they had been closed for many years before I opened.

Was it difficult to source delicious chocolates?

It’s helpful to remember that Britain in the 1980s was in the grip of a two hundred year old industrial food tradition: so chocolate meant either “Belgian” or Cadburys.

I discovered a great trade show in Cologne, it’s still running although its decades since I visited. Big & small chocolate companies exhibit there, so it was easy to find lots of very good suppliers under one roof.

Where did you go to learn about chocolate manufacturing?

Manufacturing is not the word I would use for it. I spent time in Yorkshire with Alan and Nicola Porter, together we had started the Chocolate Society, so I needed to get up to speed on all the basic techniques of chocolate making.  I learned about tempering chocolate and making the perfect ganache on a trip to  Varhona’s Chocolate School at  Tainl’Hermitage

. That was an eye opener. I learnt about using really top ingredients and understanding the skills needed to create simple and delicious fresh chocolates. After that it was practice, and more practice, and then training a good small team to help.

Had you ever had any experience in running a business and had you been taught anything about business whilst at art school?

At art school they really look down at anything remotely commercial, in fact I was more or less punished because I had a Saturday job, which I needed for the money, instead of attending Saturday sketching outings, so definitely no business classes. I did attend a mini business course that was run by the Manpower Services Commission: a Margaret Thatcher initiative to encourage entrepreneurs. We had three weeks in the classroom, and six weeks to create your own business plan. It was enough to get me my first bank loan, although the bank manager asked for it to be secured with the family house.

How did you find your first premises and why did you choose Chelsea, which even in the nineteen eighties was expensive?

I got a map of London, marked all the locations where there were existing chocolate shops, and looked for a gap in an area that I believed had the right type of demographics for my customers. In fact that bit of the King’s Road was populated by punks, and  was pretty rundown although it had a great vibe. I paid for the end of a lease, which with hindsight was probably a mistake, but at the time seemed to only way to get a shop.

I know you design your own packaging has that always been the case? What made you decide to expand and open other shops?

There have been three main design periods at Rococo – the first was cherubs and candy floss pink that matched the decor, the next was a more classical Rococo period design, in black and white with Ho Ho birds at the time of the “Creative Salvage” period, and the enduring one is based on the antique French chocolate mould catalogue, again using my art school training in how to create a random repeating design. That has formed the corner stone of the brand design and other insprirations have been Maroccan encaustic tile designs, as well as my hand paint designs like the Neroli orange blossom  Also my own handwriting is very much a part of the character, and features on almost all the labels.

What made you decide to expand and open other shops?

We have shops in Chelsea, Belgravia, Seven Dials, Marylebone and Notting Hill.

Apart from selling in your own shops and on line do you also supply other chains or outlets?

We are in Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, also in John Lewis, and we are planning more pop-ups with Jigsaw.

How many people do you employ?

The business is tiny in real terms, but it feels big. We have quite a complicated infrastructure, so between the shops and chocolate kitchen we employ around 60-70 people.

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 chose my path to be self-employed in business, and at the time I had my children I was not even eligible for maternity leave other than the statutory 6 weeks (at about £60 a week if I remember correctly). I did not have a choice, but to go straight back to work after about 2 weeks, and James was very supportive coming to help whenever he could. We shared the childcare in the early months and then got some help, in fact James pretty put his acupuncture career on hold while he came into the business. That was a huge sacrifice for him, and if he had not done that I dont suppose Rococo would have survived those early childhood years. Clearly this makes a huge impact on life in general, and finances were extremely tight. I have a clear memory of my son, aged two weeks, asleep in his car seat among the Easter boxes in the basement of the King’s Road shop and also of having my daughter strapped to me in a papouse aged about 1 week, as we stacked the shelves in a new shop in Bluewater in 1999, that did not last long!

You run events and workshops from some of your shops how long have you been doing this and do you enjoy it?

It takes a particular skill set to run events, and a very good support team. When that is in place it’s a real pleasure to do workshops. My favourites are ones off site in places like Castello di Potentino in Tuscany. It’s even more complicated when you have to take everything with you but lovely to be inspired by completely new surroundings and ingredients. I have also done a master class on a cruise ship in the Caribbean where the air-conditioning failed and room temperature was nearly 40C; that was majorly stressful, although I managed to get my chocolate tempered with some help from the sous chefs and the fridges. Its good to get out of your comfort zone, but probably not necessarily under such circumstances! I do have a great team who do the day to day events, so the responsibility does get shared.

Were you surprised when you were awarded an OBE?

I could not have more surprised to receive an official brown envelope, that looked like a parking ticket, which announced the nomination for the OBE – I actually thought it was a spoof, and refused to even look at it properly. Finally I was persuaded by my husband James to read it and return the paperwork. This bit all takes place months before the actual list is published, so you have to keep very quiet. I was really delighted when it was announced and especially to receive the very first in the category of “Services to Chocolate Making”. I am aware that without the help and support of my long suffering husband, family, and good chocolate people I have met along the way, the OBE would never have happened, so I am humbly grateful to all of them.

The trip to Buckingham Palace was a magical day, and following the advice of fellow honourees, I made sure that it was properly celebrated, with small parties at both lunch & dinner. Prince William was the Royal on duty at my investiture, and I managed to make him burst into laughter over my answer to his question “How did you get into chocolate?”. I can’t actually remember what I said.

It felt very grand driving into the Palace, and made my taxi driver’s day!

Many thanks Juliet Bawden

Blog, Meet the Maker, Uncategorized

Meet the Maker Jehane Boden Spiers, Textile designer, Art licenser and Consultant

Jehane in her studio surrounded by work

I know you as a textile designer and maker, Can you tell me if you went to art school and if so what did you study?

I was born & bred in Brighton. I studied Textile Design at Winchester School of Art (1994 – BA Hons).

How and when did you become an art consultant?

I have curated my fellow artists’ work since first opening my house for the Brighton Festival in 2002. I discovered that I am skilled at selling other artists work and enjoy talking about the creative process. The next one is every weekend in May starting on the 4th in less than two weeks time . For details of Venues, locations and times look at https://aoh.org.uk/house/may2019/

I became a licensing agent in 2004 when my children were born. Through my work as an agent, I have received many submissions from artists that I have not been able to represent for one reason or another. Being an art consultant means that my services can be offered more widely. I now offer one-to-one consultancy to emerging and established artists internationally.

You contributed a chapter to the very successful book ‘House of Cards’ did you enjoy the writing process and have you ever written a book of your own.

I loved it! I would love to do a book of my own. It’s on my bucket list.

Can you give us a brief history of how you started out.

I first licensed my own designs in 1992 as a student at Winchester School of Art. I worked as a textile designer in Vienna when I graduated. I set up as a freelance designer back in Brighton in 1996 under the name of Cloth of Gold.

I designed for industry (mainly paper products), made one-off embroidered pieces for private clients, and created hand-made items for small batch production sold to galleries and retail outlets nationally.

My designs have sold for textiles, gift-wrap, greeting cards & more. Licensees of my designs include Stewo, Jung Design, Gallery Five, Sanderson Fabrics, Baumann, Penny Black, Collage, Medici, Zoewie, Boots Plc, and The Paper House Group. 

My designs have featured on London Underground posters. My retail clients have included Liberty of London, English Heritage, the RSC, and Vienna & Sydney Opera Houses. My one-off embroideries have sold in galleries nationally. I have given many talks about her artwork including at the V & A.

I also had a variety of agents before I set up on my own as an Artists’ Agent. I was always very pro-active, exhibiting at trade fairs and contacting shops/ licensing clients directly.

What is a typical day for you?

Work by Ken Eardley

Everyday starts with catching up on my Instagram and planning the day’s social media. I will walk down to my workspace at Studio Eleven where I have been for 7 years. I have my own room in a shared studio space of creatives. It’s a great atmosphere and very focused. I currently spend all of my time at a computer although I have started planning a new range of products for my Open House in May. A typical day I would be designing and writing new marketing campaigns, liaising on existing licenses, contacting new clients, and giving creative direction to the artists that I work with.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love being immersed in another artists’ work. I enjoy the wide variety of client responses to artwork and the fun of trying to predict who might like what. Most of all I love combining my love of the visual world with conversations

What do you dislike most about what you do?

Being solely defined and seen as an agent. Being a designer is at the source of everything I do.

Examples of Jehane’s work

What made you want to start your own creative business? I knew it would be the thing I would most regret not doing.

Your business seems to have really grown over the last few years how has this happened?

I have always worked hard. I have never taken time out. More recently, I have spent a lot of time asking myself difficult questions and challenging myself. What is really important to me? I realised that working in an inter-disciplinary manner is hugely important to me. It has guided me to expand my offer. I have been able to promote hard as a result because I am very sure of my vision. This has really helped me to grow my business.

Cressida Bell

Can you describe your creative process?

It always starts with a response to either pattern, colour, or words. I often need to make associations and connections between things.

What are your biggest challenges?

So much to do, so little time.

I also find it hard to send short emails!

Focusing on the bigger picture when there are so many details pulling me the other way.

Speaking in public – I have lots to say but I get incredibly nervous.

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

Work hard. Ask questions, Don’t be scared to put yourself in front of people. Think about your own intent, what is important to you, really important to you? This will be invaluable in guiding your decision-making. Present everything visually and beautifully. Attention to detail.

Nancy Nicholson

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

I think it is easier. There are more resources and the creative industries are booming. Even though they are marginalized in schools, they are more recognized by the government (and people at large) as being crucial to the economy. 35% of the UK’s income is from the creative industries. Websites and social media make it much easier to be seen and to connect with clients.

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 if so how did it impact on your creative life or business?

I decided to license work by other artists was when I had my children. I was scared that if I took a seven year break from my designing, to have my two children, that I would lose confidence and be unable to get back into the industry. Having children can be isolating as can be working on your own. Working as an agent meant I still had lots of contact with people even though I was working at home. I worked virtually full time when my children were young in order to develop my business but I decided against having a nanny or an au pair. It is a constant juggle!

Have you exhibited? If so, where?

Yes – all over the country, mainly in group exhibitions but all over 15 years ago.

Liberty of London

Grace Barrand Design Centre

Ferrers Gallery

Manchester City Exchange

Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art etc

How do you find clients?

Trade fairs, social media, trade magazines, look at the underneath of products

What are you currently working on?

Planning new products with my designs for my open house

New newsletters for Jehane Ltd

A bespoke licensed range with British Airways i360 and Cressida Bell

Talking to New artists for representation

Planning my open house; getting flyers ready to print

& more!

What is next?

An online shop on www.jehane.com

Has social media impacted on your business and if so in what way?  Yes, hugely. It has been the launching pad for my new business Jehane Ltd and has been the main reason that I have attracted the new artists I represent and the new clients I am talking to.

Many thanks Juliet