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

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