Thursday, 30 May 2013

Mentoring Series - Jenny Creasey

As part of the popular Mentoring Series I've been chatting to a variety of people about mentoring and how it can help your creative business and your practice. Having worked with a Mentor as part of the Design Factory Mentoring Scheme I've realised the multiple benefits that such a working relationship can have. This week I'm chatting to another of my guest bloggers, Jenny Creasey, designer-maker of gorgeous award-winning ceramics and owner of Itch Gallery in Rutland. We're talking about Mentoring and the service Jenny provides to creative individuals, and this is what she had to say.....

Tell us a bit about your experience of working with a mentor...

Fresh faced from university I knew I wanted to make a go of it with my ceramics but didn't know where to start. I was selected for a business scheme helping budding entrepreneurs. Alongside workshops giving me the business skills I needed I was also lucky enough to have two brilliant mentors. It's one thing having the relevant skills and tools but quite another to know how to put them into practice and how everything relates to your own work.

My mentors were there every step of the way discussing everything from stand set ups to new designs and everything in between. It was a huge help and support to be able to get their honest and impartial opinions on things and I don't think I'd be where I am now without them.

What made you decide to take the step to become a mentor?

I mentor others because I know first hand how invaluable mentoring can be and because when I left university, I had very little business knowledge. I know that there are lots of people in the same boat and I want to help. There's a huge wealth of creative talent out there, but a lot of creatives aren't very good at the business side of things.

What does your mentoring cover?

My mentoring covers everything from creative development to pricing, exhibitions and business plans. It really depends on who I'm mentoring and what they need help with.

What makes your mentoring scheme different from others?

My mentoring is different because I'm a maker as well as a gallery owner so I get to see both sides. I went from having no business knowledge to creating an award winning ceramics business. Since taking on Itch Gallery, I've won 2 further awards to turn it into an award winning gallery. Also, although a face to face meeting is preferable (especially for creative development aspects), mentoring can also be done via phone or email. This means that your location doesn't prevent you from getting the support you need. It's also really useful to just be able to ring up someone and get a quick answer to a question.

If you want to find out more about Jenny's Mentoring Service you can find out more about the service she provides by clicking here or you can contact her through the Gallery website here

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

After The Jump - my new podcast discovery
I'm always on the look out for a new podcast to listen to as I'm driving to and from work or when I'm up in the studio. Usually it's a film or book review programme, comedy, plays, Desert Island Discs or Arts shows, Radio 4 featuring high up on the list of my faves but recently I read about the Design Sponge podcast on one of the RSS feeds from the amazing Design Sponge blog (which is one of the best blogs ever I must say, it's been around for 8 years now and I've been following off and on for most of this time). So when I realised they were making a podcast I decided to download a selection and I've been very inspired by them. If you want to check them out for yourself all you need to do is click this link After The Jump podcast They have given me lots of food for thought and loads of ideas for blog topics and discussions.

As well as a great selection of interviews with creative entrepreneurs and design talent I particularly loved Episode 13 which was all about Work/Life Balance, something I've been struggling with myself lately. I'm finding it quite difficult to motivate myself after a disappointing trade fair experience and a busy first three months of the year. For the last few weeks I've been feeling in need of a break, a bit of 'me-time' and listening to this podcast made me realise that everyone (even top-design bloggers like Grace Bonney) have these feeling from time to time, and it was reassuring to listen to Grace's open and honest account of how she deals with improving her work-life balance. So it's spurred me on to make my list of tasks for my studio days this week and I'm hoping that after an early night tonight I'll be raring to go tomorrow.

Also this week it's my last mentoring session with my creative business mentor, which will definitely make me feel better (spending time with other inspiring creative peeps always sparks my enthusiasm). We'll be catching up after a busy few months and reviewing my progress over the last twelve months and putting some more plans in pace for the coming months and reviewing lists of what I want to achieve by the year end. Watch this space!!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

My BCTF Favourites - Ema Kelly - Duck in a Bucket

Over the past couple of weeks I've been sharing with you some of my favourite designer-makers from my BCTF show this year and today I'm showcasing the lovely Ema Kelly and her exquisite glass creations. I first met Ema at the SOCK Market in March and it was great to catch up with her at BCTF and take a closer look at her work. Since chatting at BCTf Ema has had the honour of being awarded the Silver award from the Craft and Desoign Selected awards, so well done Ema, certainly well deserved!

Ema hand makes all of her glass pieces by hand, specialising in hot glass making techniques, so no two of Ema's pieces are identical. I absolutely love Ema's colour palette of muted pastels. Historically for some reason glass has never been one of my favourite mediums (media?) but I must say there's something about Ema's work which makes me feel I need to own one, I'm really drawn to the shapes and colours (ear rings especially, husband take note, this is a HINT!)

Ema takes inspiration from her surroundings, the outdoors, and even the glass itself, to create her contemporary ranges of homeware, gifts, and jewellery. Her use of bold colours combined with minimalist forms has made her work striking and desirable to an array of clientele. Designs interchange between playful and elegant, all the time illustrating the tactile fluidity of the material and the vibrancy of colours available

If you want to find out a bit more about Ema and her work you can check out her website here, and her blog here where you can read a great blog post about her BCTF experience. Click here for details.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Learning a new craft every month - Anna Simmonds of Crafting Fingers

Through Twitter I have recently come across the work and blog of Anna Simmonds of Crafting Fingers fame. Anna and I had been tweeting to each other about blogging and she had been really helpful in coming up with a few suggestions about idea generation for blog posts and also she has given me dome great feeedback about my own blog. Curious to find out a bit more about Anna and her very helpful ideas I visited her blog and discovered heaps of fab blog posts full of creative crafty tips, from social media to product reviews to her crafting challenge of learning a new craft a month throughout 2013. I think this is an amazing and inspiring idea so I asked Anna if she would tell us a little about where the idea came from and how she's getting along with it. This is what she had to say....

'At the end of 2012 I was in a creative rut. It’s natural to look back at the year when New Year’s rolls around, and I realised I hadn’t done anything creative. My creative life (and yarn stash) was uprooted when I moved to the United Kingdom in April 2012 from Finland. One year I was assisting my mother in her handmade business, building my photography portfolio, and making paper cuts and cards in my spare time. Crafting and design weren't things I got interested in in school, they were just always a part of my life. I took them for granted. Then I moved.

It was easy to get caught up in day-to-day adventures, and my crafting projects got put to the side. My works in progress gathered dust. I’d taken less than a hundred photos in 2012. I hadn’t even made a Happy Birthday card from scratch. New Year’s Resolutions were never my style, but I knew something had to change. Something drastic. Dreaming up beautiful projects and hoarding ideas on Pinterest didn’t mean anything if I never put my crafting skills to use. I’d gotten comfortable with thinking of ideas instead of taking action on them. I wanted to start a project that would support my love for handmade, that would keep me accountable, and would push my boundaries.

Crafting Fingers is that step beyond my comfort zone. In 2013 I’m learning a new craft a month. It’s not one craft a year. It’s twelve.

Creativity in Adversity

Jumping into a craft each month has its ups and downs. I’m not just picking one tutorial to follow every month; I want to truly grasp the craft I’m learning. Each craft is different, but the process for me each month is to first study the craft. What is it, who does it, what is its history and where is it going? I get a feel for a craft then I try a few techniques. There have been quite a few poorly made purchases and pricked fingers on the way, but those are little lessons, too.

Pushing boundaries isn’t easy. Every month so far I have chosen a craft I’ve wanted to learn for years. There are literally years of excuses to get over. I’m fighting against a backlog of preconceived ideas of what the craft will be like and what I’ll be able to achieve.

The first two months, as I learned crochet and embroidery, were especially difficult. It had been so long since I had tackled a new craft that I’d forgotten just how messy it gets. I had forgotten what it was like to be bad at crafting. But the truth is that creativity really flourishes in adversity. If you force yourself to make do with what you have, you’re narrowing down the scope of what’s possible. Instead of spreading your creative energy across a big open expanse of ideas, you can focus on smaller solutions with more impact.

In February I was close to giving up on embroidery. I had enjoyed studying the techniques and history of embroidery but it seemed like the thread and I just didn’t get along! I was left with ugly, tangled messes, broken threads and sore fingers. But that’s where Crafting Fingers comes in. The blog keeps me accountable, and I wasn’t going to back down on embroidery when I had publicly announced I was going to learn it. I ditched the expensive embroidery thread and decided to embroider with yarn, and the results were something I could be proud of. Without something to keep me accountable, I would have given up and probably never tried embroidery again.

We can all support handmade

Crafting Fingers started with an audience of two: my husband and my mother. I couldn’t have picked better people to support me as I got invested in a year long project. At the end of January, Simply Crochet magazine linked to my crochet tutorial on Twitter and overnight my project was a bit more public. It wasn’t fame, but suddenly people I hadn’t connected to before were supporting my project. It made me more determined to provide useful information on crafting as I went along. It felt like I wasn’t just learning crafts for me, anymore.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as I’ve been working on Crafting Fingers is that validation is important for creative projects. We can all support handmade with more than just our time and money; encouraging and sharing the work of handmade crafters goes a long way, too. I’m working on a resource list for my blog of my favourite craft books and blogs because of this lesson!

As I’ve thrown myself into new crafts (crochet, embroidery, calligraphy, and stamping so far) I’ve been lucky enough to be mentioned on the Country Living magazine editor’s blog. Mollie Makes has mentioned me in their magazine as ‘one to follow’, too. Those have been big moments for me, but day-to-day I’ve gotten support through blog comments, emails, and even just seeing my Twitter following grow. We’re not all magazine editors, but we all have the time to say ‘I love this’ to a crafter we support. And if giving feedback makes you nervous, that’s a worthwhile boundary to push! The scariest, most exciting part about creative projects is that we don’t always know where they’re going to end up. Crafting Fingers started as a new hobby, with an audience of two. Now, inspired by the passion of my readers, I want to keep this project going beyond 2013. I want to keep showing people that learning new crafts is fun, and doable. I believe learning new crafts is the best way to appreciate the value of handmade. That respect is good for all of us, hobbyists and professionals alike'.

If you want to find out more about Anna and her project please visit her website here

Friday, 17 May 2013

Approaching Galleries - Success Story from Ailsa Poll

Today Ailsa Poll is sharing with us how the series on Approaching Galleries has helped her gain some new stockists and grow her jewellery business, Topaz Magpie.

'Well I’m here to say a huge thank you to Sue for setting about her Approaching Galleries series of posts. Shall I tell you why? Oh, go on then...

I have been making jewellery ‘properly’ for around 2 years now. I love it; I get to use hammers and blow torches on a regular basis, and create sparkly goodness which pleases the eye. I was lucky enough to get some of my work in a local gift shop quite early on; a riverside spot, very popular with tourists in the summer, it has been quite successful for me. But I have been thinking for a while that I need to spread my wings and find other stockists in the county. And as I was contemplating this with fear, Sue’s series turned up in my RSS feeder.

Let me tell you, I have never been very good at promoting myself, or just going up to someone and saying “Hey, look at my jewellery, wouldn’t you love to sell it?”. For several months last years I wandered up to shops and galleries, stock in my bag, ready to venture inside... only to walk away without even setting foot through the door, giving myself grief with every step for not being more confident.

However, it seems that I was instinctively doing the right thing. Why? Because the most important thing I learned from the 4 part series Sue produced along with some of her stockists is this: never turn up unannounced at a gallery and expect them to be delighted to see you. Without exception, this was the advice from the gallery owners. Why? They are busy people, they have a business to run, customers to deal with; and they don’t like surprises. If you turn up with a bag full of goodies, they are going to feel put on the spot, uncomfortable; is that really the first impression you want to make?

Instead of cold calling, send an introductory email. I will confess, when I read the email advice from these 4 successful business women, I hung my head temporarily in shame. I had (in the past) committed one of the ‘email sins’, namely sending the briefest of brief emails, with little information and no images; it is hardly surprising that that particular shop owner said “Sorry, but...”. Your email must be eye-catching, informative and professional. It needs pictures of your beautiful wares. It needs to say a little (but not too much!) about you. It needs links to your website. And it definitely needs to show that you have researched carefully, and you really believe that your work will fit with the gallery you are approaching. Oh, and always get a name to address your email to: make it personal. It’s only polite!

So as I say, I read these four posts very, very carefully. I dismissed many of my previous ideas, and implemented new ones. I spent hours (really, hours) trying to get the pictures just right, making sure that they were the right size, that they showed my work off well. I cursed over the way PDFs showed up as attachments when they were emailed, and I finally ended up with a word-processed ‘letter’ which I copied into each individual email, which I addressed to the gallery owner, then included two JPGs of picture compilations in a size which wouldn’t clog the recipients inbox. And then I sent them.

50% didn’t respond. One said thanks, but we’re full. Three said they loved my jewellery and wanted to take a closer look. As a result, I now have 4 new shops stocking my jewellery - and they haven’t all gone for the same things either! One shop owner has even asked for a couple of pieces to be slightly redesigned, so that she can have them as exclusives. And yes, there are already customers out there wearing items purchased in lovely seaside galleries, that would otherwise never have heard of me...

If you want to find out more about Ailsa and her jewellery business you can read her blog here or visit her shop here. You never know you might just see something which catches your eye too!!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Approaching Galleries - Putting the top tips into practice

Remember my blog posts on Approaching Galleries? The whole series seemed to be a really popular one, attracting lots of positive feedback and comments from readers. If you missed it, I'll give you a brief summary (and I promise I'll keep it brief!):

Several of my readers had asked if I would write a blog post on How to Approach Galleries. I asked four of my lovely stockists if they would mind helping me out with some advice and tips on what works well for them and what they expect when they are approached by new artists and designers. The posts can be found here:
  1. Part 1 - from Tracey Benton of Atelier in Devon
  2. Part 2 - from Jane Needham from the Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds
  3. Part 3 - from Deirdre Gage from Created gallery in Chesterfield
  4. Part 4 - from Alison Bartram from Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge
It was great to get the facts straight from Gallery Owners and Managers on what they want to see from us, so I then summarised the Top Tips into the final post which you can read here.

You can imagine how chuffed I was when jeweller Ailsa Poll aka Topaz Magpie, contacted me to say that she had been reading my blog series and had put the top tips into practice, gaining several new stockists of her gorgeous jewellery in the process!! I've invited her to tell us how she did it later this week so watch out for the heads up on Approaching Galleries from Ailsa Poll. Hurray, my top tips worked!!

If anyone else would like to share their success stories on approaching galleries and what worked for you then please do get in touch or leave a comment.

Monday, 13 May 2013

My BCTF Favourites - Alex Snowdon of Snowdon Design and Craft

Here is another of my BCTF favourites, a lovely lady I met when I was doing my first trade fair last year. Alex and her husband, a fellow North-Easterner, Charlie, came to say hi and we we ended up chatting for ages about the show and our work, I remember Alex had just given up her job and was concentrating on her printmaking and design fulltime, how exciting! It felt like we had known them for ages by the time we parted ways and Alex said she hoped to be back at BCTF in 2013. I've kept in touch with her since last year and have been following her progress on Facebook. It was great to catch up properly this year and see what an amazing job she has done with her products and her stand. I asked if she wwould share a few words about how she found being a BCTF-First-Timer and this is what she had to say....

'I decided to exhibit at BCTF this year after checking it out as a visitor last year, just after I'd left my day job to concentrate on my printmaking and illustration full time. I think the thing that stood out for me most when I was looking round as a visitor, was just how friendly and open all the exhibitors where and what a lovely, relaxed atmosphere there was. I got a lot of positive feedback about what a good show it was and it was there that I met Sue and her sister Heather in the Newcomers Gallery. Sue and Heather really swung it for me, after having a chat with them I decided I wanted to be there next time! Luckily I was accepted into the Newcomers Gallery for 2013.

When I arrived on the Saturday to set up I have to admit I felt a little sick! It all seemed so daunting to set the stand up from scratch myself and make sure everything was straight and fitted in. Once the show opened on the Sunday morning though and I took my first order I started to relax and enjoy it. I was amazed at how friendly all the buyers and other exhibitors where, it was such a supportive atmosphere and there was no sense of competition, everyone was helping each other out with tips, information and practical help.

It was also really good that the buyers were there specifically to buy hand produced items. They really seemed to appreciate the hours of work that went into making everything. I think the thing that made the whole thing so enjoyable for me personally was the sense of community and 'belonging' I came away with.
Making a living from your art is usually quite a solitary pursuit. I worked as a graphic designer for over 20 years before I started my own business last year and I have to admit that full time employment, no matter how much I might have resented it, did come with it's own sense of belonging.

In the past year, since I started working for myself, I'd started to feel like I didn't really 'fit in' anywhere anymore. I often felt like I was the only person in the world working from home, and had begun to feel quite 'disconnected'. Being at BCTF for a few days though, among hundreds of other people in a similar situation, sharing the same challenges and triumphs, I came away feeling like I'd found my place in the world again!

I enjoyed it so much I arrived back home feeling like I'd been on holiday, although a very tiring one! All the great feedback I received has given me more confidence in my work and made me feel that I'm on the right track. I'm already looking forward to going back again next year!"

Thanks for taking part in the blog again Alex and we wish you all the best for the coming year. If you want to find out a bit more about Alex and her work you can check out her website here

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pulse 2013

This is where I'm off to tomorrow. I'm doing a bit of a recce for next year and I'm planning to exhibit there. I'll be catching up with old friends and hopefully making some new connections for blog features. I'm really looking forward to a day out in London on my own! Watch this space, I'll be blogging about the lovely things I discover

Friday, 10 May 2013

Mentoring Series - Patricia van den Akker of The Design Trust

This week on the blog I'm pleased to welcome Patricia van den Akker of The Design Trust who is going to tell us all about her experiences as a Creative Business Mentor and also all about the new Mentoring Programme the Design Trust has just launched. I've been following the Design Trust for a while now and they provide heaps of useful business tips and resources for creative business owners like me. When I heard on Twitter that they were starting a mentoring scheme I thought it would be great to find out more about them and their new programme.

How long have you been mentoring?
I have been a creative business adviser and trainer for nearly 10 years, a creative business coach for over 3 years, and I have been working as a mentor since I took over The Design Trust in November 2011. As an adviser I advise creatives on business planning and business development, in particular around business models, income streams, marketing and selling. I train people individually and in groups through workshops, webinars and 'business games' on 'how to' do things e.g. create a business or marketing plan, write a good intro email, how to calculate your costs and identify the right price for your work, how to get ready for a trade show or crafts fair. As an adviser I give information and answer the creatives' business questions. I am the Design Doctor for Crafts Magazine and I answer many craftspeople's business question in that magazine.

I realised that as a business adviser I only could go so far, and that although we would have a great meeting many of my clients didn't make much progress by the next session. I realised that often 'something' was holding them back. So when I was expecting my second child, I decided to retrain as a certified business coach (with the Coaches Training Institute). As a coach I deal with the emotional and 'bigger picture' side of running your own creative business - what is stopping you, what are the obstacles, what are your fears and what can you do to overcome these. As a coach I ask those awkward big questions you probably prefer to hide from! 'What is your dream or legacy?', What is really important to you?, What do you want to be easier?', and my clients answer them (so actually the reverse of being an adviser!).

And finally as a mentor I share my own experiences of running my own business The Design Trust, which combines a bit of all the above roles, but especially it is about the knowledge and experience I can share of being a soletrader. I am really proud to be working especially as a mentor ('a Titan') as part of the School for Creative Startups programme:

What made you decide to start a business mentoring programme?
I have always loved seeing creative people develop over time. When I studied graphic design my tutor told me already that I was better in managing other creatives than doing it myself - and he was right! I currently run a programme called 'The Design Trust Get Clients Now! coaching programme for designers and makers', which combines online workshops (webinars), with online group coaching, and individual coaching/advice sessions and a feedback session. I really love the combination of these different formats, as they really help people with practical questions they might have, but especially the group coaching programme is great to learn from other creatives and to get stimulated by them too to get into action! You can find more info about this programme here:

What kind of people do you work with and what kind of topics and issues do you cover in your mentoring sessions?
I work with a variety of creatives: from recent graduates and starters, to women who decide to start a creative business when they have been made redundant or started a family, to well established designers and makers in mid career or those who are approaching retirement. I work mostly with freelancers, sole traders and small business owners in design and crafts. I work especially with people who are professional, want to create high quality and original products and services, and who really want to get into action and be more pro-active. I particularly like working with creative social entrepreneurs, who have a broader mission and want to create a creative business with a social, educational and or environmental impact.

As I am Dutch I like working with people from across the UK but also overseas, and about half of my current individual clients are from Europe. With them I work on the phone or via Skype, which is fantastic. Designer makers at the beginning of their careers often have practical questions around 'how to do' things such as writing a business or marketing plan, or how to price their products or start marketing their work on a low-cost budget. Many of these questions I answer through The Design Trust blog posts now, and in The Design Trust Guide to Start & Run a Successful Craft Business:

More mature makers often have 'bigger' questions about how to juggle their work with other commitments, or they are at cross roads and want to change direction but dont know where to start or lack the confidence to do so. Or they want to grow their business without loosing control over it. Some people at the mid career stage start asking questions around what they are doing and why, and the impact they want to make as a creative, which I find particularly interesting.

How do you structure your mentoring sessions?
I first have some email correspondence and phone conversations, before we get started. I then email a questionnaire with a series of questions to get people really thinking. We then often meet in person for a 2 - 3 hour brainstorm meeting to really understand their particular challenges. I then create a 2 page action plan with my recommendations, and this is followed by 5 - 6 mentoring/coaching sessions on the phone over a couple of months. They are in the driving seat in how slow or quickly we work together.

What kind of benefits could someone gain from having a mentor?
From 'pure' mentoring the benefits are especially about having somebody with personal experience of running a creative business who can share their own personal experience, knowledge and potentially their contacts with you. Coaching is particularly helpful if you are struggling with certain challenges each time, or if you lack confidence or certain things are holding you back. But it is also great to look at the bigger picture with a coach, to get you dreaming a bit bigger, with a clear vision of what you want to be, do or have in 20 years time or so.

A good coach can really help you find what your strenghts are, and help you to create something bigger than you ever thought was possible! They definately can help you to get into action, and stop procrastinating! As an adviser I help people with the practical questions so that you learn how to do something, without feeling stupid. I often can answer people's questions around planning and marketing fairly quickly. Most creatives haven't learnt about business or marketing, and I love to be able to show them how creative running your own business actually can be!

What are the benefits/rewards of being a mentor?
I love seeing people develop over the years. It is fantastic to see creatives grow in confidence, in more creative and daring work or fantastic design solutions, and in financial terms or taking on others and teaching them their skills. I recently got an email from a client who I saw 3 years ago, and she told me that without me she wouldn't have been able to make some major changes in her life. Very often people tell me years later the impact that some of my questions had on them. It's about getting the best out of YOU. Very powerful stuff, and very humbling too.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering working with a mentor?
The more that you know what you are looking for the easier it is to find the right person for you. Write down your creative or business questions or specific challenges and research potential mentors or advisers, and ask other creatives for recommendations too. There is a huge difference between advisers, coaches, and mentors. Make sure that you find the right person and role for you to answer your questions or to help you develop. It might be that you need to look at different people for different aspects of your business. Sometimes reading a good business book will help you further! (I recommend my favourite creative business books on The Design Trust website).

For a good mentor look at somebody who is 5 or 10 years ahead of you to see if they want to mentor you. If you lack business skills then a really good business person (not a creative!) might just be the right one for you! Or are you looking for more creative skills, then you might need to look in that area. Really think about why this other person would be interested in working with you. What would be in it for them? Especially if you are approaching another creative, why should they be giving you access to information and skills that they have taken years to develop themselves? Mentors (e.g. rolemodels ahead of you) provide some mentoring for free or as part of a business support package (e.g. School for Creative Startups). But advisers and coaches do this for a living, and will need to charge you!

A big Thank You to Patricia for taking part in the blog series. If you don't already know all about The Design Trust then check out their website here, there's loads of lovely help and information on the website.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Book Review - BlogInc - Joy Deangdeelert Cho

So I went on a bit in my previous post on Tuesday when I started to review this book, but I couldn't help it, I've been blogging a while so felt my newer readers needed the heads up and a bit of history about how I got to be here... still!

And, as I explained, I ordered a copy of BlogInc and delved into it as soon as it arrived and I now need to divulge why I enjoyed it so much and why you should treat yourselves and buy a copy asap....

It covers everything you need to know, from the beginnings of a blog idea, all the way through the practicalities of choosing your blogging platform, your blog name and style, through to growing it, making it make you some money and even making the break to blogging full time. It's full of practical advice, and is also sprinkled with case studies and interviews from a plethora of established bloggers who have made blogging their career. I found it really inspiring to read.

I was relieved to know I'm doing a lot of things 'right' but also picked up some great tips which I'm going to action after my second read through. These include sizing images correctly, rebranding, interacting with your audience and getting on to building your own creative community. This book would be great to read if you are brand new to blogging or, on the other hand, you just have a great blog idea but don't know where to start. But it's also been very useful to someone like me who has been blogging for a while and who wants to find out how to take their blog to the next level.

Initially I read it through quite quickly and forgot to make notes (as writing in a bought book still feels a wee bit like vandalism to me.... don't know why, I'm a long way over 30 and shouldn't really be living by these rules any longer... maybe they are just ingrained from school!!). Anyway, as I was saying, I've read it once and I'm now on my second read through, where I will be making notes, as there are so many useful tips. Even looking through the case studies and checking out the blogs gave me loads of ideas.

Really, I advise you, BUY IT!! If you are feeling a bit stuck with your blogging, or feeling like you want to start blogging but know nothing about how to, or even if you feel you know it all, but need a fresh point of view...this book is worth a read

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

My BCTF Favourites - Blueberry Park

The next of my BCTF favourites is the lovely Karen Lewis, from Blueberry Park. I got to know Karen, a self-taught designer maker with a passion for screen-printing, via twitter before BCTF and once I’d seen her work I knew I was going to have to pay her stand a visit and say hello. She was only just around the corner from me so it was great to be able to have a chat over the course of the BCTF show.

I asked Karen to tell me a bit about herself and this is what she had to say…

‘My name is Karen and I run my own business, Blueberry Park, from home, as well as looking after and running a house for my 3 children and husband. Life is busy! I love crafting and spend endless ideas doing or thinking about what I'm making. My main crafting loves are anything to do with textiles - fabric makes my senses go wild! The feel, the eye-candy of the patterns! When I have a mo, I'll take myself out for a run - I love being in the outdoors. At the other end of the spectrum I'll hide away with a pile of books and magazines, accompanied by a nice frothy real coffee...or glass of red wine.

As you can see Karen’s stand was choc full of brightly coloured hand printed goods, from lampshades to cushions and bags. It looked beautiful and I’m sure her well-chosen colour palette would have ahd the buyers queuing up.

If you want to find out a bit more about Karen you can check out her blog here where you can find links to her shops...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

a brief history of my blogging - a preview of BlogInc Review

This week I thought I would write a review of this fab book about blogging. I decided to buy it when I returned from my last trade fair in April after I had received many positive comments about the blog over the course of the show. It really astounded me that I had so many readers and to meet them and hear how much my blog has helped them really made me stop and think, I liked this new feeling and I realised it was something I really wanted to work on and grow this part of my business. I'm still not really sure of what I will do but I have a few secret ideas on the back-burner... watch this space for details....

I started writing my first blog in 2007 (OMG that seems soooo long ago). Back then it was more of a diary of my creative ventures where I could show what I was working on at the time and interact with other creatives, although it was a lot more of me chatting to myself than to anyone else! I didn't really have much direction at that point and didn't know where my creativity was headed, I just knew it was headed somewhere.

As time has gone on and I've rebranded, my blog has become more of place where I share my experiences and what I'm learning about running a creative business rather than it just being about what I'm working on at any one time. I still share my work, but now I'm also featuring other artists whose work I love, sketchbooks whose pages I can't get enough of, local events, shows, interviews and guest posts. It has in fact become more of an online collection of articles and features, rather than just being about me!

The turning point occurred in 2012 when I was preparing for my first trade fair and I blogged about the whole process, what worked well and what I could have done better. This is when I noticed my readership stats starting to rise. From a few hundred visits per month I got over 3000 in April last year. This was most definitely food for thought, people seemed to be liking what they were reading, so I decided to make more of a concerted effort to make the blog as useful and helpful to other creative business owners and it was really rewarding to get so much positive feedback. So the blog is now growing steadily and I decided I wanted to look into ways I may be able to make it a bigger part of my business.

A fellow tweep recommended BlogInc to me and I couldn't wait for it to arrive. The tag line of 'blogging for passion, profit and to create community' sounded just up my street, all of the reasons I wanted to blog summed up very nicely.

This post would have gone on forever, trust me, so I decided, for you, to split it into two, you can read the my review, without the 'my blog history' later this week....

Monday, 6 May 2013

My BCTF Favourites - Caroline Pratt

Caroline Pratt is a Printmaker and Surface Pattern Designer, producing hand drawn and screen-printed limited edition prints, cards and home-ware. I met Caroline last year at BCTF when we were in the Newcomers Section and it was great to catch up this year and see her new work and find out how she is getting on.

Currently based in Leeds West Yorkshire, Caroline grew up in rural Shropshire and remains true to her country roots. With the surrounding Yorkshire Moors now giving constant inspiration in her work, her love for nature and the outdoors is combined and enhanced by a passion for bold modernist textiles of the 1950s.

Individual elements are drawn or developed into simple paper cut motifs. Scanned into the computer, hand drawn textures are added and the designs are composed before being developed into screen-print. Caroline loves nothing more than getting messy with a squeegee and hopes that this love for traditional slow crafted process results in pieces which can be treasured and loved forever.

If you want to find out more about Caroline you can visit her website here and her blog here and you can follow her on Twitter here....

Friday, 3 May 2013

Mentoring Series - Pete Mosley

In the third part of my Mentoring Series I got to chat to Pete Mosley, who some of you may recognise, as the Business Editor for craft&design magazine. I first became aware of Pete when a friend recommended I buy his book and I then got to meet him last year at BCTF and also attended his creatve garden party last summer. I have also been thinking about signing up for one of the Refectory Table training days and was lucky enough to be able attend one of Pete's sessions at the National Centre for Craft and Design earlier this year.

Pete Mosley has worked in the arts since 1977, and coaches and advises creative individuals and small creative businesses. He also writes about the business of creativity – as business editor for craft&design magazine, creating both online and offline content for the magazine and other prominent blogs including Design Trust, Creative Choices and Cockpit Arts.

His book – Make Your Creativity Pay, was co-published with craft&design magazine in July 2011. He also creates the really popular and well-regarded online toolkits like The Creative Business Explorer He presents at national conferences and events, and designs and delivers talks, training events, and continuing professional development programmes for creative industry groups, universities, museums and galleries and private companies.

Recent talks and workshops include Creative Business days for the National Centre for Craft & Design, Creative Greenhouse, Crafts in the Bay and Yorkshire Artspace. Upcoming workshops include sessions for Craft’s Council’s Injection programme at Crafts Council HQ and creative business courses for Birmingham University’s School of Jewellery summer school.

Pete works closely with Janet Currie, Creative Director of The Refectory Table to provide tailor made training for small groups of creatives in intimate settings –with great food!

He has very kindly agreed to share an insight into his work and the benefits of working with a mentor for creative practitioners. This is what he had to say:

How long have you been mentoring?

I've worked in the arts all my life and have been mentoring for over 20 years now. Initially, I worked as Town Artist in Chorley for 3 years, then worked in arts in education both in this country and in New York. I built up a huge amount of knowledge, skill and experience in the field of creative self-employment.

What made you decide to become a business mentor?

I was encouraged to do it by a couple of significant people at Arts Council who valued my perspective and my practical experience of self employment over a very long period of time (since 1984). I started off being commissioned by Arts Council to run training courses for Arts Council supporting artists and makers with ideas for creative self-employment and then I was encouraged to extend my work into supporting arts organisations too. They provided me with a huge amount of training and support over a number of years. Subsequently, I also worked with them to set up the first formal region-wide mentoring scheme for creative people in the East Midlands. I mentor intuitively, but have a postgraduate qualification professional and personal coaching.


What kind of people do you usually work with and what kind of topics and issues do you cover in your mentoring sessions?

Wow! That’s big question, I work across all artforms – currently I’m mentoring two furniture makers, a graphic designer, a contemporary musician, an illustrator, a painter, and a potter who is on a residency in Australia. These are all quite long term relationships – with the sessions spread out over a number of months – longer in some cases.

How do you structure your mentoring sessions?

My sessions don't follow a fixed formula. I work on a tailor made basis. First, I work with the mentee to come up with a package – often a mixture of Face to Face meetings, telephone and email sessions - that suits them and their working style. I do some Skype work with people that are too remote to meet with – or in other countries – I had a client in Switzerland recently, and worked with an artist in Aberdeen - both via Skype – which is a great alternative if you can’t physically meet. Sometimes what I do is very practical - helping with funding applications, or helping someone get a book published, for example.

Sometimes, the work digs deeper. When you work alone, or in isolation, you can get stuck in a loop. A mentor can find and challenge patterns of unhelpful behaviour. It's not all about advice either - it should be about asking well chosen, incisive questions that provoke new chains of thought, new seams of creativity or entrepreneurialism that can then be tapped in order to take big steps forward. I have also developed an online creative business development toolkit – the Creative Business Explorer, which people can use as a stand alone virtual learning environment, or use in conjunction with the coaching or other training.

What kind of benefits could someone gain from having a mentor?

To use the words from my own blog - fresh thinking. A mentor should provide objectivity, perspective and challenge. It should be a balance of diagnostic, exploration, support and advice. A good mentor shouldn't be telling you what to do, but be thought provoking in such a way as to help you uncover and develop new thinking, solutions to problems and the personal strategy you need in order to move forward at an appropriate pace. Yes, goal setting is part of the process, but so is the encouragement to evolve your practice organically over time. Sometimes it's tiny steps, sometimes very rapid bursts of change.

What are the benefits/rewards of being a mentor?

I often think that I learn just as much from the people that I work with as they learn from me - true mentoring is very much about creative give and take - a meeting of minds. When the chemistry is right some fairly transformative work takes place - and that is deeply rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering working with a mentor?

Choose wisely. Make sure the chemistry is right. The decision should never be based on cost or convenience. Talk to a number of different mentors - a good mentor should be open to an initial conversation free of charge and without obligation. When you find the right person it will feel right - you'll feel as if a connection has been made on more than just a logical level. Don't rush towards getting a result. Coaches have a saying: 'stay with the not knowing' . Sometimes it can take a while for the right options or decisions to become obvious to you. It's too easy to rush a decision just for the satisfaction of a bit of certainty. Make a decision in haste, repent at leisure! Take your time.

You can contact Pete by email at: Twitter: @petemosley
His other online links are here: Facebook  Personal blog Book website

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sketchbook Peeks - Sarah Hamilton

Before we start, tell us a little about yourself/how did you get into art/craft/design career and how it all started and where you are now.

I'm an Artist and Designer making colourful contemporary cards, prints, mirrors and woodblocks. After studying Fine Art/Printmaking at Central St Martins I began my career making cards, which sold in stores including Paperchase, The Conran Shop and Designers Guild. The success of this aspect of my business gave me the funds to set up my studio and concentrate on a wider range of artwork.
Nowadays I have a lovely studio in our unusual Mid-Century house in South London where I make prints, woodblocks, mirrors and stationery which I sell via my website, open house events and select exhibitions. I also use my skills as a colourist in the commercial textiles field and often visit clients in Sweden as a design consultant.

How long have you been using sketchbooks?

Sketchbooks are incredibly important to me and are the starting point to everything I make. I've kept them since my teens, rather too long ago to admit, but here's a clue - when I was a teenager Glastonbury tickets were £8!

How often do you sketch?

Most days, I have a pile of sketchbooks and a wide range of pencils, with different leads, next to my sofa.

How do you feel about the prospect of starting a new sketchbook?

I never fill one book then move to another, I have a number of sketchbooks on the go at one time as I make most of my drawings over time, often referring from one book to another. I often start a sketch in one book, then go back to it some time later as I tend to mull over ideas then rework them.

When/where do you get your inspiration for your sketchbook pages?

From the entire range of things which inspire me. These include artists such as Milton Avery, William Scott and Eric Ravillious. I collect old tins, 1950's ceramics and textiles - the colours, imagery and graphics send shivers dow my spine. I'm also, like most artists, passionate about nature and draw from objects I find such as twigs, leaves, pebbles and fossils.

How would you describe your creative process?

Over the years I've developed a range of images and symbols which recur across the diverse range of my work. When I'm happy with a shape I will use it in a wide variety of ways. Quite often I'll perfect an image by cutting it out in profile so I can simplify it to incorporate into a composition. I'll resize it depending on how much colour I need within the overall design. Sometimes a tiny splash of colour is necessary to enhance the image, in which case the symbol almost becomes abstract. I often use a computer, but only to modify sizes or compositions. To me designs which originate in the computer look really obvious and crude. I think a mac is an invaluable tool for artists but its never where my designs start. The pleasure of drawing is the root of all my work.

Have your sketchbooks evolved over the years and if so, how?

Yes definately. I found some sketchbooks I'd made a few years with pages of mark making and colourways. These days I prefer to use pencil in my books, they are much more about developing imagery than experimenting with colour, which I do in other ways. I also found some drawings I'd made in black marker pen which I hated so much I nearly ripped them out. For me it's pencil every time.

What is your favourite medium to work with?

In my sketchbooks, as I said definately pencil, with a range of leads and softnesses. Pencil is so flexible - I'm known for my use of colour and people are surprised when I say grey is my favourite colour.

Do you have a favourite sketchbook?

I have a few, there are some drawings which I find I go back to over and over again. I look at the drawing and think if I just made it slightly darker, or add some textural marks or changed the relationships between images.

If you had to pick one favourite page which would it be and why?

I love this drawing for the movement between the fruit. I like the idea that they land there like they were thrown. Often there are narratives dynamics between my shapes. In traditional still lives the fruit sits static in the bowl...the rebel in me wants to shake things up a bit and make them bounce around.

Thanks to Sarah for taking us on a tour of her sketchbook pages. I so love her work!! If you want to find out more about what Sarah is up to then please check out her spanking new website here which has links to her social media and her shop and blog. Sarah is also having an Open Studio on 11th and 12th of May as part of Dulwich Festival. Why not pop along if you're in the area and treat yourself to one of her beautiful pieces of work.

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