Friday, 26 April 2013

Hothouse Taster Day

Today I made a lone trip to Preston to attend a workshop for emerging designer makers:
an intensive programme of tips and advice especially tailored for craft makers wanting to set up in business and develop their creativity.
I was a little nervous at the thought of going alone (and this was not unfounded; I did manage to get lost on the way from the station to the church the workshop was held in!) but the advice and atmosphere was definitely inspiring and worth the journey.

The morning began with an introduction from Charles Hadcock (the chairman of Creative Lancashire). He spoke about the value of creativity in modern society; its influence on culture. It is a viable commodity, despite it being an industry that is not widely as appreciated as it should be. He explained that because of the 'death of manufacturing',
the hand of the maker has never been more interesting to the public than now.
Art and creativity is a growth sector, and people trying to make their living in this industry must be armed with the knowledge to develop their practice from a commercial and business perspective. As the business develops, so does the practice itself.

Next we were introduced to Madeleine Furness (the maker development officer of the Crafts Council). She spoke briefly, following on from Mr. Hadcock, about the tenacity required to carry a business. She explained about the Craft Council's purpose: to nurture practitioners and encourage people to study crafts; supporting a large range of disciplines, the collaboration of practices and the opportunities that can generate therein.

The following (and arguably, most important) speaker of the day was Alison Branagan, an extremely experienced and motivational individual. She began by asking about her audience, calling out for people of certain disciplines to raise their hands and make themselves known around the room. At this point I felt extremely intimidated by being somewhat out of place amongst the mixture of ceramicists, jewellery makers and textile makers. However, the presentation was engaging and I'm sure will prove to be useful, even to someone in a narrower field than traditional craft areas, such as myself.
"Don't forget to have a look around at the tapestry, stone and stained glass- we're sitting in a museum of craft in this Minster."
She moved on to the importance of experience: creative work placements, part time jobs related to our practice in some way, internships (as long as we don't get stuck being someone's assistant for more than a couple of weeks). It is essential to get references from these. Learning to be flexible about future opportunities is also important at the moment; it is not always going to be realistic to expect to be able to follow the narrow path many university courses will steer students towards. Touching on the option of post-graduate education, she advised that we didn't rush into doing an MA course. It's best to get as much knowledge about what you want to do as possible first, and if it's an appealing option after careful consideration, you should take time to browse places to make sure the course is right for you, especially with the current high price tags.

Other pointers:
Being naive does you no favours in the world of commerce.
  • Learn about copyright and trademarks! Do not put images on facebook as they then have the right to do whatever they want with the files in the future.
  • Invest in a calendar- a year planner, specifically, so you can easily plan ahead for promotion and commissions.
  • Don't rely on luck- use your degree show as the launch of your career and think carefully about relevant people to invite.
  • Identify what you want to achieve-make a plan involving the people you need to help you get there.
  • Avoid distractions and time drainers. Think seriously about the value of time.
  • Be organised and well-prepared- focused and ready to react to opportunities.
  • Plan with mind maps.
  • It is not good for the mind to try to do a million things at once! Remembering to have some quiet time to yourself each day is important.
The 7 steps to starting up a business:
  1. Research.
  2. Advice and support.
  3. Business plan.
  4. Funding.
  5. Open business account.
  6. Accountant/Book keeping.
  7. Register as self-employed.
  • Be ready for every situation where there is the opportunity to participate socially to create new opportunities and carry existing ones forward.
  • Keep a mind map of connections- this can keep growing.
  • Talk to people on the phone when possible. Designers are bombarded with emails from recent graduates trying to make their own opportunities, so they can't begin to respond to everybody this way.
  • Don't get drunk at networking opportunities (ha ha).
  • Be aware that some people are not willing to share their contacts. Professional jealousy can mean people want to keep their own lists a secret.
  • Get onto professional networking sites, but try and limit these to around 3-5.
  • Keep websites/blogs/etsys professional looking- i.e. professional photos when possible.
  • Register with Creative Lancashire. (and look far and wide for other regional support networks).
It's not what you know. It's who you know.
Education and business success are not necessarily related (e.g. Damien Hirst has very limited artistic talent but he knows lots of people and has become very rid from this philosophy).

Business planning and professional practice:

  • Seek advice from lots of people- mentors, workshops like this one, professional business advice, accountants.
  • Try and become a member of a professional body after graduation- it correlates positively with success.
  • Find out about insurance (public liability/product liability). There are people out there who will take whatever chance they can to sue!
  • Be careful what you post on blogs/facebook if things need to be commercially secret.
  • TIME- understand it and its uses.
The next speaker was Bev Lamey, the principle lecturer for MA Surface Pattern Design at UClan. She spoke mostly about the facilities at the university, which was all very impressive but not something particularly useful to me. 

Angela Mann, of the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair was next. She explained all about the event, something which I have heard of before, but hadn't considered wanting to possibly take part in until now. The fair focuses on supporting new Northern makers in particular, as well as graduates and other specific groups.
The benefits are:
  • Being selected proves the quality of your work alongside many other makers (confidence boosting!)
  • Sales from work.
  • Networking.
  • Access to trade, buyers, press and over 6000 visitors.
  • Collaborative opportunities.
  • Guidance to the future direction of your work (i.e. what sells and what doesn't).
  • National marketing campaign gains attention for work at the fair- adverts in trade journals, glossies and regional press, city centre and lots more.
Tips for applying:
  • Read the guidelines thoroughly.
  • Don't forget 50% of applicants are rejected.
  • Selection is based on images as judging is done very quickly.
  • The panel look for quality, consistency, cohesive collections, innovation and how sellable the work is.
  • Mixture of statement pieces and more affordable work.
  • Images need to be 300dpi in print, 72dpi for web use...
  • Make work appear professional. Many photos used for entries are not suitable for advertising campaign images, so if it looks impressive yours could be chosen!
  • Think carefully about pricing, equipment needed for displaying the work, promotional materials you will bring.
At the fair:
  • Be friendly and approachable- you are most likely to engage an audience of potential buyers if you're at their eye level and talk to them while they browse.
  • It costs £375 for 'new makers' to get a standard sized stall (+ £20 to be featured in the catalogue).
  • Graduates get free stands, but places are very limited.
  • Around 30% of people at the fair get commissioned by galleries.
Jane Dzisiewski was the next speaker, and a participant in the Hothouse programme in 2011/12. She has had 3 years in business since then. She introduced her talk with a summary of the Hothouse programme itself:
  • Support for emerging makers.
  • Focuses on business and creative aspects equally.
  • Focuses on traditional crafts mostly.
  • Cohorts run January-June 2014 with applications received by the end of July 2013.
  • Find the application details at the Crafts Council website.
She went on to tell us about her business development and how becoming savvy with the internet side of things really helped her progress. Such as:

  • Using a free app called 'buffer', which links social and professional networking sites together, allowing you to manage them all together (which saves time and having to re-write statuses etc separately).
  • Having an online portfolio has allowed her to tell her work's story without having to be there herself to explain it. (so, she recommends using images that are revealing of the creative process, from start to finish).
She also felt that professional development has to be an ongoing process to make the best of yourself. 
General tips:
  • Putting yourself and your work at the centre of your practice is essential (i.e. don't become overly involved in helping others/collaborating if it is really holding you back).
  • Plan seriously for the future you want.
  • Make your own opportunities.
  • Regularly assess yourself and 'fine tune' occasionally.
  • When blogging, think carefully about the use of titles and image captions- what are people likely to search for on google? You can gain a lot of attention from people following pictures back to you.
  • Watch this video of Neil Gaiman.
The final speaker, Rachel Kelly, had these additional tips:
  • Challenge yourself to learn new things all the time!
  • Always seek an audience for your work- you can't confine yourself to a studio working for yourself.
  • Have a sentence, 50 words, and a page about your work all prepared to save time when contacting potential clients etc.
  • Keep computer files super organised- use this as a procrastination if you must procrastinate.
  • Have email templates for replying to people if messages begin to become overwhelming. 
  • Be focused on your work. Don't be distracted by your phone or computer.
  • Concentrate on your own business development before collaborations.
  • Be inspired by your surroundings and use the facilities available to you (galleries, museums, libraries etc).
  • Keep a growing address book of professional contacts and organisations for the future.
  • Attend more events like this one!
  • Understand your work and where you want it to go.
At the end of the day everyone seemed a bit exhausted by all the information we'd absorbed. My overall impression of the day is that it was aimed predominantly at traditional crafts people, therefore wasn't entirely relevant to the direction I might take after graduation. Nevertheless, I did get very useful tips for how to approach becoming freelance and make a living from my work independently; either through self-publised work being sold on my own site or at events such as print fairs and craft fairs.

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