Meet our artists: Q&As
Part of an ongoing series, studio holders share insights about their work, their stories and what happens inside their studios. Visit this page to read more.
Would you like to tell us about yourself?
I studied Graphic Design at uni in Nottingham but decided a career in this field wasn’t for me. I trained to be a Design & Technology teacher, which I did for 10 years. My interest in leatherwork started as a hobby shortly after I graduated with my BA in 2001. I had been teaching for 5 years when I decided to take a sabbatical to study for an MA in Textile Design at UAL. There I focussed my studies on the use of leather offcuts in my work and for which I gained a Distinction. I returned to teaching after this with my final school teaching job being at an international school in Switzerland. I loved the outdoor life there and skiing at weekends but I knew I wanted to pursue a career with leather, so I returned to the UK and started my business. That was 8 years ago now!
How would you describe your work?
Contemporary, Art Deco, Affordable.
What have been some of your biggest obstacles as a maker and designer?
Overheads, pricing work correctly and marketing!
What advice would you give to new artists starting out?
Just get started. Spend a nominal amount on a few tools and just start, you can only improve over time. Start to sell your work sooner rather than later to see what sells and then refine those items. When I look back at my first market stall contents and layout, I see how far I’ve come but you only learn by starting and making mistakes/improvements as you go.
I started off, in the very early days when I was a poor graduate, by buying old bags from charity shops for a couple of pounds and taking them apart to retrieve the hardware. This process of disassembly also helped me see how bags were made and so aided me in terms of creating my own patterns and the making process as a whole. I then realised I could buy leather jackets at charity shops for maybe £10 (depending on where the shop was!) and get much more leather and would turn these into bags using the pockets and seams as features of the bags. Several years later, these still are some of my favourite things to make and have taken on a whole new meaning as I often get asked to transform a jacket of a loved one who has passed away. These projects naturally have much sentimental value and I love to know that I have helped, in a small way, to keep a part of that person alive (in some way) for the client.
Who are your artistic heroes?
Companies like Elvis and Kresse have an amazing eco ethos taking decommissioned fire hoses and turning them into luxury bags, with half the profits going to charity.
How has having an art studio impacted your practice?
Having a separate studio space means I can teach groups of people in a designated space with all the equipment required. It also gives me the freedom to have sources of inspiration around me such as books, pictures and materials and not have to worry about packing them all away at the end of the day! Being in a studio building with other artists as neighbours is great for networking and sharing ideas and issues as a self-employed artist and business owner. Also, taking part in the annual Open Studios is a great way to meet new artists, customers and neighbours.
Did you study art?
I’ve been mainly self-taught in leatherwork – My family is creative (a painter and picture framer for a mother and a carpenter for a father) so there was always a sense of inevitability about ending up in a creative career. I discovered leather 20 years ago whilst browsing Spitalfields Market. As a recent graduate in graphic design, I immediately looked for ways to create leather bags with my own leather and on a budget. After buying two pieces of leather and a quick sewing lesson from my mum I never looked back.
I started my journey as a designer and maker full-time, making leather bags and accessories, teaching workshops and writing books! A huge focus for me is repurposing leather that is in need of a new life and can be brought back with a new look and form to it.
What is the most enjoyable part of the creative process for you?
Taking an idea that has been in my head and imagination and turning it into an actual item, knowing it is the only one of its kind. I also like to see how something evolves from an idea and changes during the making process, usually for the better but not always (these become valuable learning ‘mistakes’ although they don’t always feel like it at the time!).
Do you want to tell us anything else about you and your work?
I’d say writing my book was a huge achievement and although it was nearly 5 years ago when it was published, I’d say it’s still my biggest achievement since I started the business.
Having a regular appearance on the BBC TV show ‘Money for Nothing’ comes a close second though! (TV show where artisans are asked to upcycle items rescued from the skip in order to sell them for profit and save them from landfill). I have really enjoyed doing these projects as they take me out of my comfort zone. Each project is very different from the one before and I can be very creative and sometimes need to be very inventive with what I create. The trickiest one so far I think was taking some very thick and old horse bridlery and turning it into usable items. After a lot of blood, sweat and (almost a few) tears, I came up with a bag using elements of the tack including brass buckles, and an adjustable plant hanger! They need to be seen to be believed.
In terms of goals, my book does contain one upcycling project where I take an old jacket and turn it into a bag.
I would like to write a whole book dedicated to making things from found or recycling/upcycling materials (not just leather) as this is something I am passionate about.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
Yes, I am taking part in:
- The Suffolk Food Hall Market by Deben Events on 16 April 2023
- The Wivenhoe Art Trail on 19-21 May 2023 and will be in the Sentinel Gallery
- Surrey Hills Wood Fair in Cranleigh – 9 & 10 September 2023
- Plant & Artisan Autumn Fair at Helmingham Hall On 17 September 2023