‘How to Get Into…Craft’ Seminar – 1st summary from the day
Our ‘How to Get into…. Craft’ seminar at Futurising last week brought together three leading designers and makers, ceramicist Chris Keenan, textile designer Clarrisa Hulse and textile artist and consultant Arantza Vilas. Each spoke about the varied, and often unpredictable, journey they have taken since starting as a practitioner.
We thought you’d like to hear some of the valuable insight they provided to the audience into what it’s like to sell through galleries, to deal with clients directly, to build a portfolio career by using creative skills to generate additional income streams, and how to manage business growth focussing on licensing and outsourcing manufacture.
To give you some background: Chris began a two-year apprenticeship with the potter Edmund de Waal in 1995. He has worked from his own studio in South London since 1998 and exhibits and sells widely around the UK and abroad – including Japan and the USA. He set up in business with the hopeful mantra “If I make them, they will buy” and that has certainly been the case with Chris’s work being represented in several public collections including the V&A and Ashmolean Museums. In 2005 he designed a dinner ware range for Habitat called SORA that was launched as part of their Autumn/Winter 06 collection. He has just finished a project initiated by 60/40 at the Siobhan Davies Studios as part of their scheme ‘Starting point series 2010’ that has been a great opportunity for him to develop a series of new work that taken him away from functional ceramics.
After his presentation Vanessa Swann (the chair for the event) delved a little deeper as part of a panel discussion:
VS: Chris in terms of starting out how did you first make contact with the ceramicist Edmund De Waal and what do you feel the benefits have been of working as an apprentice?
CK: I was living in Sheffield at the time, as an actor, and a friend of mine introduced me to him. I wrote him a letter and it went from there. As an apprentice I got a lot of focussed attention. In some ways it felt like I was working in a bubble as there was no one else there to compare myself too! I really valued taking the apprenticeship route; as it provided me with structure and visibility and gave me the opportunity to watch and learn how Edmund ran his business, dealt with galleries etc.
I was interested to hear how Clarissa Hulse’s business has developed [who spoke earlier]. It comes across that, unlike me, she’s not risk adverse! It’s important to decide what kind of maker you are and use this to learn and grow.
VS: In terms of selling how difficult was it to break into galleries? What would be your main sales tips?
CK: I had a bit of an advantage and I had good relationships with galleries from delivering Edmund’s work. Initially I was a bit like the ‘Betterware Man’ also taking a box of my work with me, galleries would pick and choose pieces and from that I got my first gallery show. When selling direct at a retail show it’s really important to be open and alert. This can be as simple as saying “hello” to someone who visits you at your stand. Also think about your display and don’t pack the stand
VS: I would like to ask our panellists what their advice would be for any recent graduates looking to develop a career in the crafts sector?
CK: I think the main thing is to be secure in what you make and to use this to create a clear identity. It’s important to have focus in terms of what you make so that you can create a visual identity that people can recognise.
Also although you make initially have other jobs to support you as you start up in business you need to be able to invest time in terms of developing work. You’ve got to be doing it to progress it – it doesn’t just happen. Spend as much time on your practice as you can afford.
Finally visuals are so important and can be make or break when applying for shows – so make sure you get fantastic photos taken of your work. And taking part in retail shows is a great way for making contacts and increasing visibility.
Questions from the floor:
Q: How to do you get press and PR?
CK: always produce the best images that you can afford.
Q: Chris, you talked about having confidence that you work would sell, how important does the panel think this is?
CK: I would say that having a vision, rather than blind confidence, was the key thing.
Q: I have a small business and am selling well online, but struggling to get my prices right for the high street. Any advice?
CK: It’s important to start as you mean to go on and price consistently from the start even if this seems high.
Next time we’ll report back on the advice Arantza Vilas gave to the audience, a Cockpit maker who also spoke at the event.
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