The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

A tale from a maker

29th May 2015

During my post-graduate study at the RCA in 2001 I really made some choices about which career path to take creatively. I wanted to be a studio-based artist working to commission and exhibiting. However, I had no idea as to whether this would work out. All I knew was that I needed to produce good work I believed in and to target the right audience. At that time it meant creating a body of work (fine art collages) each year and selecting the right shows, events and galleries to approach.

Slowly, I began to attract the right clients and galleries to work with and now the majority of my work is commission based. I love working with clients to discover what inspires them and then imagining and realising the perfect piece for them.  It’s putting yourself totally in their position but knowing that they have chosen you because they believe and value your craft and artistic vision.  That’s creatively empowering! Some of my best work has been working to commission; sometimes I think artists feel they are ‘selling out’ when they work to commission. I disagree – the astute commissioner/ patron can draw out unexpected talents within an artist. It’s a relationship based on trust, and the bond created is lasting. I remember every person who has commissioned something.

Then I have my own projects and work that centres around subjects I want to express or explore.  I am still creating collages inspired by text and exhibiting them with galleries and selling them to private clients.  This year I spent a month in Gujarat, India on an artist’s residency.  I was sponsored by a small UK charity, MDCF, who are bringing life-changing medicine to a very rural part of India.  I stayed within the hospital grounds (which they have built) there in India and will share the art work with them.  This working process seems completely different to commission-based work.  As an artist you tend to get absorbed in an inner dialogue with yourself.  It’s still as intimate yet somehow feels unchartered and utterly thrilling (and frustrating at times).

The Stitch Lives of London is an epic, ongoing project that allows me to think and dream big.  It’s like a modern day Bayeaux Tapestry.  It has a social aspect that involves other people’s stories that I tell in text and textiles.  I’ve had some high profile donors (Doreen Lawrence donated a garment belonging to her son, Stephen; Jude Law’s shirt when he played Hamlet).  There’s no commercial aspect to this….the donors give because they believe in the project and I’m gaining nothing financially.  So the intention is to create a great piece of memorable artwork for London.  I’m still looking for a sponsor so we can accomplish it within a reasonable time frame?!  All these avenues keep me firing as an artist and maker.

You also have to take a creative approach to getting support for your business, for example through artists’ residencies. I’ve approached businesses that I think might benefit from collaboration – creating artwork to bring back to a business environment and offering workshops to the workforce to enliven the business environment.  It can be a mutually beneficial agreement.   Taking the direct approach has always worked for me: you have nothing to lose by asking for a meeting.

Since graduating in 2001, I have done no professional training and when I saw the Crafts Council’s Injection scheme (a business development scheme for established makers) I thought, ‘this is just what I need right now’.  It gave me time out to ‘check in internally’ yet through an external medium, to make sure I was still on track – doing what I believe in and knowing the value of what I am delivering.  Am I conveying this clearly….if not, address it.  These can be tough questions to face and resolve.  Injection has been a game changer for many of us.

I now have an assistant who works with me 2 days a week.  Some of my work is large scale so it is vital to have another pair of hands.  Being younger than me, she gives me that up-to-date view of things, especially regarding social media!  You work to people’s strengths and I’m incredibly lucky in that she’s one of those talented budding artists who you can ask to do something and she will then work out the most efficient creative way to carry it out. She is also learning new techniques of making, so I’m glad she’s progressing creatively alongside earning.

The people who have really helped me in business are the ones who have introduced me to the right people, and that has led to some incredible opportunities.  People always say ‘you need an agent’ but there don’t seem to be many/any artists agents like there are actors’ agents.  It would be great when brokering a deal to say ‘speak to my agent’ or for an agent to approach galleries on my behalf or just to have ‘a man on the ground’ so I can focus on doing what I do best.

There’s so much to be shared between business and art.  Big global businesses are always talking about doing things ‘creatively’ and this interaction should be vital. We could both a lot learn from each other.

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