The Vegan Tart delightfully challenged my preconceptions – I didn’t imagine that vegan cakes and savouries would tempt me, or that their ‘Head Tart’, Dumisani Nyathi, would turn up sporting a beard, but after talking to him I’ll be pigging out on a ‘lime & thyme’ cake at the next opportunity!
Read on to find out what made The Vegan Tart special enough to win ‘Best in Show’ at the 2013 Brixton Bake-off.
Tell us a bit about The Vegan Tart, what you make and where you sell it.
I run The Vegan Tart with my partner. We make high quality vegan cakes and savouries. We bake traditional cakes but use our unique combinations of flavours to make them special.
Since 2011 we’ve been selling at the ‘Bakers and Flea’ market in Brixton on Station Road on the first Saturday of every month (next one April 5th). As well as the regular Brixton crowd, the Brixton Vegan Walkabout meetup comes along, bringing us up to 35 eager customers!
Our products are also available at The Lazy Rhubarb in Tulse Hill, and we do other ad-hoc markets and events, such as the Greenwich Food Fest in February and a recent vegan high tea at the Effra Social – these are listed on our website www.thevegantart.co.uk . We also take orders and are often baking away for a birthday or wedding, making sure there is great tasting food which can be eaten by everyone.
What inspired you to get started?
I’ve been vegan for about 5 years. Even before I became vegan, as an American, I found British cakes very dry, and after it was worse – the restaurants seemed to provide only dry bland offerings for vegans. I felt I could make better ones myself, and started experimenting. Then friends started to buy them, and orders started to take off in 2011. I was a support worker at the time, but after I went travelling to Spain and north Africa I began to think about working for myself, and decided to make baking a business on my return.
It doesn’t yet bring in enough to pay the rent, so I work 3 days a week as a gardener, but we are currently negotiating with the ‘cat cafe’ opening in the East End, and once we have two clients of that sort, I can bake full-time!
What makes your products special?
Besides them all being completely vegan, we do both cakes and savouries, and try to make our products a bit different from the usual – we mix it up a bit, jazzing up the flavours to give people alternative flavours eg a lime & thyme cake, a savoury fig & asparagus tart. We were also officially acknowledged as special by winning the Best in Show and Best Savoury categories at the 2013 Brixton Bake-off! There were over 30 entrants and the judges included the Mayor of Lambeth, Ms Cupcake, the manager of Morleys and Levi Roots.
It’s not just the quality of our products which makes us stand out though – we have quirkiness to our brand, such as our special apron and hat outfits, our branded granny trolley and army bag for transporting our goods, my job title (Head Tart), etc, which make us stand out from the crowd – people often make comments or ask to take pictures. I’d like to have a branded cargo bike to transport my goods in. It’s all very fun and home made, for example a friend made the aprons and hats, and we used an old banner to brand our trolley.
Sounds exciting – how do you go about marrying unusual flavours?
Even as a child I used to try making weird concoctions of noodle packs, those were my first experiments in flavour! I suppose it meant I was used to trying things out… I also invested in the Flavour Thesaurus. It’s not that good for vegan produce, but can give good ideas, it makes us think about the way the food hits the taste buds. We also research into websites and recipes and when we see an interesting combination of flavours, try it out. That’s how I discovered the ‘fig and asparagus’ combination.
You have a section on your website for ‘themed and quirky’ cakes. What’s the strangest cake you’ve been asked to make?
It was a topsy turvy cake for the annual ‘time for tea’ event at the Mental Health Foundation. I made a ‘Mad Hatters’ cake involving big chunks of cake which had to be balanced at crazy angles – that was not an easy cake to make!
What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?
I wanted to get involved from the beginning but at that time it was just in Brixton and we were in Tulse Hill, I could see all these great networking events and very personable emails coming out and I kept thinking ‘hurry up, hurry up and come to our area!’ so I joined as soon as it opened to Tulse Hill, about a year ago.
It’s great, very friendly and affordable and the events are very useful. I’ve been to events on ‘branding your stall’, social media, and a food taster where Jay Rayner of the Observer gave feedback and a local shop owner helped with pricing, it’s really nice to have that kind of help and diversity.
I’m now a member of the steering group for Makerhood Lambeth, which gives me an opportunity to interact with a wide group of individuals who have a passion for creating and sharing that passion with others.
What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?
I’ve lived here since 2003, and I don’t know what it is about Lambeth, it’s brilliant, so diverse – in a lot of people’s minds it’s just Waterloo or Brixton, but there are all these places you can go to and the communities are never the same, the shops are never the same – I’m glad that Lambeth hasn’t been “uber-branded”!
What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?
Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall. It’s one of Lambeth’s hidden gems. Also the Rookery in Streatham, which is never busy and is very secluded…and the things you see by looking up. Opposite the White Lion in Streatham is a building with 4 elephants, take a look next time you are up that way!
You can try some of the wonderful cakes and savouries The Vegan Tart have to offer at the ‘Bake and Flea’ market in Brixton Station Road on the first Saturday of the month* , or check out the mouth-watering cakes you can order via their website www.thevegantart.co.uk
*next one is April 5th, but alas The Vegan Tart will be missing this month due to injury, so catch them on May 3rd
Makerhood has many partners and collaborators who work with us to promote the work of local makers and offer them special discounts or exclusive opportunities. So we thought it was time to shine a spotlight on some of them. Here, Anita Thorpe, owner of Diverse, an independent gift shop in Brixton, explains how she has benefited from her collaboration with Makerhood.
Tell us about how you started your shop, Diverse.
I was a self-employed trainer in the not-for-profit sector, training managers and their staff in how to do their jobs more effectively. I also traded at Brixton Market in Brixton Station Road at weekends, selling sterling silver jewellery. This was seen to be quite risky at the time, selling silver jewellery on a market stall in Brixton – because of Brixton’s reputation at the time – but it went really well and I realised it could work as a shop.
So I started my first shop in 1999 at 54 Atlantic Road. I was there for six years, then at 62 Atlantic Road for five years, then at 65 Atlantic Road for one year! Then the opportunity came up to be somewhere more central, on Coldharbour Lane, so I’ve been there since Christmas.
How did you get involved with Makerhood?
I got a call from someone asking if I could do a presentation at a Makerhood meeting. But I was still running training courses and I was doing a training session in the Midlands, so I asked Jane Doxey, with whom I was working at the time, to do the Makerhood meeting instead. Jane did the meeting and developed the link with Makerhood.
Then at Christmas 2012, Jane suggested bringing in local makers to sell in the shop. We’ve always bought from individual makers as well as from gift companies, but had never featured the makers in this way. So we set up our Makers in the Hood promotion – mainly but not exclusively with Makerhood makers. It was phenomenal – it worked really well. We got a lot of attention through the press and social media – one of the benefits of partnering with a local initiative is it creates a story.
So we did it again in the spring – we didn’t sell quite as much as at Christmas but it still went well. We learned from that, and when we did the Makerhood promotion this Christmas we had stricter criteria for inclusion (Makerhood members only), an interview procedure, and offered some higher value items.
What have been the benefits to you of collaborating with Makerhood?
- Giving customers what they want – they like to hear about the provenance of what they’re buying and the story behind local makers.
- Press/publicity – featured makers and Makerhood spread the word through social media and press. Sometimes makers come into the shop with their entire family!
- Helping people to learn – this can be infuriating sometimes but I enjoy helping the makers to become better business people. That makes for an easier and more profitable relationship for both parties.
- Helps keeping both the makers and my business in touch with trends and needs – I can give the makers customer feedback; they give me more insight into how things are developing in the creative world.
- I’m a showcase for Brixton talent – as the area gets more visitors, this is important – and it helps keep money in the local community.
- The work is unique – it’s not all over the high street; that gives my business a point of difference.
- I get to make links with other businesses – for example, I had a call from a maker about another gift shop that might be interested in working with local makers in a similar way.
- Positive perception of the business – partnering with local people really helps to integrate your business in the community. I often hear people referring to Diverse as “their” gift shop!
- Social responsibility – it’s a way of building and giving back to the community that supports your business.
So what would be your advice to other businesses considering collaborating with Makerhood?
I’d say get involved! You will gain as much personally and as a business as the makers will, and on so many different levels – including the bottom line! It will affect people’s perception of your business in a very positive way, and help raise your profile.
I’d be very happy to talk to anyone who is wondering whether to become a Makerhood partner.
Diverse is at 390 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8LF. You can follow Anita on Twitter @diversebrixton
Brixton-based textile designer Robyn tells us how her great-grandmother’s notebook inspired her brand, and of the links between creativity and mental health.
- Tell us a bit about Archie Mac London, what do you make or do?
Textile design. It’s all about stories! I use these story-telling textiles to make cushions and purses, and I’m currently working on a range of washbags, make-up bags and iPad covers. In future I plan to create fashion-wear too.
- What do you mean by ‘story-telling textile design’?
It started from a project about childhood. I had the intention of bringing the fun elements of childhood into a more adult form of design.
I interviewed a friend who gave me a fantastic collection of childhood pictures from the ’80s. They were wearing garish T-shirts with Simpsons cartoons on, and I was fascinated by the hair shapes of the characters. I began to manipulate them and use them to create patterns. In this way the designs originated in elements of a childhood story, and carried them into the future. Icons of my own childhood, such as a headless doll, now feature in my designs.
- What kind of processes are involved in creating your cushions?
I begin with childhood images and objects and create collage – using both old-style paper and scissors and computer programs – to explore these shapes and take them backwards and forwards. Sometimes surprising patterns result: some have come up with an Islamic look and then on the next iteration been reminiscent of African prints, others have the look of fractals.
The final designs are printed onto fabric, which I sew into cushions, bags and other items. Commercial printing is extremely expensive, so I’m currently learning screen-printing so that I can also do that part of the process myself in future.
- What inspired you to get started with Archie Mac?
The precious discovery, about a year ago, of an album my great-grandmother, Annie, had kept of her own notes and the charming sketches and cartoons of my great-grandfather, Archie McMillan. He signed each one with his monogram – AMcM, combined to make a little spider – and this inspired the name (Archie Mac) and logo of my brand.
It was so exciting to find this creative ancestry in my family. There has been something of a gap in creative expression in the intervening generations!
I didn’t come from an art background. Until recently I worked in social care, as a mental health support worker with the Community Options Team, and I repeatedly observed the importance of creative activity in restoring confidence and self esteem. This sparked the idea of setting up a social enterprise aimed at developing creative opportunities for other women (which I’ve recently started with workshops at the Eaves Centre in Brixton). Newham College recognised my enthusiasm and took a chance on me, offering me a place on their Fashion Foundation course, which gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with textiles.
- What makes your products special?
The storytelling aspect. I’d love to create bespoke designs for clients which reflect what’s important to them – perhaps featuring images or icons from their own childhood, or those of their children – and incorporate these into textiles or products which are unique to them. A wedding dress, perhaps! I work primarily with fabric but there is no reason why the designs shouldn’t be used to decorate other products. Your own story-telling kettle, or toaster?
I currently hand-stitch my logo, derived from Archie’s monogram, onto every piece. I love that personal connection with each item of my work.
- Tell us about the exciting new workshops you are involved with?
These are workshops in embroidery and beading at the Eaves Centre, a Brixton-based centre for supporting women who experience violence. Currently they are monthly, but I am keen to make them more frequent. The workshops teach new skills and an outlet for creative expression that bypasses any fear about drawing.
The women who attend are each making small panels. We’ve also been making up embroidery packs to send out to women who cannot or do not choose to come to the centre, to encourage them to participate. We are using the theme of ‘hope’ and will combine the small pieces we make into one large panel. We intend to display the final panel to raise awareness and possibly funds for the Eaves centre.
- What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?
The network is such a wonderful precious thing: there is this lovely cycle of kindness there. It can be lonely being creative and it’s great to know that there’s somewhere so welcoming and supportive in the borough.
- What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?
I don’t know what it is about the borough, but it attracts so many creative people. There is a really good network of creatives here, and I have received so much support from people such as Sinead of Crafty Fox, and Colin Crooks and Lydia Gardner on the ‘start your own enterprise course’ run by Tree Shepherd, and also getting involved with Brand Amplifier has been amazing and brilliant!
Also, I greatly value that working in mental health gives me the opportunity to meet people with such different lifestyles and life experiences from my own. Being exposed to such a multicultural, multi-layered community is exciting and inspiring . For example, in the Eaves Centre workshops people bring so many different experiences and ideas to the table.
- What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?
One best memory I will take with me if and when I leave will be the conker trees by the Lido – I think I will always feel that childhood excitement from picking up shiny conkers!
To see more of Robyn’s unique, original textiles & products visit www.archiemaclondon.co.uk
Musician Andrew Clarke is Makerhood’s sometime impresario and was the brains behind the amazing entertainment programme at our Making Uncovered event last April. We’ve twisted his arm again to choose the musicians and performers who’ll be getting us into the party mood at Make Your Own Christmas. We caught up with Andrew to find out what to expect.
Why are you involved with Makerhood’s Christmas event?
I have been involved with Makerhood from the beginning. I helped to run origami workshops for children at the Lambeth County Fair in 2011 – the weekend Makerhood was launched. We all support a community in the best ways we can, and these things are different for all of us. I am terrible at making, but I can help organise events and I can perform at them, and I am very happy to support the amazing makers of Makerhood as often as I can.
What is the line-up and what are you looking forward to on the day?
The Pop-Up choir filled the huge space of the Brixton East gallery at Making Uncovered earlier this year, and they will be kicking off the entertainments at our Christmas party in similar style. It is a wonderful thing to have so many voices sing for you in a space, unfiltered by distance or by crackly sound systems. This will be a real treat.
Jane Ruby is also playing. Jane is a bit of a Brixton legend and, when she played at Making Uncovered with just her guitar, her voice and her stories of local life, she was the only person who could have followed the 20-piece Pop Up Choir and still won the crowd over. She’s marvellous, and we’re super-happy that she is playing for us again.
Next up are the Yada Yada Allstars, with Alex Fradera and four of the fabulous C3467X team – Carleen Macdermid, John Agapiou, Juliet Stephens and Shem Pennant. There is a special electricity in the air with improv comedy that comes from both the audience and the performers having no idea what is going to happen next. This means everyone in the room is together and in the moment in the same way. This makes every discovery, and extreme silliness, that happens all the funnier. I can’t wait.
Finally, we’ve got Gaia Marcus and A P Clarke. OK, this is me… I will excuse myself from commenting on my own abilities, but Gaia is a wonderfully soulful blues and folk singer who has been honing her craft around the London scene for the past few years and she’ll be singing a few standards and a few seasonal songs as the sun sets behind us. It should be an excellent afternoon!
You can book your free ticket here: http://makeyourchristmas.eventbrite.co.uk/
Images of Jane Ruby, Gaia Marcus and Andrew Clarke are by Andy Broomfield
Image of Julia and Alex are by Luke & Michael
Kaylene Alder is a Brixton-based illustrator. Here she tells us how she came to create the banner for the Makerhood West Norwood website, and how you could share an aspect of Brixton with other local people and win one of her prints at the same time.
1. What kind of creative work do you do?
I’m a freelance illustrator. I work on magazines, books and also personal work such as cards, screen prints, and special occasion work such as wedding stationery.
2. What inspired you to get into this?
Initially I did a degree in fine art, but at that time I found the fine art world in Montreal, where I studied, very exclusive and almost deliberately convoluted and obscure. I found I took much more easily to illustration, as a medium which communicates strongly and allows room for a sense of humour.
I have been working as a teacher, but I realised how important making and creating are to me and wanted to get it more prominent in my life, so I began to take up freelance work. I now teach part-time so that I can pursue this.
3. What brought you to Brixton, and what kept you here?
Desire to travel! I came here first in 2001 and then travelled for nine months in south-east Asia, and worked in South Korea for a time, but teacher training brought me back here.
4. Are you still teaching?
Yes, I work part-time as a primary teacher, both as a general class teacher and as an art teacher. I am hoping to be involved in an interesting project soon, integrating arts subjects such as art, music and drama, with other learning such as maths and science. Most kids have a lot of energy and find it hard to sit still, so having something physical to do will help to keep their brains engaged!
5. I hear you designed the banner for the Makerhood West Norwood website – tell us more about how you got involved with Makerhood?
I saw the website by chance, and did one of the Christmas stalls outside Studio 73 – from there it just snowballed. I volunteered at the ‘Making Uncovered’ event, which was a great day, very positive.
It was thanks to contacts I made through these events and sharing a Makerhood stall at the Urban Art fair that I came to do the banner. After Mark, my partner, gave me an old map of Brixton as a gift, I was inspired to use maps in my illustrative work – I really like working over them, they provide such rich backgrounds. As a result I’d done some work for the ‘new cartography’ project at The New Wolf, looking at four areas of London which included some work in the West Norwood area that provided a basis for the banner.
6. So Makerhood has helped you?
Absolutely! Making Uncovered (I got a commission there, too!), the stalls at Studio 73, Urban Art etc, making friends and contacts, the Etsy mentorship project, and the Diverse ‘Makers in the Hood’ opportunity, it’s all been really helpful.
7. Now we know what brought you to Brixton, what keeps you here?
London’s so big and still so small, everywhere has a community, you just have to seek it out, but Brixton feels like a proper community. I like its hustle, the fact that it is close to central London but has so much available locally – the park, the Ritzy, Brixton Village, the windmill – I love that it has a windmill, it is just so weird and amazing!
8. What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Brixton?
Prima Donna (a Brazilian restaurant in Market Row) is one of our favourite places, they have an amazing sticky date pudding!
Also, community initiatives such as the Brixton Blog and the free Brixton Bugle paper. I am in awe of the people who run admirable projects such as these and Makerhood – they have boundless energy and enthusiasm for generating a community spirit in Brixton – so I help to distribute The Brixton Bugle on Friday mornings and do a monthly illustration for it. To involve local people in this, I invite them to tweet in their ideas for the subject of the next illustration. If their idea is selected, I send them one of the resulting prints!
If you’d like to see Kaylene’s work, take a look at her website. Many of her illustrations show aspects of Brixton, some of which are available from local shops such as Diverse Gifts, and if you’d like to inspire her with a subject for the next Brixton Bugle illustration and maybe win your own print, pick up a copy on a Friday morning and tweet your suggestions!
When Makerhood launched two years ago, Ellie Laycock of Hunted and Stuffed was one of the first makers to sign up – and her journey over that period has been as momentous as ours! So we thought we’d catch up with what’s happened to Ellie’s business in the past two years.
• Tell us a bit about the products you make.
All of our products are inspired by the rare vintage textiles that we discover. It’s all about how to reinvent them into something modern, relevant, beautiful and useful for the home. A lot of people love vintage style but wouldn’t necessarily know where to find originals or how to bring them to life.
We do all the sourcing, editing, cleaning, designing and upcycling so you get the best vintage finds but re-imagined for the 21st century into something unique, current and beautiful.
Our main offering is a selection of cushions ranging from small throw pillows made from vintage handkerchiefs right up to large statement bolsters made from rare vintage Japanese wedding kimono silk brocades. Most pieces are totally unique (we only make one like it), others are very limited editions where we might make three the same.
Working with original vintage, it’s not like you can order five more metres of a popular design from your printer. It’s what you can hunt down that dictates the rarity of the finished pieces.
We’ve also recently launched a brand new range of luxury handmade aprons with upcycled vintage ‘kitchenalia’ tea towel pockets, made with all-British materials. They’re proving quite popular, and Country Homes and Interiors magazine called them their ‘Buy Of The Day’!
• You were one of the first people to sign up to Makerhood when it started – how did you get involved?
Makerhood started up at around the same time (and in the same place) as Hunted and Stuffed did. I was a new mum and had just decided to go for it with my new business, so when I heard that there was a new collective of like-minded people forming right on my doorstep, I didn’t hesitate in signing up straight away. I thought that there would be nothing to lose, it sounded exciting and like a good opportunity for both the business and for meeting more people in my community.
The things I love about Makerhood are the emphasis on community both online and offline, the friendliness and unlimited optimism – I like their attitude!
• You won the Platinum Brand Amplifier Award for female entrpreneurs – what effect did this have on your business?
Yes, I was very surprised and honoured. The biggest and most powerful impact of winning that award was to gain confidence in my business. Prior to the win I viewed my business as an experiment; after the win I started to view myself as a businesswoman, and that was a crucial pivotal moment for me.
Also, all the finalists received mentoring sessions about PR, marketing, branding and other practical advice that helped us shape our business visions, and I found women in business who were willing to mentor me and offer the benefit of their experiences and vice versa. It was a very nurturing and encouraging experience.
I also plucked up the nerve to approach a publishing house with my proposal for a book on upcycling vintage, and they took a risk on me and agreed to publish it, for which I’m so grateful.
It’s called Creating the Vintage Look (Cico Books), features 35 step-by-step upcycling projects that repurpose vintage finds into beautiful homeware, and will be published worldwide in September 2013.
• As a single mother, how do you cope with running your own business?
Well, I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy – because it’s not. It’s a hard slog. I have certain times when I can act within my business and it helps me focus on what needs to be done. It’s working to deadlines all the time. Ones you impose on yourself but know will move the business on: create a new product, get that bit of exposure that might lead to new customers finding you.
I find myself thinking about work a lot of the time. I think the key may be to try and compartmentalise things a bit. Focus on what you are doing completely, whether that is the business, your family or time off, otherwise you lack effectiveness by spreading yourself too thin.
• And now you are at the School for Creative Start Ups – tell us what this involves and what you have learnt.
S4CS has been great. It’s a year-long course for creative start ups and kicked off with a three-day boot camp given by Doug Richard (a former dragon on Dragon’s Den). Doug is truly inspirational and has devised his course to get you to ask the right questions of your business and research where your place might be (although as Doug is fond of saying, “Just because there’s a gap in the market, doesn’t mean there’s a market in the gap!”).
We met every month and the course culminated in the Startup Showcase at Somerset House in spring, which was a fantastic venue to exhibit in. The course runs again this year and I thoroughly recommend it.
One of the many things I learnt is what my strengths and weaknesses are, which means I’ve identified the kind of help I’d like to employ/find and what’s holding back the business from certain goals.
• How has Makerhood helped you on your journey?
Without Makerhood (and especially the forums) I would never have heard of Brand Amplifier and won the award that kick started it all. The workshops Makerhood put on are great and contain really valuable information that is hard to come by for indie makers on a budget. I just think it’s such a fantastic endeavour to create a social enterprise that helps build a community and encourages people to flourish.
• What advice would you give to other makers wanting a successful full-time business?
Well, firstly there’s no shame in doing a day job to support another passion. We all have to eat. Use evenings and weekends to start with and get the foundations in place.
I would say make use of the excellent workshops and events that Makerhood put on. Jane Doxey’s workshops are great for demystifying the retail world and she is a real fountain of knowledge and experience!
Sign up for a market stall opportunity, because it will increase your exposure and even if you feel you haven’t got much to sell then you could always use it for market research. Take products with both versions of that packaging label you can’t decide on and ask people which they prefer and why, or research prices people would pay for your product. Talking to potential customers is the best way to find answers.
Starting a business requires wearing many hats. Find your strengths and let yourself delegate your weaknesses.
If you decide to do it, then really go for it. It will be tough at times, you’ll wonder what you’re doing, the little negative voice inside will pop up and try to ridicule you. Learn to ignore it -it’s just jealous.
Take stock of every success – you’ll progress in baby steps, but after a while you’ll realise that you’ve come a long way. Be proud of that.
Whatever you make, it’s all ultimately about people. Being nice is free. You’re an artist and you make things that bring joy to people, or feelings they want to feel. They’ll pay you for that. Then you can make more. It’s a simple and beautiful thing.
Creating the Vintage Look is published by Cico Books on 13 September. Hunted and Stuffed, in collaboration with Cico Books and The Old Cinema, will be presenting projects from the book and new upcycled pieces for sale in a pop up exhibition from Friday 20 September – Sun 22 Sepembert at The Old Cinema, 160 Chiswick High Road, London W4 1PR. The Old Cinema is famous for championing upcycling in the UK. Pop along, pick up a copy and have a look at what else this amazing vintage and upcycling emporium has to offer.
Rachel runs a letterpress business from her Brixton studio, is a member of our Makers’ Club, and volunteers on Makerhood’s events. Rachel explains what brought her to Makerhood, and why it’s been great for her social life and her business.
I began to teach myself how to letterpress using a hand-operated 8×5 Adana press about four years ago, and I quickly fell in love with the medium. Prickle Press was officially established in 2010 when I got my first wholesale order from a beautiful bookshop in Copenhagen.
Last year I came across a much larger, foot-operated treadle press called a Chandler & Price on ebay. I left like I’d won the lottery when we got it! The press meant I could print larger sizes and much more easily.
I’m at the point now where I am launching a full range of greetings cards, approaching more shops for trade orders and receiving regular requests for bespoke work: wedding invitations, business cards and birth announcements.
I wanted to get involved in my community
I heard about Makerhood at a Christmas fair in Brixton a couple of years ago. I was immediately interested. At this point I had just started working four days a week on Prickle Press from home, and although I loved it, I was missing those day-to-day contacts and colleagues. I’d been living in Brixton for four and a half years but it was only once I started working from home that I realised how disconnected my life was from my local area. I wanted to get more involved in my local community and meet people with similar passions – to create and make – and Makerhood seemed like the perfect place to do that.
Volunteering and Making Uncovered
When I attended my first Makerhood meeting I enthusiastically volunteered for just about everything! I’ve since started interviewing local makers for the ‘Meet the Makers’ section of the website. A few months later went along to an events planning meeting. At this stage the idea of the ‘Making Uncovered’ event was underway but none of the details were set. I remember being so excited about it.
I’d originally trained as a designer for dance and theatre and also done some event planning on the side. Although I’d decided I didn’t want to pursue a career in theatre design I missed aspects of the event planning. Over the next few months I got as involved as I could, taking on small jobs which I knew I could manage like organising the volunteers for the event. We spent months planning Making Uncovered but it wasn’t until I walked into the venue – the Brixton East gallery – that I started to really imagine what it would be like.
In addition to organising the event, I ran a letterpress workshop on the day. I was terrified setting up the night before. I was sure I would be standing there alone looking like a wally all day trying to persuade anyone to have a go – how wrong I was! At about 11.15am a little boy with his sister and parents came by and said he would like to print his name – and I was away.
I have no idea how the rest of the event went because I barely had a moment to sit down. After six hours of solid printing I was shattered, but elated to have so much interest. I purposefully didn’t charge a set rate – I wanted everyone to have a go and not be put off by costs. And it turned out I sold so many cards and prints that I really didn’t need to!
It wasn’t until I watched the video of the event that I caught a glimpse of the event as a whole. The open and inclusive nature of the event meant there was such a variety of people who took part – and it felt like a real reflection of Brixton. I feel so proud to have taken part in a creative, positive, local event.
I think through the amount of publicity the event had my profile must have been raised because since the event I’ve had further requests for workshops and more bespoke requests than ever! I’m not sure but I wonder whether running workshops and being generous with your craft makes you more approachable so that customers are less nervous about contacting you for work. Either way I feel like since the event my business has really improved.
I went to my first Makerhood meeting about nine months ago and it’s done everything for me that I hoped: I have new friends who live locally and share a passion for creativity and I feel connected and involved in Brixton. The fact that it’s also boosted interested and sales is just an added bonus!
If you’re interested in getting involved with Makerhood drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you! Or, you can find out more about our Makers’ Club and how to join on this page.
Anna Jackson of Black Cactus London describes the delights of living in south London and producing one-off printed bags and purses
1. Tell us how you got started in printing.
I did a fine arts degree in printmaking and sculpture at university in Australia – and always preferred printmaking to sculpture. Then I went travelling to Japan, came to the UK in 2000 and got very frustrated doing office work as a project analyst. So I did another printmaking course at Central St Martins, which reminded me how much I loved printmaking and helped me to realise that I wanted printmaking back in my life!
2. So you prefer printing on fabric to paper?
Printing on fabric is more versatile. You can frame a paper print, but with fabric it’s more flexible – you can make other things from it. They have to be small things like bags, because I work on small-scale pieces – I don’t have the facilities to produce large pieces of fabric with repeat patterns. I use real leaves in my prints, so every piece is different and unique. I love printing the fabrics – I’m less keen on making up the bags. It would be great to pair up with a seamstress!
3. As well as selling through Makerhood you’re stocked by independent retailers.
Yes – I have an Etsy shop and I also sell my bags through Diverse Gifts in Brixton and Lovely and British in Bermondsey Street. I’m not interested in John Lewis – I prefer independent retailers. I want to get to the point where people like my stuff enough to commission one-off pieces, so I keep experimenting rather than just becoming a production line. For me it’s about wanting to do it – otherwise there’s a danger it just becomes a chore.
4. Have you always lived in south London since coming to the UK?
No – I used to live in Hackney, but then I moved to the Camberwell/Brixton borders about four years ago. I wasn’t sure about being south of the river at first, but I like it now! It’s spikier than Hackney – people watching here is so much better. I wouldn’t move back!
5. So can you share some of your favourite places in the area where you live?
There are events like the Chelsea Fringe Festival, where a garden designer has created a secret garden in the yard behind our studio block in Vanguard Court. I also like the Hermit’s Cave pub, a real hole in the wall place with stuffed weasels – no gastropub nonsense here! And there’s a new farmer’s market with a great berry stall, and the Camberwell Arts Festival (15-23 June 2013).
6. And why did you join Makerhood?
I heard about Makerhood through picking up a flyer in Burgess Park and thought why not? It’s provided useful relevant local information that’s hard to come by elsewhere. I’ve made some online sales, met other makers and got stocked in Diverse through Makerhood.
You can see Anna’s stylish, versatile bags at http://brixton.makerhood.com/black-cactus-london
Rachel Stanners meets Clare Smith of CAS at her flat on Clapham High Street, where she explains her unique painting technique and how she keeps painting around her fulltime job.
1. So when did you start painting, Clare?
Well, I always loved painting as a child. I was always drawing ornaments and things in my grandparents’ houses and then I did art at school. When I got to A-levels I decided to do art as one of the subjects. I really enjoyed it but my family wasn’t convinced about the job prospects for an artist, so I left after AS level and began a full time job in the Court Service. But I’ve always kept it up on the side, even with a full-time job.
2. Where do you work and how do you find the time or energy to keep painting?
I really enjoy my job at an investment management company. It’s a really supportive environment, and there are lots of opportunities to keep studying for further qualifications. My colleagues are really supportive of my painting. I’ve been commissioned by a few colleagues to do family portraits or personalised paintings, which has been a good way to keep up the work. I paint in the evenings or weekends – whenever I get a chance really. I used to have a space set up in my bedroom, but at the moment I’m actually sharing my room with a friend so I’ve had to set myself up on the communal dining table. It’s difficult to get started sometimes, but once I’ve sat down you can’t pull me away from it!
3. I can see you are about to start a new painting – can you tell me about it?
The theme of the painting is the Olympics. I’m planning to submit it to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It might be a bit ambitious but I think it’s worth a shot, as there will be so many people displaying and it gets lots of visitors. It’s nerve wracking, but I want to give it a go.
4. The painting is all blue with some pencil marks at the moment- is this normally how you start a piece?
Yes, I normally begin by finding a good photo of what I want to paint and then I paint the background colour first, which in this case is blue. I paint the whole canvas that colour, sketching the outlines of the rest of the painting on top. After that I fill in the next biggest blocks of colour. I build the piece up this way, getting increasingly detailed. No one taught me this technique – it’s just come about over time. After some years painting I can now see that I have my own style and technique.
5. What’s your current sales strategy for your paintings?
My most recent paintings have all been of London, because I think they grab people’s attention. I’ve also painted scenes of Brixton to sell locally and on Makerhood. Over Christmas I did a market just outside Studio 73 in Brixton and I sold a few box canvases. I realised at the time that people like buying a piece that is ready to put straight on their walls, so I decided to frame some of my paintings. I am really pleased with the results and I plan to sell them for £100 each. I haven’t got any markets coming up but I’m hoping to improve my online sales through Makerhood and also by setting up an Etsy shop.
6. What’s the process if someone wants to commission you to do a painting for them?
I’ve done a few commissions and every process has been different. Some people know exactly what they want, while others have a lengthy conversation before finding the best photo or image for me to work from. I’ve done portraits of family members as well as personalised London paintings. They are always very different and normally take quite a lot of time to get just right. The charge varies based on size and complexity, but at the moment I am charging between £50 and £200.
7. Which artists inspire you?
David Hockney’s exhibition in London last year was very inspirational. I was surprised by the volume and, for example, the iPad paintings, which I wasn’t aware he was doing. I saw Monet’s paintings in Paris and was astonished at the size of them. I haven’t done any big canvases yet, but would like to one day.
8. Why did you join Makerhood?
I joined Makerhood because I applied for Crafty Fox and they recommended Makerhood to me. I’ve enjoyed meeting people through it.
9. What are your favourite places in the area?
In Clapham I love going for breakfast at Breads etc. Brixton Village is a hidden gem, which I’ve only just discovered so I am really enjoying exploring it.
You can buy Clare’s distinctive paintings at http://brixton.makerhood.com/cas.