Monday, 29 June 2009

8.0 / Not just a hatrack / Ben Parker

What: Film poster designer and writer
Where: London, United Kingdom
Website: Monterey Design

His story…
I grew up in Kendal in Cumbria from the age of 13 and couldn't wait to get away. I never had any notions of coming to London at all. I wanted to study art and film and head off to America. I did a foundation course at the nearby Lancaster and Morecambe College and then applied to Edinburgh for university. But I turned down Edinburgh after they said I wouldn't be able to study anything related to film – that the courses were kept very separate.

At that point, I had very little knowledge of filmmaking and thought I should hedge my bets and go for a course that didn't discourage dipping into other fields. So, I ended up at Leeds Metropolitan, which has a connection to The Northern Film School. I thought I’d do the graphic arts course and hopefully dip into making some film shorts.

Creative beginnings…
The thing that triggered my interest in film was films. I must have been like a million kids – watching Indiana Jones and then going outside to climb trees or stare at the stars, longing for an adventure.

The thing that triggered my creativity in general was probably the influence and/or genetics of my mother and grandmother. My mum was an artist in her youth and my gran would always encourage any activity that required me to sit down and be quiet. The pencils and paper would come out and I'd draw while she and my mother chatted.


I enjoyed drawing and many a ruined wallpaper later I was drawing on my shoes. My gran was convinced I’d end up being a designer of some sort. My mother thought I'd be an architect (as there was more money it!). In my teens, I really wanted to be a special effects artist and would horrify my mother with gruesome handmade cuts and wounds.

It was always said I was good at drawing and art and I would crave the praise or attention that this brought. I would never revel in it though – I was a very shy child but it felt good to be good at something.

In my drawing there were stories – it was never bowls of fruit or still life but science fiction, fantasy and adventures. Once I got to school I was no longer the best at drawing or painting or anything and I turned to the essence of what I was trying to get across – the story. This is probably the genesis of what I try and do to this day – bring out a story in a way that is interesting and exciting.
Dolla dolla bill…
When I finished university, I applied to do a masters degree (why? I have no idea). But when I was declined a grant, I moved back home to work at the local cinema (to date, the best job I've ever had). I hadn't been there long when a friend told me to get the hell out of the one horse town or I'd end up getting stuck there forever. So, I came down to London and crashed at a mate’s house while I tried to get a job in anything creative.


I made a list of all the jobs I thought would be cool and actually got in the door at Bravo, where I hoped I would climb the ladder to the point where things were being filmed. After being offered the job there, I was called back by a small company doing film posters (number two on my list) and asked to send in my CV. I wrote the most laid back, cocky covering letter – cool as a cucumber because I’d got the other job.

But then the other job evaporated and the little film poster company took me in. It turned out that they'd done exactly what I’d have expected them to do with the letter – they threw it in the bin. But luckily, the graphic designer sitting next to them pulled it out and asked if he could give me a shot since they weren’t going to. But then, because he wanted me, the bosses decided they might have missed something in the rude letter and poached me back.

I felt like I was almost in the industry I wanted to be in and it was something I was greatly passionate about. The poster for a film was something I would obsess over as a kid and hang on my wall. It inspired the anticipation I would have for seeing a film and, so, my first job was one that I was very happy to be in.

A big leap…
After three years at this first company I was offered the chance to start up the London office of a northern company looking to get into film design with my creative partner Paul Johnstone, who’d also come to work with the first company and is a long time friend of mine.

I had a great time at the first company and I learnt a lot of what I know today there – forming working relationships with clients, coming up with ideas, thinking outside the box and a lot of technical expertise. But unfortunately I also experienced getting fucked over a lot. My bosses would say, 'I see what you're doing. You've got an idea there, let me take it off you and see if I can fix it for you'. It's sad. They were great guys and I think I was even happy (-ish) being paid peanuts but what really grated was never getting any credit for what I did.

I think the next job suckered me in because Paul and I were both fed up with the lack of appreciation at our old job and the new 'bosses' came across as much more professional and appreciative of what we did. But, alas, it was all a mirage. In many ways, the following year and a half were a success – we'd built up a new name and new company from nothing and managed to take over a steady stream of work. But as time went on, I realised the guys in charge of the whole operation were completely immature and self-destructive. So, before all our bridges were completely burnt, we got out of there.

In 2008, Paul and I started a company called Monterey Design. Although the venture wasn't entirely without outside help, it felt like a positive move and saw us taking the reigns and do everything we'd learnt over the previous five years.

Apart from all the natural learning curves in technical experience, patience and general knowledge of our field, the main thing I've learnt is to look after the clients. Bosses are cunts most of the time but the clients are the ones you need to get on with. To be honest, I’m terrible with my figures of authority but taking cues from people who share the same goal never seems to be a problem. At the end of the day, the client and I are trying to sell a film. They decide how that film should be sold and I try to facilitate that. In it's simplest form, that's what I do.
Kendal kids…
For those who’ve never heard of Kendal, I’d say you’re not missing much. Nine times out of ten, the first reaction I get after telling someone I’m from Kendal is ‘MINT CAKE!’. That’s where they make the sweet confection ‘Kendal Mint Cake’. In fact, Paul and I get that reaction so much we considered naming our company Mint Cake but the connotations of something so sickly sweet were just ‘un-cool’.

The little town of Kendal is on the edge of the Lake District so it has a general fell-walkers vibe to it and gets flooded with tourists during the summer months. It has almost nothing that appeals to a young teenager other than perhaps a small cinema. But for some reason it’s bred some greatly creative people. I have no idea why this is. Possible suggestions would include: there’s fuck all to do there – the absence of entertainment breeds a need to do something – or maybe it’s the fine Lake District air and weirdly mixed community of people living there. I don’t know.

It’s seen its patrons go on to become film producers, musicians (British Sea Power, my favourite), writers, artists and special effects wizards. The town itself is home to the company Pigs Might Fly, who designed the creatures for films such as Willow, Star Wars, Legend, Aliens and recently Harry Potter. Unfortunately, I only discovered this after I left the place. That alone would have given me, a self-confessed film geek, a possible reason to stay or at least not be ashamed of living in Kendal as a teenager.
Your job…
My job is in quite a specific field and you can only really do it in a few places in the world – London and LA – if you want to make any money from it. This kind of sucks. I would love to move to somewhere like San Francisco and do this job but it’s not the kind of design you can do from home. You have to have a very close and constant relationship with your clients. A lot of the time I need to go to screenings of films as the companies don’t like giving out discs, which could be copied or lost (I was actually locked in a room at Warner Brothers to read the script of Benjamin Button). The way everything works means that the area that I need to operate from is very specific – Soho in London. I know people who do the same job outside of the inner city, and it’s a black mark against your name if your clients have to trek out to meet you.

The upside of the job…
There are a handful of really good things about it that keep me going. I love film. I love going to watch movies. I love reading about ones coming up, ones gone by, people who make them, people who release them and people who care about them. The biggest surprise I had getting into this job was realising how very few people in the film industry actually like film. It’s money to many of them. When I meet someone through work who cares deeply about film and is passionate about making or releasing good films, then I am in awe of them. I've been fortunate to work with some companies that are spearheaded by people who fall into this category – people who stick their necks out to release great films. These are often the people who stick their necks out to commission daring and new artwork for those films and that's when my job feels like the best one in the world.

Downside of the job…
Having to be in Soho means that office space is always going to be expensive. But that’s small fry in comparison to some of the other downsides to the job – long hours, a very small market with an ever-growing number of other companies getting in on the act, the limitations from source materials (such as stills from the film) and the relatively little money you get for a lot of work.

The main downside to the job is the daily heartache of seeing good ideas and good design watered down to make a film more ‘safe’ or mainstream. In the current climate of cut backs and an industry that, in the UK at least, has never really become more than a cottage one, everybody is trying to ape the last success. That’s why, over the coming years, you’ll see half a dozen musicals adapted from stage plays that resemble Mama Mia and Indian heartfelt dramas galore that will name check Slumdog Millionaire on the back of the DVD. It’s also why most brash comedies will have a big red title treatment, why any thriller will be treated with a blue tint and why hardly any posters will have a green colour pallet (because apparently ‘green doesn’t sell’).

One of my favourite stories is of a client MD who after hearing rumours that the font Trajan Bold was used way too much (seriously, from Gladiator onwards, it is the ‘epic’ font) decided that his company was not going to use it on any of their posters anymore. On the particular poster we were working on at the time we must have gone through at least five hundred font options for the quotes (and Paul was about ready to shoot himself in the head) when the client finally picked one – Trajan Bold.
The other options…
Film is always where I wanted to be. For the last decade I’ve written screenplays for films and always hoped that at some point I'd end up writing a good one. I think if that happens over the next decade then I'd definitely get into writing as a profession.


There are more and more people trying to get into film poster design and unfortunately the design for film is going the same way as film itself – less risky ideas and more mainstream. And before that happens, a lot of good things will die first. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to carry on if I’m forced to sell off the last parts of my childhood joy for film posters. And posters themselves are, to a certain extent, a dying format. As film moves into more personal outlets (such as home downloading for example) so will the art for film.

At some point somebody’s going to notice that a DVD/ Blu-Ray case is 90% packaged air, which doesn’t make any sense. Whether or not that happens before those two formats themselves die is debatable. I can’t help finding the whole irony of things slightly hilarious. I’m part of the machine that sells film and, yet, I find myself angered so much by the merchandising and franchising of film. If I can’t ignore the fact that I am part of that whole corporate machine, I can’t avoid the disappointment I feel when those original films themselves are brought back in hollow commercial ventures. At some point I’m going to have to give up entirely on any sentimental, romantic notions of why I got into my job or I’m going to have to at least have a stab at trying to change it.
Famous friends…
If I go back to Kendal for a Christmas, I bump into all my old school friends who ask me who I’ve met through work. At first, I think they genuinely want to know the answer but as soon as I start reeling off the names of people I’ve met over the years, their eyes glaze over with this kind of repulsion for you.

One thing that in the past made even my closest friends cringe with embarrassment is my ability to walk up to famous people and say hello. It’s sooo un-cool, it’s untrue. But in striking up conversations, I’ve managed to meet some amazing characters. I met Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson at a festival for the release of Ghost World. Back then nobody knew who Scarlet was and the crowd had swarmed over the director and Steve Buscemi, leaving the two actresses stood there politely, so I chatted to them. Long story short, I passed on drinks with them. And I had drinks with directors Asif Kapadia and Saul Metzstein at the same festival.


Asif (The Warrior) used to do design and gave a lot of time to Paul and I. He’s a very nice guy and it was an inspiration to see someone that nice doing great, brave films. Saul (Late Night Shopping) again, was just a nice guy and took the time to read stuff that Paul and I had worked on and introduced us to some great people at parties. Writer Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing, Red Riding) is someone I greatly admire and someone that has, on countless occasions (which could have ended badly and embarrassingly) been polite, kind and encouraging (apart from the time he said I should quit writing. Although his heart was in the right place). These are people I haven’t worked with who left big impressions on me but within the host of people we’ve worked with over the years there are directors and producers who have been real inspirations to me.

While working on Dead Man’s Shoes, I met Shane Meadows and his wife who were lovely people. Bill Nighy was a really nice person too. I had a dream come true when I got to stand at a bar with the legendary Peter O’ Toole. I got a kiss from the surprisingly lovely Sienna Miller, called a ‘fucker’ by the surprisingly cranky Keira Knightley and recognised for my brother Dave (an actor) by the amazingly nice Jamie Bell. I got to praise The Wire with Dominic West, brush shoulders with the very tall Jarvis Cocker and stood on Anastasia’s dress.


I embarrassed myself royally by calling Marc Warren his character’s name in State of Play, made a complete tit of myself in front of one my heroes, Sandman artist and designer Dave McKean and when asked by Nick Moran if I’d seen his play Telstar I drunkenly replied, ‘Why would I want to do that?’. The thing I am least proud of though, was having to bareface lie and say that I liked Aliens vs Predator to the director, assistant director and Resident Evil actor Colin Salmon. It made me feel so dirty, I hated myself for a week. But, it’s important to remember that, firstly, Alien Resurrection had already, technically, killed all that was good about Alien and, secondly, I was at a quiet dinner table with the three of them. I guess he (Paul WS Anderson) did make Event Horizon, which I love and directed Kurt Russell who I also love (but in Soldier, which nobody loves).
Pride and projects…
The thing that always gets instant recognition is Dead Mans Shoes, maybe because it’s big and red and the film was widely loved. I am really proud of the Pan’s Labyrinth poster and all the work that went into it. Actually some of my favourite projects have been for little known films such as Recognition and 3-Iron, which you can never drop into conversation because no one’s ever heard of them but that I'm quite happy with how they turned out.


Sometimes I’m just happy to be working with the people involved, despite the final products. I was very happy to get to work on the Peter O’ Toole film Dean Spanley, which is a great little film but not the finest of final posters. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of time goes into the work we do for home entertainment releases and I have been very proud of a lot of stuff done in that field. The enclosed booklet for the special edition La Haine DVD is something I’m proud of. Though I think that I’m most proud of a feature script I wrote with Paul. We’ve been doing design together for a long time now and, apart from initial brain-storming, the collaborative process of design has become very smooth and easy over the years with both of us adding in small suggestions to each others work here and there. But, writing a script together was a much more in-depth and fun collaboration. Whether or not it’s ever produced, I'm proud that we wrote it.

Right now…
I’m excited to be working on a feature by director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days). It always helps the creative process to be excited about a project. Obviously, this isn’t always the case and treating all projects with the same drive and enthusiasm can be a struggle.

I think if I got to work on films by people I greatly admired such as Terry Gilliam, Richard Matheson, the Coen Brothers, that would be amazing but at the end of the day I just hope I get to work on films that are good. Or a film with Kurt Russell – that would be awesome.
It’s always tricky working on a film that has little to no stills available. Opinionated directors are always fun to deal with. Certain projects are a nightmare because of their ‘vision’. Actors, too, can be obstacles. I remember one actor was unhappy with the shot we’d used of him on a poster. He sent us a new shot to use and the only difference I could spot was that his eyebrow was slightly raised in the new one. But, hey, that could make all the difference in getting that Oscar?

Strange obstacles include actual cinema chains getting in on the argument. If a large cinema company is going to put your film on its screens and it doesn’t like the poster you have, sometimes the company releasing the film will try to appease them. This is lunacy in my mind because, to the designer, it’s just another bunch of people who don’t know what they’re talking about expressing an opinion. Everyone has an opinion.

Although the biggest obstacles I’ve encountered in my work in film design are the bosses and middlemen that try and screw around with the work before it even gets to the client. Everyone has an opinion and so at some point, you have to decide whose opinion counts the most – Someone who’s been doing it for years? Or someone who feels slightly redundant if they don’t get to give their two penneth?

Greatly admire…
I look up to a lot of people in my life. I look up to anybody who manages to stay calm and collected through everything. Patience is not one of my virtues. I look up to business partner Paul for all the ways in which he puts up with my shit. I look up to designers who've taken bigger risks than I have and done a good job (that includes competitors The Church of London Design and production company One Small Step).

I look up to people like Tony Grisoni for what seems to me like the unobtainable golden chalice of writing for film. I look to the godfather of film poster design Saul Bass with a glowing admiration and find constant inspiration. Most of all, I look up to the people I love in my life, my friends and family. I look to my grandparents for support that has never diminished and persevere to be more like them. And I look up to a group of fantastic friends who never fail to be my biggest of inspirations, support systems and relief when I’m stressed. I strive to emulate certain traits in all of them and feel glad to be around them.
Good design can be found everywhere and it’s always a good thing not to pen yourself into the thinking that what informs good poster design is other good posters. Where most people in this industry try to ape the last great success, I try to remember that someone in the beginning came up with a great, original idea. My sources for aesthetics come from a myriad of places – magazines, art, consumer design, old designers, music videos, book covers, everything. The inspirations for ideas usually come from the film itself, whether from script or screening the ideas of the film have to come across in the poster and so that has to be my main source of inspiration. Again, it’s telling a story in an interesting and engaging way.


The shitty thing about working long hours and being rushed off my feet is that I have hardly any time to actually sit down and think about ideas. I find those calm moments to think on my walk into work in the mornings. If I get the bus or tube, I’m thinking about swine flu and what sweaty butt sat on the seat before me. Walking gives me time, gets the blood flowing and a miniscule amount of unpolluted air to help the thinking process. Once I get into work I’m ready to tackle the day.

My workspace itself has to stay as uncluttered as possible. I work in a busy, loud studio and I need to keep all clutter off my desk or else my brain starts getting messy. I try and have a calm soothing picture on my computer desktop and keep a couple of design books and magazines floating around for distraction or inspiration. I’m a fan of American gig posters – I find the lack of restraint from the bands they advertise comes across in the out-there design they exhibit.

Also, a must-have in terms of work is a full lunch break. Never underestimate the importance of a bit of fresh air and walking around. It works wonders for a stale creative mind and though it seems reckless and very 90s, sometimes a beer in that lunch break (especially towards the end of the week) is often the lubricant for great inspiration (many a ‘chosen idea’ for my posters has been thought up at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon).

Personal vs professional
They are very separate things. There is very little design I do outside the workplace and very little writing I do within (apart from the occasional tagline for a film). It’s very hard to sometimes spend 11 hours in front of a computer at work to come home and spend another three or four in front of another screen. But I figure ‘how is that different from coming home and watching TV all night?’, which I’m sure lots of people do.

Writing is the remedy to my commercial work. Writing lets me pour my imagination out unfiltered. I love to write. I love dreaming and pondering and speculating and telling stories.

Unfortunately a knock-on effect of my day job is that I hate selling my personal work. Selling my commercial work is a necessary evil of the job I do. But after I finish writing something I’ve done in my spare time, I almost never expel the same energy selling it.
Made him go 'wow'…
That was the Transformers 2 poster. I literally stopped in my tracks and said to myself ‘Wow, how shit is that poster’. I think the last film that made me sit up and go ‘wow’ for the right reasons was a film called Moon, which I saw at Cannes. The artwork was done by my old company. There’s always a small amount of jealousy I have for anything good they get to work on. It is a great film and a great poster and both of them made me nod and go ‘wow’.

Places he’d love to work/visit…
I’d love to visit most places in the world. I travelled a lot when I was younger and I constantly doubt whether I shouldn’t have chosen a profession that would have allowed me to see the world and all its wonders. I jokingly reserve this option for when I fail at everything or have some sort of break down.

I’d love to work in California but it would have to be higher than Los Angeles, possibly San Francisco or Oregon (Goonies country). Whether this will happen or not isn’t of absolute importance to me right now. Since I’ve started working and etching out a career I seemed to have grown something that would have disgusted the teenager I was once – patriotism. I find that increasingly I’m hoping for a better England and a better UK film industry. I think you end up bitching about any place you lived and London is one of those cities that enchants me and repulses me in equal measures. I think I’d be happy if I could be part of making my homeland a better place. Plus, I’d probably disown any child I had that grew up and didn’t know what mushy peas were.

The academic arena vs experience…
I almost definitely learnt more from doing the work than from education. Education for me was more about the exploration, finding out what your interests were, what you were about and then on top of that, it was about having fun. The socialising you do in university is a great way of learning how to deal with people and work with people but nothing comes close to the experience of actually working in a business environment – the pressure, the commitment, the hours.

When I started my first job in London I would say I had a basic knowledge of things like Photoshop, Quark and little to none in things like Illustrator. It’s been six years and I’m still finding new and surprising ways of doing things in these programs and new software like InDesign. I have to ‘do’ to learn. The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt over the years, has been from my fuck ups – nothing impressed the importance of proofing art more than 3000 copies of a DVD that went to print with my name on the front cover and not the actors'.

For the specific field of film design, more than any education instruction, it’s important to have an ability to learn quickly, design fast and handy and, although not essential, to like films. If you can learn quickly and remember the lessons of your mistakes, you’re gonna go far.

We get a lot of people coming to us, wanting to work in the same thing we do. The first thing we want to do is reveal that it’s not a glamorous job. It’s a mostly thankless and fast-paced job where you have to turn on a dime and do ten projects simultaneously for not much money. It helps if you have an understanding of things like Photoshop and InDesign but it’s infinitely more important that you look at and tackle the format. If you wanted to get into poster design and came to us with a portfolio made up of on spec work (with no actual constraints of clients and shitty producers), I’d expect to see ideas and things that tried to break out of the strict restraints of the film poster format. It’s likely that any film designer would see that as a breath of fresh air.
Work = play…
You know, if you’re a professional cook, do you come home at the end of the day and refuse to make your own dinner? I don’t know. All I know is that in my 29 years I've never grown sick and tired of films. I try and keep away from them sometimes only because it’s unhealthy for someone to spend a sunny day inside. But honestly, I can often subdue the guilt of that too. However, although I never grow tired of film, it would be inaccurate to say it was all I’m about.

My greatest source of inspiration for my writing, is music. Music makes gears turn and I love listening to music in my spare time. Friends share a great deal of my free time. Nothing let’s me unwind and chill out more than spending time with people I love. In the ‘me time’ it’s always nice to wander, finding new things in the city, new sights and stories. Something that relaxes me a lot is cooking. Happiness is a sunny Sunday morning where the smells of baked bread and a fresh pot of coffee mix in the air over a good newspaper.

Back in time…
I don’t know that I would want to go back in time. If anyone’s seen Back to the Future they’ll know what a nightmare it is not to fuck up your future self and I’d hate to start fading away. But if we’re ignoring Back to the Future timeline trouble, I would definitely tell myself to remember to put Peter O’Toole’s name on the underground posters of Dean Spanley. Or maybe I would just not have gone out the night before and gotten wasted. But then again, these things are there to learn from.

I think the exercise of ‘what if?’ is mostly a pointless one. The things that I really regret inform the things I do in the future. And if they don’t then I shouldn’t waste any time worrying about them. Things that have changed the way I live my life are seeing people go. I wish I’d not wasted so much time doing and worrying about work at university and spent a little more time with the great people I shared that part of my life with.

My other great regrets of mine pertain to matters of the heart and the what if’s of love and loss. Regarding work, I feel like I probably should have set up the company with Paul a couple of years earlier. We should have believed in ourselves sooner. I should have started writing a little sooner. I should have copyrighted a few scripts that made their way onto the big screen via other people. I wish I could have gone back and told a 17 year old me to come up with a script for a new Indiana Jones movie because I might have had a shot at coming up with something better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. I should have said ‘yes’ to taking stocks in Google. And I would have physically stopped myself from seeing Attack of the Clones. That’s two hours of my life I’m just never going to get back.
Wise words…
Never think that going for a drink with a mate is wasted time. Drinking on your own is slightly self-abusive, but I firmly believe that sharing time with people you enjoy being around is one of the most overlooked things in society nowadays. Nothing lasts forever and one day you’ll be dedicating your time to other people (eg. your family) and you’ll wish you took the opportunity to hang out with those friends when you had the chance.

Best thing anyone's ever said…
I think the worst advice anyone ever gave me was that, to get into anything worthwhile, you have to ‘be what they want you to be’ until you reach the very top and only then can you make the changes you want to. Nobody gets to the top by being someone they’re not! And the notion that once getting there you can simply change back into yourself is offensive. The best advice I’ve had is a complete contrast to this advice – do what makes you happy. I mean, if killing people and making satchels out of them makes you happy, then maybe not good to adhere to that. But striving to do something you want to do is a far better cause than fighting to earn money or respect in something you hate.

I think ‘never give up’ was some good advice from my gran that I try and adhere to too.

For the longest time I thought that the next thing would be a lot easier than the last – A levels were going to be easier than GCSE’s. Then I thought college would be a walk in the park compared to that. I thought university would just be all about studying the one thing I wanted to do so I thought it would be easier. Then work – no tests, no research, no lectures and getting paid for it! I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s bound to be easier’. But nothing's been easier.

If you can be okay with that fact, if you can accept that nothing is going to be a walk in the park, not even the walks in the park, then you’ll be okay. They say life is full of hard bits but in-between the hard bits are lots of lovely bits. Find people or just one person that you can trust, that you can tackle all the hard bits in life with, then concentrate all your attention on the lovely bits in-between. Oh, and learn how to bake bread, it’s easy and well worth it.

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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

7.1 / Lady in magenta / Sara Noble

What: Textile artist and scribbler
Where: London, United Kingdom

Who is this lady Sara Noble?
There’s not one big thing that I do. Rather, I’m experimenting with different disciplines, mainly textiles. I love drawing with pink, Pilot pens and red markers, and sometimes with my sewing machine. I get excited by bright colours and keep my hands busy making things with different fibers, creating textures, patterns and structure.
Child’s play…
As a child I loved drawing. I would watch Top of the Pops and draw the singers and dancers – coming up with my own costumes for them was fun. I was very conscious of co-coordinating colours and really hated pink then. Ironic, because pink is one of my favourite colours now. I would create little displays of objects when I was little, making a tangle and mess of things. I did lots of dressing up, while listening to my parent’s music collection. Occasionally I would cut up my clothes in an attempt to make them better, much to my mother’s despair!


The land of academia…

At Winchester School of Art, my degree in textile art was a primarily conceptual course. We were pretty much left alone in our studio to develop our own work, with little structure or tuition, to push the boundaries of what textiles could be. My course mates and I often felt like the odd ones out because even though we weren’t producing textiles for a design industry, we weren’t fully accepted as fine artists either. My work at the time became very inward and emotive. I was constantly weighing up my spontaneous creativity against planned process.


The best things about the course were the great friends I made and a two-month study exchange to Kawashima School of Textiles in Kyoto. That fueled my obsession with Japanese aesthetics and showed me a different approach to making art and craft work together. With my language barrier the concept didn’t matter. This freed me up later to make more light-hearted work.

History’s not old news…
I have always been fascinated to discover new places and different cultures. I grew up with my dad in southeast London and was surrounded by a mix of people from all over the world. At the age of 10, I moved away with my mum and her partner, Tom, to a little village called
Ardley in Oxfordshire. Living there was great in my teens. There was a whole bunch of us, all around the same age. But I often felt frustrated that I'd seen more vibrant places, beyond the sticks. Tom often went on business trips and always sent postcards home of his exotic travels. This further inspired me and filled me with the desire to travel and see the world.


Before starting my degree, I took a year out to travel around Southeast Asia. And soon after graduating, with the travel bug still in me, I landed up in Thailand again, then went off to Australia. I spent a good seven months travelling around in a campervan. I didn’t completely stop making art but from large-scale installations in nice big white spaces using a variety of materials (which was what I did primarily during my degree) I had to re-evaluate what would be possible on the move. I went back to sketchbook drawing, took up knitting and started making small-scale accessories.


When I returned home, I was skint so I moved in to my dad’s house. At that stage, he'd moved up to Oxford. I held various part-time jobs while working at Modern Art Oxford as a gallery assistant for three years. I did pretty much anything they would give me or tell me to do, including refusing Tracey Emin a drink at a private view!

I assisted at a few children’s art workshops, which was fun and mainly invigilated the gallery spaces, which could be really boring at times. We weren’t allowed to read books on duty so I would often sneak in a sketchbook to draw the visitors and the artwork or a ball of wool up my sleeve to crochet small pieces.


Later on, after receiving a tax rebate and in need of a change, I left Oxford to travel to south India, on my own, for a few months. I’d always wanted to go to India. I studied Hinduism at A levels and wanted to discover more about my maternal roots in Goa. I came back with full sketchbooks, photography bursting with colour, various textiles and jewellery and generally felt more at peace and settled than I had felt in years.

Soon after that I got together with Matt and we moved to London. I started a jewellery making internship at Tatty Devine. It was a fantastic experience to see how they run their studio (a place where there are always lovely cakes at teatime!). After that I took up a full-time position managing a craft department in a large art materials store for a year. With that job I didn’t have any time to see Matt, my friends or family nor the energy to make any of my own work. I was fairly miserable so decided to go it alone as a freelance textile artist (a fairly open title as it encompasses a whole range of things that I’m currently doing).

I don’t often feel very confident about anything that I do! It might sound silly but, in order for me to feel happy, I have to do the things I love. If I feel inspired, I have the energy to get on with it and make things. Although I don't talk about it much these days, when I was 16 I spent a year in hospital undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease, which had a big impact on my life and how I see things, the decisions I make and my creativity.

In the first week of chemo, I lost a stone. I didn’t lose my hair but was on 24 different pills – three that were kept in the fridge, some I had to take at exactly the same time every day, steroids (which made my face bloated and, with the weight loss elsewhere, created a ‘lollipop’ effect) and anti-sickness pills (which they forgot to give me on my 1st day of treatment!).


I didn't want to feel isolated when I was ill and wanted to be with my friends. So, I kept going to school and put on a brave face. I think some people didn’t realise that I was that seriously ill with cancer – it's not as if I was bald! Some, who did know, thought it must have been the worst time of my life, but in many ways it was a very positive time – I was living every day to the full, focusing on my exams and then had a summer of live music, which got me through the rough chemo.


When I feel low and weak, I remember I’ve been given a second chance – I've been through worse and remembering that I was able to get through it makes me realise there’s more to life than doing a job I don’t want to do or being in a situation that makes me miserable.

After the treatments, I didn’t really stop and reflect. I went straight to A levels and then on to do my art foundation course, which were two very busy years. It was only at university that I had time to stop and think. And when I did just pause and do nothing I felt traumatised by the experience of being ill and went through what I can only explain now as post-traumatic syndrome. I was panicky and nervous a lot of the time.

But the experience also gave me something to explore. In my degree work, I explored the ideas of identity, DNA and ideas of confusion. I had five blood transfusions while I was ill and at university I questioned who I was with all these different, anonymous donors’ blood running through my veins and wondered how it all affected who I was.
Currently, she is…
I teach knitting and crochet to groups of adults and children in Crouch End and Tottenham libraries. I’ve crocheted my way into working for the Crafts Council, helping sew together an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, then further on tour with The Knitting and Stitch Show. I’ve upholstered and sewn props for art installations at the Southbank Centre. I am a member of the Print Club, where I am developing my sketchbook drawings as screen-printed designs to make accessories and other items. And my printed-felt cat brooches are now being stocked in a children’s boutique, Olive Loves Alfie, in Stoke Newington.


Along with the groups I teach, I also go to a weekly knitting group in Hoxton. People think knitting and crochet is for old grannies, or worse than that, a passing trendy fad, but I’ve met some really cool, interesting people who are very talented at these craft forms.

Selling points…
I can and do knit, but get bored of it fairly quickly compared to crochet. Although knitting produces an elasticated fabric, I find the structure of making the fabric rigid, just going back and forth. With crochet, even though the fabric produced is more rigid in its form, I’m only dealing with one loop on the hook at a time so I can be a lot more liberal in my approach and direction. Creating a chain of crochet is like a line drawing but it's three-dimensional and can create sculptural pieces.

Home schooling…
Deedie (my grandmother) taught me to knit when I was seven, while I was at home with chicken pox. I didn’t really take it up again until art school, using the ends of two paint brushes to knit a piece copper wire. Even my best attempts were still really mangled back then.

My aunt Liz showed me how to crochet a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been teaching other people to knit and crochet and I’ve been making an effort to learn all the proper stitches rather than making it up as I go along. Although I don’t follow patterns, I can read them to help other people with their projects.

There’s a lot of stuff on the internet but all the groups and projects I’ve gotten involved with have been result of word of mouth. Although I mainly work alone, I find it important to get together with other people so I don’t go round in circles or start feeling stale. Through Parusha and Anita, I got involved with A Little Bazaar who put on craft markets along with gig nights and events.
Inspiring places…
I should go to the V&A more… Dalston Mill Fabrics, in Ridley Road Market is one of my recent finds. Being in there is like being in a sweet shop – besides all the usual fabric shop stuff, it’s crammed from floor to ceiling with what seems to be out of print/end of line fabrics and alcoves of haberdashery, which make my mouth water!

Fun on the side…
My first freelance job was as a visiting artist running a lantern-making project in a primary school in Oxford. Thrown in the deep end with a full class. I was really scared because I don’t feel like I’m a natural leader. But most of the students were inspired, loved my ideas and really got stuck into the work. They made paper and fabric lanterns lit by glow sticks. We paraded them through the city centre as part of a procession of 'winter dreams' with other schools. The second part of the project was a theatre performance, where I designed, and helped them make white costumes and a stage set to glow in UV light! The group’s excitement and energy during those events was incredible.
The fam’ly…
My mum went to art school but never followed it up. She became pregnant with me and hasn’t drawn or sculpted since. But, she’s always encouraged me to be creative. She once worked for Phaidon so we had lots of stunning art books at home.


My dad is a freelance writer and editor and I think he’s worked for most publishers out there. He’s an aspiring artist and one of those people who can pick up any musical instrument and just play it by ear! He works from home and is surrounded by his things he’s collected and is open to new experiences and influences. That’s what I’ve grown up around and his way of being has definitely influenced the way I am when it comes to being open and to being a hoader!


There are a few writers, musicians and artists in my extended family although it’s not something I was fully aware of when I was growing up. My early fashion drawings were inspired after a weekend spent drawing with my cousin, Danny, when I was eight and she was 10. It’s interesting now to get know my family on a personal level and through their creative work rather than just because we’re related. My grandfather Charlie attended evening classes at St Martins when he was 15 and, in his late 80’s, he sat his A level art exams the same time I did!
Stumbling blocks…
My biggest problem is decision making and getting over the inertia to start a new project. Saying that, I’m also notoriously bad at not finishing one project before starting another. I find it very hard to stick to one thing and not go off on tangents. This is why so far I haven’t specialised in one area. I don’t ever feel like saying ‘right, I’m going to be a knitter’ because then I’ll end up going off to do screen printing or start editing a short film/animation or make jewellery or maybe start painting again… I choose different media to express the different ideas I have at different times.
Things she’s learnt along the way…
I don’t have a constant flow of creativity so I have to just catch it when it’s there. Sometimes I can feel completely flat and withdrawn and at other times I go through phases of insomnia where I just have to get up and make things, draw, get stuff down on paper and make the most of the ideas before they pass.

Hoarding in the cupboard…
I love fabrics, garments and textiles that are full of colour, detail and texture. From every place that I’ve traveled to, I’ve picked up a sari or a kimono (or two). I’m actually quite good these days and am being very restrained when it comes to making purchases. I don’t want to turn into my dad and be a complete hoarder! I used to spend hours wondering around markets and charity and vintage shops trying to find unusual items. I haven’t necessarily worn those things outside in real life but I love them for dressing up at home!


I’ve inherited my grandma’s collection of buttons, ribbons, lace, knitting needles, fabric remnants, yarns, crochet squares and handmade garments. I also love collecting a lot of useless stuff like colourful drinking straws that come in packs of 200 from the pound shop and anything bright and plastic. I know one day I will do something with it all!

Where the magic happens…
Most of the drawing I do is on buses and trains. I love people watching. There’s always something unexpected to see while traveling on a bus. At the moment, I’m really enjoying having my own place. After years of living out of a backpack (on and off) and juggling two or three different homes to stay at, it’s so great to feel settled and use my flat as a studio to make stuff.

Any regrets…
During my foundation year, I was so caught up with the excitement and intensity of trying so many new art forms, which I hadn’t been exposed to before. But in the excitement I clean forgot about the only thing I ever wanted to do from the age of eight – to be a fashion designer. I guess I’ve always wondered where I would be now if I'd taken a fashion degree instead of the roundabout route I seem to be on now.
Inspirational folks…
Louise Bourgeois’ insomnia drawings, which I discovered after doing my own insomnia drawings are amazing. It made me feel happy that there was someone out there who did what I did when they had insomnia. And I was happy to see that her work was similar to what I was doing – the red lines and women who were tree-like structures. Yayoi Kusama is another inspiring lady that I admire.

Both of them are obsessed with repetition, colour and form, yet are not constrained by working in any one art form, crossing over from soft and hard sculpture to painting, fashion, drawing and installation. Both have continued to make new work throughout there long lives too.


My friends also inspire me. I can see their progression and their struggles with their everyday lives, yet they’re able to make time to create something for the love of it, whether it’s a drawing, making music or knitting.

Nice things…
Discovering new music is something I am really passionate about. I spend a lot of time at home listening to 6 Music and love going to gigs, especially if I can dance lots. In the last year, I’ve seen some unbelievable performances by Bjork, Squarepusher, Battles, Lighting Bolt, Acoustic Ladyland and Holy Fuck. I’ve been to a few of All Tomorrow’s Parties events and like their approach to music. Oxford has an interesting music scene too and I’ve seen some amazing bands in small venues, like the Cellar, before they got big.
I’m enjoying getting to go through Matt’s collection of indie comics and graphic novels. I’ve read a few but have hardly scratched the surface! His graphic novels have inspired me to use sequential art as a means of expressing myself. It’s inspired a new form of expression and I want to experiment with that.
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Sunday, 21 June 2009

2.1 / Aesthetics and chutzpah / Ivana Nohel

What: Illustrator and product & fashion designer
Where: London, United Kingdom

Back in the day
My parents were very young when they had me and none of their friends had children at the time. So, I was always treated as an adult. I was led to believe I was capable of doing anything.

In the Czech Republic, there’s an amazing material culture. As a result of communism you couldn’t buy what you wanted. Everything was handmade and everyone was culturally astute. They’ve always been told what to do so the only way they have to express their identity is through music and art. That’s what I grew up with in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
People in her young life…
I’m obsessed with sparkly things. When I was little, I’d love going to see the crown jewels. Friends of my parents who sometimes looked after me would take me to a glass bead factory and I would get jars of glass beads to play with. In the Czech Republic they have amazing fairy tales and that’s influenced me a lot – that sense of fantasy and reality was always in my life. Because I'm an only child, I spent a lot of time in my imagination and in my world I was a princess 24/7. My grandfather always indulged me and would treat me like a princess when I was dressed up in my little princess outfit.


We shared a house with my grandfather. That’s what you did then. You stayed in the family home. And when the grandparents died, the parents stayed and their children did the same. So, that was my identity until I was seven. And then we moved to Vancouver where I was essentially a latch-key kid. When we moved we didn’t have any money. My father had to go to med school and my mother supported him. I was left to go to school and come back on my own. I didn’t speak the language and I was shy. So again, I was on my own with my imagination.

School lessons…
I went to an inner-city school where there was an enormous mix of people. It was really cool. I was never picked on. But things changed when we moved into the suburbs, where it was homogenous and there was no ethnic minority there. I was the ethnic minority. This was in the 70s. One week after arriving, at the age of 11, I made some friends but one of the girls took me aside. Everyone had metal-edged lunch boxes with characters on the front and I had a 70s suede patchwork handbag that I used to bring my lunch in. The girl told me that if I wanted to fit in I had to get a lunch box. I’m the sort of person who thinks, ‘Well, I’ll take two of those suede handbags, thank you very much! DO NOT tell me what to do!’ I think at that point in my life I learnt how relative everything is. You can get stuck in a certain way of being and be completely unaccepting of the things around you.

The birth of feisty…
We’re bohemian. My father has an intellectual background and my mother is into the arts. Coming from communism and having your own ideas could land you in prison or find you dead. So, if you believed in something you would die for it. You stood your ground. They left the Czech Republic because of the lack of freedom. That notion of freedom being important was instilled in me. Freedom is the basic fundamental thing that is essential to being human. No one has the right to restrict you with boundaries. You need your freedom, as long as you’re not hurting anyone.

I grew up during the time of the women’s liberation movement. My mother had a friend who was a full-on feminist (much to my father’s dismay). She got Ms. Magazine for my mum and was a huge influence on my life. I have that red-haired, Celtic spirit so god forbid anybody who tries to stand in my way. Perhaps that’s why I have a Jack Russell – I’m a terrier. As soon as you tell me ‘Forget it, it’ll never work’ I’m bound to try and prove you otherwise. For me, that’s the key ingredient to success – just being a heat seeking missile for something you want to do. People in different circumstances along the way will shit on you for different reasons. Resilience is half the fun.

The great escape…
I learnt a lot from other people while escaping from the Czech Republic. One guy, who thought he had the potential and wanted to be a welder, started working as a welder. It took them about three or four days to figure out that he didn’t know how to weld. But by then he’d learnt a thing or two and could get another job where he’d stay on for a week or more until they realised he was crap. That’s how he learned to weld and became a welder.

It takes people a little while to realise you’re crap so you should just learn as much as you can from every job. If you’re not saving lives or performing brain surgery, how hard can anything be when you have the basic skills set and the potential. You need a bit of chutzpah and the confidence to think ‘Oh, it’ll be fine’.


I did a degree in anthropology because I wanted to go into architecture, build public housing and help people. Your environment has so much to do with how you turn out. Public housing is uninspiring. I was keen to create happier spaces for people.

In Canada, you can take one course in your last year, like basket weaving, just to relax. I did a course in theatre design, where there was costume and set design. My tutor asked me what I was going to do when I graduated. I told him I was going to do a masters in architecture. He said, ‘Darling, you’re going to be bored. Go to London and apply to work in the theatre. You’re definitely good enough.’ And I just thought, ‘OK. That sounds good.’ My parents were driving me crazy and I didn’t see any future in Vancouver. I came to London and applied in the theatre, fresh off the boat going, ‘Here I am!’ after only doing one course in theatre design, thinking I was good enough.
Pimp your skills…
I was working at Aquascutum and my flatmate told me there was a job going at the BBC in the costume department. I applied and then got annoyed because they kept telling me they’d call me back but didn’t. I called them every single day for a week and eventually they told me that I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have the right qualifications. I said to the guy, ‘I’m going to be in the wardrobe handling costumes. I have a university degree. How much more qualified do I need to be?’ Then he said, ‘Describe a woman’s outfit from the late 1800s.’ And I did. He told me to come in for an interview and I got the job. It was just that what-do-you-mean-no attitude that got me in there.

Falling into fashion…
It’s about aesthetics. It manifests itself in material goods. Another reason I studied anthropology is because I’m fascinated by the way people live – their surroundings, artefacts and clothes. I’m interested in the symbolism in things. The details always fascinate me. I got into fashion because I couldn’t afford couture clothes. If I could make my own jewellery, I’d make my own jewellery. If you can’t afford something, there’s no reason why you can’t have it. Just make it.


I’m good at three-dimensions. The body is just a three-dimensional form that you put material around. I had an amazing opportunity while growing up. When I was at school there was ‘cooking and sewing’ for girls and ‘electricity, woodwork, drafting and metalwork’ for boys. I did both. The cooking and sewing class teacher had worked in Paris for Yves Saint Laurent as a couturier and ended up being stuck in suburbia in Vancouver – a cultural wasteland where she taught 12 year olds how to sew. She was the most miserable cow but very early on fell in love with me because I was a perfectionist and took to sewing quite naturally. She was impressed at the way I finished everything by hand. I learnt a lot from her. People I’ve worked with in fashion ask me how I learnt to do certain things – things they never learnt to do.

When I ended up working for the BBC, I met a boy named Erin who was studying fashion at St Martins. He was amazed at the coat I was wearing. After I told him I made it, he was beside himself. We instantly became friends. He got me my first job in fashion. Back then, security at St Martins was a bit lax, I was taking a night course at the college and was able to get into the building. I kind of became a student there. As a joke the other students would put my name on the roster and I’d go in about three or four times a week. I’d help other students, do my own thing and I learnt a lot. It was the most bizarre thing and they let me do it. That sort of thing would never happen now.

Lucky break…
Erin got a job as a knitwear designer and was asked to recommend someone to fill his old position. He recommended me. So I was hired by two Persian women to design cashmere. At the time, in the 80s, the cashmere designs were very plain and catered to a levied Persian clientele that just liked bling. I think I understand lifestyle so I knew what they wanted. Then Erin left his job and his boyfriend helped us set up our own company. We made clothes for a couple of years. Then the recession hit and it crippled us. I was completely destitute, not knowing what the hell I was going to do. I moved in with a friend of mine.


One day, she was having her nails done and there was a woman in the salon sitting next to her complaining she was having her wedding dress made and it was crap. My friend tripped up and said, ‘I have a friend who’s very good at dressmaking. She’s a designer… and this and that’. It transpired that the woman was Aliza Reger, Janet Reger’s daughter. At one point I had the same agent as Janet Reger. They thought this whole episode was an omen. They’re quite into fate, as I am. I made Aliza’s wedding dress and they kept me on to design Janet Reger showpieces.
Impress, don’t stress…
When I was at Janet Reger, I started thinking there was something I needed with more substance, where I was learning something new. A friend of mine saw an ad in the newspaper for the head of the department designing Sindy fashion dolls. I didn’t have any experience in plastics or product design but I did a presentation for them. I mocked up a product and new packaging for Sindy. They said, ‘You know, you haven’t got any management skills because you’ve never managed people. But, you’re the only person who presented to us in a way that showed you’ve given some thought to who buys the product, what it looks like on the shelf and you’re the only person who’s mocked up the doll and the packaging. Nobody else gave it all as much thought.’ I’ve realised that you can learn most things on the job. But you need to have the ideas. That’s the only thing you can’t be taught.


After four years designing dolls, I signed up with an agent who got me a job in the art and licencing department that handle the rights for Mr Men and Star Wars. One of the prerequisites for the job was to be Mac literate. At that point I didn’t have email at my desk. I’d never even turned on a computer. That was in 1994. I had a month left at my old job and decided to just learn how to use a Mac. My thinking was ‘how hard could it be?’ I did a crash course. I muddled through and they never even noticed.

After a while, I really wanted to design the dolls again. About six months later, they called me from Disney. Someone I worked with at Hasbro (the company that produced Sindy dolls) formed the development team and was bringing design to England.


He hired me to design all the Disney princesses as the ‘doll expert’ (there don’t seem to be that many of us!). The design team were all product designers below me. I don’t know if that sort of thing happens these days but I don’t have any formal qualifications, just experience.
A window into another world…
I do window displays now and then. In general, this line of work doesn’t pay well but I really enjoy doing it. I bullied a friend of mine, who owned a shop on Columbia Rd, into getting more advertising by letting me do her window display. I have a friend at Labour of Love, after seeing my first display, asked me to do a window for her. A few others came from that. It’s a fantastic outlet. And at some point down the road I’d love to do interior design or architecture.
Right place, right time…
When I was sitting around thinking of ways to make a living I met a girl at a dinner party. I showed her my work and she hired me to illustrate for Spears Wealth Management Survey magazine. I currently work as a Contributing Editor at Nolcha – Fashion Business Network – and met Sarah Toner, who I’m working with now,
at one of their networking events. It's a great company for new designers. Sarah’s a ballerina and teaches women how to walk in high heels. She's written a book inspired by her experience called Fabulous in High Heels and I’ve illustrated it. It’s a book full of humour. My licensing background, my experience designing underwear and dolls are all beneficial to this project. We’re creating a brand, doing underwear and merchandising. It’s using my past experiences and building on them.

Style advice…
It’s all those clichéd things like ‘you need to know yourself’, ‘don’t be afraid’ and ‘don’t let other people tell you what you should do or be’. I’ve styled people and where there’s a lack of style, there’s also a lack of knowledge of oneself. Perhaps it’s also not being kind to yourself, a lack of confidence and not recognising your good points. If a woman is always focused on parts of herself she doesn’t like and says ‘oh my god I hate my thighs’, I’m like, ‘Well, you have amazing tits. Work with the tits! Forget the thighs!’ Whatever you’re good at, whatever your strong points are, focus on that.

Interiors and decoration…
My kitchen is like a gypsy caravan. I love anything to do with gypsies. And the bedroom is inspired by Marie Antoinette, very zen, no pictures on the wall. I’m influenced by people and things. I love gypsy culture and love all the bangles and spangles. Their sense of aesthestic, colour and magic. I love Marie Antoinette (that whole period) and Barbara Cartland’s sense of romance and style. I’m a book fiend. And one day I’ll have floor to ceiling books, mainly picture books. I’m a massive book collector – photography, art, architecture, quirky books, Spring Heeled Jack and illustration. I love children’s illustrators and Czech illustrators in particular. My taste is eclectic and maybe a little schizophrenic.

These are a few of her favourite things…
I love Tim Walker’s photography. My friend and I are ‘Walker stalkers’. If I were a photographer, that’s the sort of photographer I’d be. I sift through bookstores, magazines and the internet. Travelling and sometimes just walking down the street inspires me. The V&A, the Wallace Collection and Bond Street jewellery stores are brilliant. There’s something magical about touching jewellery and seeing things sparkle.

In Florence, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is amazing. It’s an old pharmacy where monks made weird tinctures of all the herbs they grew. It’s set in a beautiful palazzo, smells incredible and is very old fashioned with all the old packaging on the soaps and pefumes. If I had a shop, it would be like 10 Corso Como, in Milan. You enter a secret courtyard and there’s a tiny boutique where the owner obviously handpicks things from £10 up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. There’s a wonderful, little restaurant and upstairs a small gallery, a bookstore to die for, a record store and a cute hotel called 3 Rooms because it’s only got three rooms. Whenever I see someone with a Corso Commo bag I feel like I’ve just seen someone who’s a part of the same club.

A friend of mine Giovanna Ticciati has just opened an amazing gallery in Petworth, in West Sussex – a beautiful little town full of antique stores. She has a gallery with antiques and new furniture and is working with artists and artisans to make things for her shop. She’s a story. At one point she decided she wanted to learn how to do plastering. She walked into a plastering shop and said, ‘I want to apprentice’ and learnt how to plaster. She basically built a place called Beach Blanket Babylon on Ludbury Rd. I read Planet Fabulon, love JS Smith Esquire, the ABDC 3D book and Tsé & Tsé Associées.

Words of wisdom
So much of what we accomplish is related to confidence. People have different lives and backgrounds. Obstacles have a lot to do with how you were treated as a kid and insecurities that you acquire either at a young age, puberty or through bad experiences.

A lot of what we do as adults has to do with networking and the relationships we form. I’ve been in jobs where my personality has been too strong and the only thing that’s kept me there is my talent. I’ve been told, and quite rightly so, if you’re talented and amazing but you don’t get on with everyone, you have to be ten times as talented – it’s almost better to be crap and get along.

Confidence tricks…
My father always said to me, ‘When you’re with someone and you’re feeling a little nervous, I would almost guarantee that the person you’re talking to is more insecure than you are, so don’t worry.’

The only way you fail is if you don’t try. It’s much easier to procrastinate and worry about doing something than actually doing it.

On the horizon…
Since way back when, every once in a while, someone falls in love with my work. I’m hoping the book illustration brings more depth to that. Illustration is something you can do anywhere. I want to have a studio in Canada where I can just draw. I want to be able to go back and forth between London and Vancouver. I’m hoping to turn Fabulous in High Heels into a brand, fulfilling my fashion side, using my product design skills and packaging experience. I definitely want to do more illustration. I’ll carry on with the window displays and make the most of other opportunities that come my way.

Profound advice…
You can be the most talented amazing person but if you’re sitting in a room and nobody knows you, you’re going nowhere. So put yourself out there!

See and understand an opportunity when it arises and go for it. The first seven years of my career, I changed jobs about once a year. When the opportunity came up, when I got a bit bored, I moved on. There wasn’t a single job that wasn’t related to what I wanted to do. Even if you’re cleaning toilets, make sure that if you want to be a film producer, it’s in a production company. Make sure whatever you're doing relates in some way to what you want to be doing, where you ultimately want to be.

The other thing I do is to think about where I want to be in the future. I totally picture it in my head – the car I’m driving, the rings on my fingers and I sometimes I draw it. I don’t know whether it’s because you recognise it when it happens or because it’s a result of your wishing it to happen but it works for me.
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