By Kate Marsden
More studio envy for you this week (sorry!) as we head to Camberwell in South London to meet a long term Just A Card campaign supporter, artist Gabriela Szulman. Gabriela shares her wonderful work (and studio space!) with us, alongside her thoughts about shopping small and sustainable…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I am a printmaker and mixed-media artist. My work is all about reassembling found images through collage and decoupage, and I use both these methods to create pictures, jewellery and decorative objects. I also teach creative upcycling techniques regularly at my studio and elsewhere.
What does a typical day involve?
Each day is different for me but it normally starts with checking emails and scheduling social media posts. Then I attempt to follow the inevitable list, so it could be a full day of making, administration, research or a combination of all those things and more. Most days are punctuated by going out to a gym class, so I leave the studio at some point during the morning for a bout of much-needed exercise.
I teach two regular classes every week: Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening. These are informal, relaxed drop-in sessions for regular students who have done a course with me before and want to carry on with their own projects. And then at the weekend once or twice a month I lead more structured workshops on specific techniques.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I am extremely lucky: last year I moved just a mile up the road within Camberwell to a complex of live-work units which is home to a diverse range of artists and makers. My studio is a large double-height space that allows me to work and teach on the ground floor and keep my office separate on a mezzanine. And of course the commute is just a flight of stairs as the flat is right above the studio!
When I’m not working I’ll be at the Ritzy or the East Dulwich Picture House watching anything from obscure art-house releases to comedies and documentaries (film is one of my obsessions), meeting friends for a meal or visiting an art or design exhibition. I am a thoroughly urban creature though I do like to get away somewhere remote at least once a year.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing artists and designer makers at the moment?
Where to begin? We all know it can be hard to make a living from doing what we love, and most of us are juggling several things at the same time. And while the web has helped develop our reach beyond physical boundaries, the amount of effort needed to market ourselves through a professional, interesting and current online presence does not always translate in sales.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I would like to expand my teaching practice, continue developing my product range and supply more lovely independent shops and galleries. I would also welcome doing more commissioned work such as custom-papered walls and furniture.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/ small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Say yes to every opportunity big or small. Take a stall at a local market: direct feedback from customers is crucial. Get your pricing right and understand boring stuff such as cost and profit: I despair when I hear makers say they’ve “covered the cost” of a fair when they’ve taken the same amount of money they paid for the space! To me that means they’ve given away their products and time for free: if they depended purely on those takings they would not even be able to replace the materials needed to make more work.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
Diverse Gifts – the very first lifestyle shop in Brixton, which began as a silver jewellery stall in the famous street market long before the area became gentrified! The owner, Anita Thorpe, is very approachable and always keen to hear from potential suppliers. She stocks a great mix of work by local makers, crafts and furniture from far flung corners of the globe, plus a varied selection of greeting cards. Every November Diverse hosts a showcase of handmade work by Lambeth-based artists and craftspeople in collaboration with social enterprise Makerhood.
Brixi – very eccentric and always full of oddities: my go-to place whenever I’m looking for something unusual. I love Brixi for its individuality and the fact that it does not stock anything that is remotely “on trend” or useful. Emy Gray, the fairy godmother who runs Brixi, is another great supporter of local designers and emerging artists.
Bias Boutique – a lovely fashion shop in Peckham. The owner, Sally Hindle, has a very good eye and stocks independent labels from the UK and Europe, plus a range of carefully chosen beauty products and accessories. She is also a champion of local designers and often you'll find a little corner with some beautifully made home products. A second, larger shop has recently opened in Harrogate – I haven’t been there yet but hope to visit sometime next year.
A couple of shops I discovered through social media and admire from afar:
Hilary & Flo in Sheffield – I’m a fan of their Instagram feed and covet much of what I’ve seen on their online store. I imagine the bricks-and-mortar shop to be the perfect mix of stylish and bonkers, and can picture some of my own creations there. On my wish list of stockists!
Tin Design in Leigh-on-sea – an eclectic art and interiors shop where I would also love to see some of my work. I stumbled across their inspiring Instagram feed and website sometime ago while looking for trays by French brand Ibride , a favourite of mine which is not easily found in the UK. In addition to a wonderful selection of interiors accessories and vintage finds, Tin Design also host a showcase of local artisans and artists, always a plus in my view.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
I have to confess that I hadn’t, at least not initially. As I heard more about the campaign, it became clear that the card is just an example: the perfect metaphor for any small purchase. Explaining the meaning of “Just a Card” and the campaign as a whole is a great opener when talking about its aims to the buying public.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
Absolutely crucial! We want more people to support independent makers and shops by making actual purchases rather than just admiring what we do or “liking” posts on social media.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I heard about the campaign “straight from the horse’s mouth”, as it were, since it was started by my great friend and collaborator Sarah Hamilton.
My most active social media platform is Twitter, followed by Facebook and Instagram*. I think the campaign has become a lot more visible and relevant since you started the blog, which I enjoy reading regularly and also promote through my social media channels. I always have “Just A Card” cards in my studio and at any events in which I participate, and encourage fellow makers to do the same.
In terms of what other people can do, it’s really simple: support us by putting your hands in your pockets and buying handmade and independent. Make local markets, fairs, indie shops and open studios your first port of call when looking for presents or something special for yourself. Buy small and sustainable, care about provenance even if it takes a lot more effort than shopping online from Amazon or piling up a trolley at a department store.