Designer Profile: Jane Crisp

By Kate Marsden

Not a greetings card in sight this week as we head to Cambridgeshire to take a look at the stunning work of bespoke furniture designer maker Jane Crisp...

Tell us a little about you. What do you do? 

Whenever I am at home there is steam bellowing from my new workshop located in my garden in the rural Cambridgeshire fens. I love the sculptural possibilities that come with the magical process of steam-bending wood. I create functional objects that amplify traditional techniques in a contemporary way.

My products consist of small batches of steam-bent Ash vessels or Trugs - these are my bread and butter. My inspiration comes from the Norfolk reeds, boat-building techniques and copper nails and roves. These sculptural and practical Trugs rock like boats in the wind and are, more often than not used as a sculptural center piece.

What does a typical day involve?

I need as much workshop time as possible so I start every day by consulting my list, weekly planner and making schedule. Next I organize and reply to emails, invoices, ordering and update my books.

Next I open up the workshop and set up, I work in batches each week so each day is different. Production involves, making out, bandsaw, linisher, drum-sander, hand sand, steam-bend, construct and sand and finish. It is a true labor of love so to get me though I drink lots of tea, eat cake, listen to Groove Armada or something cheery and take brakes in the shade under the apple tree that my workshop is nestled around. My motto - keep going until all of the work is done, I normally finish quite late!

Evenings and weekends I use for Design work, updating my social media and online profiles, connecting with other makers and wrapping and polishing trugs. My boyfriend often refers to the sitting room as an Amazon warehouse. 

Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?

My studio is a light conservatory with double doors leading to the garden. I fill it with inspiring found objects, books that I have collected and art by my maker friends. My stock hangs from the beams to save space.

About a year ago I built a new workshop, mainly the old fashioned way on favours from skilled friends and doing as much myself as possible. It is a big 6 x 6m “L” shape timber build with enough power points for a small town. I have a courtyard for steam-bending and space to pass long lengths of timber through a thicknesser. It is lower than normal and tucked away behind trees and roses.    

When I’m not working I still love to be outside. I love gardening although my knowledge is minimal, camping with friends and going to the beach. My guiltiest pleasure is collecting handmade jewellery, ceramics and art.   

What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?

I think creative graduates feel isolated from a creative environment when they return home. Most graduates I know felt they didn’t know how to start a business. I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Crafts Council Hothouse Programme last year. I grew in every way and sometimes I work for the Crafts Council - it helps financially but it is also a great umbrella to be under. If you feel you need help, please consider this programme – it’s a real kickstarter.

I also started without any capital borrowing money or any funding. I worked on a farm to earn some cash and started my business. My boyfriend and I still rented a small cottage and I worked from friends’ garages and cut all my timber with a handsaw. It means I have complete control and it’s not cost me money borrowing but this is certainly not the easy route having some capital definitely helps.

People find it hard to understand how hard it is when you have to say “I love you but I can’t see you” and what dedication and determination it takes to start your own business. You make that sacrifice and people say “Jane you work for yourself so you can work when you want or you don’t have to get up that early do you?”. I throw myself into my work and carry on. 

What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?

My priority is designing, and I have a couple of cracking new releases for later this year. Next I am hoping to invest in some new machines that will enable me to make some of my bigger pieces and future furniture projects.

I am exhibiting at Grassimesse in Leipzig, Germany in October. My aim is to expand my international market and create a new stream of customers over the next few years.

Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?

I think the small seed of starting my twitter account lead to great things. It got me some exposure which lead to some good exposure and so on...

I found the Crafts Council Directory really successful for networking with makers and galleries – you can apply here

It’s hard for designer makers to show the true value of their work online. To help with this I entered loads of competitions at the Crafts Council opportunities page – it’s worth a look there’s something for everyone.

I recently invested in myself and had a logo, business cards and sign designed. It took courage but with the help of the lovely super-efficient Sarah Cowan who holistically and intuitively understood my brand it was a doddle.

My eyes are now opened to the benefits of out-sourcing work – you just have to do it at the right time with the right person.  

Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.

I love the Golden Hare Gallery's careful curation, in particular the work of Jane White.

I am crazy about Anna Collette Hunt's ceramic insect infestations. I am about to invest in some more fairy-tale pieces of her work.

My talented friend designer maker Libby Ward's jewellery is truly addictive. I’m writing this wearing three of her pieces, two swaps and one present. I am a self-confessed addict.

And last but not least Sarah Cowan's card shop.

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?

Yes, I had and it prompted me to explore different price points. I had made bangles to swap with other makers as a way of advertising both peoples work. I decided to market them as they had a much lower price point.

How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?

Making more regular sales helps with cash flow and confidence. But it also advertises your brand reaching your customers and the person receiving the card or bangle. I found that people who bought my bangles at shows later invested in a bigger piece too.

Where did you hear about the campaign & 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 came across the campaign on twitter and again through Sarah Cowan. I think people could support it by spreading the word and using it as a talking point, a way of discussing how artists value making a living doing what they love, how special that is and how grateful they are to the people who make that possible.

I will be launching a Just A Card shop, coming soon and of course spreading the word the old fashioned way.