By Kate Marsden
We’re off to beautiful Bath this week, to meet a Just A Card supporter you may be familiar with from our weekly “have you met?’ feature on Instagram, and from our Thursday night Just A Card Hour over on Twitter. Ruth Thorp’s beautiful illustrations are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s easy to see why! Read on to find out more about her and her work.
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m Ruth and I’m a freelance illustrator, designer, maker and children’s writer based in Bath. I design and make cards, illustrated art prints and books and produce illustration and graphic design work for commercial clients and publications.
What does a typical day involve?
I work from home for myself, so each day varies depending on my mood, or what projects and deadlines I have on at that time. I’m quite flexible with my time - I don’t like to prescribe certain working hours for myself, but whatever I am doing I generally like to get up so that I can start the day by 9am. I mostly begin by checking emails and seeing if any orders have come in which I can then package up to be sent out that day. We have recently moved into a lovely second floor Georgian townhouse apartment with beautiful large sash windows, so we have put a big table for me to work on which looks out of these. It’s a really inspiring place to work and very flexible depending on whether I am sitting down doing computer based work; hand drawing; printing and making products; or photographing new products. I also try to get out of the house most days, even if that is popping round the corner into town to the post office, and I get distracted a lot by people watching out of the windows! As most of my illustration work is computer based (after the initial pen drawings) working from home means I can give myself regular breaks away from the screen by doing household chores in between. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but I love that I have complete control over my working day. I find that I have to be in the right creative headspace to create new work and this doesn’t always fit neatly into the “normal” 9-5 working day, so if that means that I work odd evening or weekend hours, but spend time in the day doing other stuff that’s what I do. It’s nice that I always have the option of changing my task from concentrated design work to printing cards and making up wholesale orders - it’s a good balance of physical making, illustrating and other computer based marketing. This time of year I have a lot of stock to keep making which is pretty satisfying once you get into a flow and see all the completed product piled up at the end!
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
As already mentioned, I work from home. It’s a one bedroom apartment, but it has a large living room which is a perfect place for me to work. We have only recently moved in, but we have big renovation plans, so eventually I should have a bespoke working area to keep it all a bit more contained! Outside of work I love to dance! I try to get to a few dance classes every week and then sit and binge watch netflix TV series! My partner is a designer and architect, so we are enjoying spending time designing our new interior together - there is a lot of pinterest browsing going on at the moment! He also rents a small workshop space across town for product design development and carpentry, so we often go there together to work on small projects. Other than that, all the normal things like eating out; seeing friends and family; attending music and film events; walking through the parks and city centre; browsing shops; drinking coffee; and we can’t go too long without going back home to my parents’ beautiful barn conversion in Pembrokeshire where I feel most creative. I work a lot with my mum and dad on creative publishing projects as part of our independent publishing arm Raw Mixture Publishing and they are incredibly dynamic creative people so we all spur each other on! The barn is only 5 minutes drive from the incredible Newgale beach, so when we are not having fun on creative projects we are out enjoying beach walks and bodyboarding!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
I think as a designer maker one of the biggest challenges is trying to stay creative and finding the time to produce new work (the fun bit!) whilst also juggling all the other essential roles you have to take. These can include keeping up with marketing and promotion; social media; accounts; finding new clients or outlets to sell your stock; selling at fairs and markets; responding to emails and enquiries; dealing with online sales; building your customer base as well as keeping your product ranges fresh so they keep wanting to come back! It certainly keeps life interesting, but can be overwhelming at times which is why it’s so important to have a good support system either at home, with friends or as part of a wider creative community.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I guess I just want to keep building on what I am doing. This year has been absolutely amazing for me in terms of increased exposure and sales. I have picked up a lot more wholesale orders as well as private commissioned work and I will be doing my first trade show in April 2018 so I need to prepare for this. I would love to offer a bigger range of products so I need to think about what I might want to develop. I will be starting work on a couple of book collaborations in the new year and my latest picture book has been sitting in the background for a long time, so I need to start working on that again. I would also love to get more editorial work in the future as I really enjoy creating illustration work that responds to brilliant writing - it can be very inspiring!
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/ small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Stay true to yourself! Keep producing work that you love doing: play; experiment; learn new skills (related and seemingly un-related) which may just lead to an unexpected technique or idea; create work that excites you and don’t worry too much at the beginning where it is leading! Don’t be afraid to get involved in new projects or accept tricky briefs and challenges, but remember that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to every job. Sometimes it takes more courage to turn down work than to accept it, but it is important to stay true to yourself, your values and your style and if you honestly feel it’s not the right job for you, be honest and give yourself that time to concentrate on the ones that do excite you.
Connect and talk to other people. It’s amazing how inspired you can become from just having conversations with new people. Surprising and unexpected opportunities seem to arise when you just have the courage to talk to people about yourself, your work and your interests and the bonus is you meet some really lovely and interesting people along the way. Taking part in the Just a Card campaign on social media is a great way to do this or book a table at a local craft fair and start showing and selling your work!
Whatever you do, make it work for you! What works well for one designer/maker/small business, may not be the right way for you, so adapt, change and experiment…and keep smiling!
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
Leak in Larkhall, Bath is the brainchild of owners Lucinda and Kirstie who have cleverly converted a disused public toilet into a beautiful and funky little gift shop full of gorgeous homewares, art, cards, gifts and children’s toys. They carry a lot of work from local independent artists and makers alongside other beautifully designed products from further afield and are hugely supportive and active in local community events. They were one of the first gift shops to take a chance on me by stocking my products and I regularly talk to people on my stand at local craft fairs who tell me they have seen or bought my work in Leak.
Further afield, Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge is an beautiful gallery offering affordable contemporary art, timeless jewellery and engaging craft. I am honoured to say that I have my artwork, cards and books sold alongside such talented artists and makers. The owner, Alison is an absolute delight to work with and so supportive and active in promoting all her artists and designers as well as being a supporter of the Just a Card campaign.
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, having followed and taken part in the campaign for the last year, I have really absorbed the message that it is about encouraging all sales from independent makers, artists and shops and know first hand how crucial it is to have people’s support, whether that’s just a card, just a print or just a book all the seemingly small sales really do add up to mean that I can continue doing what I love, keep creating and eating!
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
The campaign has been absolutely crucial for me since it started. I’m so pleased that it started at just the right time for me when I was branching out on my own. I can’t even begin to tell you how many new connections I have made. I have probably discovered hundreds of new amazing creative artists, makers, designers, shops and galleries directly as a result of the campaign. By taking part in Just A Card Hour and other events I have been able to expand my customer base and exposure leading to more sales, which in turn, means that I can buy beautiful products from other designers and makers. I was also delighted to be featured on Instagram on ‘Have you met’ from which I gained lots of new followers. The positivity and support from the whole Just A Card community is overwhelming. It’s so much fun to be part of!
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 use Twitter and Instagram mainly, so I think I probably first discovered it on Twitter. I have a Facebook business page, but I’m not very good at keeping on top of that. Supporting Just A Card is as easy as following, sharing and buying from people you discover through Just A Card, or even independently. Be generous and share with the world when you receive a nice package from an independent maker, or purchase something lovely from a independent shop. Realise that buying something, no matter how small, from an independent rather than high street chain, means that there is a person busting out a shoulder shimmy or full on happy dance as a result! Whether it’s just a card, just a book, just a print, just a pair of earrings, just a pot, why not challenge yourself to make this Christmas an independent one by only buying presents from independent designers/makers, small and local shops and galleries and see what a difference you can make to all those people out there just trying to share their creativity and passions! It’s certainly a good start to making the world a more generous, compassionate and happy place to live in.