By Kate Marsden
I’m having a minor fan girl moment this week, as I meet someone who has long been an inspiration to me and my business. Jane Foster’s stunning, graphic signature style is instantly recognisable and seems to pop up all over the place! Read on to find out more about Jane, her gorgeous studio and her thoughts on the Just A Card campaign…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
Hi - I’m Jane Foster and I’m an illustrator, author and screen printer based in Kingsbridge, Devon. I illustrate children’s books, license my designs to a few companies and create a small range of screen printed products to sell to individual customers from my website.
What does a typical day involve?
I start work at 9 after our daughter goes to school and work until the school pick up at 3.15. I’ll then take a break to spend time with her and will return to work pretty much most evenings from 8.30 until midnight. A typical day involves checking emails / social media platforms etc. and then working out the day’s priorities. Orders are dealt with in the morning (my partner helps with the packaging and labels) and I try to use the afternoon and evenings for screen printing and sewing. If I’m working on a book deadline or designs for a company, these take priority and I’ll work as many hours as I can on these.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I’m fortunate to have my own studio in the back garden that my partner Jim built a few years ago. It’s a large studio where I can screen print, design and sew. It has a large industrial sink so I can wash my silk screens. The studio was built using insulated panels (SIPS) so is very warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s been clad in Siberian larch and we painted it black with a yellow door as we love Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage at Dungeness. We have daylight ceiling bulbs and have painted the floor white to reflect as much light as possible.
When I’m not working, I love spending time with my family - going for beautiful coastal walks or walking on Dartmoor. I also love meeting friends for coffee and cake and going to the odd car boot sale as I love looking for vintage fabrics and 60s and 70s children’s books (despite trying to become more minimalist!)
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
Uncertainty is definitely the first one that comes to mind. I think everyone is very concerned about the impact Brexit will have on the creative world and small businesses. I know several creative freelance friends who have already noticed an impact and are now being offered less design work. I’ve also chatted to fellow designers who are experiencing a drop in sales. Another huge challenge facing designer makers (especially new ones and graduates) is getting noticed and found. We’re living in a climate where everyone is trying to get noticed and sell online, and unless you have a great social media presence or your work stands out, it’s a huge challenge. When I first started selling my screen prints around ten years ago in Brighton, the accepted route was to book appointments with small galleries to show your work to. This can still be done but you’re now expected to have a website, blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram account. Juggling all these along with finding time to actually design and run a business can be very demanding.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I plan to illustrate more children’s books, to collaborate with more companies on licensing for product designs, to strive for a better work / life balance and to continue to develop my own designs that I sell from my own website.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
I think initially it’s sensible to have another form of employment whilst you’re starting out, as the stress of having to earn money and pay the bills isn’t great for being creative. You must be truly passionate and dedicated as it’s a difficult climate. I often say that talent is only a small part to becoming successful - the rest is pure grit and determination, and the ability to fail lots and pick yourself up again and again and again! I would recommend showing your work / designs / products online as often as possible to develop a social media presence. Ignore any trends or what others are doing and stay truly unique to your own designs and what you love doing. Develop a recognisable style that is totally ‘you' - a style that runs through everything you do. (It’s easy to get imposter syndrome on the internet so although it’s great to follow other people’s work, don’t spend too much of your valuable time doing this).
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 think initially I thought it was about just buying a card, but now I realise this isn’t the case. I always try to have a range of affordable products so that a handmade product can be affordable to everyone. As a designer, I always make a point of buying something when I go into a small gallery or gift shop, such as a badge, post card or wonderful wrapping paper. I’m the same when I pass buskers on the street - I always give them some money as I was once a busker on the streets with my violin, and I know how hard it is to have people walk by and not notice you. (It’s recognising creativity.)
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It’s very important to me in general as I think supporting artists/designers/makers is important to our society as a whole. I cannot imagine how dull the world would be without handmade products - imagine a world where everything was mass produced in factories and where we were living in a totally throw away nation, not caring about buying products to last a lifetime, not being interested in buying something unique and handmade and not caring about the impact on our environment or the story behind an individual maker / designer! The longevity of small independent makers and galleries totally depends on many people collectively buying at least one small item.
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 first heard about the campaign on social media and through Mollie Makes Magazine. I mainly use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - I also use Pinterest but not necessarily on a daily basis. People can blog about the campaign, use the Just A Card button, tweet about it, follow and support other fellow makers and designers and regularly remind others on social media platforms that the campaign exists. If you google the hashtag #justacard occasionally then you’ll be able to see who else is supporting the campaign and follow others who are also spreading the word.