By Kate Marsden
We're heading down to London this week to see the beautiful, detailed prints created by Cally Conway. Read on as we discuss the importance of good photography and the joy of buying from designer/makers…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m a Printmaker producing linocut prints that depict and respond to the natural world.
What does a typical day involve?
I have one allocated day in the working week to create my prints (which I supplement with evenings, school holidays and weekends) because I’m also a part time art teacher, so I try to make this day count!
It usually starts with a morning walk on Hampstead Heath. I’m lucky enough in that even though I live in London, I’m five minutes away from this beautiful green space. I find walking on the Heath such a lovely way to start my creative day. I’m also a firm believer in the positive mental health benefits of being in nature, and this routine is an important part of my inspiration. Sometimes I take photos of things I’ve seen, make mental notes of shapes and forms, and collect things I find to take back home.
I will already have planned what I’ll be working on after the walk, so when I return I usually switch on an audiobook or Radio 4 and settle down to carving or printing a linocut. Depending on the priority I might be working on a range of projects from a commission, preparing work for an upcoming fair, or a series of prints for my online shops.
I’ve just recently invested in my own large printing press so I can now print straight away at home. Previously I’d book into an open access workshop, which means you can’t be as spontaneous so this has made a big difference to my work rate.
Printmaking can be a long process from drawing to the finished print! A slight slip when carving, or too much ink when printing can slow down the process so I can quite easily spend most of the day ironing out any problems that may arise. I take lunch and breaks as and when I need to, and if everything is going to plan I can sometimes be working up until 7 pm in the evening. Admin work and packaging up sold prints usually happens at other times in my week, as I find I need this one day to focus fully on my creative output.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I work from home in a little studio space I’ve created off one of my rooms. It is quite small now that I have a big press there, but it has a good-sized desk and lots of natural light. I’ve managed to cram in shelves to hold all my equipment and inks, and even hang my printing barrens from the wall like a proper printing studio! I peg up drying prints onto a washing line on the wall to keep them out of the way of my cat (I’m forever trying to keep cat hairs away from my prints) and dried prints and good paper are stored in a large old wooden plan chest.
When I’m not printing or teaching you’ll usually find me trying to attend yoga classes (insert guilty face here!) or out walking in other green spaces such as Kew Gardens. I’m a bit obsessed with Kew, I became a member a few years ago and it’s just the best place if you love plants - I’ve learned so much just from being a member there. I’m also a fan of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I love the ceramics galleries in particular, as it’s such a calming and inspirational place. Oh and I enjoy reading, mainly escapism (I’m currently reading a Robin Hobb series), though sometimes I crave the beautiful words of nature writers such as Mary Oliver.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
I really do think that mass produced and therefore cheaper products are always a challenge. I think when it comes to something like a hand carved and printed linocut, many people would baulk at paying say £70 for something when you could pick up a cheap photocopied print on the high street for under £10.
I do think that when people really understand the hours and effort that go into handmade work they begin to understand the price tag and unique quality that makes it different from something that’s produced very quickly.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
Buying my own printing press is a definite step towards my future plans. I want to create larger scale prints and get my work out there more by showing them at galleries and fairs. I’ve also toyed with the idea of having my images on products, which is something I really want to explore. I think investing in a good press means that I’ve made a conscious decision to move forward with my business now. I can now see this as something that I could do full time in the not too distant future, and this excites me!
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Good product photography! You’d be amazed at how much difference a good photo makes when it comes to selling your work. I’m still learning and often don’t get it right because you do need to invest time in it. If you can spare the cash get some of your products photographed professionally, it’ll really show you what a great photographer and stylist can do, and you can learn lots from them. There are also loads of excellent blog posts and books on how to photograph your work. I remember it came as a revelation to read that you should remove the glass from a frame to photograph a print! Some of it just isn’t as obvious to everyone when you’re just starting out.
Get your work seen! It can be a little confusing knowing how to do this when you first start out. Twitter was amazing when I first made the leap to selling my prints. I took part in hours such as #HandmadeHour and #Crafthour, and it was the first time I noticed that my work was actually being seen. It grew my audience and helped me sell prints, which really was a boost. Now I’m an Instagram convert, I find that this too has been a great way to make connections with other artists/galleries/independent shops and has brought me lots of opportunities. Also consider applying to online sites such as Madebyhandonline.com. They promote your work for you and have fantastic links with the media and you could very well find some of your work being selected for magazine shoots. Organizations like Tutton and Young have a range of selling fairs through the year, they’re a great way to show what you do, and meet potential customers.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
I tend to do most of my shopping online now and there are so many brilliant makers. I have SO many favourites!
I’ve already mentioned them, but Madebyhandonline.com is a brilliant site to buy from independent makers. I like the fact that it is a small business in Devon run by people that know their stuff and are passionate about quality handmade arts and crafts.
Natasha Newton creates the most fantastic nature inspired paintings and painted stones. Her work is beautifully precise and just stunning.
I love SoSatsuma! She designs and knits everything herself with the help of her Mum, and I can honestly say I’ll never buy a shop bought scarf or hat again after buying from her.
Mendyourhead is truly unique in what he does, etching phrases onto glass or mirror. You can commission him too, and I am saving up for one of his pieces!
Giles Newman’s work is a little bit special. He carves the most beautiful wooden pendants, gobsmackingly skillful and heartbreakingly beautiful.
And a real live shop near me is Harrington and Squires. They’re Letterpress printers and designers printing the most beautiful cards amongst other things and I have actually gone in there and bought just a card from them!
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?
Initially I did think it was just about buying cards! But as I became more aware of the campaign and read up about it on the website, I soon realized that it was focused on small purchases that help keep independent business afloat.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
For me as a printmaker it is vital. I may not sell more expensive prints on a regular basis, so it is exactly those purchases of hand printed cards and small prints that really do keep things going for me. I think the Just a Card campaign is really educating people in that fact and I’m so pleased it exists.
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 first on Twitter through yourself and Sarah Hamilton, and then on Instagram.
I do love Instagram, I’ve found it such a supportive and encouraging space, and I like that it is very visual. I’ve also found it a great place to sell my work.
I use Twitter more infrequently now, but I’m making a conscious effort to keep using it as it does have different advantages to Instagram. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook but I still keep an artists page there.
I think to support the campaign we need to keep up with getting the word out there on social media and in person. I think it’s great that Just A Card has let followers know that we need to re-tweet and repost as it’s the only way the message spreads.
I’ll be printing off Just A Card flyers for my upcoming local selling events, and I hope to talk to many people about it’s message!