By Kate Marsden
We’re off to Leek in Staffordshire this week to meet someone whose work I’ve long admired. Printmaker Fiona Wilson’s colourful, bold artwork is a complete joy – always brightening up my Instagram feed! Here Fiona tells us about her rather wonderful sounding new studio and her passion for shopping small…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m a screen printer and also have a Riso machine and I love to work with bright colours, pattern and character illustrations. As well as paper prints I also enjoy working more three dimensionally and print onto wood to make wall plaques, vases and wooden characters. Its playful happy work that I hope brings a smile to the people who buy it.
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day for me in the studio will always begin with some making. I’m an early bird, so I’m usually in there by 8am. As screen printing involves drying times, I will usually start with printing first so that I can fit in other jobs such as admin or cutting up wooden shapes while screens and inks dry before I repeat the process again. I work part time at university as well as running my own business, so I’m always excited to get back to my screen printing.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
We moved a couple of years ago and bought a lovely building in Leek, Staffordshire. Attached to the house is a workshop space that used to be a ginger beer and aerated water factory in the late 1800s. It was a complete wreck when we bought and we are still working on it now. I’m lucky that the studio is nearly finished so I have a large space with big tables, and I got very excited recently when the screen wash out booth got finished (certainly beats using a bucket and a sponge.). It’s taken a long time to get to the stage of having my own space - but it is so great to be able to walk across the yard to my studio.
When I’m not working I love a good nosey around the second hand market in Leek, and there are also lots of small independent shops that I try to support as much as I can, such as the local bakery, chocolate shop (obviously that’s really hard!) and gift shops. I’m a big fan of getting outside and having a good walk and there is a lot of lovely countryside around here that makes it very easy for me.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
I think there are always challenges in being a designer maker - especially if you are the only person in the business as that means a lot of juggling and wearing a lot of hats to cover all the elements of running a business. Social media can be both amazing and also totally distracting and getting a balance can be tricky. It’s also very easy to spend all your time running a business and remembering to take a break, have a rest and not wear yourself out is super important but also hard when you want to try and build something. I guess it’s about small steps and keeping going as it can be easy to get overwhelmed.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I’d love to develop the rest of the building space into an open access print workshop as it would be great to be able to offer that facility to other makers in the community.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Running a business can be lonely if you are working in a space with just you, and I think joining in with campaigns like Just A Card can help you make connections with other people on the same journey. I have also found the Dream Plan Do journals from the Design Trust a really great way of keeping on track - they are ideal for creatives and there is an online community for support.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
Well I am going to have to pick all my local favourites first, so Era of Leek sells a lovely mix of local makers and antiques and has such a great way of styling the shop – it’s always a treat to visit. There is Miscos Chocolates - artisan makers of the amazing cake truffle balls - you really must try these. Spout Coffee Shop and Brew House makes the best coffee and they sell beer and wine too - they also support artists and makers by displaying art on the walls to sell.
I’m very lucky living in Leek, there are so many independents. There is also the fabulous Hawksbys up in Howarth - with the lovely Claire and also The Gallery at Masham with Josie - both of these shops stock so many amazing makers (and are also my longest standing stockists who have been there and supported me from my very early days)
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 have been following the campaign for a long time now and have always thought it’s a great message to tell people how to support independent businesses.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
I was really lucky to get a mention a few years back on the Just a Card Instagram account and it really helped to increase my followers and get information about my business out into the world. I love seeing people wearing their pin badges at seller events as it’s such an easy way to start a conversation. I can be a bit shy sometimes and it’s a good way of networking but also a good conversation starter with customers. I display the Just a Card sign that you can download from the website when I am at events and I do see people reading it. Even if they don’t buy from me - I hope it might make them think and encourage a sale for others.
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 came across the campaign on Instagram, someone I followed must have shared it so I went to see what it was about. I’m mainly on Instagram, but sometimes dabble with Twitter a bit and I make sure that I hit like, comment and share posts as much as I can to help spread the word. Obviously I have a pin badge too! So we can all join in and do our bit - as it is definitely working - I’ve seen the following for Just a Card on Instagram shoot up - I think there was about 7k followers when I started following and now its 44.3k!!