By Kate Marsden
You’re probably familiar with the lovely, whimsical illustrations Melissa Western has produced promoting our campaign (she featured as our Tuesday “Have you met?” a while back). I’m chatting to her about the familiar challenge of managing your ambitions for your business and career while bringing up children, as well as getting customers to understand the cost and value of your work.
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
Hello, I’m Melissa, I’m the illustrator behind Western Sketch. I love creating fun, original illustrations, often combining these with creative word play. I have turned many into greeting cards which I sell through craft markets and Etsy. And have just started developing other products such as mugs, wooden postcards and tea towels.
What does a typical day involve?
I’m a full time Mum of two girls aged 2 and 4 so my mornings are busy with getting up and out for school. My youngest now goes to nursery two mornings a week and it’s on those days I try and spend focused time on my business, whether it’s doing some drawing, ordering new stock, or enjoying a hot cup of tea! Otherwise I have to work in the evenings when they have gone to bed. There is never enough time to do everything I’d like so I’m trying to achieve what is realistic for me at the moment.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I work from home from my kitchen breakfast bar. It often needs a good clear before I can get started, and my materials are all kept tidied away (they have to be with the kids) so these need to be dug out first. My house is flooded with lots of natural light which is lovely. I’d like to have a dedicated space at some point but for now it works as I enjoy spending time with my family.
My daughters are still very young, and one of my favourite parts only the day is story time. We have just started reading our eldest some Roald Dahl who was my favourite childhood author. We also love taking our girls on adventures - last year we went to southern France. We didn’t have a car and travelled everywhere by train (which they loved). Now my daughter’s started school we are discovering how expensive it to have a break in school holidays, so I’m not sure what this year’s adventure will be.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
I think a big challenge is the public not recognising or appreciating the value of your work and the time that has gone into making it. We are so used to seeing things at knock down prices it can be a real challenge to get this message over to people. I recently had a lady on a market looking at one of my tea towels - she was about to buy it thinking it was the price of one of my cards, when I told her the price she replied oh no that’s far too expensive!!!
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I’d like to start wholesaling my cards and doing trade fairs, but I’m not sure if I’m ready quite yet as I don’t have the time to dedicate to it, however this would be my main ambition over the next few years. I'd also like to get freelance illustration work that I can work alongside this. I'm fairly ambitious and I'd like to create a career for me that I can do from home around the children.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Although I graduated in design and illustration almost 20 years ago I’m actually just starting out on this path myself! I’ve been doing this now just over 6 months so I’m very much still learning! I would suggest looking at local opportunities for your work first - are there any summer fairs coming up in your area you could be a part of, or any local shops that you could approach? Think about something special for them that’s unique and that can’t be found elsewhere. My hero was a simple tea towel.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
I’m sadly not surrounded by lots of lovely independent shops and galleries however we are lucky to have an amazing artisan craft and food market on our doorstep. Duck Pond Market is amazing it champions and supports sustainable and ethical brands it’s a nice place to take the family as there is always lots to do, there is usually a local petting farm and Lego to keep children happy and nice food and artisan crafts to enjoy. I've recently become a trader with them and I love it.
I also wanted to mention a fantastic concept store for slow living called The Hackney Made Collective. It's a beautifully curated pop up store on the Hackney Road which is bringing together small brands to create a vibrant creative shop and workshop experiences. I'm excited as Western Sketch will be joining them from April.
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?
When I first discovered the campaign I initially did think it was just about cards, but it quickly became apparent that this was simply an example of a small purchase that you could make to support a small businesses. I’ve always preferred to support independents over larger chains, but I have been much more conscious of this since discovering the campaign.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It’s very important to me, and I feel very passionate about it. The awareness of the campaign has really increased over the past year that I’ve been following, this is fantastic news for all small business owners as it shows the message is getting though and out to the wider public. I really enjoy creating illustrations for the campaign and have been lucky enough for these to have been used and featured in the weekly ‘have you met’. The support network that has been created through this campaign is phenomenal.
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 discovered the campaign via Instagram I don’t remember exactly how, but I recall it was aiming for 15k followers. I’m afraid I don’t use any other social media platforms, which is probably a terrible thing to admit, and I realise I should be for my business, but I find Instagram takes up a lot of time so it puts me off introducing any more at the moment.
Everyone can support the campaign quite easily simply by following, liking and commenting on posts it’s completely free to do and helps beat the algorithm and get the out to a wider audience. You can use your creativity to create some images which you can share on your own social media platform, and that the campaign can use too. And of course buy a fabulous pin or shop window sticker. These are all things I do to support the campaign.