Interview: Sasha of Sasha DeWitt Studios

sasha chatting

Pretty soon all our makers, crafters and artists will be able to down tools, stop the mad prep work that always precedes a Fair, and start to enjoy actually showing their creations and meeting as many of you as possible, tomorrow, at St Andrews Street Baptist Church in Cambridge! There’s just one more slot left in our series of artist profiles, for Cambridge Made team member Sasha De Witt.

We find Sasha quite inspiring, in that she used to firmly believe she couldn’t draw — and yet she’s come such a long way that she recently graduated from an MA in Illustration at Anglia Ruskin university. What really motivates her is communication.

“I create artwork that tells a story – sometimes in conjunction with a text and sometimes on its own. I keep going back to what really attracts me to drawing, and that is telling a story. Illustrating has opened my eyes and my heart to what is around me. I can slow down and look closely at a flower or an insect and revel in the beauty of nature.”

sasha grandad

Another of Sasha’s sources of inspiration is illustrators she admires. “I did an MA in Children’s Book Illustration and through this course came into contact with so many talented artist. If I had to name only three, I would start with Shaun Tan, for the fantastical worlds he creates, Beatrice Alemagna, for her unusual use of proportion, and Isabelle Arsenault, for her use of negative space and a rubber!”

sasha city

Sasha got her business started when she set up an Etsy shop shortly after graduating from University. She also showed at a few local craft fairs. The attraction of having her own business is independence.

“I like being my own boss. I don’t like being told what to do, as I’m highly self-motivated. I like having full responsibility for my failures and successes. Not to mention that I was widowed when my daughter was an infant, so working from home made good sense to me.

“It has been trial and error all the way for me. I knew nothing, and I mean NOTHING, about business when I set up. Figuring out pricing has been the hardest thing to understand. I used to make handprinted fabric bags, but could never really make them work cost and time wise so I stopped making them to sell.

“Pricing is easier when I make work that I really love. Then I price it high enough so it’ll make it easier to part with. And if no one buys it, I’ll feel just as happy because it’s a drawing I love.

sasha field

“I guess I’m still pretty bad at business! I don’t want to just make what people want to buy (i.e. top sellers). Experimenting and pushing myself is important to me. I’m looking for ‘my’ people. People who think similar enough to me to like my stuff. I’m not looking to create for the mainstream. I’m looking to create for a niche of buyers who are a bit like me – a bit weird, a bit different.

“I like that if I do not follow the crowd, but search for my own voice, what I make will be uniquely mine. I also like to buy things that others have made, as they’re interesting and have their own story. I think making makes us better people.”

Sasha’s advice to would-be makers echoes that given by a few of our other artists in this series: “I wouldn’t quit my day job in the beginning. Running your own full-time business is incredibly stressful. I’d speak to more people who run their own businesses. There are lots of local organisations you can join that give great advice. Having said that – when you get it right, it’s so rewarding, because you can be proud of yourself and all you’ve been through. You’ll know that you did it all yourself.

I keep going back to what really attracts me to drawing, and that is telling a story. Illustrating has opened my eyes and my heart to what is around me.

“In the next five years, I’d like to have an agent to represent my work. I’d like to have a few books published by then. I’d like to have a stronger direction with my work. I’d like to remain experimental and exploratory with my work and with what illustration means in the wider context.”

Sasha sketchbook

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Interview: Sarah of Purplespoon Design

Sarah collectionSarah butterfly

Sarah of Purplespoon Design, who is also one of the Cambridge Made team, will be showing her work at the Summer Fair on Saturday. Sarah trained as a graphic designer and her business started as a freelance graphic design studio, but it has grown to include a selection of handmade home accessories and contemporary jewellery. Her background shows in striking use of typography for her personalised wall art, and in the strong colours and clean lines of many of her jewellery designs.

“I really thrive on creating and design, it’s in my head in some form or another all the time! However, in the early days of Purplespoon Design I missed the hands-on nature of making, so my tiny business grew fairly organically to include some handmade items too, a collection that has continued to grow over time.”

Sarah teapots

Sarah’s advice to other makers out there seeking an outlet is to just start! “I spent a long time worrying about how I couldn’t launch my business until I had every last detail worked out, but over time I have tried to learn not to be such a perfectionist! It’s better to start and evolve along the way than to wait and put pressure on yourself to get it a hundred percent perfect from the beginning.”

Sarah starsSarah fox

 “I love bright colours, bold shapes and typography and all these things feature in my creations. I do go through phases and my current obsession is gold! My house looks like a golden zoo with all the safari placeholders I’m in the process of making for the wedding season.”

Sarah wedding print sarah place holder 

I spent a long time worrying about how I couldn’t launch my business until I had every last detail worked out, but over time I have tried to learn not to be such a perfectionist! It’s better to start and evolve along the way.

Purplespoon Design and other makers will be around to meet and chat at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church (next to the Arts Picturehouse), Cambridge.

Interview: Claire of Claireabellemakes

Claire bike bracelet

Claire of Claireabellemakes has a busy Etsy shop full of bicycle-themed jewellery, cute accessories, Scrabble-inspired goodies, wall art and stationery. She crams a lot into her life, as she explains:

“Claireabellemakes started back in 2012, after I had finished my Masters in Arts Management. I learnt a lot about UK policy for the arts and working for organisations, but there wasn’t much to guide us into self employment. So I started with a creative blog, as I’ve always enjoyed writing. From this, the Etsy store began and then later came Cambridge Craft Parties, which delivers workshops for adults to learn a project-based craft. I have a desire to do something creative every day, so the business is a perfect way to do that!

“The items I make for my shop are mostly inspired by Cambridge! There are lots of bicycle-themed items, as I LOVE cycling and couldn’t live without my bike. I make stationery items because it is a huge passion of mine, as are accessories and homewares. Although there are a wide range of products on offer in my shop, I love every single one.

Claire glitter pins

“Making is a chance for me to express my creativity. It’s also an opportunity to escape and relax. I really enjoy the process, as well as the end product. It’s satisfying to see a vision come to life in a product or DIY project.”

The passion for making started for Claire, as it did for many of us, in childhood. “I’ve always been creative since my Grandmother taught me basic crafts like knitting and cross stitch as a child. From then on I have been entirely self taught, but I love learning new skills so it’s always fun for me. I started with a blog and making a few accessories for friends, who then encouraged me to open an Etsy store. Four years later and it’s much bigger than I ever imagined!

Claire be awesome

“My biggest inspiration is my late Grandmother. She passed just as things were taking off for Claireabellemakes, so every time I make something I’m proud of, I wish I could show her. She always had a creative project on the go and I feel as though I have inherited that gene from her. I am also inspired very much by our creative community, especially female makers.”

As well as Claire’s creative endeavours have gone so far, it’s not all plain sailing: “Poor health is the biggest struggle for me. For 20 years I have suffered with migraines, and for the last five years they have been chronic. This means I have around three days a week where I feel unwell, which can make it really tough when running a business and freelancing as well. I am still finding ways to look after myself and find the work-life balance. Making is often a good distraction for me when I am in pain.

“‘Impostor Syndrome’ is another hurdle I still have to overcome – I think it’s more common than we realise in our community.”

Claire scrabble keyring

Claire is a real believer in networking, and she emphasises the importance of making connections when considering self-employment. “Do as much research as you can and begin connecting with your customers before you even open shop! Network with the people who will buy your makes and build up hype about your business so they are excited for your launch. Learn lots about marketing and grab all the social media handles and a domain once you have decided on a name. Even if you don’t use it immediately, it means it won’t be snapped up by someone else.”

We’ll sign off by asking about Claire’s plans for the future. Where will she be in five years? “Continuing to work hard on Claireabellemakes, keeping up with my freelance gigs and still riding my bike every day!”

Claire bicycle pin

Meet Claire and our other friendly makers at the Summer Fair on Saturday June 11th at St Andrews Street Baptist Church (near Arts Picturehouse), Cambridge, 10am-5pm. If you plan to pop in for a browse, let us know you’re coming on our  event page, by clicking on ‘Interested’ or ‘Going’.

Interview: Steve & David of Cottonwood Workshop

cottonwood turq frames

Steve & David of Cottonwood Workshop are two of our newest Cambridge Made members, with an Etsy shop that’s been open for only a short time but is already well stocked with Scandi-influenced, modern homewares, handmade and hand finished in wood or yarn. Upcycled wooden items with rustic paint finishes and textile trims keep company with fully handmade pieces, often created from pallet wood, such as their clever hole-in-the-middle coasters stored on a wooden dowel. Chunky hand-knitted and crocheted soft furnishings harmonise with all.

cottonwood brown pallet coastersTheir experience in retailing may have some bearing on the coherence of their work. “We launched just a few months ago, in April, but had been planning and developing ideas for over a year before that. Both of us had been working for an ethical giftware company that was in the process of winding up. Having a lot of experience in retailing, we decided now was the time to start our own business. We see our first year of trading as one where we find out what does and doesn’t sell, and adapt our vision accordingly.”

cottonwood nice cushion shot

The two have strong ideas and principles about their crafts: “It is deeply satisfying to make anything with one’s own hands, and over the years to broaden and develop one’s range of skills as a craftsman. Traditional crafts were passed down in a family from generation to generation. These days we learn via friends, books or the internet, mostly prompted by our mistakes.

Being able to look at something and say to yourself ‘I made this and it is beautiful’ is one of life’s great experiences.

“Making is a creative outlet for us both, and a way of contributing to, and enhancing, the world in a positive way. We think it’s important that things are made and finished well, because, after all, we’re making these beautiful items in the hope that other people will like to buy and have them in their homes.

Cottonwood stool “It’s also incredibly satisfying to produce something from simple raw materials. Being able to look at something and say to yourself ‘I made this and it is beautiful’ is one of life’s great experiences.”
It’s no secret that creative partnerships can be challenging, and Steve and David name “learning how to work collaboratively on a project” as one of the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in starting to establish their business. “Though it has produced some of our best work, we have markedly different working processes. This did prove to be a source of friction, but it has forced us to communicate better, deepen our understanding of each other, and, more importantly, to adjust our assumptions.”

Their advice to those contemplating their own business is characteristically thoughtful: “Start from what you know, like, and have the skills for. Try to be as objective as you can be about what you make. It’s only natural to love what you create, but don’t let that mean you are uncritical about what may be wrong, need improvement or require a change in vision for your business.”

Cottonwood blue knit cushion
Although they’ve launched Cottonwood online, in the long term Steve and David have set their sights on bricks and mortar: “In five years time we’d like to have opened a successful Cafe and craft-shop/workshop on the North Norfolk coast.”

We won’t be at all surprised if they reach their goal, but in the meantime we’re lucky enough to have their work at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on June 11th!

See Cottonwood’s lovely work and that of our other artists on June 11th at St Andrews Street Baptist Church (near Arts Picturehouse) in Cambridge on June 11th, 10am-5pm. Here’s our Facebook event page. If you plan to pop in for a browse, do click to say you’re Interested or Going!