I was lucky enough to have attended this symposium organised by the North West Craft Network that also coincided with the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in October. The symposium gathered together a group of selected curators, designers and major supporters of the creative world to put our heads together and come up with ideas to strengthen the craft industry in the North West. The hope is to produce real results for those of us who are committed to making our living from our skills and passions. The results from the workshop have been published HERE.
This was a welcome chance to meet and talk as a mixed group of professionals in the creative industry. We found we each had our own experiences, sharing what we have each found either as a designer or curator or from the experienced eye of a passionate collector.
Ever since this event, my mind has been buzzing with ideas, and has even helped me to make huge changes to my own creative career. This gathering was a great starting point to now develop on helping us to focus on making 2015 a great year for craft. Not only working hard (as we all know the long hours and sacrifices from taking an unconventional path) but working smart, meaning that our precious time is spent in the most useful ways in order to help ourselves to thrive and build up the contemporary craft industry as a whole.
Here are four points that I felt were repeated again and again in our discussions in various ways. January is shiny, new and full of promise, the perfect time to begin trying to incorporate these a bit more into our work and daily lives.
1) Talk to people, tell them why you do what you do and how it makes you feel. This could be you interacting as a maker selling directly or it could be to visitors to the gallery where you work or an event you volunteer at or the tweets about the exhibitions you like. This also means LISTEN to them too. Listen to the lovely compliments on your work and your efforts. What do they like about it, what is unique? What don't they like so much? Maybe they are getting the wrong idea or something important is being missed. You will only know by communicating, and this will motivate you forward.
2) Treat your work how you want to be treated. You have dedicated your time and energy to your creative endeavour, show it's value. Whistler made his security guards wear yellow socks and created jewellery to be worn to his shows using his signature "butterfly sting". You may not need to go this far but what is important about your work? Do you need to invest in exquisite, protective packaging to demonstrate preciousness by treating each piece as if fragile and sacred. Or maybe is it the processes you need to show or the materials? Do you need to show the timeline of how you developed a idea to prove it is the best it can be or do you need to romance us with your artistic inspiration? Other people do not know how or why you do what you do, and sometimes your finished object alone won't allow them to appreciate and value your work over other all the things competing for their attention every day. These big brands rely on expensive marketing or "bargain" prices, however you have something they do not have. Prototypes, raw materials, sketches, videos, proof of production, the magic of it's inception. You. This is your value, show it.
3) Support yourself by supporting others. Mark Twain said (the) "Best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up." Do you have a favourite designer or maker? Tell them! Tell others about them and share the love! We are making efforts to get the public to understand and appreciate contemporary craft but maybe we need to set a better example. We all want people to appreciate and buy good things rather than overbuying, damaging the environment or creating sweatshop conditions.
4) Let people help you. Even if you get up VERY early in the morning or go on a different course every month you may not be able to do everything you need to do by yourself. This can be hard to admit as you may have to relinquish a bit of control (if you are used to working independently) and it may mean everything is not 100% how you want it just yet. But it may free you up to get on with the most important parts that no-one else can do, or get over something that's been blocking your progress. It is usually easier to tweak what you have and build on resources than have nothing to show but grand words and ideas on how you want it to be.
When I am feeling intimidated by a project or big workload I think of this quote used by Ben Barry, designer at Facebook "Done is better than perfect". There is more from this interview from 99% below;
"I have several friends that are incredibly talented. They will start on projects but rarely follow through. They get bored or distracted or discouraged that it's not "perfect" and give up. Following through and finishing things is one of the most important things you can learn.
One of my favourite quotes is "Done is better than perfect." That doesn't mean making crap – I believe you should always strive for the highest quality you can – but you have to finish. I think a lot of my friends in this situation don't realize how in-demand their skills are. I think if you follow through on projects and just put the tiniest little effort into promoting yourself and have the tiniest bit of self-confidence, you can get the job you want."
I think for Contemporary Craft to have a fantastic future we need to think of ourselves as a whole, banding together as the company of British Designers, each a representative of the national brand. When buying for pleasure it is easy to be swayed by the exotic, paying extra for imported rather than domestic which may mean our local artists are overlooked or undervalued. At the symposium, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, chair of the Crafts Council brought up the point that "Craft" is fashionable, using the popularity of Craft beer as an example. Companies are utilising this self given label to great effect making a product appear wholesome, local, community based, somehow better for us. We need to think of all of these things when producing or buying our designs too; carefully crafted, artisan made, combining passion and skill and the best ingredients, a more informed, sophisticated choice. We are lucky to have some of the most talented people right under our nose and we need to be proud of ourselves, contributing to our great industry as pioneers in art and design. The craft economy generates nearly £3.4bn for the UK economy. That's you and me, making it, promoting it and buying it. I think we deserve a bonus this year.
Thurs March 5th 2015
If you are an emerging maker, this event also organised by the North West Craft Network along with Manchester Craft and ADesign Centre and The Whitworth Art Gallery, will be a great chance to meet some great people and learn form their experience of creative careers of the North West via workshops in the spectacular atmosphere of newly re-imagined Whitworth.
There are also some great ideas in "The Done Manifesto" you can read here on
Thank you so much to the Symposium organisers, the incredibly hard working North West Craft Co-ordinator; Victoria Scholes and the superb Angela Mann and Anne-Marie Franey, organisers of The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. They are continuing to push contemporary craft by events like these as we strive to make it as great as it really can be. My thanks also to the speakers, Jo Bloxham, James Beighton, Louise Gardener and Geoffrey Crossick for sharing their viewpoints on the podium and also to the wonderful people I met here to share our passion and enthusiasm for Contemporary craft in the North West.