Posts in Creative
Creative in the Countryside: Saskia's Flower Essences

Today we’re introducing you to Saskia Marjoram, who runs Saskia’s Flower Essences based in Somerset…

Eleanor: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, who you are and what it is you do?

Saskia: Who I am feels like it changes on an almost daily basis so I find it hard to answer this one. The easy bit first: my name is Saskia Marjoram and I am one of the founders of a company called Saskia’s Flower Essences. We make flower essences in the same way as the Bach Flower Remedies which, if you’re unaware, are drops that you take under your tongue. They help to shift long held negative patterns and thought processes. These drops work on a vibrational level and contain the energy of the plant rather than its physical properties. Even now, 15 years later, I am completely amazed at how powerful and effective they are. It is as close to natural magic as I’ve gotten so far.

My background is in gardening and floristry. For a long time I was one of the florists for HRH Prince of Wales and I have been gardening professionally for over 30 years now. I find if I don’t have a chance to get my hands in the soil on a regular basis I lose the connection with the earth , which is absolutely vital for my health and well-being.

Eleanor: Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Saskia: My inspiration comes from connecting with plants and the natural world. As a small child walking in the country I was always asking what the plants I saw were called. For me, being able to get deeper and deeper into knowing the plants growing around us and what they have to teach us is an absolute joy and privilege. Sitting with plants, observing them and how they grow and walking amongst them not only brings me inspiration but healing too.

Making flower essences isn’t a complex process but it does require an understanding and connection with plants, as well as a deep respect for them and their wisdom. Being able to collect their energy to bring healing to other people is what keeps me going. When I hear the stories of what our essences have done for people my heart sings and I know that’s what I’m here for.

Eleanor: I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can rely on every day, can you work at it, or do you have to wait for it to strike?

Saskia: For me the creative process is being able to open up to the universe and allow the messages to arrive freely. As a florist, especially when creating funeral tributes, I noticed that there was always a point of letting go, an opening up and trusting that divine wisdom flows through you. Although the work I do with essences, and more recently distilling plants to make hydrosols, isn’t considered by many to be a creative process I believe that, if we are open, we are constantly creating our own lives. When I am making up a specific combination for someone, as I do in consultations, I use a pendulum to help me decide which essences someone needs. Opening up to this energy feels very similar to open up to receive creativity.

There are certain flower essences that help with opening to our own creativity. Buttercup and Carrot spring to mind which are both in our Focus, Energise, Create combination which is great to take whenever you feel that your creativity isn’t flowing freely.

Eleanor: Can you tell me why nature and the seasons are important to you, and how they influence the work you do?

Saskia: Ah, that’s a much easier question and yet a very complex one too. I am a human and therefore part of nature and absolutely affected by the seasons as we all are. My connection to both is deep and as essential as breathing itself. Someone once pointed out that all the air we breathe has been exhaled by a plant at some time - I like that thought a lot - and of course without nature my ‘work’ wouldn’t exist. It feels that I am here to connect humans with plants so that we can learn the lessons they have to teach us.

Eleanor: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Saskia: Do it. Whatever you are drawn to do, whether it means that you will be penniless and living in a shed on top of a hill, as I did for quite a while - do it. Listen to your dreams, remember why you are here and the gifts you have to bring to make this world a richer and more beautiful place and keep on keeping on. And if you get stuck remember that the plants will always help you, especially in the form of essences, to get you through the difficult parts. We are fed and supported on all levels by the plant kingdom so we can be as human as we are able. With all the resources that we are using as a species surely it is imperative that, whenever possible, we live our lives as fully and deeply as we can.


Saskia’s flower essences and essence sprays are made and bottled in Somerset and are available to buy here. You can also find information about her workshops on flower essences and distilling plants. Give Saskia an email if you wish to be kept informed about her upcoming events.

CreativeEleanor Cheetham
Creative in the Countryside: Mending Matters

On the journal today is Katrina Rodabaugh, a slow fashion and sustainability warrior. We talk to her about her latest book Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More. She kindly sent us a copy for a review which we’ll share with you soon!

MendingMatters_p220.jpg

CC: Tell us about Mending Matters and the journey you took to writing your own book?

K: Mending Matters was the result of launching a personal art project, Make Thrift Mend, in August 2013. I launched the project just months after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh in April 2013 killing over 1,100 people. After the collapse I decided I wouldn’t buy new clothing for one year. Instead I’d focus on making simple garments by hand, supporting thrift stores and secondhand shops, and mending what I already owned.


Soon after mending my clothing a friend asked me to teach my first mending workshop at a fabric store where she worked. It sold out quickly, much to my surprise. I offered a second workshop and that sold out quickly too. That’s when I realized people were eager to learn repair work. That was five years ago and I’ve been focusing on sustainable fashion ever since. Mending Matters is the culmination of teaching mending to thousands of students and wanting to have a way to teach people all over the world. The book allows folks to learn my techniques from their homes instead of traveling to my workshops.

MendingMatters_p025.jpg


CC: I know you’re inspired by slow fashion. Can you tell us why this is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?


K: Sustainability has always been central to my values. I was an Environmental Studies major in college and then went straight to work for nonprofit arts organizations like galleries, theaters, and art centers. Then I went to graduate school for creative writing and focused on poetry and book arts. So, I was working in arts offices by day, making fiber installations and poetry by night, and trying to live as sustainable as possible.


When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed I realized I had overlooked fashion in my attempts at sustainable living. I was recycling everything, keeping a compost bin in my urban apartment, and supporting my local organic farms but I was buying clothes from the sales racks of major fashion retailers. So, Slow Fashion really helped to deepen my commitment to sustainable living and also align my fiber arts, writing, and environmental concerns with my closet.


CC: I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in writing your own book?

MendingMatters_p053.jpg


K: This is my second book so I really feel like I could be much more present and have more realistic expectations with this book. I think the biggest challenge is always editing—how to really focus the book on just one topic when there’s so much I want to share. And the best surprise is always the collaborators. The people that supported this book are truly incredible people. By the time the book publishes it’s not just my book anymore. It’s a book by my editor, agent, photographer, models, graphic designer, publicist, and all the folks at Abrams Books and then it’s the book of the reader too. I like thinking of the book as a community effort—it doesn’t exist in a vacuum but instead it’s a collaborative process that continues all the way to the reader mending her jeans.


CC: Can you tell us about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day looked like for you during the writing process?


K: Well, I’ve had to give up any idea of “typical” in the last few years. My husband and I are both working artists and self-employed so our daily schedules shift all the time. But in October 2015 we moved 3,000 miles from a small apartment in Oakland, CA to the rural area of the Hudson Valley in Upstate NY. We bought a 200-year-old farmhouse and immediately started DIY renovations. Our young sons were then just three-years-old and six-months-old. It was a wild time. In January 2016 I sent the book proposal for Mending Matters to a handful of agents and signed with my amazing agent in March. We signed with my publisher in November 2016 and the book was just officially published on October 16, 2018.


So, for the past three years, parenting two young children, DIY renovating an 1820s homestead, and writing this book while being self-employed was really an act in time management, diligent focus, fierce priorities, and a good dose of humor. I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in a given day or even a given month. So, I just had to really focus on the deadlines, prioritize the photo shoots, and trust my incredible team of colleagues at Abrams to carry the book to publication. Which they did so beautifully. It was a great reminder that many brains are better than one.


CC: When you aren’t mending, how do you enjoy spending your time?


K: If I’m not in my studio or at my computer I’m probably working on our farmhouse, barns, gardens, or caring for our sons—oftentimes these things overlap, of course. We’ve really leaned into creating the family homestead we dreamed. So, we’ve added chickens and bees and each summer we expand the garden or further renovate the barns into our studio spaces. There are very blurred lines between my work, my home, and my family life but I do try to leave the work behind sometimes and just go canoeing with the boys, have a bonfire in the backyard and roast marshmallows, or go take a family hike. Leisure time is very scarce as a working mom but I relish in the moments when we can really unwind as a family.


CC: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?


K: Go for it! You’ll probably never feel ready. You’ll never know everything you need to know or perfectly calculate all the risks. But trust yourself that you’ll figure it out as you go. I think we confuse recklessness with risk-taking. You can be adventurous and take risks and still be very reasonable and responsible. In some ways, it might actually be more responsible to follow our dreams than let them wither. Especially if they’re persistent.

MendingMatters_p049.jpg


If there’s something you know in your heart you really want to create, build, or achieve, then let that be your guide. Nurture it. Honor it. Protect it. Work towards it like it truly matters. And then, at some point, lean into the not-knowing and start doing. I always think of it as the balance between my heart and my head. My head leads the way with calculating risk, researching, and devising a plan that seems reasonable. But then, at some point, my heart takes the lead and I move into action and just try to hold on for the journey.

Mending matters will be make lovely and practical sustainable gift don’t you think?

Follow Katirina over on Instagram


Creative in the Countryside: Elliot Channer

Today we’re introducing you to Elliot Channer, a wildlife sculptor and artist.

Eleanor: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, who you are and what it is you do?

Elliot: I have been a wildlife sculptor for 4 years, exhibiting across the country with numerous galleries. I have now set about creating my own online gallery focusing solely on wildlife art. Avocet Fine Art represent some of the UK’s finest wildlife and equine artists and provides affordable, high quality originals, prints and sculpture.  

Eleanor: Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Elliot: Inspiration for my sculpture comes from the natural world: from British garden birds and animals to exotic birds of paradise. I gather all the visual information I can and create a metal armature onto which I add clay slowing allowing the form to develop.

Eleanor: I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can rely on every day, can you work at it, or do you have to wait for it to strike?

Elliot: I find creativity to be quite unpredictable. It can take hold and I will work non-stop throughout the day but, at other times, when it simply isn’t happening, I ensure everything is working well with Avocet: uploading new works; contacting artists and clients and keeping social media up to date.

Eleanor: Where do you work? What’s important about your work space?

Elliot: I work from my studio in Staffordshire, both for sculpting and working with Avocet. The space reflects my interest in art, displaying my work and other pieces I have collected - from reclaimed carved pieces to a Violet Astor print (one of the artists represented by Avocet.)

Eleanor: Can you tell me why nature and wildlife are important to you, and how they influence the work you do?

Elliot: I have been interested in wildlife from an early age and find nature hugely inspiring. I enjoy the challenge of translating the life and dynamism of animals into solid bronze. I spend many hours outdoors looking for inspiration for my next sculpture. Through Avocet I now have the pleasure of being involved with other artists who share my inspiration of the natural world.   

Eleanor: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Elliot: My advice would be to go for it. It’s important to listen to people who have been in your situation, and to be patient.  


Find out more about Elliot on his website, shop his pieces here, or follow him on instagram and twitter.

CreativeEleanor Cheetham
Creative in the Countryside: Izzi Rainey
fullsizeoutput_706.jpeg

Today we're introducing you to IzziRainey, a small textile business based on a family farm in Norfolk.

 

Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us the story behind how Izzi Rainey started, and what it is you do?

Lara: Hi. IzziRainey is a small textile business based on Izzi’s family’s farm in Norfolk. We design and manufacture high quality homewares, stationary, kitchenwares and small accessory products. Izzi takes all of her inspiration for her designs from farm life and the Norfolk countryside. All of our products are made in the UK, and most are made by Izzi here on the farm!

Izzi and I have been friends since we were 13; just before we graduated, she mentioned that she wanted to start her own textile business back in Norfolk. I jumped at the chance to work alongside my best friend, and had always loved her designs, so in the summer of 2014, IzziRainey began! 

lifestyle page.jpg

Nicola: Can you tell us about the different roles you both have in the business and why you think you work so well together?

Lara: Izzi is the sole designer for the business, she does all the marketing and makes a majority of the products that we sell here on the farm- she is the genius behind it all!  

I am more in charge of the day to day running of the business; managing our customer and trade customers, planning our fairs, the money side of things and general everyday tasks.

 

Nicola: Can you share with us how growing up on a farm in Norfolk has inspired the work you do today?

Lara: Izzi has lived here on the farm all her life; she has been showing her Highland cattle since she was six and has always been involved in the day to day running of the farm. This has been such a huge influence in her life and subsequently in her designs - all are inspired by her family’s farm, the surrounding Norfolk countryside and other local farmers' livestock. The farm is still very much part of everyday life here at IzziRainey.

photo-08-07-2018-15-30-01-1_orig.jpg
Photo: Tom at  Gnowangerup Cottage

Photo: Tom at Gnowangerup Cottage

Nicola: What do you love most about what you do?

Izzi: I love being able to combine my passion for design and for farming by being able to design prints that have been inspired by my family’s home and our idyllic surroundings here in Norfolk. By having our studio here it means I can still play a big role in the farm but also able to run IzziRainey too!

Lara: I love working with someone who is so creative, as I’m not. I find it so interesting seeing something start as a simple pencil drawing and end up as a finished product- it is always amazing seeing the journey of a product. I also love being able to work with my best friend- there are always lots of laughs!

 

Nicola: I’d love to know more about the process of how your work develops from initial idea to the final piece.

Lara: Izzi starts by collecting imagery and doing drawing of different ideas, these ideas are then translated into prints through a wealth of hand stamped techniques, which form the basis of all the fabric designs. These are then sent off to be digitally printed into lengths of fabric here in the UK. Even though the fabric is digitally printed it still retains the textural quality of Izzi’s original hand stamped prints. 

The fabric then returns to us to be made into the products that you see in the shops and online. Many of the fabric products are made here on the farm, however over the last few years we have begun to outsource some of the production too- just so we can keep up with it all! But everything is still made in the UK - British design and manufacturing is at the heart of our business.

DSC_1041.jpg

Nicola: Can you tell us more about where you live, your workspace, and what a typical day for you both is like?

Lara: We live in the heart of rural Norfolk, and our studio is based in a converted old dairy.  We are very much in the ‘farmyard’ with Monty the Highland Pony next door and chickens wandering around too. Our studio is a hub of activity - it is where all the designing happens, products get made, orders get packaged plus lots more. 

Day to day, Izzi arrives at the farm about 7 to feed and check on all her cattle before we both start in the studio. Izzi will generally be making products, designing new prints, getting inspiration from local farmers for new ideas and I will be sorting orders, finding new places for our products to be sold and generally making sure the quality of our service matches the high quality of our products! Days obviously vary dramatically as Izzi may be needed on the farm or we may be out and about at fairs or seeing shops- we take every day as it comes! 

 

Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Lara: Just go for it - if you feel that you want to give it a go then you should. It is an invaluable process to go through and full of fun too. All I will say is never be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. We have spent the last four years trying to learn as much as possible through talking to people and asking lots of questions- you learn so much from other people who have done it all already!

 

Visit the website, or follow IzziRainey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

 

CreativeNicola Judkins
Creative in the Countryside: Snapdragon
jane sewing.jpg

Today we're introducing you to Jane, the owner of freelance embroidery business, Snapdragon. Find out more about her journey from cut flowers to building a community.

 

Nicola: Tell us about Snapdragon and the journey you took to starting your own business?  

Jane: My first proper job was curator of British Art at the University of Glasgow – it was a fabulous job but I worked in a basement office and in the winter I rarely seemed to see any daylight.  I gradually got more and more unhappy there until I took the plunge, left and retrained in horticulture.

The thing that I wanted most by this point was to be outside, so I started a cut flower business and named it Snapdragon, because that was one of the few flowers that escaped the slugs that first year.  I grew garden flowers and sold them from a green van from my garden gate and at markets.

Growing flowers in Scotland turned out to be a barmy idea – the climate is cold and wet, giving a very short growing season and, when I had masses of flowers, my regular customers tended to be away on holiday.

In 2005 I was asked to put together a show stand at the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair in Glasgow and that gave me the opportunity to pivot the business and move into sewing.  I had been making things to bring in an income during the months that there were no flowers, but this moved my freehand machine embroidery onto a different level and formed the basis of the business as it exists today.

grass arrangement.jpg

Nicola: I know your work is inspired by nature. Can you tell us why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?

Jane: Being in nature is absolutely at the centre of my life.  I have an auto immune disease which becomes worse with stress and I find that time outside in nature, noticing the seasonal changes, getting muddy, is the way that I can manage stress most easily.  My garden and the amazing scenery around us are also the inspiration for most of my designs and I am fascinated by the way forms and colours change week to week.

poppies in cutting garden.jpg

Nicola: I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in running your own business?

Jane: The biggest challenge for me has been staying true to my style.  Over a period of about 8 years I gradually lost track of what was unique about Snapdragon.  I had begun to respond to what sold, what shops wanted more of, what was commercial.  Each little step, each compromise, took me a little bit further away from the core of my creativity until I became very bored with what I was making.  About 18 months ago I decided to completely change the business and go back to my design roots, changing not only the products that we sell but also the way we sell them.  I started a membership where people support the business with a monthly fee of £10 and in return get all the perks of ‘having shares in a studio’ – they can buy at cost price, there are members freebies, they get first dibs on limited editions.  

The biggest surprise has been how changing the way we sell has transformed the feel of the business – this isn’t just with members, it has completely changed the way other people interact with me on social media too.  Going for radical transparency on pricing and behind the scenes decisions seems to have changed the way people see us.  I was very worried that it could be an incredibly stupid act of self sabotage.

meadow cushion.jpg
jane square.jpg
notebook-hen-cream.jpg

Nicola: I know you moved to the countryside about fifteen years ago and now live in Loch Lomond National Park.  Can you tell us more about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day for you looks like? 

Jane: We bought our home because of a small bluebell wood.  We spent hours in the wood, about 15 minutes in the house.  The house itself is a 1980s bungalow – nothing special; when we bought it, it was fully of tiny rooms and we knocked 5 of these together to create a big open plan living space and put in big windows to give lots of light.  I work in a wooden cabin built in a field behind the house, and in a vintage Airstream Caravan (which we are restoring).  I have a team of helpers who print, pack and dispatch orders, allowing me to concentrate on designing and writing.

airstream caravan.jpg

A typical day starts slowly – I am not a morning person.  I have coffee in bed and catch up on Instagram or read.  I start work at about 9 and tend to work until 4. Two days a week I am in the workshop, two days I am designing/writing and, ideally, I walk to the nearest village to work in a coffee shop once a week – this is a way of getting the things I procrastinate about actually done and the exercise is balanced by the cake. I switch the Internet off at 6pm and, though I may work after that, it is analogue things – designing, reading, journaling.  I have found that has made a big difference to my daily stress and also made me more productive.

poly tunnel.jpg

Nicola: When you aren’t working on Snapdragon, how do you enjoy spending your time?

Jane: Gardening and walking.  When I stopped growing flowers commercially I had a few years where I didn’t really garden much – I think I was a bit burned out.  Now though I am back spending hours in the garden, growing flowers and vegetables.  I have big plans.

hands sewing.jpg

Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

subscription candle summer.jpg

Jane: Build a community of people who love your style.  This is the major advantage that the small creative business has now – there is the world of social media full of people who are interested in what you are doing.  

When I was starting out I wrote a blog, a terrible, ugly, embarrassing blog – but the people who read that 15 years ago still remembered me and, when I wanted to go back to the roots of the business last year, they were the people cheering me on.  Building that community was the best investment in the business I ever made.

 

Head over here to get Jane's free guide to getting the best from cut flowers, visit her website, or follow her progress on Instagram.

CreativeEleanor Holmes
A Wreath for All Seasons
creative-countryside-wreath-book

Stuck in a rut and looking for a new challenge, Katie Smyth and Terri Chandler left their jobs to start a flower business together.  The result of their collaboration was WORM London which now sees them design flowers for weddings, supper clubs and parties as well as working as floral stylists for magazines, books and TV shoots.

With stunning photography from Kristin Peters, Katie and Terri’s book Wreaths (published by Quadrille, £14.99) brings together 20 beautiful floral designs which can be created at home with a little insider knowledge and tutelage.  As a lover of all things floral or foraged, for me Wreaths brought together the joys of foraging with a long held desire to learn how to create floral pieces at home beyond a few stems in a cherished vase. 

D6138A4B-5C78-447B-9A78-03B02A8BFF53.jpg

‘There is nothing better than seeing the first daffodils of spring; lush, giant, peonies in early summer; the beautiful orange leaves on beech branches in autumn and lichen-covered twigs in winter.  No matter what the time of year, fresh flowers and foliage can be used to creating something special.’

From making a basic wreath shape from a vine to summer chandeliers and stunning meadow balls, Katie and Terri bring a modern approach to floral statement pieces.  Not only are the creations in the book glorious to look out but the practical instructions are step by step and easy to follow, offering the beginner a good place to start.  With just a small handful of tools and tips, you’ll be able to create your own floral artworks with no previous experience required.  There are tricks abound too from how to keep fresh flowers looking lovely for as long as possible to encouraging others to open a little faster so that your finished creation looks full and rich with colour or blossom.  The all-important premise seems to be about encouraging others to capture something special whatever the season and celebrate nature’s beauty.

‘It is incredible what a morning spent in nature can do not only for your sense of wellbeing but also for your appreciation of the natural world.’

BAF31DF1-073C-4A79-864A-0C64F349119A.jpg
F6D42D93-8E3E-4A48-AF3D-2D9D82DF56A3.jpg

This isn’t a book that focuses on traditional floristry.  It’s more about being inspired by the blooms and branches around us and finding those which inspire us to make.  It’s about producing something personal to you.  As someone who never seems to be able to go on a walk without bringing something home, this really appealed to my inner magpie.  Whether you are looking to create a centrepiece that’s fresh, foraged or dried or perhaps a wreath or rustic floral wall hanging or maybe even a geometric wall shape, this gem of a book has so many beautiful ideas to help awaken your inner florist and encourage a little more of the natural world into our homes to be admired. 

For more inspiration, follow Katie and Terri on Instagram @wormlondon

CreativeRebecca Fletcher
Creative in the Countryside: Black Barn Farm
r0_265_5184_3456_w1200_h678_fmax.jpg

Today we hear from Jade and Charlie at Black Barn Farm, a place where fair food, farming and business collide to create something truly unique; prepare to be inspired.

 

Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about Black Barn Farm, who you are and what it is you do?

Jade: Our farming communities are decaying, threatening our nation’s food security. We have lower seed and soil biodiversity, higher suicide rates among farmers, longer paths to market, lower profits to growers, obesity/health issues, higher levels of food waste yet higher levels of food scarcity, and more disconnection from our food and to our rural communities than ever before. Yet we ALL eat and have the ability to consider food choices and how they impact our health, farmers and rural communities. By farming in a regenerative way we can have the most impact of all on the health of our soil, community and selves.

Both Charlie (my husband) and I were fortunate to enjoy country childhoods. We both grew up on small farms with parents who revelled in producing their own food. 

I was especially fortunate to live in a very rich fertile part of our State where both Winters and Summers are relatively mild. My parents grew virtually all their own food, used permaculture principles as their guide and bartered for things we couldn’t make or grow ourselves. They strived for intentional simplicity and while it made us feel like the ‘weird hippy kids’ it sowed deep seeds and  I yearned to have my hands in the dirt even in my teens. 

When Charlie and I planted our first real veggie garden, we watched as the small scale apple and pear growers bulldozed their three/four/five-generation apple farming heritage into the ground because there was no one to take over the farms, and no one wanted to buy the land with trees on it. This broke our heart and made us want to reinstate the growing practices in our own area. 

We spent ten years researching small scale farm models which incorporated direct paths to market, opportunities to connect with our eaters and were diverse enough to minimise the vagaries of mother nature. Those ten years allowed us to search for the right property and save enough money to buy it. We have been on our 20 acre property in Stanley, Black Barn Farm, for two and a half years and in that time have begun our educational workshop programme with open days, grafting days, community lunches, and educational lectures with schools and universities.

We have undertaken our irrigation infrastructure  and soil regeneration programme both of which are key to allowing us to plant the 1500, mixed variety, orchard trees  - grafted on site over the past two Septembers as well as the 2kms worth of cane berries, which are all lined up for planting this Winter.

Our plan is to open the orchard in January 2020 as a pick-your-own orchard which offers 6 months of harvest and workshops/events to really engage people with the excitement and delight of growing your own food. We want to bring celebration back into people's association with food and reignite their love for it. Unless you love something, you will not fight for it and unless you understand it, you cannot value it, and if you don’t value it you willingly waste it.

BBF_logo_triple_image.jpg

Our business has six diverse aims: 

EAT - cafe on site all supplied from the kitchen garden

LEARN - 12 annual workshops and open days

STAY -  on-farm accommodation 

GROW - nursery selling all varieties that we have in our pick your own orchard including the understory plantings (due to open in August)

PICK - pick-your-own seasonal fruit and vegetables available from late Nov - late May every year. (due to open in Jan 2020)

CONSULT  -  the banner under which we both undertake an enormous amount of community connection and education. 

We now share this story all over Australia so other community food enterprises can be inspired to have a go at creating their own community which values food.

We’ve also launched ‘co-op living’ – 12 events annually, teaching people to reconnect to their food and to each other.  We have movie screenings, community pot luck dinners, morning tea gatherings and workshops in things such as fermentation, grafting, compost creation, sourdough making and seed saving.

We have driven the collaboration of 14 government agencies to come together to create a local food strategy in our region.

And finally last year we launched "Greener Grass Camps", which is a school camp programme which connects kids to their food in a really fun, interactive, hands on way.

 

Nicola: Can you tell me about the Black Barn Farm Orchard philosophy and why it is so important to you?

Jade: We feel strongly that food is a sacred, celebrated wonder, not a low cost, easily wasted commodity. Because of this philosophy, we are determined to create a space which people are drawn to for connection, learning, belonging and respect for the people and place. Our Black Barn will be the physical building which connects people to place and place to food production.

From a food growing perspective, we believe healthy, nutrient dense food comes from trees and plants which are grown in super healthy soil and this takes time, biomass, biodiversity and carefully managed disturbance to the ground.

We are a permaculture based horticulture operation which emulates patterns in nature to holistically and sustainably integrates the physical and social needs of people and the ecosystem.

IMG_8149.JPG

We use permaculture principles in all our growing which means we don't use synthetic chemicals ever, rather we use compost, mulch, worm juice and home made teas to encourage good microbial rich biodiverse soils which support healthy plant growth. We mimic the natural growing system wherever we can with lots of woodsy under-material, inter-plantings and never over-plant which allows the plants to breath and minimise fungus growth. We have a very diverse orchard and vegetable garden which minimises pest management and although its not a problem yet, we anticipate we will need to net our berries to protect against birds.

 

Nicola: I'd love to hear more about the nursery and your future plans?

Jade: Each year we have grafted and taken cuttings (and will continue to do so) for 600 mixed species trees (peaches, pears, cherries, persimmons, figs, currants, apples and crabbe apples). We have also grown 1000 understory plants each year (marjoram, coriander, garlic, tagasaste, marigold,  chilves, Cow-pea, Clover, Siberian Pea-shrub, Amarynth, Zinnia, Comfrey, Borage. These are for the orchard rows and mimic the natural eco-system but provide a diversity of attributes such as nitrogen for the soil, natural growing or decomposing mulch, insect attraction for pollination support.

We deliver a workshop around this (which has sold out within days for three years running so we will continue this until demand fades) and then we plant into our nursery area for 12 months. Because many of the varieties we are growing are hard to find heritage varieties, they are much sought after and because our growing practices are ethical, we have found there is a strong growing market to support this.

 

Nicola: I’d love to hear more about the workshops and events that you run?  Can you tell me more about whom they are for and what it is you wish to teach others?

Jade: The audience is very dependent on the particular workshop. But to generalise, those who are attracted to Black Barn Farm are those with a deep yearning desire to connect to other like minded, simple living folk. They are seeking skills to mimic our production approach, they are looking for ideas to build their own community, they are looking for support to grow their own food. 

In the coming 6 months we are offering a wider range of events including:

  • Introduction to Permaculture (in conjunction with a permaculture education expert)
  • Mid Winter Wassail Ceremony (invited guests)
  • Mid Winter Orchard planting (invited only)
  • Mid Winter Heritage Tree Sale and orchard tour

We love our events because it gives life to what can otherwise be a little lonely and isolating existence on the farm. Sharing our journey and our knowledge is something we both reap a great deal of satisfaction from. 

 

DJI_0074.JPG

Nicola: Your work and life is obviously inspired by nature.  Can you tell me why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the work you do? 

Jade: Biofilia is a concept which is integral in each and every one of us, however I have a very high need for connection to the outside, natural world. I was fortunate to spend vast blocks of time as a child literally living in the elements. My dad was an artist and we spent a great deal of time on camp with him while he painted or locked outside the house during the day while he painted in the Studio. We also grew all our own food so our deep rhythmic understanding of the seasons, the influence of weather, the connection to the cyclical nature of each year was bedded down very early and both my brother and I have continued this pattern of living with our children now entrenched in annual growing, preparing/readying, eating, storing, valuing the food we grow as a direct descendant from the type of weather we have experienced that season. 

Our way of life is simple, predominantly outdoors and extends from the boundaries of our farm to the roadsides where foraged foods are found, the nearby bushland where we wander for bushwalks, the also nearby pine forests where we hunt for mushrooms, the not too far away mountains where we escape to on especially warm days, the abundant rivers we swim in weekly , our own dam which we frequent every day while its warm, the haybales we scramble on, the bird book which each of us reaches for even if we know the name of the bird we just spotted, the wood we grow and cut for our warmth,  the hay we grow to feed the stock and the remaining straw we use to mulch our vegetable beds. 

Our year here is very much defined but the distinct seasons, and our daily patterns are endlessly evolving so there is rarely time for any day to become mundane.

 

Charlie: Nature is the most important thing in everyone's life, it's just that most don't realise or appreciate it. Irrespective of who we are, the level of importance nature has for each of us is a matter of fact not personal interpretation. Nature provides the means for each of us to exist, it literally provides the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat and regulates the atmosphere we are dependent on. Modern society has been able to obscure this fact to our increasingly urban population, however each person sitting in an apartment is still reliant on each of those ecosystem services to deliver the means required for their existence, even if the urbanite can't see, smell, hear or taste the very ecosystem or piece of nature that provides those essential services.

Nature is the largest influencer of our work at Black Barn Farm,  we seek to understand the pattern of relationships that exists in a natural forest so we can design a similar package of processes and patterns within our orchard system.

 

Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Jade: Start where you are, with what you've got and be willing to make mistakes - some of your most magnificent discoveries will be through adversity, trial and error. Further to this, don’t be afraid to follow your instinct...even if it differs from what your spoken ‘goal’ is.

We have had a very clear long term plan for more than 20 years and while the path has meandered here and there as I’ve followed my instinct, made mistakes and been surprised by outcomes, it has never wavered from the end goal which we are lucky enough to be united on.

In response to what your community needs: collaborative efforts are incredibly powerful and from little things big things grow, so do your research and just start!  Sow that seed and watch it grow.

Also, you can only move as fast as the community you are working within, so be sure to really understand their "WHY" so you can speak to it and bring more people on the journey with you.

You can find Black Barn Farm on their website or follow progress on Instagram.

 

CreativeNicola Judkins
Creative in the Countryside: Tea and Wildflowers
AAD49353-C6F5-4D0E-853D-6F6A59827ACF.jpeg

Today we're introducing you to Francey Bunn, beekeeper, creative, and the owner of Tea and Wildflowers.

Nicola: We’d love you to start by telling us about Tea and Wildflowers and your creative journey so far?

Francey: Tea and Wildflowers is the name of my small business selling honey and beeswax products with potential to include handmade and old things in the future.  I came up with the name to fit with the idea of plant based living and to conjure the magic of my everyday. Childhood memories of long sunny afternoons with tea and books in our South London garden have stayed with me. The garden was packed with fruit trees and we enjoyed its bounty throughout the year: open tarts and mousses in the summer and jams and jellies to take us through to the next harvest. 

One year our apricot tree broke under the weight of fruit and my mother made so much jam.  I'd been wanting to keep bees for ages; it's a craft I feel I'm suited to because I love the summer and enjoy new knowledge and skill sharing. Beekeeping is about so much more than honey. Hanging out by the hives watching these beautiful insects take flight and return home laden with pollen on a golden afternoon is so joyful.

I put back my plans when we adopted our first dog an unruly GSD who took a while to settle and then four years ago I joined the local beekeepers' association hived a swarm or two and now have six colonies. Each of my queen bees has a name from medieval literature; Guinevere, Aliénor and Isolde were the first three I kept in the apiary nearest home. Hopefully the colonies will expand again this year; I usually inspect the hives as soon as we get temperatures of about 10C, typically a nice sunny day in March. I'm nervous to see if the colonies have survived especially when we've had snow and freezing conditions. I try to inspect the frames without too much disruption and am praying for the biscuit coloured slab of brood that proves the queen bee is happily laying eggs. If all is well I'll just put the hive roof back on and make weekly inspections thereafter.

Sometimes a small intervention is needed to keep the colony happy. I never rush things and often go back the following day after I've had a long think about what to do for the best. There's a lot of lifting of wooden boxes and as I have my hives in three different locations I drive round quite a bit and I have to be organised with my kit. I don't normally take frames of honey from the hives until July when I feel confident about surplus levels. The honey I sell is raw, filtered once only and comes from a single hive; a truly artisan product. I talk to the bees quite a lot, telling them about what's going on in my life, encouraging them and thanking them for sharing and we toast the bees with honey cocktails at our family harvest supper in October to show our appreciation.
 

C97FAC22-EB63-451E-A2FC-B70E22388BB8.jpeg

Nicola: From where do you draw your inspiration?

Francey: I draw inspiration first from the landscape around me: small farms, green pastures, hills, valleys and woodland are part of my DNA and I need this kind of setting to prosper. I'm inspired too by women and men who have gone before me, from my own family and others I know through their writing and creativity. As a child I loved to read about adventurers like Laura Ingalls, Amelia Earhart and Grey Owl. I didn't become an aviator but I do my own version of Little House on the Prairie and of all the road trips my husband and I have made, it's the great wildernesses of the Pacific Northwest that continue to nourish us.

Perhaps most influential of all is my French heritage, stories from way back about growing vegetables, making cheese and drinking tisanes are my personal treasure trove.
My creativity runs through a collection of projects, harvesting honey, candle making, dyeing cloth and using herbs for health and well being, and they all have plants as their starting point.

1DF05E0E-2228-4182-8C09-7EA0DEB055F3.jpeg

Nicola: Can you tell us about the process of your work, from initial idea to the finished product?

Francey: I could usefully tell you about my candle making here. As a beekeeper I have quite a bit of wax at the end of the season and as I love candles I thought I'd try making some. I started with hand dipping which is the most made by hand method but the results weren't pleasing so I started researching moulds. I found a pine cone mould I thought looked pretty realistic and then considered some of my vintage baking tins. The sweet floral aroma of the beeswax persuaded me to sell my candles online and locally and they've been a runaway success. I needed to source more beeswax which I was able to do locally as I know quite a few keepers so this make is sustainable; I have plans for pharmacy jar candles this year.

B5377DAE-D822-40A1-A095-BDEFBFC4F1BD.jpeg

Nicola: Can you tell us about where you live, what your workspace looks like and what a day in your life is like?

Francey: We've lived in a small village just north of the Cotswold Edge for a long while now and I'm grateful for the warm Atlantic breeze that sweeps up the Severn and Avon valleys keeping us above freezing temperatures for most of the year. My garden isn't vast and I've planted it to echo the surrounding landscape, trees and hedges and grass at different levels. There is a woodland area under some mature birch trees which I look out to from my little studio or summer house as it's known. I'm very fond of the old brick wall which runs the length of the garden. It belonged to the farm buildings serving the Manor House across the road: a lovely antique next to our modern house. A few visitors have commented about the absence of flowers in my garden. I'm happy with shades of green and brown with a few white pelargoniums to dress the porch in the summer.

8AAE31C8-AD52-4811-80DA-F209E121B2ED.jpeg


I'm not a morning person so my day doesn't really start till after 9 but I often stay up late. You might have guessed that I'm a tea drinker and I have a different brew according to my mood.  My favourites are verveine, mint and lemon balm, all from the same plant family. I try to have a window of creativity in the morning and one in the afternoon when I might pour some candles, visit my hives, go on foraging walks and style photos to use on my website or for Instagram. Fun admin tasks like planning, ordering supplies and catching up on IG tend to be an evening thing. If I have a longer piece to write I do that in my PJs as I eat my morning porridge.


Nicola: When you aren’t creating what do you enjoy doing?

Francey: I like to spend time with my children which these days often involves the internet. My son lives in Arizona and I love chatting to him on Sunday evenings, his Sunday morning.  My daughters are quite a bit closer in London and Oxford and it's lovely to exchange visits and texts with them so regularly. They tell me they like to read about what I'm up to on Instagram and we swap ideas and recommendations all the time.

Swimming is my first choice for exercise, the feeling of being in water is so restorative and mindful. I'm a regular at the Cheltenham Lido in spring and summer and in winter I use indoor pools. My favourite swims though are in the sea but I have to be on holiday for those as we live about as far away from the coast as is possible here in the UK.

Nicola: We’d love to hear more about your love of photography and all things hand-made, and how you incorporate both of these into your daily life?

Francey: I can't really separate photography from writing, both tell stories and I like to use them together. I guess Instagram has made me see it this way. I love photos that tell parts of stories which we then fill in. I have a new website coming online this summer. I want to extend my IG, make it bigger and deeper. Concept wise it's a kind of grimoire but more natural secrets than supernatural ones. My first posts are about foraging, teas and tisanes and a short story about a beekeeper. I write because I am but it can be hard sometimes when the words are heavy and I'm just not getting my ideas across. Light is everything for a good photo so I know the places in the house and garden and the times of day that are more promising.  As with writing I keep trying things out, make small changes and try again.

Handmade things make my heart sing and I buy from small producers like Winchcombe pottery or I browse Etsy, but to be honest I don't buy much, I just look after the things I already have and sometimes reinterpret them with paint or dye. I like a pared down aesthetic so clutter is not my friend.

Nicola: And lastly, if anyone reading this would love to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

3CD61FAD-C20B-49BF-B50A-D2B3B54FF1DC.jpeg

Francey: To anyone who's just started out on their creative journey and I'm not very far down that road, I would recommend a few things; scheduling short and long term goals, so last year it was setting up my shop on Etsy, finding local stockists and getting some kind of brand identity going, and this year, I've got some help with my Instagram and with my new website. It's so important to invest in yourself too because early success will give you the feeling of achievement you need. Working with others is also great for development. I've recently started a shared project with Heather, a herbalist I met on the Creative Countryside Winter Gathering in January (check her out on IG @northstarnomad); we are exchanging letters about dyeing cloth and growing honey plants like buckwheat, phacelia and quinoa to provide pollen and nectar for bees. I've made a start with dyeing linen using walnut shells and avocado skins. Seed sowing so I'll have some strong plugs to plant around the hives is next up. It was Heather's suggestion too, that we share some reading and we've chosen Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer to take us through the next few weeks.

I feel I need to say more about reading and how books including fiction are so important in the creative journey.  Whenever I have an idea, I develop it through reading and conversations with folk who have done something similar.  Only then can I start to work independently and make something of my own.



Follow Francey on Instagram, find her on Etsy or visit the website

CreativeNicola Judkins
Behind-the-Scenes: One Year In
_DSC7088-2.jpg

This time last year I was starting to plan out the crowdfunding campaign to fund the first issue of Creative Countryside magazine. I had no idea whether it would work, whether anyone would care, or where I'd be twelve months on, but here we are, still going! Publishing an independent magazine has been full of pitfalls and learning curves, and because I'm constantly looking forward (to the next issue, the next gathering, the next season), I thought I'd share some of the things you can expect to see around here. If you're interested in what's changing, and what running Creative Countryside is like behind-the-scenes, then this is the post for you.

 

The Magazine

Screenshot_20180703-203309_Gallery.jpg

I set out determined to publish four issues a year. A quarterly magazine just felt right for something so aligned with nature and the seasons, and I'm happy to say that it's going to stay this way. I've deliberated over changing it to bi-annual (cheaper to print, more time to sell, more time to work on content) but for me, it's all about the seasons, so four issues it is.

You'll notice, however, that issue 4 is a lot bigger than previous issues - it's 120 pages (rather than 80), and I'm so pleased with this change. I felt limited in previous issues, and had so much content to share that I had to be very selective in my choices. I've tried to reflect the size increase fairly, so whereas previously £8 bought you 80 pages, £12 now buys you 120 pages. The magazine has always had the feel of a book anyway, so this change really cements that, and you can enjoy the content each year - it won't go out-of-date next month, and we won't be repeating the same style of content next year either. It's had a bit of a re-design too, to reflect everything I've learnt so far - you'll notice that our logo has also changed, and things are just a little more streamlined.

The magazine has always been printed on recycled paper; that's a non-negotiable for me. If I'm going to create something that uses up natural resources, I want to make it as environmentally-friendly as possible. Each magazine is sent out in a recycled jiffy bag (no plastic bubble wrap) and stockist orders are sent in recycled cardboard boxes. I now also use recycled plastic tape for larger orders.

The final change for the magazine is that the print run is going to be limited to 600. Initially my goal was just to sell as many copies as possible, to increase print run each time, and see the magazine stocked in as many shops as I could. But for a niche magazine, that's turned out not to be feasible. For now, it makes more sense to print a limited number, and to focus on increasing the number of subscribers and repeat customers. I'm not concerned about the numbers; I'm much more interested in building the community.

A quick note about the price too: I know a number of people find £12 an inordinate sum for a magazine, and there was a time when I might have been one of them. But if you consider the fact our magazine is quarterly, completely ad-free, and is the size and quality of a journal or book rather than your typical glossy magazine, I hope the reasons for the cover price become clearer. The magazine doesn't make me any money either: costs are covered, but that's about it, and it just isn't possible to print a publication of this type and sell for less.

 

Events

_DSC6856.jpg

I longed to run events for Creative Countryside many months before they were actually introduced! Working as a creative entrepreneur, the days are often spent alone working on different elements of the business, but we all need connection, someone to bounce ideas off, a chance to just 'be' and take time to process our thoughts. Our seasonal gatherings give you the opportunity for all this, plus the chance to feast on seasonal food, take part in traditional rituals and ceremonies (wassailing, anyone?) and spend time in nature with like-minded folk. This year, we've hosted two gatherings so far: the first took place in January in the Peak District; the second in June in the Yorkshire Dales.

Plans for the future are shaping up, and I hope to run four main gatherings per year, plus a host of other seasonal events (supper clubs, informal meet-ups etc.). You can register your interest in future gatherings here.

If you're interested in running a workshop, or getting involved in any way with our events, send me an email - contact@creativecountryside.com

 

 

The Community

The Creative Countryside community took me by surprise. Sure, I was looking to build my email list, send out seasonal e-books, grow my following on social media; what I didn't expect was the friendships I'd form. Our core team is small and currently all are volunteers. We're just about breaking even (and I'm not taking a penny so far either - everything is going back into the business), so everyone who's here is doing it for the love of it; I can't tell you what that means. To know that there are a group of individuals out there who support everything that I've built and created, who contribute incredible creative content for the online journal and the printed magazine, is an incredible feeling. I'm so grateful to be surrounded by them, so go and show them some love if you're not already familiar with who's who.

One of my future goals is to expand this community, to provide a space (both online and offline) for like-minded folk to chat, connect and be inspired by the seasons. I'd love to hear from you if you have any thoughts, if you're craving any type of event/meeting space/product in particular. And if you'd like to stay informed of everything going on, don't forget to sign up to the newsletter!

 

 

Creative in the Countryside: Nellie and Eve
IMG_5284.jpeg

Nicola: I know you come from a long line of women, seamstress’s, embroiderers and homemakers, and that Nellie and Eve is named after your grandmothers.  Can you tell us more about the journey you took to beginning your business?

Helen: From a young age I have always been a maker, taught by my grandmothers and mother, I made clothes for myself and friends and pressed flowers in a press made by my father, which progressed into a range of hand produced greetings cards years later.

I indulged my love for antique quilts and vintage fabrics for several years, but it was when I moved to Wales 15 years ago that I found my true place in the countryside. A friend invited me to join her at the local spinners, weavers and dyers group held in the village, and from that day I was hooked on wool in all its glory. Actually making yarn from a raw fleece appealed to my love of all things natural and making completely by hand. Spinning yarn is still my favourite thing to do, it’s a gentle, mindful way to make something that has so many uses. I wanted to help promote the many overlooked uses of this sustainable fibre, and to pass on skills I had learned ….'Nellie and Eve’ was born.

IMG_1462.jpeg

Nicola: Your products are all made by hand in your workshop and reflect your love of a homespun lifestyle.  Can you share with us what a homespun lifestyle means to you?  

Helen: Homespun for me means making, baking and growing your own. Not buying new all the time, make do and mend, and treading gently on the land.

IMG_5233.jpeg

Nicola: Why is it so important to you to use locally sourced fleeces?

Helen: I live in Wales, surrounded by sheep with lovely wool on their backs. There is no need to go elsewhere for this natural, sustainable product. I know where it's farmed, I see how the sheep have been looked after, and that's incredibly important to me. In my own small way I'm helping my local community.

IMG_1647.jpeg

Nicola: We’d love to know more about the process of how your work develops from initial idea to the final piece.

Helen: It always starts with fleece. Depending on what I want to make, I will first wash the fleece in an old tin bath by hand in the garden. The wool is then left to dry naturally, before being carded (or combed) using a hand cranked carding machine. This process results in a smooth, airy wool batt which I can then spin into yarn or weave.

I spin the yarn using one of my six spinning wheels, each one helps me achieve different results and weight of finished yarn. They all have their place, really they do! I can spin up to 500 grams of yarn in about half an hour on one of them! But it usually takes a full day to have a spun, plyed skein (200g) that’s ready to be used in a knitting, weaving or crochet project. The wheels are also an essential tool when running ‘Learn to Spin Yarn’ workshops at my studio.

I use locally sourced super soft Shetland and Blue Faced Leicester as well as Jacob wool for my online hand spun yarn collection.

If I want to add some colour to my collection, I will pick plants from my garden or the hedgerows and use them to dye with. It's a long process to get to the point of knitting a jumper, or weaving a rug but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It's a labour of love and a lifestyle I enjoy; slow living.

IMG_5258.jpeg

Nicola: Can you tell us more about the workshops you run?  We’d love to know whom they are for and what it is you teach?

I run workshops in crochet, knitting, peg loom weaving, plant dyeing and hand spinning….all the things I love to do myself and that are fun to teach. I teach at various venues and festivals as well as my studio and love the interaction and connection with people that want to learn new skills. I teach anyone who wants to have a go, young or old, all are welcome. It’s incredibly rewarding, especially when I got a call from a customer saying that the only thing on her son's Christmas wish list was a loom and some wool. I had taught him to peg weave at a summer festival and was thrilled, this makes it all worthwhile.

Nellie and Eve 1.jpg

Nicola: We’d love to know more about where you live, your workspace, and what a typical day is like for you?

I live on a hill in rural Carmarthenshire, south west Wales. My husband built my studio which sits nestled in the garden surrounded by fields of sheep, some of which provide me with fleeces.

A typical day for me will always start with coffee and a walk with my dogs, followed by checking emails and perhaps posting on social media. That’s when the typical day ends as my work is so varied. I may be packing up orders, preparing for an upcoming event or workshop, dyeing yarn with seasonal plants or swatching a new design, but at some time during the day I will always make time to spin some wool.

IMG_5253.jpeg

 

 

Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Helen: Follow your heart – it’s your true you - and stick with it. Keep it simple, honest and mindful.

You can find Helen at www.nellieandeve.co.uk, or follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Creative in The Countryside: Josephine Brooks
Notebooks and ink pen - Josephine Penelope (1 of 1).jpg

Nicola:  We’d love for you to start by telling us about what you do and how your business has recently evolved?  

Josephine:  Until the beginning of 2018 I was growing my own handmade business, creating country home décor using British-made textiles. However, since then, I’ve been going through a transitional period, creating my mentoring business. My mission is to help other handmade business owners get organised and create a plan to grow their business, so they can create the lifestyle they dream of.

For the past few years, I’ve been exploring how I can live a more authentic lifestyle. I’ve worked as a project manager in marketing for the last eight years, and I love a timeline and spreadsheet, but I was starting to feel a pull towards doing something more hands-on. As a result, I set up my handmade business.

This year, as I turned 30, I really started to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I dug deeper into what it was I loved about my handmade business. The making side was a creative escape I loved, but I was no master. What I really enjoyed, and where I flourished, was in the organisation and planning.  Which was interesting to me as it tied back to my project management day-job. 

While growing my handmade business I had developed a super simple way to review, organise and plan my business so I could focus on delivering my own creative work. I’m now using this method to help other makers get organised and plan better in their business. Sometimes it’s the things that come easily to you that you don’t realise are useful to others. So far I’m really enjoying helping other handmade business owners plan to grow their business in a focused and intentional way. 

 

Nicola:  What do you love most about what you do, and what inspires you? 

My workspace - Josephine Penelope (8 of 9).jpg

Josephine:  The thing I love most about what I do is helping makers grow their handmade business so they can create a lifestyle they love. All the work I do with makers ties back to their personal goals and aspirations. I firmly believe everybody has the power to build a business that gives them a happy and fulfilled life, doing what they love.  But to make that happen it’s essential to have a focused plan & clear direction.

Through my work, I get to meet makers who are incredibly inspiring.  There is so much talent out there and many small, creative businesses deserve more exposure. These makers get me excited about what I do, and I love helping them build a sustainable handmade business. 

I also love the light bulb moment when makers realise that keeping on top of their business and planning for growth, doesn’t need to be painful or time-consuming.  That it is actually fun and rewarding. I also see makers realise just how much they’ve achieved when they stop for a moment and look back. By taking them through my process I’ve seen makers fall in love with their businesses all over again 

The countryside around me is also a source of endless inspiration, and time spent outdoors always lifts my spirits. When I’m struggling to write, or I’m stuck on a project, I’ll head out for a walk with my dogs. Without fail, after about half an hour, my mind relaxes and that’s when the magic happens. Ideas start to flow, and the brick walls I had come up against whilst staring at a screen start to fall down. 

If I’ve had a bad day or am feeling sluggish I sometimes go out for a run (only when I’m feeling really enthusiastic). I often have to keep stopping to record voice notes of ideas I’ve had, or solutions to some of my client’s sticking points. I always come back from my outdoor adventures feeling happier and more relaxed.  

 

Working from the garden - Josephine Penelope (1 of 1).jpg

Nicola:  How did your creative process as a maker inform your planning process?

Josephine:  When I was running my handmade business I found it hard to juggle the making as well as everything that comes with a creative business. For a lot of makers, their business developed from a love of their craft.  I meet so many makers who live for the making but struggle to find the time or motivation to work on the other areas of their business. However, in my experience of growing a handmade business, it’s essential to have a plan and to be intentional about the areas of the business you’re giving your time.  

Take launching a new product for example. I found that the making is just part of what needs to be done. First I’d have the inspiration, sketch it out a few times and make a prototype. Then I’d have to source UK-made materials that fitted with my brand values and aesthetic. Using these I’d make a prototype and tweak it until I was happy. Then would come the actual production. I would make a template and some stock.  This would then need photographing and those images would need editing. Product listings would also need to be written and uploaded to my website and other sales channels. I’d then need to promote my products on social media and in my email newsletter. Once the product started to sell I’d need to handwrite a thank you note for each customer, package them up and post them followed by managing my finances and paying my suppliers. So just in that one example, there are a lot of tasks that come with the making that are essential in order to grow a sustainable business. I quickly found that writing ‘launch new product’ on my to-do list made me feel so disheartened when I hadn’t done all of the above within a week.  

I am a structured person by nature, and I’m a project manager by trade, so after a while breaking down all the tasks I needed to do to complete a project started to come easily to me. After about a year in business, I had developed a simple and quick 3-step approach to reviewing, organising and planning my business.

Firstly I would look at my stats and performance, how business was going, and more importantly how I was feeling and how my business was supporting my dream of working for myself and living the lifestyle I was craving. 

Secondly, I’d get myself organised. It’s too easy to let finance and the materials you’re holding run away with you, so I’d get everything back under control.

Finally, I would look at what I’d reflected on, how my business was supporting my goals, what was doing well and which areas needed more focus. From this, I’d pick a maximum of three areas where I’d focus my efforts for the following three months. This half-day per month spent reviewing, organising and planning would help me feel in control and stay confident in my business. Which for me was essential to growing a business is an emotional rollercoaster! 

Around this time I was also meeting more and more makers who were feeling overwhelmed by all of the things they felt they needed to be doing in their business. I realised that a lot of makers I was talking to didn’t know what their most profitable product was, or weren’t selling their beautiful and unique products online because they didn’t know where to start. I knew that the simple 3-step approach I had devised for my own business could help other handmade sellers too.

 

The nearby village of Crawley - Josephine Penelope (1 of 1).jpg

Nicola:  Can you tell us about where you live, the space you work from and what a day in your life looks like at the moment?

Josephine:  I live in the Test Valley in Hampshire, UK. It is a gorgeous area surrounded by streams and rivers, and with lots of willow trees and wildlife. 

There are plenty of cosy country pubs in the area for a warming Sunday lunch in winter. In summer the nearby town of Stockbridge is the perfect place to meet friends for coffee, and have a mooch down the high street which is full of independent shops.  

However, as an introvert, I’m most happy when I’m at home, emerging from the house to go for a walk or hang out in the garden. Our house is situated up a farm track where it’s very quiet, apart from the odd tractor. 

My workspace is the box-room in our house.  In here I just about have space for a desk to work from and storage for all of my fabric, photography props and sewing machine. At the moment my boyfriend and I are renting so I can’t wait to have a place of our own where I can create my dream workspace.

My favourite thing about where I live is the birdsong.  It makes the ultimate alarm clock. 

At the moment I work part-time as a project manager for a conservation charity. I love working with a brand whose ethics I believe in, however ultimately my goal is to go full time with my business.

The rest of the time I’m working on growing my business. Often my days will be spent writing for my blog, planning workshops, creating course materials and taking photographs for my website. Getting better at photography is something I love at the moment and fulfills another way of getting creative in my new business. 

Working on my business has become a complete obsession. I love it! I’m getting better at making myself slow down but I’ve got a long way to go. I’d like to make Sundays a day off, but at the moment I’m always photographing or writing on the weekends. 

 

Walking the dogs in mottisfont woods - Josephine Penelope (3 of 3).jpg

Nicola:  When you aren’t working and creating what is your favourite way to spend your time?

Josephine:  You’ll usually find me in a pair of wellies with a cup of tea in hand. I love getting outdoors. The garden is my favourite place in summer and there is a section of the river nearby where you can swim (only on very hot summer days for me)! I love going there. The water is crystal clear and the dogs enjoy splashing around in it.

Walking the dogs is my favourite way to switch off and it’s when I feel most connected with nature. My boyfriend and I have three dogs; a Springer Spaniel who’s now 12 and enjoying a slower paced life and lots of cuddles, a Sprocker Spaniel who’s got way too much energy, and a very loveable Labrador puppy who’s eight months old. Having the dogs around makes it a bit of a mad (and muddy) house at times but we couldn’t live without them. We’d have nothing to talk about! 

Since my handmade business has taken a backseat I’ve had a real hankering to make all sorts of things again. I love to cook and sew.  I’m not a master at either but it gives me great pleasure to make something with my hands.

The seasons always inspire me to create.  Whether it’s a summer dress, a winter wreath, blackberry jam or sloe gin it will always be triggered by the changing seasons. I also love to forage for seasonal food and foliage. I think it’s magical that you can make the most beautiful things with what’s in nature. 

 

Nicola:  And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Josephine:  If you haven’t started your creative venture yet, the best advice is to just start. I know this sounds clichéd, but as soon as you take action you’ll start learning more about yourself, where your strengths are and what you want more of in your life. 

Handmade buiness planning by the fire - Josephine Penelope (1 of 1) (1).jpg

If you’re already deep in the throes of working on your creative venture, and you’re feeling a little lost or overwhelmed, here’s a brief run through of my 3-step process to review, organise and create an action plan to take your creative business or project forward. 

1)    Look back and review

Have a look back over the last three to six months. Ask yourself why you started pursuing your creative dream and what your personal aspirations and goals are. Is the work you’re doing still on track with that? Check in with your gut instinct.  How are you feeling about your business/ creative venture? It could be you need to adjust what you’re doing to fit more of what you love into your work.  Or is there something you’ve been meaning to have a go at for ages you think you’ll be great at? 

Look back at your stats, website traffic, sales, income, outgoings, most successful blog post, favourite product you’ve made. Are there any learning’s you’ve made over the last few months you can build from? 

Jot it all down in a notebook and see if there are any recurring themes, and any words or phrases you’ve repeated. Have a think about where your opportunities lie. You might have noticed you get your best sales at markets and that you love chatting to customers one to one, so you want to fit more markets in. Or it could be that you’ve seen a gap in your product range and you want to create that new product line you’ve had on your mind for ages. 

Pick out a maximum of three areas you want to focus on over the next three months.

2)    Get organised

Start recording your progress each month. This doesn’t need to take more than 20 minutes and it will give you something to look back over, so you can see just how much you’re achieving over time. Keep a note of your website traffic, most popular product, income, outgoings, most successful blog post, social follower numbers etc. This can also help you spot trends or areas where you’re doing really well, as well as areas that might need a bit more love.

3)    Make an action plan

 Take your three focus areas and turn them into goals for the next three months. It might be that you want to create a new product line or start learning a new skill. Break each goal down into actionable chunks. If one of your goals is too big to achieve in a three-month period, break it down into something smaller. 

Plot each individual action you need to take over the next three months into a diary, wall planner or calendar, and you’re ready to get going. And remember to reward yourself at the end of those three months!

 

You can find out more about Josephine on her website or you can follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

 

CreativeNicola Judkins
Creative in The Countryside: Jessica Cooper Ceramics
_G6A1410.jpg

Nicola:  Tell us about your journey to starting Jessica Cooper Ceramics and the work you do?

Jessica:  Working with clay has been a long and non-linear journey! When I was a small child I made mud pies at the bottom of the garden, shaping them carefully and then cooking them in the greenhouse.  I didn’t know that making things was a career option, so I went out into the world and became a mental health worker.

I started working with clay as an adult when my partner bought me evening classes for Christmas. He could see I needed somewhere to focus my creative energy (I was making a lot of ugly sewing projects at the time!). I was lucky to be shown the ropes by George Ormerod, a very encouraging teacher. I bought my own kiln and set up a little studio at home. I met and apprenticed with a Cumbrian potter, Walter Storey, who taught me to throw and showed me the ropes of glaze chemistry.

I have been selling my work for five years and it has changed radically in that time from small, slab built pieces to larger, wheel thrown domestic ware.

Nicola: You say you hope to make imperfect and lively pots that slot into someone’s hand with the pleasing comfort of coming home.  Can you explain to us what this means to you?

IMG_3587.JPG

Jessica:  For me, pottery is about a feeling more than about the object you produce. I try to create conditions where I can focus intuition, attention, and heart as I work, in the hope these feelings come through in the pieces I make.  My hope is that in using my pots, people connect to some feeling within themself.  I suppose it is a bit to do with mindfulness, being present in the moment and trying to stay true to myself and make my own pots. I naturally throw quickly and like to glaze with energy rather than precision. I enjoy sloshing things about and getting really messy in every process!

I make pots to be used in homes, kitchens and gardens, and I suppose my quiet hope is that tea will be drunk on back steps, a cake will be spooned from bowls and that my pots will get to play a small role in the beautiful humanity of daily life.

Nicola: I’d love to know more about the process of how your work develops from initial idea to the final piece.

Jessica:  I work in a very intuitive way. I find that the more I try to plan my work the more it goes wrong and doesn’t feel like mine. I show up in the studio on a regular basis and make things. Showing up and making is the only important part! I make a lot of rubbish and recycle a lot of pots.

I also keep sketchbooks, mostly written rather than illustrative. I use a kind of personal lexicon to express my feelings through my work. Every form, texture, colour, and decision has a meaning for me. So in this way, if I have something I want to express in a pot, a story or a moment, I use the lexicon to guide my choices. I also try to remain playful and light about my work, I remind myself that it is just pottery, something to find joy in, not to take too seriously.

Nicola: You live and work in a remote part of the North Pennines.  Can you tell us more about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day for you looks like?

IMG_3620.JPG

Jessica: I live at one of the highest points in the North Pennines. Our home looks out over Cross Fell, and into the Eden Valley. Our views are really exceptional. I have a shed-come-studio in the garden with kiln, wheel and clay. It’s a simple workspace and I love working with my door open or taking my wheel to throw outside on a sunny day. I also work in the shared studio at the Alston Pottery, where I apprenticed, to make some of the bigger pieces.

At the moment a typical day is spent with my one-year-old son. I work in a flexible way around his needs. Each week we plan out our family schedule to ensure I have child-free time in which to work, usually two days or 16 hours over the week. I find it critical for our domestic life to have designated time for work, otherwise family, business and domestic life can become a messy tangle of unmet needs. Generally, I try to be doing one thing at a time, but this is a juggle!

Nicola: I know your work is inspired by nature.  Can you tell us why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the work you do?

Jessica: Often I feel moved by intangible parts of the natural world, the sunlight fading matt blue over a fell, the quiet stillness of early winter mornings before the sun comes up. I try to celebrate these feelings and tell the stories of life lived in a wild landscape through my pots.

IMG_4323.JPG

Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story was inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Jessica: I would say that it is ok if you feel like the odd one out or a bit of a black sheep. I come from a family where my way of living and working is pretty alternative, compared to the traditional corporate jobs and lifestyles my parents and siblings have.

Creative dreaming and living are often about working out what your own measures of success and wealth are, and what you need to feel rich in a whole sense. It is a perfectly admirable dream to find a way of living and working that works for you

You can find out more about Jessica below:

Website 

Facebook

Instagram

 

CreativeNicola Judkins