Hands up if you love drinking tea? Ok, that’s a given. Hands up if you love drinking tea from a beautifully decorated tea set featuring cheeky little squirrels and foxes eating cake? Yes, I know, sounds fab right? Lianne Mellor of Folksy shop Mellor Ware talks us through her quirky collection.
How long have you been selling on Folksy?
I created my shop just before Christmas 2009 and have been selling online ever since.
Tell us about your work.
Mellor Ware was born out of a passion for illustrations and a love of homeware products. I wanted to build a business doing something that I love, but that would allow me to expand into different products as the business grew.
My illustrations are inspired by British wildlife, and what they get up to while our backs are turned, so you have badgers drinking cups of tea, foxes eating cake and squirrels serving sandwiches! My style is quite simple as I like to leave details to the viewer’s imagination, you are invited to create your own stories for the characters.
The tea party sets were the first homeware products I created. I chose teaware because I absolutely love afternoon teas and all the memories they evoke. You can’t rush an afternoon tea and it’s about dedicating a good hour of quality time with a loved one.
When did it all begin for you?
I have always had an overactive imagination and loved to draw. I studied architecture at university, and hand drew every single plan and section! I loved bringing my buildings to life with the addition of quirky characters.
During the summer holidays when Liverpool was the Capital of Culture in 2008, they offered free craft stalls in from of the cathedral. I signed up and started filling old frames with my illustrations. On the day I had almost sold out of work and thought to myself “this is pretty nice”. I signed up to the next 2 fairs and it all just kind of grew from there. I loved seeing people’s reactions to my drawings, and the smiles that spread across their faces when their minds start creating stories and scenarios for the characters.
Tell us about your work space
I’ve had quite a few different workspaces, including my dad’s garage, the spare room/airing cupboard combo in my flat, a studio space in an old cutlery factory, and I’m currently working form the Workstation. It’s a business centre for creative businesses. Getting a separate workspace form my homelife was a really scary thing to do, but has been fantastic for my practice. You can fill the space with everything that inspires you and have the separation between work and home which is really important to keep the balance.
How do you keep your work unique?
I am still primarily an illustrator, I just put my illustrations onto products that people find useful. The unique aspect of my products comes from the illustrations that adorn them and the stories they evoke. I guess it’s my imagination that helps keep my work unique to what other designers and makers are creating. In terms of production, all the transfers are placed by hand, and the aprons & oven gloves are hand screen-printed which means each piece is a little bit unique to you!
Describe your day as a maker. Are you organised/disciplined?
I cycle in and arrive at the studio for 9am every day. My apprentice arrives shortly after and we have a cup of Earl Grey and discuss the day’s tasks ahead. Every day is completely different, and although we are disciplined in getting the work done each day, the unpredictable nature of the business keeps us on our toes. When you’re self employed you are everything to your business so the daily tasks involve everything from the exciting creative tasks that get you all giddy, to the slightly boring but necessary jobs that keep a business ticking over. Emailing, making and packing orders, finding new customers, creating new designs, blogging and social media, doing the accounts, general admin and drinking lots of tea.
What three tools could you not live without?
My parker pen, a notebook for writing lists in and my kiln.
What gets the creative juices flowing when creativity is stifled?
I always start a creative session by emptying my brain onto a mind map. It helps me to keep the ideas coming, but putting them into some sort of order so I can revisit them later. If I’m really stuck I have a play with paper mache or a lump of clay, it’s good to have things you can make that are unrelated to the products you create. That way you don’t tend to get the anxiety you can encounter if your suffering from a bit of a creative block.
Are you inspired by any artists from the past or present?
I think you get inspired by everything you see, either consciously or subconsciously. I mainly get inspired by the stories behind things, authors such as Roald Dahl, Dr Seus and Beatrix Potter played a huge part in my childhood, and helped me view the world in a different way. I love Grayson Perry as an artist, the stories behind his vases are fascinating.
How do you know when a piece is done?
When I’ve finished putting watercolour paint on it and it’s made me giggle.
What do you love most about being a maker?
The satisfaction of being able to sit back and say to yourself “I did that”. It’s quite a scary thing putting something you have created in front of customers, but when you start getting good feedback, nothing quite beats the sense of satisfaction that can bring of a job well done. The freedom of being in control of your own path is completely liberating and not having to deal with a grumpy boss or office politics is lovely. I love being able to say “time for a break” and going for a walk to get an ice cream, or to visit a local gallery for inspiration.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Hopefully I will have explored the export markets more, and expanded my product range quite considerably. A little Mellor Ware shop would be lovely and I would like to have a Mellor Ware factory where we make all china on site!
What would you say to any makers starting out?
Focus on doing one thing well, don’t try and be everything to everybody. Once you’ve found your place in the market, then you can begin to expand into other products. Us creative types tend to get a bit over excited and want to do everything at once, but this usually spells disaster. Test the market and keep knocking on doors, if you have a high quality unique product that customers want, doors will eventually start to open for you, just keep trying!
Lianne’s full collection can be seen in her Folksy shop Mellor Ware.