Talk us through your collection.
First there are my illustrations, which are mainly of Strange Birds or other strange bird-like creatures. I love the birds on bikes a lot and really want to draw some more, but right now I have a bigger urge to create patterns and I can’t seem to stop. The patterns on my bags at the moment are simple, abstract designs. I digitally print them on to linen fabric, which I then sew into the bags. But watch this space because I have lots of new patterns and ideas which I can’t wait to started on later this month!
How did you get started as a designer-maker and is it a full time job?
I studied theatre designs at Foundation level and ceramics at Falmouth School of Art (where the strange bird was first drawn.) I then ended up working for years in catering, selling olives, and running my own café – but it was a backbreaking business and there were children to be had. When my son was a baby I embarked on a project to write and illustrate my own kids book and used my time at home to study illustration. I took courses on-line and at the local college. I finished my book and sent it off to agents but no luck. At the time I was also making stuffed alien toys and felt broaches, which I sold alongside my illustrations at craft fairs.
This lead to the opening of the Strange Bird Designs Folksy shop and I got into the whole On-line-world of makers and artists and now I’m completely hooked. I wish I could do it all full-time, but I work around the school hours.
Tell us about your practice and making process.
I like to focus on one main job at a time, like creating a range of patterns or illustrations or sewing a load of bags. The smaller jobs have to fit in around that – like photography and promotion and updating the blog & website & shop and marketing and processing orders and designing packaging and framing prints (phew!). I like to do my writing and sketching in bed last thing at night.
After a lot of sketches, the making process begins (I do have some sleep in between.) I first draw up the pictures. I draw the illustrations with a fine black pen. Then finish them off in Photoshop. I trace my patterns straight to the computer then print and iron them on to pre cut fabric. I sew constantly for a couple of weeks to get a whole pile of bags made.
How do you plan your work – do you use sketchbooks or do your designs grow organically?
The designs usually come from my sketchbook doodles; I draw the shapes I love. Recent ‘great shape’ ideas have come from: a charity shop skirt, The Yorkshire Sculpture park, the old ATV symbol, tidal patterns and the castle gates at Haverford West!
The bag designs come from fleeting ideas of bags I want for myself., and staring at peoples bags in the street! After a few sketches I then make patterns and prototypes. The first ones are often quite weird and wrong! But if I think it’s got legs, I persevere until I get it right.
Do you have any crafting tools unique to you?
My old hand made misshapen pincushion is vital to the making process!
Where do you draw your inspiration?
From the groovy beatnik jazzer that is the Strange Bird, from the notions in my head and the things around me wherever I am. Old bits of junk, kids books, 70’s illustrations, 60’s surface design, 50’s modern art, and what I see in front of me, i.e. the Internet! There are so many brilliant artists out there doing amazing work they all completely inspire me!
But the main inspiration comes when people, friends and customers like my work!
How do you manage your time between making and the other commitments in your life?
On weekdays I stroll back from school along the canal to start work at 9.30. I crack on with things until 2.45. During this time I only allow myself to hang out the washing (very important if there is actually some sun!) There are lots of distractions and other commitments and sometimes I’m brilliant at ignoring them, but sometimes I just can’t. I also work in the evenings and have most Saturdays too!
What’s your favourite book at the moment (craft or not)?
Do you have a craft hero?
Do you have one great tip for other makers?
Great photographs! Buy or borrow a really good camera, paint everything white and use some lovely props. I’m working on this at the moment – I think it makes a huge difference. Also find some brilliant and supportive creative friends to have a makers brain storming session with (i.e. a whinge, with wine)
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In a big, beautiful, studio/workshop, with a shop and café downstairs. I’d like to have my own fabric range, a couple of books published and my designs admired throughout the land.
Want to see more of Charlotte’s Strange Bird Designs?