Frankly, The Folksy Magazine

Meet the Maker… Rachel Russell

by Emily. Average Reading Time: about 5 minutes.


How did you get started as a designer-maker and is it a full time job?

Design is my full time job but I don’t spend all my time designing and making things to sell on Folksy. Most of my time is spent working on graphic design commissions for companies and wedding clients. I started illustrating and working for myself when I left my job as a graphic designer to move to Rome for a year with my then boyfriend, now husband. I had some time to think about what I really wanted to do and began to build up a portfolio of work that I was really proud of. By the time we moved back to England my plans were in place and I couldn’t wait to start making and selling my work. I registered as self employed and haven’t looked back. I really love being my own boss!

HelloWilson_Rachelb&w LittleFrog_30x30

Talk us through your collection.

All of my collection features heavily patterned illustrations, most often of sea creatures such as octopuses and seahorses. I love combining hand drawn line art with bold block colour. The majority of my collection is made up of printed paper products like prints and greetings cards but I do sell two tea towel designs which I love. I think they’re the ultimate in affordable art, they look amazing ironed and framed.

Tell us about your practice and making process.

For me my process is about getting away from my computer for a few hours. I can’t work without the radio or a podcast playing (I’m addicted to the 5Live film review). Once I’ve got the basic shape of my illustration (often the trickiest part) I can relax and let the design develop. In terms of seeing my illustrations realised as products I have a few printers that I always return to.

HelloWilson_Sketchbooks2 IllustrationPostcard

How do you plan your work – do you use sketchbooks or do your makes grow organically? 

I jot down lots of ideas and will make very quick sketches. In the first instance I’m interested in creating an interesting overall shape as this is the basis for my most successful illustrations. Once I have that the patterning is very organic and unplanned. I just make marks as they feel right. For the colours I’ll collect bits and pieces in real life or on Pinterest with colours that inspire me.

Do you have any tools unique to you?

My tools are really boring I’m afraid! A pencil, rubber, fine liner, scanner and a laptop. I even draw onto plain old computer paper a lot of the time as it gets scanned anyway. Psychologically I think drawing on cheap paper is often helpful, it’s easy to get stage fright staring down at an expensive piece of paper or sketchbook. If I make a mistake on cheaper paper I just start again.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

Some of my favourite pieces have been inspired by trips to the zoo. The amphibian and reptile houses are an endless source of inspiration – no two tiny frogs or lizards are the same.

I’m also inspired by other people’s suggestions. Occasionally other people will ask me if I’ve thought of drawing this or that and I often will have a go. I like the challenge. I’m a designer rather than an artist and I enjoy producing something to a brief, something that someone else wants to use or hang in their home.

How do you manage your time between making and the other commitments in your life?

Not always very well! Although design is my full time job it’s hard to make time for illustration when you have paying clients expecting work on time. I have to remind myself that illustrating is part of my job too as it some times feels like I’m skiving off when I sit down to draw. In terms of being self employed I am reasonably strict with myself about working hours. I try to avoid working at weekends too often, although weekends and bank holidays can be a great time to be more creative when you don’t have the pressure of your inbox!

OctopusPrint Rachel_Desk

Do you have a craft hero?

I think the people I most admire in this field are not simply the talented designers and makers but ones who are business people too. The people who can be making something amazing from a pile of fabrics one minute and then doing their accounts and mastering the art of effortless social networking the next.

Do you have one great tip for other makers?

Before you spend anything on your business ask yourself if you really need to or if there’s a way you can do it for less or for free. Being on a budget shouldn’t be seen as a handicap, see it as another great use for your creativity. If you can’t afford to print stickers for your packaging make yourself a stamp. Use reclaimed materials rather than buying new and make a selling point of it. Spending more money doesn’t make your product better or more authentic. You don’t need very much money to start a craft business.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Gosh… in 5 years time I’d love to see HelloWilson continue to grow and to be reaping the rewards of all the little lessons I’m currently learning about running a design business. It would be great to continue to experiment and evolve my style as well as the type of products I offer. There are lots of aspects of running a business that I enjoy but perhaps by then I will be able to outsource things that I don’t enjoy so much in order to focus on the more creative elements of what I do.

I hope I can also continue to enjoy the flexibility that working for yourself offers. What I really hope for is to build not just a career but a lifestyle around what I do.

Oh, and I’d also like a bigger work space!

You can see more of Rachel’s work in her Folksy Shop HelloWilson.