With degree shows in full swing, and New Designers opening today, I feel in a reflective mood. I graduated from my BA (Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent) three years ago and, as is the way with such things, the time feels like it has disappeared incredibly quickly and yet it also feels like an age since we were setting up for the degree show. It’s been a twisty turny journey; I feel like I have learnt so much but also feel like there is much still to be figured out. If someone had asked me, back then, where I saw myself in three years’ time I don’t think I would have imagined where life has taken me, but then again, I never really have a plan so I suppose I would have been open to the possibilities.
When I graduated I had no idea what I was doing. I had spent the previous 4 years (foundation and then BA) being unbelievably surprised that people would let me play and discover the joy in materials each and every day. That I would be allowed to just think and discuss, that I would be allowed to experiment and take risks. I loved learning the hows and whys of materials and their processes, I loved watching others create and hone their skills. I was interested in what makers thought about, why they made things and the techniques they used. I was less concerned with function, with outcomes and finished objects, at least in my own work. Perhaps it’s no surprise to say that I left uni with a final collection of ceramic and metal objects that did not have an obvious ‘place’, and whose audience I could not figure out. I knew I was not a designer, that I did not craft products, but I was unsure of the label ‘artist’. And, crucially, I did not know how to figure this out.
So, for all the positive experiences I’ve had as a maker in the last three years, the random exhibitions, the commissions, the jobs and the projects, there have been so many opportunities I never took, the things I was unaware of and missed out on because I didn’t know where to look. I left uni and I moved to a new town where I didn’t know anyone else who was a maker, and struggled to find studio space to make new work. Suddenly the network of makers I was used to depending on, for creative inspiration and input, for suggestions and advice, was gone. My slowness to embrace social media meant that I didn’t even have the amazing virtual network of makers that is out there. Things never really got going in the way I hoped they might, because I didn’t know where to find the support I needed. I bumbled along, trying to do it all by myself, when I should have been looking for help from people in the same situation and from those who were already on their creative journeys.
It took an ill-advised stab at a research degree, and a hiatus from making, to realise that things weren’t working. And it took support from other creative people to find my way back. These experiences have been a catalyst for me in the work I now do with emerging makers. My passion has always been for objects and making, but more than that it has always been about communicating with people about these things, through writing, through discussing. I want to know what it feels like to make objects, I want to understand how things work, I want to see your view point through the objects you make. I believe that the act of making, and of using objects that have been hand-made, connects us to the world in a tangible and sensible way. It’s all about connections.
And so, now, although I am currently a maker who does not make, I am working to connect people, to offer makers a way to speak about their work, to support them in developing their creative practices. Those networks and connections are vital for all of us, to keep us motivated, to keep us curious, to give us strength when we struggle and joy when we succeed. I am excited, looking forward, to imagine all the opportunities that may come from the connections I make today.