I'm often asked if I still make bespoke hand-painted stationery, especially for events. The short answer is yes, I'll happily paint patterns and motifs for all kinds of things. (More about my bespoke service here). However my time is limited and I cannot accept every request, so do get in touch to ask about availability. Meanwhile, I've put together this post to celebrate some lovely past projects, alongside the full story of how my 'post pandemic' work is evolving.
If you've followed me since 2015 you'll know a main focus for my painted patterns was decorative stationery. But if you've followed for longer then you know I actually started by making textiles and homeware, fresh from art school in 2013. Last year I returned to creating fabric and wallpaper in my handmade prints again. You could call it a 'pivot' but to me it feels like coming home - back to making the things I've always loved and studied and dreamed of.
So whether you're new here, or an old friend, I thought you might like to hear some more about the journey. (Plus it's a great excuse for me to share my favourite FRIENDS clip - the one where Ross yells 'Pivot, Pivot!'). Make yourself a cuppa, enjoy some Ross, then I'll get stuck into how a one-off comment form a John Lewis buyer changed my whole business. And how a one-off comment from a Fellow at LSE changed it back again. (Not to mention the contemplative power of a lockdown maternity leave)... (If you can't see the video click the link above).
I was pretty cheeky as a new grad and determined to see my new textile collections stocked high and low, I set up meetings with the best homeware buyers. I even cornered Ed Burstel in a toilet at Liberty (seriously!). Liberty used to run amazing call-out days for designers and it was a lot of fun.
I asked everyone for advice, from Emma Bridgewater who told me 'it's bloody hard work', to a buyer at John Lewis who said 'start with stationery'. I had just presented her with my new collection of textiles and tableware, but when she asked how quickly I could scale, it became clear I actually needed to start much smaller. It was good advice because I spent the next few years growing my name organically with little risk. Bespoke stationery could be made to order which meant I enjoyed the process without worrying about any overheads and continue honing my craft as a one-gal-band. Custom wedding stationery was having a heyday and I had so much fun working with The Most Curious Wedding Fair as an exhibitor and later on some hand-painted lettering.
My work has evolved alongside my life, such is the way for most artists and solo business owners. As family responsibilities grew, I wanted to create something a little more consistent. In 2019 I decided to meet with stockists again, rather than focus on bespoke projects, which are so enjoyable but also time-consuming. I took a small collection of painterly cards and cushions to exhibit at the gifting trade show, Top Drawer. There I found all kinds of like-minded contacts and the confidence to slowly return to my vision: a collection of homeware.
But then along came 2020! A wedding (probably the last in the country), a baby and a maternity leave spent on lockdown later, the world was a bit different. Nobody's life went much to plan that year and learning to 'pivot' like Eric Ries went mainstream. I stuck with small scale because I was quite literally stuck at home, sharing a desk with my husband and his endless Zoom meetings!
But good things can come from unexpected circumstances. I turned my greetings cards into letterbox gift sets which featured in Vogue. I partnered with award-winning food writer Rosie Birkett to create a set of recipe cards that sold out in a flash and raised funds for food banks. Once my baby arrived, I spent nap times painting flowers, which led to The Language of Flowers set and then a fabric collaboration! The Nina baby muslin in my Irises print was born.
Maternity leave can be a surprisingly fruitful time for reflection. Strange in so many ways to press pause on an old life - and certainly the hardest work of all. But also a time to look back on life before and forwards to how it might be. For me, as UK lockdowns continued through the winter of 2020-21 (I sometimes call it the winter of discontent)... another surprising thing happened. I struck up a Zoom rapport with with my mother-in-law and her friend. Two wise women who's friendship goes way back to a life as1980s power gals and business consultants.
Linda is a Stanford alumna and now fellow at LSE, generous to share her business advice. But it was really one simple question she asked that stood out in my otherwise sleep-deprived, baby-brain...
What would you do if you could do anything?
Slowly emerging form my Covid baby-blur and piecing back together a working life was a bit like being 'The Hungry Caterpillar' in my daughter's books. I had been in a cocoon. Once she started nursery I found time to paint again and I didn't stop! I spent a lot of time painting in 2022, experimenting and deciding what direction to take my work next.
By the end of that year a small collection of wallpaper was ready and I had a fun few days in snowy Lancashire seeing it brought to life. By the New Year it was time to finally burst out of that cocoon and show the world what I had made - and what I intend to make forevermore! Fabric, wallpaper and homeware - in my hand-painted patterns.
So to answer that question 'what happened to stationery?' you can always still ask me about it, but it's no longer my main focus ~ I'm busy doing what I would do, if I could do anything!