Hey Magpies! This week I interviewed Yorkshire based illustrator Alison Hardcastle, who makes cards, prints and stationery. Alison’s work is witty, wise, warm and distinctly British. Read on to find out more about this creative Northerner as well as some helpful advice to those starting out in the business…
What drew you (groan!) to studying illustration?
I knew I wanted to do something creative but yet vocational so illustration seemed to be the perfect choice. I’ve always liked the communication aspect of illustration. It feels a lot more direct as it’s all around us every day and isn’t just seen by someone who goes to galleries.
Where do you find inspiration? Do you have a favourite place that continually inspires you?
Inspiration generally pops up when I least expect it. I do have favourite blogs, I’m on Pinterest, and I have favourite books that I constantly refer back to (like Print & Pattern) – plus I love Elle Decoration. I love it when I’m out and about and I suddenly see a colour combination, pattern, typeface, sign or image which inspires me. A visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park always leaves me feeling creatively refreshed.
You make everything yourself – why is this important to you?
The handmade aspect gives me control over everything I do. I like to mix the colours, make sure everything is done to the quality I like (I am certainly a perfectionist) and when I first set-up my business it was all about handcrafted artists’ books I made. Having said that I am in the middle of out-sourcing my card printing to an eco-friendly printer who will be able to replicate the finish and look of a screen print. I’ve made this decision as I want to free up my time to do more designing.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
The freedom of being my own boss has its upsides and downsides. I love having the freedom that working from home brings. I also get a lovely feeling knowing that I’ve developed the business all by myself.
When you first started your business, how did you go about getting your work out there?
I think I steadily gained stockists and this got me known a little in a few places. I didn’t ever set out to make a name for myself as such – just to get a few stockists so I could earn a living from what I love doing. The biggest change occurred after I did my first trade fair – Pulse at Earl’s Court in 2008. It boosted my profile hugely. Every time I’ve done it since it’s been similarly profile-raising and such a positive experience.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own creative business?
Be patient. It doesn’t happen all at once – or at least not in my case. I had a full time job when I first left Brighton. I did my own work in the evenings and started doing Artists’ Book Fairs. From there I set up as self-employed and left my full time job for a part time one. I left the part-time job to have Martha and have been fully self-employed ever since. My business evolved very slowly but steadily and I look back at this in a positive light as I feel it gave me the time to learn the business skills I needed. I didn’t try to rush things as I couldn’t afford to and I think that’s stood me in good stead in the long term as I appreciate what I’ve built up.
You studied at opposite ends of the UK (Edinburgh and Brighton) and settled somewhere in the middle. Edinburgh and Brighton- compare and contrast! And tell us what you love about Yorkshire?
I fell in love with Edinburgh on my very first visit. It has beautiful parks and architecture tinged with a greyness and grittiness, which I find so interesting. Everything is within walking distance – the countryside of Arthur’s Seat, the parks of the Meadows all juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Edinburgh College of Art is a fantastic place to study, steeped in history.
On the other hand Brighton is the complete opposite. Everything seemed miniature after the three storey townhouses and tenements of Edinburgh. Another city of contrasts though- the sea, the city, the lanes, and the backdrop of the South Downs. It’s a very vibrant place. I liked the novelty of being ‘down south’, the people, the seaside charm and the closeness to London.
And then there’s Yorkshire. It’s my home county and of course I love it for that reason. I’ve settled back in the countryside and I’m very happy with that. I have my family close by, York on my doorstep, and we live a stones-throw from the area that has inspired all of David Hockneys recent work. Yorkshire seems to me a very honest place to live and I like that.
Your Word Maps look really cool! Tell us more about the project.
Angus McArthur (owner of Snowhome in York) approached me with the idea about the British Isles Word Map. Angus has started designing and selling a lot of in-house products and he wanted to do a word map comprising of all the interesting facts and features of the counties and places within the British Isles. I loved the challenge! The first one was (and still is) very successful so Angus approached me again to see if I would like to do the lettering for the London version. He does all the research and plans a rough outline of how he wants it to look. Then I work on it laboriously by hand, using Indian ink, until it’s finished. They’ve both taken roughly the same amount of time – in excess of 38 hours! Further projects are planned so keep your eyes peeled for more Snowhome & Alison Hardcastle collaborations.
Thanks for sharing Alison, great to catch up with you!
Alison’s prints and products are available to buy from her shop here.