When the usual roller coaster of making and exhibiting changed into an emotional roller coaster designer-maker Olive Pearson adapted to explore new ways of working and selling.
Our Voices of Makers blog is a space to share experiences, information and ideas to support and inspire each other, and is part of our Rethinking our Rhythms programme. Please tell us your stories and thoughts – get in touch via instagram, twitter or online form.
My Normal Rhythm…
Three months of knitting samples and exhibiting at trade shows, three months of finalising new designs and knitting stock for the winter season, six months of non-stop knitting and selling at design fairs all around the UK.
As a full time designer and maker, life is a roller coaster of highs and lows as curated events, possible commissions and opportunities come up throughout the year, followed by gradual deflation, then disappointment or elation as results are announced or a project moves slowly forward. This is balanced by the everyday designing, making, thinking, marketing, selling and administration.
My year started really well with my best ever trade show, winning a Gold Product Award for my sustainable zero-waste scarves, which led to a feature with the Green Arts Initiative. It was promising to be a good year with new stockists, a design commission and other opportunities to look forward to. February and March proceeded as normal (manic), knitting orders for April delivery and preparing for my next trade shows in March and April. Oh how wrong was I…!
My New Normal…
This pandemic had its impact from the first trade show cancellation mid March, to the closure of retailers and events as far ahead as November falling like dominoes. My ‘normal’ had been replaced by a different emotional roller coaster. Panic – with the sudden loss of my ability to generate an income. Guilt – life was not that different as I have a home studio, could continue to work and I am used to living alone. Depression – my inevitable crash came in July, in part because I had been working too hard but the continued lack of human contact took its toll – just interacting with people at my local cafes and coffee shops has always been essential to my mental well-being. Finally, six months on, I’m feeling almost normal again as everything is slowly opening and I have a reason to plan and prepare for the winter season, albeit a very different one.
Initially I took a well-deserved break in April, which during lockdown just meant no work. When else was I going to find the time to clear my studio to paint the floor or get round to decorating my bathroom since my new shower had been installed in February? I decided to embrace the freedom provided by the lack of deadlines and declined all invitations to join in creative projects to ‘keep busy’ as I had an extensive to-do list I wanted to tackle without any pressure. Zoom coffee mornings organised by a number of groups including Applied Arts Scotland, were a real lifeline. Being able to see and speak to fellow makers made the surreal seem less so and offered support from informal chats to useful talks about opportunities and funding.
A successful grant application to Creative Scotland during this time gave me a short-term security cushion while I worked out my way forward towards an uncertain future. It was sheer luxury to have weeks of uninterrupted time to focus on updating, improving and adding content to my website. This was especially important, as although I already had an online shop, it only generated a tiny proportion of my income and it was now going to have to be the only source. I learned a lot in the process and have been passing on that knowledge to other makers building their online shops.
I was fortunate enough to have ordered cotton yarn for the summer season before lockdown, and I was now desperate to get back to my knitting machine. Knitting cotton cowls was the perfect antidote to all that on-screen work and this variety is one of the things I love about my job. It also meant I had new work to promote on social media, to help test out my new marketing strategies and features on the website. During my studio clear out I had come across some long forgotten materials and half finished projects. Having the guilt-free time to finish them was really fun and I loved getting lost in a different making process. I now have one-off handmade ‘lockdown’ notebooks, tote bags, artwork and leather jewellery on the website – ready for if and when I need to change my focus.
We are all having to adapt our ways of working to suit new platforms or comply with social distancing. Many events have moved online and that’s a steep learning curve for us all. We cannot dictate or predict when people will shop online and for me the vital human interaction element is missing. I really miss the general chat with visitors, hearing their feedback and networking with fellow makers. I’m not going to miss the endless loading and unloading, set-up and breakdown, invariably in the rain.
On the positive side, I don’t have the massive overheads for stand fees, accommodation and travel so don’t need to generate as many sales. Neither do I need to have a very large amount of stock, as long as the images are on the website to show the options I can knit to order. This also gives me greater flexibility for bespoke orders without having to re-order yarn so frequently. The biggest challenge will be how to best photograph my work without using models.
Times were already changing with people buying less and this pandemic has created a real dilemma for me. On the one hand I need to sell my work to make my living and although they are investment pieces, made to last, they are not essential. I have to consider carefully how I word my newsletters and social media posts to inform the people who are spending and want to support makers, while appreciating and respecting other people’s personal circumstances. There is always someone worse off than me and I’m always looking for the positive viewpoint. I’m aware I may need to change direction completely, maybe get a job that will provide some security and that all-important human interaction. I have made a start with that with hilarious consequences – but that’s a whole other story!
I’ve recently set up this new initiative to create a support network for makers and pass on my knowledge and skills acquired over my long working career, 25 years of which I have been self-employed. It’s intentionally a slow-growing project that requires personal contact and initially I have been contacting makers who, like me, work from home or in non-shared studios. With the threat of another lockdown we need to maximise sales from our online platforms and view the shopping experience from the customers perspective. It’s all based around personal recommendations, so if I haven’t yet contacted you and you would like to participate or find out more please contact me by visiting my website.
As I have no planned physical events for the rest of the year I’m hoping to continue to enjoy shorter work days and work-free weekends if possible. Deadlines have always been a great motivator so I’m making sure I set my own to keep me going. I’m still an over-thinker but I’m also a pragmatist and have learned not to but waste time and energy worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. I’m also more resilient and adaptable than I realised. Finally, texting may be quicker and more convenient but it’s so much better to take the time to have a real conversation with someone. I rarely laugh at texts or emails but laugh a lot in phone conversations and those have kept me going throughout this pandemic. Shouting and singing are currently not allowed but the powers that be have not yet banned laughing out loud – long may that continue!
Top image: HARRIS design cotton short cowls by Olive Pearson
Read the experiences of other makers: Voices of Makers #1: Carol Sinclair, Voices of Makers #2: Fiona Thompson, Janet Hughes & Kathryn Williamson, Voices of Makers #3: Jo Garner, Voices of Makers #4 :James Donald, Voices of Makers #5: Clare Waddle of Yellow Broom, Voices of Makers #6: Lorna Brown and Voices of Makers #7 Claire Heminsley.
We are inviting makers & Members to get in touch via instagram, twitter or email with tips on how they are rethinking their rhythms, whether working patterns, things people are doing, or info to share.
We have also created an online page where you can talk about your experiences and share what matters to you. We give you the option to be anonymous or to provide your name and you can also let us know if we can share it with other makers in our new ‘Voices of Makers’ blogs. We can’t answer specific questions but if we can offer any suggestions about something we will try and do so.