Joanne Macfadyen is a Jewellery and Metal Design graduate, leaving in 2010 who also returned to DJCAD to complete a Masters of Fine Art, which she graduated from in 2012. She is full-time self-employed, working as a practicing jeweller and the owner and co-ordinator of Tea Green Events, a company she started to bring together makers from around the country to sell their work at pop-up shops and fairs that she organises. Our interview with her is below:
Hi Joanne! We’d like to talk a bit about your inspiration. Do you have a recurring source of inspiration you often use?
I guess nature has always been a big inspiration and then also coming from Glasgow, Mackintosh and his wife, Art Nouveau, Gaudi architecture, yeah I don’t just have one kind of source. There’s probably about a million collections that I could do that would be based on Paisley pattern and nature and all sorts of stuff so, it’s quite a wide base!
So is there one place you go to for getting inspiration, do you use social media for it or more books and references like that?
I actually love Pinterest, which is maybe a bit of a sort of boring one, but then I also sort of love it. I find it’s good for general inspiration, but it’s good for stuff that also isn’t necessarily expected. I quite like that little exploration of clicking on something and seeing what’s linked to that and discovering like that. But also going and seeing exhibitions, I just saw the Mucha exhibition at the Kelvingrove and he’s been a big inspiration so actually seeing that close up was amazing. Also though, architecture is one that’s not necessarily linked into my work, but it’s always something I’ve been interested in and that probably links into Tea Green and spaces maybe subconsciously without realizing that. I think I’m just one for always looking up, I’m always focusing on the details rather than just looking where I’m going. I’m just a bit of a wandering daydreamer to be honest with you, I’m the one on holiday, I’m always the one saying “Can you just stop so I can take a picture of this nice bit of floor?” or “Oh that’s a nice bit of flaky paint!”
And you mentioned Arte Nuevo and Gaudi, if there was an artist or designer that had really inspired you, would that be the ones you go to do you think?
Yeah, I think so! That whole movement and what it stood for and then the arts and crafts movement as well, it’s all kind of links into my work. And there’s a whole range or artists from Aubrey Beardsley to Mackintosh, so the style is a real influence but also the individual styles…
Like you love the style of the movement as a whole but also you can into particular artists work and pick out the bits you like and inspired by?
Yeah, there’s just something so whimsical and romantic about it, which I think I really translate into my work without sort of being conscious of it.
Okay, so these next few questions are more generally about jobs and how you go about earning a living from your work. After you graduated, what did you do, in between your graduation and your masters? How quickly after did you manage to find work?
I actually worked for a place selling kitchens and home wear, so totally unrelated. I guess part of it was I’d moved up to Dundee and I was living on my own so I had to quite quickly just sort of figure out how to pay my rent, there wasn’t a sort of grace period. So I fell into a full-time job and the plan at that point was to use my two days off to focus on the jewelery and develop that and find stockists and be making. I still had a workshop, a bench in my living room so I was doing it from home. But then within that, I had a full-time job and also doing some waitressing for a few months just before I started my masters. I’ve definitely had points where I’ve been juggling quite a lot of jobs. But then I made a conscious decision when I realized working full time and doing the jewellery in my two days off, they weren’t days off anymore. I wasn’t getting any time away and it was starting to make the jewellery feel a bit like a chore. I was struggling to do both, so I think I did go part-time in waitressing towards the end of that year, to give myself more time to commit myself to the jewellery, which made me want to go back and do the masters.
So you do commissions as well as pieces, so do you find people come to you with an idea rather or come to you for your work?
I’ve always developed my own collection and made pieces but actually, until I went into Vanilla Ink, the pieces were all just one offs, and then when I had stockists looking for work, I would pull together items because it all kind of had a similar aesthetic that made it work together. I didn’t make all of the same things all of the time because I like to play and sit at the bench and that’s what I’m all about. But when I work with people, those pieces can be in my own style or something completely different.
Does it vary how much input you get into commissioned pieces depending on what they want?
I guess there are two different kinds of people. The majority of commissions that I’ve done have been someone coming in with an idea and they want something specific, and I will pull together ideas based on the brief they give me; it won’t necessarily be tied into my aesthetic. It depends what they’re looking for and I’ll bring in ideas. I haven’t really done a massive amount of commissions where people have come specifically to me, people have bought my work but it’s only really recently that I’ve got to the point where I’ll push my own style a little bit. Someone will come to me and unless it’s something really really specific that my style just wont fit into, I do tend to show them my work so that they’re aware of the style. Because if they haven’t seen any of my work before, they wouldn’t maybe even think to go down that route, so I’m trying to lead people more into that because that’s what I enjoy doing the most. But that is definitely more of a recent thing, like a few years back I wouldn’t have done that.
Do you actively seek work or wait for commissions to come to you? How do you find work?
I guess the thing with that is because I’m now so focused in on Tea Green that the commissions come when they come and when people get in touch with me, so I’m not out there actively looking for commissions. I do feel that this year I want to change that a bit, I mean Tea Green will always be my main focus but I need to figure out a balance between jewellery and events. I’m definitely going to make more of a conscious effort towards promoting my own work, I’m not quite sure what yet though.
What do you feel employers are most interested in when looking at your work? Is it your social media pages, your CV or portfolio?
Social media is a big thing, definitely, and that’s whats worked for me before, especially getting a good Instagram feed. Also making the effort to connect with people because if you’re on Twitter and talking to people who knows what will come from that? I’m actually quite old-fashioned though because sometimes I’d rather pick up the phone or send an email, or something a bit more face to face. But in terms of approaching galleries to stock your work, it’s just about having some decent images you can send, and I think a good website is important too. I don’t sell off my website at all but I’m happy with the way the website looks so you can always have somewhere to direct people to get a feel for what you’re doing. But in general it’s more about just putting yourself out there. I only ever got asked for CV’s if I was applying for something. I do have a page on my website as an ‘About me’ and it is pretty much my CV but if I’m emailing a gallery, I wouldn’t ever fire that away with it. Another thing about social media that I really like actually is being able to watch the process and work of a gallery and a stockist. A lot of the stockists that I work with are local so I’ve built up relationships with these people, so also there is an element of working with people you know you can trust, but I think that’s definitely a slower process because you do need to get a feel for who the person is.
So working with people you trust is important?
Yeah, it’s important for you to be able to see that they aren’t a fly by night. I have had bad experiences of galleries go bust and I had to really fight for my work back. It only ever happened to me once but stuff like that can happen and it happened to me early stages in my first couple of years, so being aware of that coming out of art college is important. I think I did eventually get the work back but I’m sure there were pieces missing, I’m sure they owed me money. I hadn’t really really chased that I don’t think I would’ve ever got it back. So just watch and be careful.
How do you cost your work/rate of pay? Is there a formula you use?
Yes and no. When I’m working on a commission for someone, you’ve got your materials, you know how much time it’s going to take you and all your other costs, so your asses fees, you work out your profit margin and you add that all together. Different people do it differently. Then you come out with a figure that sometimes feels too low or that too high and the only reason I can sort of say that is because I’ve got a feel for what’s happening across the board, and what else is going on, and that’s sort of something that comes with time and experience. When I’m pricing up pieces to go to a gallery, it isn’t purely based on what the metal was and what the time was, there’s always an element of a sort of base rate that I feel that my work sits at.
It also just comes with a confidence thing and a big thing for that and figuring your prices out is being open and working with people. And obviously I share a studio with another jeweler and we kind of use each other as a sounding board for stuff like that. And particularly with commissions because you’re not making the same thing over and over again, it’s always a bit unknown. Sometimes you’ve made similar things before so you know what you’ve charged before for that and so there is a sort of level that they sit at that you know. Often you’ll find yourself saying though ”Okay I’ll give myself 2 hours of time for that” and you add it up and they pay it and here you are six hours later like “oh my god…” . It’s hard because a lot of the time you’re doing something for the first time potentially, so things just take longer, and you also can’t just charge your customer for you not being as fast as possible at that skill. You know in the back of your head 2 hours is a fair amount of time if you know what you’re doing but sometimes you just have to take the hit if it takes you 3.
So if you were doing a commission, would you kind of ask the person from the start what kind of price they’d be looking to spend?
Yeah, you will always need to sit down with a client and get that basic information, take an engagement ring for example, you need to know what metal, what sort of stone they’re looking for and then you need to definitely know what their budget is. Otherwise you can come back with a quote that’s way too high and they say no, definitely not or you can come in with a quote that is lower than what they were maybe willing to spend. Obviously, you give them more for that but it’s good practice to ask at the early stages what they’re thinking about spending. Also if you’re doing something that’s completely off the cuff and somebody’s come to you wanting a brooch but they don’t really know what they want, you’ve got a nice open area to come in and say in terms of the design you could do all sorts of stuff. But you also need to know that they’re only looking to spend £100 because it completely limits what the creative part can be, so to do that creative part you need to know the budget.
Do you feel connected to the people or networks that were available in university? How do you manage to make new contacts?
Yeah, I mean we had a really good year, there were 18 of us all girls and we all got on really well. 2 of them now run Alchemia, a gallery in St Andrews so I work with them on a business level as well as a friendship level. And I mean I was also part of Vanilla Ink studios in 2012 and I’m surrounded by people still that I know from there. Even Kate (creator of Vanilla Ink), she’s my best friend and that’s all come from university. She was Artist in Residence when I was in my final year so we kind of got to know each other but the whole us becoming friends and me being part of Vanilla Ink was as a result of us both being at university in Dundee. So I do still feel very connected to DJCAD. I mean it’s quite interesting though I’m maybe becoming more involved in new graduates coming out when I probably wouldn’t have been before. But I also think Dundee has that thing where before you know it you’ve made a connection with someone by being there or knowing someone.
It is such a small city that it does feel like everyone ends up knowing everyone pretty quickly, or knowing people who know them and it does all kind of link in!
Yeah, 6 degrees of separation doesn’t exist in Dundee, it’s about 2, which is nice!
So when you’re working on jewellery projects and even with Tea Green too, how do you have that motivation that you had at art-college? Is there a way you translate that structure into your practice now?
The fear of not knowing if you’re going to have enough money to pay your rent at the end of the month is a big factor. Not creatively so much because I always think of post university as you set your stuff on your own terms and you can just play and make, but you don’t have to usually be done by this deadline. It’s a lot more fluid, which is both good and bad. Working with galleries and clients, when you’ve got to have things done by a certain date, they become natural deadlines. But that means you can find yourself with 4 deadlines all at the same time which makes it way more intense. At university I remember being so caught up in the grades it’s the be all and end all, it’s everything. Then you come out into real like and it’s real life and actually if you don’t do it it’s not just a grade, its your life and your brand. Just the weight of actually being a grown up and doing it professionally motivates you. Tea Green is a whole other thing though, I have to be super organised with that. I’m being paid to organise and it all has to run smoothly. So actually I have quite a nice balance, because in terms of the jewellery I set that myself and I take on the commissions I want so there isn’t the same pressure there. But then with Tea Green it’s much more black and white, things have to be pulled together and that’s a good thing because it helps keep me organised. I’ve not always been full-time self-employed, I’ve had jobs but full-time self employment is a whole other thing. When you know you’re the one that’s driving it and you’re the one that’s making the money, if you don’t work hard and have your stuff together then it’s not going to work. So money’s a pretty big driver.
So see when you were at art college, did you do any internships, because it is something that gets pushed but it’s quite a hard thing to find?
Yeah, no I didn’t actually. The only thing that’s similar was Vanilla Ink, it wasn’t an internship, I was the artist in residence so in a way I worked kind of closely with Kate, helping where I could. We did a KickStarter and me and Kate kind of worked together to put that together and then the whole of us came together to fundraise for that. I mean Vanilla Ink was pretty pivotal to be honest, to everything I’m doing now.
It was good timing too because after I graduated I went straight into Vanilla Ink and I hadn’t been doing any jewellery for the whole of the masters. So when I came out I was itching to go back and make jewellery. A lot came out of that in terms of confidence in my own creative practice and processes and what I was kind of capable of as a jeweler and an artist. Confidence in my professional abilities too, and also just the appreciation of that community, how much you can achieve when you pull together. To be honest, Tea Green was kind of born out of all of that experience, I’ve said this to Kate before that I don’t think I would be doing Tea Green if I hadn’t been involved in Vanilla Ink. I had such a full on year where we had achieved so much stuff, that you kind of come out the other end of it where you ask yourself “What am I going to do with this year and what am I going to achieve?” So I was sort of like, well you’ve done all this other stuff, you’re capable of doing it, so do something! It gave me the kind of kick to do something bigger and not just hide away, do something more than just making jewellery and give back a bit.
I suppose you have that whole connecting thing that Vanilla Ink is very much about because it’s a studio atmosphere, isn’t it? So you have that whole thing of getting people together and connecting and making as a collective but putting it into a wider context?
Yeah, totally, and having those people to bounce off of and also having the confidence to set up a workshop, move into a studio space and being confident enough that I can pay rent every month for it. All these are little things but when you’re in your bubble its like “God how would I manage?” But actually when you bite the bullet and jump into things, you figure it out. You’re constantly figuring it out, it’s not one solid answer but I think you get to a point where you feel comfortable with that! I think at university you sort of have to think that you know everything and you’ve got it all figured out, and of course at the back of your head you’re thinking “I don’t”. But you think that’s bad but then you get older or you get more experience and you realize that everyone’s the same and everyone’s figuring it out. It’s important to be in a place where you can sort of own that though and that’s okay! I think that’s a big part of the process.
So you’ve kind of mentioned before that you want to balance your jewellery up a lot more with Tea Green, is that kind of your plan for going into the future and going into this year?
Yeah, and not just on monetary terms, just because it’s really, it’s my love and I love spending time making and I’ve also got lots of other ideas for other things I want to make. It’s what feeds me and keeps me going forward, that creative side of stuff so it’s really important to me as a person and as a creative individual that I keep dedicating time to my creative practice as a whole. So yeah, that’s the plan! And also when you do think about making money and the best way to do it, Tea Green will always be a main source of income but there are only so many events I can do. So it’s also about me figuring out “okay, I either really upscale that” and I’m at a point where I don’t really know how I would do that or I keep it at a similar level and up it gradually as I go, or really try to up the jewellery sales. Because that’s kind of gone to the wayside, I mean I still make jewellery but in terms of putting it on the market, I really want to up that.
And I love doing Tea Green and the actual events are great because it is the accumulation of all the admin. That’s actually what a lot of Tea Green is, a lot of emails and a lot of spreadsheets and keeping all that stuff in order and knowing what’s happening. But then you get there and get to meet people and that’s really what it’s all about, and it reminds me that it’s not all admin and it is worth doing. Sometimes in the middle part I need to remember that but I also need to get better at dedicating a couple of days a week to not going on the computer, even if it’s just doodling in a sketchbook. And it also comes down to a live/work balance as well and figuring out how to be self-employed, because it’s great, I wouldn’t change it for the world but it’s really hard to switch off. It’s figuring out how to not run myself into the ground and burn out because it can happen so I feel like I just need to give myself a bit more time to refocus a wee bit.
The last question we have is what’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at art school?
That it’s okay to not know all the answers I guess actually and that it’ll all be okay!
So being aware it’s a process and it’s not like you have to leave university with all the answers like ‘right I’m going to do this and that’s me forever’, it’s a bit more of a process than you realise?
Yeah, big time! And it’s about owning that and being comfortable with that and learning to enjoy the possibilities that come from that. I mean don’t get me wrong, there’s an element of me that’s jealous of those people who come out of uni and they know what they’re doing and it all falls into place straight away and that’s great, but there’s also a lot of people out there feeling their way and figuring it out. And it’s fine not to have all the answers and not to know what you’re doing. If you keep your wits about you and are flexible and remain open to the possibilities then that’s all good and positive and you’re moving in the right direction.
Even if you don’t really know what you want to do I think that’s still important. I never thought I’d be doing something like Tea Green and it came kind of naturally out of being part of Vanilla Ink which I never thought I’d do either so just all these things have worked well for me. It wasn’t like I knew when I came out of university that that’s what I wanted to do, I came out thinking I want to be a jeweler, obviously, but I am and I am not and that’s okay!
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