Today we have the pleasure of sharing an interview with Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design alumni Charlotte Gaisford.
Charlotte is a remarkable woman with a string of successful businesses under her belt, two fabulous boys, a recent first class honours degree in textile and fashion and a fabulous collection of colourful classic English look home décor fabrics and wallpapers which are a feast for the eyes.
Keep an eye out for Charlotte’s video at the end giving an insight into her creative process – enjoy!
What’s your story? Can you share a brief history of your artistic path to where you are now?
I have always loved art and I remember saying I wanted to be an artist when I grew up! Not sure if I have grown up yet! I did Art A level at a convent in the Scottish borders and my art teacher was a nun called Sister Loretto, she must have been at least 90 and spoke with a broad Irish accent. She knew how 17-year-old girls ticked and she was a great inspiration. Her art room was in a warm attic above some very rural farm buildings, we had to walk for miles to get there. Our A level work involved a great deal of embroidery which I still find strange today. All in all she set me on an artistic journey and all the jobs and businesses I have had have all been art based.
Before I was married I had a ‘paint effects’ shop and freelance business. In those days it was the height of fashion and I found myself painting walls and furniture all over the country and even in Europe. I also appeared in a great many TV shows to do with makeovers, I even did an 18 part TV series for Sky TV. I also used to teach paint effects and had my courses televised for BBC2 The Art show.
I gave all this up as I had taken it as far as I could and I got married and had two boys, Harry and Richard. When they were little I decided I wanted to earn some money again and I started an Internet business from a bedroom called ‘Crafty Computer Paper’. This business sold artistic papers and fabrics you could put through your home inject printer. It went very well indeed and 8 years later I sold it to a large business in Leicester. It is still going today.
you can get a long way by being honest and yourself
You’ve set up a number of successful businesses. What inspired you to set each of them up and how did you start out?
I have set up a few businesses and I have been lucky that they have been successful. I was motivated into making my own money and having a flexible job. I always thought I could never be properly employed but working for yourself you work harder and for much longer hours. I usually started out with very little but I always had faith and determination, which got me a long way. I make the most of every opportunity and have always been polite and genuine along the way. It isn’t like ‘The Apprentice’ where you have to be cut throat in business; you can get a long way by being honest and yourself. I don’t think I have ever had a proper job and I have never had a paid holiday, you just get used to having money when it comes in rather than a weekly wage.
Congratulations on your first class honours degree in Textile and Fashion! What made you go back to university as a mature student and how did you find it?
One of my big regrets was not doing an Art foundation course when I was younger, I had gone to university when I was 18 but did not get a degree as I kept failing the exams! I did a very boring course, Ancient History and Archaeology. I think I was having too much of a good time. Recently I had time in my life to take on a Textile and fashion degree and I wasn’t the only mature student on the course. I think I turned into everybody’s mother and even to my tutor who was only 27. I loved the course and it opened the floodgates of creativity and I saw another world in front of me. It was hard work but I didn’t notice that much as I was having such a good time learning about repeat patterns etc. Being a mature student I didn’t have to worry about running a student social life and having a constant hangover, I was beyond that.
You have joined us for a couple of ABSPD modules, which ones did you take, when did you take them and how do you think they have contributed to your success?
I thought the ABSPD modules were an inspiration and I have to say I was very impressed by how they were run and how much information was available. I had a module on my degree course called “Development’ and I took 2 modules to show I was learning a skill and could add to my development on the course. It helped me see what was out there as far as Surface designing was concerned. It did help me see a few paths for a career. One thing, which I thought was great, was the Facebook page and you could post on your projects and get some constructive criticism from the other people in the group. It was also great to see what designs other people were producing. It was money well spent for me and I really admire Rachel Taylor and what she has achieved. I feel so flattered that I have been asked to do this interview!
Marketing is one of the most important things to concentrate on in the beginning
What have been your biggest challenges to date and what would you do differently if you were starting over again?
At the moment the biggest challenges is the printing companies I use to print my fabrics. You really have to know the colours and have lots of tests done before you can commit to the finished collection. Then the base cloth colour will slightly change and the colours printed will slightly change. All my fabrics are printed to order which is a good think because I don’t have to hold a great deal of stock, the challenge can be the lead times. I have good printers now and I have overcome this lead-time problem but people were not prepared to wait 4 weeks for their fabric, now it is about 10 days. A great deal of money goes into testing and you do need to commit financially. Marketing is one of the most important things to concentrate on in the beginning. Good professional photos are worth their weight in gold and with them you are included in lots of different magazines. I have employed a PR person who helps with my traditional marketing; it doesn’t break the bank and is worth every penny.
How would you describe your style and how has it evolved over the years?
I come from an old British family who used to be British Diplomats all over the world, I would say I was Country house meets the British Empire. Some say I am traditional with a modern twist. I love colour, and find it difficult to do sober colours, they go against my grain! I am not joining in with the ‘washed out linen’ lot!
How do you juggle being a parent, a successful designer and business woman?
I am lucky because my children are away at school and are now teenagers. They are away for weeks on end so I have plenty of ‘my’ time. When they come back in the holidays, nothing much happens until lunchtime and I am really only needed to buy food and provide a taxi service. I really enjoy designing and it isn’t hard work for me. I am at a lucky stage in my life where I can juggle quite easily. I have in the past been the full time mum, wife and business woman and it was hard, that was why I sold my paper business.
Your press coverage is pretty impressive! Where has your work featured, how did they come about and can you share any tips for other designers looking to get better at PR?
The main tip I can give you is to spend money on a professional photographer and stylist! I used an interiors photographer and stylist from London. I paid for them to come up and do a days shoot. It took quite a bit of organising making sure I have made and covered all the things I wanted to photograph. What was good was the contacts they had and they knew exactly what the magazines were looking for.
What are you working on at the moment and what’s next?
I am working on my third collection, which I hope will be ready by mid summer. It is quite time consuming and I find the colour part difficult and I have to do a great deal of research and testing before I can commit to the schemes I use. I start off by researching and finding my inspiration. I want to include some ideas I got from visiting a museum when we were skiing in Gstaad, Switzerland. I saw lots of great Alpine paper cut pictures, which were so inspirational. I also have been inspired by some very old silk dress designs from 18th century. I collect together images and then I make a digital sketchbook on my MAC and make lots of files with ideas and drawings. I use Adobe Illustrator for most of my work.
What’s your big dream?
I would love to see my fabric in people’s houses and I really want them to enjoy using it. I want to go as far as I can and be known for my designs in the interiors industry.
Quick fire question round!
- Who or what inspires your work? Historical themes, objects that tell a story
- What 3 words describe you? Colourful, strong and kind
- What’s your preferred social media platform? Facebook but then Instagram, I still can’t get my head around Twitter
- What are your favourite hobbies? Knitting , crochet, cooking and decoration
- Can you share 3 things people don’t know about you? I am a twin, my twin sister lives in Sydney Australia. I have a fear of deep water, ever since I watched ‘Jaws’ and I can’t stand Olives!
Watch Charlotte’s video giving insight into her creative process here:
Charlotte Gaisford started her artistic journey being taught art by an 90 year old nun called Sister Loretto. With a string of successful businesses under her belt, two fabulous sons and a recent first class honours degree in textiles and fashion from Newcastle College, Charlotte’s creativity has been unleashed and her bold, bright work is currently available on a range of wallpapers, fabric, cushions and lampshades. Check them out!