Jennifer Collier

November 7, 2014

Jennifer Collier profile

Image credit: Luke Richardson

Our designer interview today is with Jennifer Collier, a trained textile artist who’s work focuses on transforming everyday objects into beautiful new art forms. Jennifer’s paper-based work provides a fascinating contemporary twist on traditional textile design.

 

Do you remember the first piece of work you ever sold? What was it and who did you sell it to? How did you feel?

It was GCSE artwork to my teachers at school – work I am sure I would now be very embarrassed to see! I think it is ALWAYS a massive compliment to sell work, and I never get complacent about it, as no matter how small the piece, it means that person loves it enough to buy it…

 

3l watering can

Image credit: Luke Unsworth

 

Can you describe the evolution of your business?

I originally trained in textiles completing a BA (Hons) in Textiles, at Manchester Metropolitan University, in 1999. This was a traditional textiles course specialising in Print, Knit and Weave. Toward the end of the course I started experimenting with different materials, weaving with orange peel, melting fruit bags; all manner of things my tutors did not approve of. I honestly believe the best way to learn is by not being afraid to make mistakes, this way you allow yourself to have happy accidents. All of the techniques I use in my work now are things I have taught myself since graduating by experimenting with different media and techniques. Probably more than half of my work never sees the light of day, but through the other half I have discovered something truly unique. It got to the stage where books and papers were my main inspiration, so it just made sense for them to become the media for the work too. I enjoy nothing more than finding a cook book splattered with food stains or a water damaged paperback that I can save from land fill and transform into something beautiful.

 

Jennifer Collier_2

Image credit: Gareth Perry

 

What has been the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?

Don’t be afraid to have happy accidents and spend time playing with materials, as this is when you discover something truly unique.

 

2e singer

Image credit: Gareth Perry

 

 We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Where do your designs begin, and how do you develop them through to the finished product?

The papers themselves serve as both the inspiration and the media for my work, with the narrative of the books and papers suggesting the forms, for example a sewing machine made from dress making patterns, or a camera out of vintage photographs. I tend to find papers, by scouring charity shops and flea markets, then investigate a way in which they can be reused and transformed; giving new life to things that would otherwise go unloved or be thrown away. ALL of my work is handmade by me, and all incorporate hand or machine stitch. Many simply start life as a simple doodle in my diary. My way of working is essentially still based on the processes of my past work and my textiles training- making a pattern, producing a toile to check the pattern or template ‘works’ and then creating the ‘real’ piece of work from beautiful found and recycled papers. In layman’s terms it is a bit like then you draw the net of a box from scratch, cut it out, fold and construct it; but mine are much more complicated shapes…

 

2m phone

Image credit: Gareth Perry 

 

Please share a little about how your brand look and feel has developed over time?

This has been developed by my husband (and business partner), through Print Garage – before I met him I didn’t even have a website! The bit I enjoy is the actual making, so I am happy to trust others on the aspects I am not an expert in.

 

What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?

My husband is also my business partner, and we run a gallery, Unit Twelve  together. He does most of the admin, social media, marketing and branding for myself and the gallery. I also have an assistant one day a week, who helps with things like the mounting and framing of work, as well as preparing resources for art workshops, and dealing with customers at the gallery.

 

2a typewriter

Image credit: Gareth Perry

 

How has the industry changed since you started?

The industry has changed quite a bit, especially since the recession, when many people were forced into self-employment, so the market is awash with derivative or lower quality work. Many feel they have to be ‘commercial’ in order to make a living, but hopefully my work proves that you should blaze your own trail rather than sitting in someone else’s. What I honestly feel is there is no point making works like someone else’s, you should strive to make work that is your own- innovate don’t imitate!

 

What makes you excited about your business now?

That every day is different, as I juggle commissions, exhibitions, art workshops, R&D of new work, as well as the running of my own gallery- so there is never time to get bored, as you would in a normal 9-5 job.

 

Jennifer Collier_Gallery

Image credit: Luke Richardson

 

What is your creative space like?

I work from my own gallery and art workshop space, Unit Twelve that I set up in 2010. It came about through the demand from my audience to have somewhere that they could come and see a coherent collection of my work. It was initially set up as a base for my operations and a space to develop different art workshop ideas. I wanted to be able to offer a more rounded workshop experience than was possible with me simply going to a venue with a portfolio of images; now workshop participants are able to gain a much greater insight into my working practice, by being able to see my studio, inspiration and work in progress. I have my studio space set up with washing lines pegged with inspirational images, and work in progress on display – I always think seeing someone’s studio is a bit like looking directly into their brain- and both should never be too tidy… Unit Twelve has 5 other artists’ studios, as well as a gallery and a workshop space so there is a hub of creativity to inspire me.

 

Jennifer Collier_studio

Image credit: Luke Richardson

 

Which of your products is your favourite?

Whichever is the newest is always the favorite… until you make the next piece! Currently I am in love with the ‘Paper Arm Chairs’ I have just started making, as I am enjoying the challenge of making such large-scale pieces purely from paper and card.

 

What advice would you give to an emerging designer looking to follow a similar path to you?

Develop a thick skin, and even if people say no, keep asking until they start saying yes.

 

2q binoculars

 Image credit: Gareth Perry

 

What is the big dream for you as a designer and your business?

I am currently working on the idea of making entire room sets from paper – I would love to take over a stately home and push this idea further, where every detail is made out of paper, from the handmade wallpaper to the paper tea set with a paper tablecloth, plus embroidered paper napkins etc.

 

3g postcard cup & jug

Image credit: Gareth Perry

 

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Jennifer Collier profileMy practice focuses on creating work from paper; by bonding, waxing, trapping and stitching I produce unusual paper ‘fabrics’, which are used to explore the ‘remaking’ of household objects. The papers are treated as if cloth, with the main technique employed being stitch – a contemporary twist on traditional textiles. The papers themselves serve as both the inspiration and the media for my work, with the narrative of the books and papers suggesting the forms. I tend to find items then investigate a way in which they can be reused and transformed; giving new life to things that would otherwise go unloved or be thrown away.

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