Inspired by... blog

Fashion, film, design and all things creative at the British Library


Spotlighting collections you would’ve never thought would be in a library and the creative people who use them. Follow us @BL_Creative. Find inspiration for your next creative project in our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK - 2 May – 19 August 2014. Read more

22 July 2014

Made with the British Library - Illustrator Eleanor Stuart on business and inspiration

Add comment Comments (0)

We love it when illustrators find inspiration in our collections and create new products. Eleanor Stuart did just that with her Alice in Wonderland-inpsired ceramics. Since our last interview with her back in August her business has taken off and here she tells us all about it. 

Made with the British Library  Watch more videos of people who have been inspired at the British Library to create something new.

How has your business has grown since the success of PopUp Piccadilly last August?

Since PopUp Piccadilly the business has grown beyond what I could have imagined this time last year when I started. I always wanted to work with great British retailers and when I started I imagined that one day, many years in the future, I might work with places such as the British Library, Liberty, the Royal Academy and Somerset House and yet within my first year I’ve been lucky enough to work with them all so I have to pinch myself sometimes!

I’ve also designed two new collections since Piccadilly which has been great to flex my illustrator fingers trying out new styles of illustration; my Animal Collection in particular was an exciting new abstract style of illustration for me which has proven to be successful so far – it even caught the eye of Rick Stein’s team who loved the Octopus and Seahorse so much they commissioned a Lobster and Crab so they could stock a whole sea-life inspired range in their Padstow shop, so what started as an exotic collection of animals now also includes a humble crab and lobster!

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your Animal Collection? I love the seahorse!

The Animal Collection was born from a humble doodle. I had been toying with the idea of creating a series of illustrated animals for a while but couldn’t quite imagine how I wanted them to look, and then one eve in December I drew the outline of an elephant and started to draw shapes and lines within it and as it came together I realised I really loved the abstract and detailed quality to the drawing as I love quite simple and geometric shapes.

I was keen to explore exotic animals as they tend to have more unusual shapes, patterns and vivid colours which was perfect for my simple and abstract style of drawing. After going through an entire alphabet of animals I finally settled on my final six – an Antelope, Flamingo, Octopus, Parrot, Peacock and Seahorse and on Christmas Day, I started drawing the Antelope in the morning and by Boxing Day morning finished off the final line of the Seahorse and an Animal Collection was born! 

Some designers create work in line with trends. Do you keep up with trends or do you just create what you like and let your work sell itself?

Very much the latter! I think as an illustrator, and for any creative person, it’s important to at least start from a point of creating what you love, otherwise you will forever be chasing trends and you’ll never really develop your own confident style. I think from that point onwards you can then introduce elements of trends into your work rather than attempting to mimic styles and trends other people have set; for example if neon pink was suddenly on trend it might be fun for me to produce a limited run of neon pink Flamingo prints, but I wouldn’t necessarily design a whole new bright pink product for the sake of it (my eyes couldn’t take it!)


Eleanor Stuart Animal Collection - fine bone china 

You're getting a lot of press coverage – how has that helped?

Having your pieces in the press is always exciting – I think the best moment I had recently was reading through the Metro and coming across a large picture of my ‘Girl with a Hot Air Balloon’ plates as part of a feature on decorative plates when I had no idea it was going to be in that particular issue so that was a nice surprise – if not a little surreal! Press pieces are always great for publicity and exposure and the more targeted pieces such as featuring in a weekend magazine interiors section can really directly boost sales.

Have you taken on more staff?

I have recently taken on a much needed member of staff! I’m currently doing a pop up shop in Camden and after working in the shop every day for five weeks I thought it’s about time I get a little help and so I now have a great assistant who works with me. 

Have your business challenges changed? 
The challenge now, having created a number of products which I’m really proud of, is getting the world to notice me! I think with any small business, particularly a product based business, marketing is key and with social media and a little press release writing savvy it’s not as daunting as it seems. It does have to be an almost daily consideration, marketing yourself and your work, because if no-one’s finding you no-one’s buying from you!

I also love meeting fellow small businesses at events such as fairs and markets and going to talks such as the recent Crafty Fox Talks where one of the speakers was the PopUp Britain and Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones who since PopUp Piccadilly has been such an inspiration and help to me as I’ve built my business over the last year.  

If you want to start or grow your creative business we have tons of resources at our Business & IP Centre. Check us out! 

14 July 2014

Kapow! Comic-inspired accessories by artysmarty

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Library Shop looks like an open page of a super-colourful comic book right now and I love it. Here I interview Angela Cuthill, founder of accessories business artysmarty, who's created a line of jewellery for us in celebration of our  Comics Unmasked exhibition.   

Kapow! birch wood necklace, £25.00 I have this necklace and I get a lot of compliments. Once a stranger on the bus leaned in to read it more closely and then touched it. A little awkward. 

Tell us a bit about artysmarty. Do you design and take care of the business side? Do you have a partner?

artysmarty is really a creation imagined and driven by me, so no business partner. I do all the design work and run the company, which gets pretty hectic at times!  I’ve had different helpers over the four years in business, and some of the boring stuff I can get outside help with, things like photography and accounting.  You can’t do everything and sometimes you don’t want to!
What has been the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of running your own business?

Lots of day to day challenges invariably crop up,  things that stop you from doing the bits you love, like dealing with the dodgy Wi-Fi provider and cleaning spray paint out of a carpet (true story) but I couldn’t really name one biggie.

I guess being creative on demand can be a bit daunting, but if you don’t think about it too much an idea worth investigating further will pop up.  The rewarding bits are thinking about where you’ve come from and the progress that you’ve made.  My first studio was in a basement on North Great Georges Street in Dublin that literally had no daylight.  I think making it to a south facing building has been up there!
How did your jewellery designs for our Comics Unmasked exhibition come about?

I met Duncan Sanders (British Library Retail Buying & Merchandising Manager) and George Gutcher (Buyer and Visual Merchandiser) at Top Drawer in London, probably about six months before we started to work on this project.  We’d talked then about some of the other pieces that I had in my SS2014 collection and how they’d tie in with some of the upcoming exhibitions.  There had been a few emails going back and forth after that (George managed to remember me via my bright red hair) and they asked if I’d be interested in doing some bespoke pieces for this exhibition.  I was delighted to put some pieces together, I love all of the art work associated with comics, it really fitted in with my love of bright colour and ethos of fun. Artysmarty_Brooch_zap

 Zap! birch wood brooch, £12.50

What kinds of things did you look at for inspiration?

I gave myself some time to take another look Lichtenstein’s work,  I remember studying him at college but he’d kind of dropped off my radar a bit.  I love his colour palettes and self-parody. The content of his work is quite funny and accessible.  I also tried to think of the essence of comic books, I think they’re a lot about action (sometimes violent action!), kapowing and whamming all over the place, so I really thought that aspect would have to be included.   I guess the colour was the other big hitter for me, there is a really distinctive colour palette which I wanted to use but in a contemporary way, hence the chevron and small triangle patterns.
If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

The ability to keep my feet warm in any temperature.
Do you read comics, graphic novels? If so, do you have a favourite or one you’ve recently read?

Not really, but I do love Calvin & Hobbs and Robert Crumb.  I was at the Biennale in Venice last year and he’d somehow drawn the whole story of Genesis  into a room full of illustrations.  Wowzer!

Kapow! resin and mixed media earrings, £15.00

Can you tell us about your creative process? What’s your studio like in Dublin?

I love a good tramp around a museum of gallery and would take a lot of trips specifically to visit certain museums.  I had it in my mind to go to Russia this year and visit the Hermitage but might be a trip for next year now.

I go to Venice for the Biennale, love the cinema, and find nothing better than flicking through design and art books at the bookshop.  Life drawing has helped me keep up my drawing skills since college and sometimes I’d go to the Natural History museum here in Dublin and draw the stuffed animals.  Creepy.  Oh, and the studio is a mess. 
Your stocklist is long! I see you’ve designed products for the V&A and you’re stocked in Japan. How’s it all going? I’m curious what your bestseller is in Japan!

Been a really busy start to the year alright, but it does take a while to get a good client list and get your brand / brand recognition out there.  The Japanese audience is a bit different, as you’d imagine, and I’ve done quite a few pieces specifically tailored to them.  This season it’s been a ‘gem series’ of earrings but they also have a love of nature inspired pieces.  If I had to pick one bestseller it would have to be the ‘bird’ series of necklaces and brooches, they’re really colourful and easy to wear.

Check out artysmarty's AW2014 collection:

Artysmarty_acorn necklaces  Artysmarty_mountain brooch
Artysmarty_tree necklaces

If you're thinking of starting a creative business or want to grow the one you have now, check out our Business & IP Centre. We have loads of resources - from market research databases to workshops on how to write a business plan and increase sales.    

30 June 2014

Emma Hayley: the UK graphic novel market and how to pitch to publishers

Add comment Comments (0)

#CreateUK week began this afternoon and will celebrate the phenomenal success of the UK creative industries which generates £8 million per hour for the UK economy and continues to go from strength-to-strength. 

One strength is definitely the rise of comics and graphic novels. We're seeing a lot of creatives come to our Comics Unmasked exhibition and our first ever series of short courses on creating graphic novels has sparked a lot of interest. Emma Hayley, publisher and managing director at independent publishing house SelfMadeHero, tells us just what's going on in today's graphic novel market and gives aspiring graphic novelists and artists some tips on how to pitch to publishers. 

Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou
Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou

The value of the UK comic book and graphic novel market has risen by almost one thousand per cent in the last ten years, and is continuing to grow. We've seen general book shops (not just comic book shops) embracing the medium with hugely expanded graphic novels sections.

In 2012 Mary and Bryan Talbot's a graphic novel Dottor of Her Father's Eyes (on display in the Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition) won in the best biography category at the Costa Book Awards; this was the first year that two graphic novels were nominated for the award. As well as this, 2013 saw two British creators gaining recognition at the long-established and prestigious Angouleme International Comic Festival in France.  

Also in 2013, the Edinburgh Book Festival embraced the medium by having a special focus on comic books and graphic novels with their series of events called 'Stripped'. And with new comic book events popping up, such as The Lakes International Comic Art Festival last October, and attendance booming at already established festivals like Thought Bubble (where the first British Comic Awards began in 2012), we are witnessing a very exciting period in the UK's comics and graphic novel scene.

This year, the British Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition is further testament to the fact that the UK is thirsty for the medium. With comics and graphic novels becoming firmly entrenched in popular culture, publishers of the medium are enjoying a new dawn in publishing. It wasn't that long ago that British creators had to look to Europe or the US for commissions, but now creators are seeing their work commissioned more and more by UK-based publishers. 

Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot
Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot

If you've got an idea for a graphic novel and you want to pitch it to a publisher, then study the publisher's website and see what kind of books they release. If your idea fits in with one of their series (make sure that you don't send a superhero pitch to a publisher that never publishes superhero stories!), then I would recommend sending them a synopsis, with around eight pages of sequential art fully finished and lettered to the publisher's email or postal address. Some publishers may have some specific submissions guidelines on their website, so you should follow these if they do.

If you want to send your pitch by email and you don't get a response, then try posting your pitch. Publishers receive a lot of pitches every day, so find a way of making yours stand out. It's always worth sending  a follow-up email a few weeks later to at least check that they received the pitch. If you don't hear back from them, don't get disheartened, editors are busy and not every submission can always get a response, in spite of best intentions. It doesn't necessarily mean your pitch is substandard, the publisher may have just decided not to take it any further for other reasons.

Try and make as many connections as possible by going to comic cons and festivals throughout the year. Meet and share ideas with other artists. Show publishers and editors your portfolio if you can. If you're a writer bursting with ideas then try and find an artist to partner up with. If you're an artist but your strength isn't writing, then find an appropriate writing buddy.

Read as many comics and graphic novels as you can, and attend as many events as you can. Monthly events like 'Process' at Gosh! Comics is a good starting point. It's a friendly and welcoming industry and you can find the encouragement that you need by sharing your ideas. 

Thanks Emma!

You can pitch your idea for a graphic novel to Emma Hayley (and maybe even meet your future artist/writer partner) this Wednesday, 2 July as part of our short course Mastering the Graphic Novel - Pushing the Boundaries, From Pitch to Publication. Tickets here.