Discover more from Jane Foster - Illustration Matters
My background to becoming an illustrator and how I was first spotted.(Part 3)
Brighton to Totnes in Devon.
In 2010 My family and I left Brighton and moved to Totnes in Devon. I got a new website and set up my own mini screen printing studio in a small windowless utility room in our home. We were lucky enough to have a spare bedroom to convert into my studio and sewing room and I was within walking distance to a post office which had become one of the main boxes to tick when choosing where to live as I seemed to spend every day posting orders!
My partner made a cheap exposure unit so he could expose my images onto silk screens for screen printing, thus keeping the costs down if we did this ourselves. He became an expert screen printing technician. By now I was screen printing fabric to make into toys - this seemed like a natural thing to do, especially as I could test them out on our daughter! I’d spent several years designing toys for Clothkits so then decided to design some for my Etsy shop and also some toy kits. I would often combine fabrics from my vintage fabric collection shown below for the cats and pandas. (*Only the faces were screen printed)
We juggled looking after our daughter and when she started pre-school, I sat at the back of the sessions and stuffed toys every morning so she could still see me. It was wonderful as I got to be part of everything she did and I felt to privileged. I would make and stuff around 30 toys a day and remember getting a wholesale order from Australia for 300 toy cats! It was over the summer holidays and I sat stuffing these cats on the beach whilst Polly played in the sand! It got to the point where I had to start paying a few helpers to stuff the cats for me as I couldn’t keep up with the demand. They were quite quirky unconventional looking toys that shops in Japan, Germany and the US seemed to love.
With the internet gaining more popularity, it became easier to start to get noticed and to sell items. Etsy provided a great platform for selling on and helped promote me on several occasions buy interviewing me and having me on their front webpage. There was also an ethos of people wanting to buy handmade so this also helped.
In March 2012 some of my handmade toys, cushions and quits were used on Kirsty Alsopp’s TV series Kirsty’s Vintage Handmade Home and new book. I felt momentum was slowly building, or at least I was starting to be found!
Later on that year I had what people refer to as the ‘tipping moment’. Up until then, I’d felt I’d been really struggling for years to come to terms with the uncertainty of being self employed and not knowing from day to day if things were going to sell or not. Every morning I’d wonder how I could make money and what I could make or invent to sell. Not aways the best way to be creative but it was a necessity. I had to earn money to pay the bills. I think I had panic attacks for a year as I felt the uncertainty unbearable - my fear was always that I would have to give up trying to make a living from being a self employed creative as it was such a stress. I rarely gave myself time off and I think the longest break we ever had as a family was a two night trip away to Cornwall in a cheap second hand caravan, and even then, my pile of sewing and orders went with us!
The ‘tipping moment’ was an email out of the blue that I initially thought was a junk one. It was from a woman who worked for a company called WME asking me if I’d ever wanted to write a book. I did some research and discovered WME was a talent spotting agency that mostly worked with musicians and actors but they also had a small literary department. My reply was that I’d wanted to, but had never been asked. I think I thought that nothing was going to come of this but the opposite was true - I met the woman in question in London and she suggested we put together a book proposal to then take to some publishers to see if we could get a book deal. She became my literary agent and we ended up with several offers from several publishers and in the end agreed a three book craft deal with the publishers Collins and Brown, who are now called Pavillion. I was in shock and couldn't believe it. I think I developed insomnia for several months as I lay awake every night wondering what would go in the books, would they be good enough? Would people like them? etc… I think I had ‘Imposter Syndrome’ as on some level I didn’t think I deserved the deal as I was supposed to be a music teacher! Would I be found out?
In 2012 someone who used to work for The Art Group contacted me to ask if I wanted to try to get some of my work into Ikea. I submitted 10 designs and was thrilled that one was chosen - my collage called Fish Supper was sold for a year as a print in Ikea worldwide.
Also in this same year, our home in Totnes was featured in the Ikea magazine and online - nothing to do with the print, a complete separate company - they wanted to feature Scandi style homes in the UK and I was just lucky. We got lots of free Ikea stuff for our home and it was fun having the team in our home for a few days.
*Back in those days, I definitely think it was easier than now to get exposure in magazines etc.. it was a very different climate.
After the Ikea poster, my whole life seemed to be connected to fulfilling orders and as I was offering so many types of screen printed products, most of which I was making to order. The admin was incredibly time consuming and some wholesale orders involved lengthy courier forms to print out and custom labels. My life was becoming more stressful than when I was teaching as I seemed to have become a workaholic and was completely obsessed and tied to my work. I was so nervous and anxious before about starting my first book that I developed insomnia for weeks. I think my anxiety was around was it going to be good enough and would it be well received?
When I had to start writing my first book ‘Fun With Fabric’, in order to keep up with all the toy making, I took on a graduate art student who helped screen print and sew for me, a few days a week. I still did all the photography of my products, the website listings, orders, blog and social media. By now our daughter was at school so it I could work solidly from 9-3 and then 7-midnight when she was asleep - on average a 10 hours day.
My Fun With Fabric book was in two sections - half the book was dedicated to projects using vintage fabrics and the other half was dedicated to screen printing fabrics. Both my two passions up till now. The book was published in October 2013.
The book attracted some publicity in magazines. The magazine called Mollie Makes featured some projects from the book and continued to feature my work and toys over the next few years. I designed the free cover gift of a make you own sausage dog in one issue.
*I shall write the next chapter soon as Substack articles cannot be too long!
If you’re still here - thank you! Jane x
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