Alice plates

Profiles: Eleanor Stuart

Eleanor StuartHomegirl London pays homage to Eleanor Stuart.  She’s a designer/maker creating charming, witty and wonderful illustrative work; alphabet letters featuring tiny people getting up to tiny things, a rework of drawings from Alice in Wonderland and a selection of original designs showing individual curious characters.  These adorn Art Blocks, Art Prints and Plates which are all produced in Britain using the best craftspeople; Master Printer in Norfolk for the prints and Stoke on Trent for the ceramics.  Working out of her parent’s kitchen in Richmond since March 2013, she’s managed to launch three collections already.  I caught up with Eleanor to find out more …

Q: Tell me about your design background.

A: I have been doodling, drawing and designing for as long as I can remember.  Having quickly established early on that a future in Maths and Science wasn’t quite for me, I spent all my time pursuing some form of art; be it drawing, painting, drama, graphic design – I just loved creating something.

I studied art throughout my education in various guises; from graphic design to life drawing, to furniture design to finally settling upon a BA in Interior Architecture at Bucks New University, to apply a 2D sense of design to 3D spaces and installations.  Having completed my degree I gained internships with leading event designers such as Jellymongers Bompas and Parr, Teatime Productions and Wonderland Events where I learnt that being part of the creative industry was where I really had to be.  It was whilst working with Wonderland that the opportunity of creating my own illustrated ceramics first came about.

Q: Why set up your business?

A: It all started after I gained a commission with The Telegraph newspaper through an events company I interned with.  The brief was to design a set of illustrated Alice in Wonderland plates for The Telegraph tent at The Hay Literature Festival.  When I’d completed the project, I realised how much I loved creating my own work and seeing other people enjoy it.  So I set up my business to be able to make what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted.

Mad Hatter Plate, £37

Mad Hatter Plate, £37

Having seen how much passion and hard work the people I worked with had put into their own businesses, I knew I wanted to do all that for myself.  A turning point came when I was asked ‘Do you want to spend your life realising someone else’s dream, or do you want to realise your own?’ and that pretty much set my whole leaping into business notion into motion.

Q: Where are you based and why?

A: I’m based in Richmond at a kitchen table in my parent’s house.  Although not quite the independent, cool artist lifestyle I’d imagined during university, living with my parents does afford lots of cups of coffee, the odd biscuit and buckets of encouragement during those days when you’re thinking if starting a business at 22 is the best idea.  So far, it’s been the best, scariest, most exciting and rewarding thing I’ve done so far.

Alice In Wonderland Cards, £8.75 pack of 5

Alice In Wonderland Cards, £8.75 pack of 5

Q: How many people work at your company?

A: Just me on my lonesome.  Realising nothing gets done unless you do it yourself can be quite daunting at first.  However, you never feel too lonely as luckily, the world of designers and makers is by no means a small, quiet one.  I have met some fantastic people who are incredibly generous with their time and advice including Jo from HAM who I had used as a source of inspiration when researching and deciding on the kind of work I would like to produce.  There is no end of fantastic opportunities for markets for selling; pop-up shops and events for independent designers.

Q: Describe your design style.

A: I would say my design style is quite fun and bold.  I like to create work that people have to really look at to appreciate and enjoy the quirky little touches I put into each illustration.  For example, my illustrated alphabet featuring tiny people getting up to tiny things is full of fun little things you may not notice until you’ve looked a few times.  Ideally, if I can make people smile, laugh and raise an eyebrow at my work, then I’m happy.

Alphabet Blocks

Alphabet Blocks, £20

Q: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

A: I draw my creative inspiration from various designers and artists such as Fornasetti, Banksy, Paul Ge and Jonathan Barnbrook who have quite a bold and witty edge to their work.  I rarely create a piece of work without running it past other people, seeing their reaction and listening to feedback; if they’re smiling, laughing or nodding appreciatively, then I know it’s a good design.  I’m also forever in and out of galleries to see new work and get new ideas, and sometimes I’ll just be strolling about and see something amusing and think ‘that would work for the letter F…,’ and sometimes, now and then, ideas just pop into your head.

Q: Tell me about your collections.

A: I have three collections; The Alice Collection, The Alphabet Collection and The Other Collection.

The Alice Collection: reworked illustrations from the original story of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  I draw them myself and they are reproduced via a method of screen-printing with lovely pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, where the images are then individually placed on to fine bone china plates, glazed and fired.

The Alice Collection Print, £15

The Alice Collection Print, £15

The Alphabet Collection: an original illustrated alphabet featuring tiny people getting up to tiny things.  I wanted to create an alphabet where people could recognise and relate to the activities my tiny people were engaged in, from A for Abseiling to Q for Queuing, with a sense of the fun and the literal running through each letter from A-Z.

The Alphabet Collection Block, £20

The Alphabet Collection Block, £20

The Other Collection: a series of original designs that all individually have their own characters, including a Girl who has lost her hot air balloon to a rather suave looking Abstract Gentleman.

The Other Collection Plates

The Other Collection Plates, £48

Q: What’s your fascination with tiny people?

A: I like tiny people because I like the idea that there is this whole other world of tiny people living among us getting up to exactly the same things as us, but on a tiny scale; even tiny people have to do their gardening and wait around in queues.  Everything seems more comical in tiny form and I do think people have a curious fascination with all things tiny; from The Borrowers to micro pigs.

Q: Which designer/artist do you admire and why?

A: I love Fornasetti illustrations because from afar they seem like just interesting illustrations of a lady’s face, but when you look a little closer you’ll see one image of the woman has her winking, another has her tongue sticking out, another has a moustache … I love this idea of taking an image people are quite familiar with and intervening with just a simple, fun twist.

Q: What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

A: I would be the first to admit I’m a bit of a control freak, so being able to make the decisions about what you do every day is quite exciting.  It’s stressful because you really have to manage your time and keep an eye on time scales and pricing.  But the big reward for all the hard work that goes into the less exciting elements of business is opening the samples of your work that you’ve spent countless sleepless nights over and seeing it look like a proper, genuine product.  I’ll never forget how exciting it was to open my first screen-printed and glazed plate with my logo on the back and thinking ‘wow, I made that happen.’  I still always find it slightly bizarre to be surrounded by work and products that were ideas just nestled in my head that I can now physically poke and hold and most importantly sell!

Q: What one piece of advice would you pass on to someone wanting to set up their own business?

A: Do it.  If you spend most of your time thinking about and creating your own work, and it’s not just your mum and dad saying ‘that’s lovely dear’ whilst other people give your work slightly more quizzical looks and advise you not to quit your day job with an awkward smile, then it really comes down to a now or never moment.  I would also have some goals set out at the start so you always have something you want to work towards; are you looking to keep it as a small business you can run from home and sell small quantities at the weekend, or are you looking to be stocked in John Lewis and Liberty?  I have always had a dream of seeing my work in Liberty, so that nudges me forward every day.

Also, in the words of the late Michael Jackson, ‘you are not alone,’ I can guarantee that whatever doubts and fears you’ve had, someone will have had them before.  Remember that there are countless lovely artists and designers out there who are only too happy to offer their advice and guidance.

Q: What’s coming up for the rest of 2013?

A: 2013 is all about getting my work out there and hopefully developing some new products featuring new tiny people adventures.  I will be at ‘The Crafty Fox Market’ on October 6th.

To find out more about Eleanor and to buy her products go to Eleanor Stuart.  Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Eleanor Stuart, special thanks to Eleanor.