Sianuska is the pen (and ink) name of Sian Kellaway, who makes screen prints designed to “warm your cockles”. She’s also a full-time mama and a “half-hearted housewife” trying to juggle it all. After living and working in Brighton, she moved back to her hometown of Manchester two years ago where she set up a Heath Robinson-esque print studio in her garage. We caught up with Sian to discover her tips for selling original prints online…
When and how did you start your business?
After our eldest was born I gave up my work as an art teacher to be at home with him. It was a lovely time, of course, hanging out with our apple-cheeked bundle, but after a year or so I wanted to do something for myself, something to stop the mummyfication of my mind. Before the tiddler arrived I’d been making prints every now and again in a local print studio and selling them locally, but with a little baby in tow I couldn’t get out to the studio anymore. Then my brother made me a studio out of a bit of airing cupboard and hallway, so I could make prints while the baby napped (thanks Bro!).
I wanted to reach a bigger, national (even international) audience because there are only so many prints a person’s parents can reasonably buy and display in their house (thanks Mum and Dad!) before it starts to look a bit odd. So I opened my Folksy shop in 2011 and, joy of joys, started selling my work to people other than my parents and I’ve been pootling along ever since, making work and selling it online. We moved back to my home town of Manchester two years ago and our youngest started reception at the beginning of September, so it feels like the start of an exciting new chapter in my life and business.
How and where do you sell your work? Have you tried selling your work wholesale?
I mostly sell online. I have exhibited and sold my work through local galleries, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Sale Waterside. One of my pals has a fab little shop here in Chorlton and they stock my Tiger Who Came to Tea (Alternative Ending) prints – they’re proving really popular with the school run crowd. I’m just getting to grips with selling wholesale – luckily there’s a wealth of information on the Folksy blog that has been really helpful when working out prices. Pre-kiddos, I did a couple of Brighton Festival Open Houses but, like most craft fairs, happen at weekends and I like to spend that time with my boys. So for now I focus on selling online.
How has Folksy helped your business and what do you like about selling on Folksy?
I love Folksy! People say that my art has a British sense of humour and eccentricity to it, so Folksy is a really good match for my work because it’s based here in the UK (albeit on the ‘wrong’ side of the Pennines) so it feels like everyone ‘gets’ my jokes and references (or perhaps they’re too polite to say otherwise!). The Folksy team and my fellow sellers are super lovely and approachable, and I’ve come to count many as true friends. Even though the site is growing fast, it still feels like a community, and the focus is on handmade means the work doesn’t get lost amongst zillions of vintage items. When friends ask me for advice about setting up their craft/art business I always recommend Folksy because I feel really valued and supported here and I know they will too.
Recently, my print depicting my alternative ending to the classic children’s book The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been a real hit with the mums.
Do you have a best-seller?
My Ambridge print has sold well, both to fans of The Archers who want to declare their devotion to the programme and those searching for the perfect gift for those tricky-to-buy for relatives. Recently, my print depicting my alternative ending to the classic children’s book The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been a real hit with the mums. The response has been a universal: “Yes! I KNEW she wasn’t as silly as that smug, red-socked daddy thought.” I’m going to have some greetings cards printed with the same design soon.
Have you got a method for working out your pricing?
It’s so tricky. I screen print a lot of my work myself using elbow grease and love, but most people, understandably, don’t know how time consuming and physical the screen printing process is. I like the fact that I’ve made each screen print with my own hands. But I also want my work to be affordable so ordinary people can buy it and have it on display in their homes. I usually charge a bit more for prints that have more colours or the ones that are signed and numbered. The Tiger Who Came to Tea print is giclee printed and in the future I hope to sell a mixture of screen-printed art and giclee prints.
How do you promote your work?
I have a Facebook page, Twitter and more recently Instagram, where I share behind-the-scenes photos and videos, work in progress and the occasional discount code. Often customers have seen one of my prints at a friend’s house or in a café, and seek my shop out so they can buy one for themselves. Word-of-mouth and social media send quite a lot of business my way. Sometimes a customer will share a link to my Ambridge print on an Archers fanpage and I’ll have a flurry of sales. Now the kiddos are both at school I need to stop procrastinating and get organised with my business, sorting out things like a newsletter and blog.
Today was #thehottestdayoftheyear but it was also #lastfulldayofschool so I spent it in the studio finishing my new print #scorchio @folksyhq have just launched #wearefolksy as a place to find out more about people who make, sell and love handmade. So here goes, I'm Sian (👋). I am an artist and printmaker. I live in #Chorlton (the Notting Hill of the North 😜) with my menfolk. I have a Heath Robinson-ish studio in the garage where I screen print my designs while chain-drinking brews. My work is British (not in a UKIP-y way, I hasten to add!), it's a bit eccentric, sometimes funny and often typographic. The print like working on in this #timelapse is inspired by Victoria Wood's 'The Ballad of Barry & Freda', which is the first comedy thing I remember finding funny as a kiddo and which still makes me laugh now.
Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
I’m a fairly recent convert to smartphones, so I haven’t been on Instagram for long but I love it. Pinterest is ace for collecting and curating (and, less enjoyably, looking through my jealouscope at other people’s seemingly perfect lives, offspring and wardrobes). I used to write a blog but I’m afraid it’s been completely neglected since we moved to Manchester, as I’ve been prioritising settling the kids into their new northern lives (“repeat after me: bAth not baaaaaarth”) and making new work. I’ve been tying my clockwork brain in knots making a new website and I ultimately want to have a (regularly updated, promise) blog.
Is there anyone you think does social media well?
There are so many inspirational Boss Ladies out there! I like Junkaholique, Jane Foster, Lucky Dip Club, Selfish Mother (extra amazing for raising loads of money for charities), Gemma Correll (makes me laugh), Me and Orla and fellow biscuit and brew lover Nikki McWilliams. I also subscribe to The Simple Things and follow their social media accounts.
Do you do your own product photography? What have you found works well?
It’s so important to have good listing shots but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really pulled my photography socks up, finally arriving at my current (almost fool-proof) system. I take my own photographs with my Lumix GF1 camera, using a tripod as I have very shaky hands. I bought some soft box lights cheaply online, so I’m no longer at the mercy of the grey northern light. An ancient cinefilm projection screen that my gran gave to me years ago provides a portable flat white background, and, combined with a white shelf precariously balanced on chairs, it makes a neat set-up for my lifestyle shots. I remove the glass from frames to avoid reflections and distortions (thanks #folksyhour for the tip – why didn’t I think of that?!) and style the shots with houseplants, and carefully selected vintage nic-nacs.
I take my own photographs using a tripod as I have very shaky hands and some soft box lights I bought cheaply online, so I’m no longer at the mercy of the grey northern light.
You screen print in a pretty small studio. How do you manage that? Have you got any good space-saving tips?
My studio is in the garage and feels huge compared to the (almost) airing cupboard I worked in in our Brighton house. It’s all very Heath Robinson-ish and homemade. I’ve tried to use the space efficiently by making things multipurpose whenever possible (I expose the screens by making a stack of black foam, screen, negative and glass on top of my vacuum table) and having stuff on pulleys, so it can be moved out of the way when not in use. I’ve got a wall-mounted storage rack next to my vacuum table where I keep all the bits and pieces that I need when I’m printing, a wire with miniature clothes pegs for keeping inspiring images that I find, and clips to keep my squeegees close to hand. My drying rack is one of my all-time favourite buys. Before that, I had to leave my prints to dry on the stairs. A airy studio in the garden is a long-held dream of mine – I’d love to have a whole wall of pegboard with the outlines of all my tools painted on to it, like in the DT workshop at school.
My studio is in the garage… it’s all very Heath Robinson-ish and homemade. I’ve tried to use the space efficiently by making things multipurpose and having stuff on pulleys, so it can be moved out of the way.
How do you fit your work around family life?
I’m not sure I’m that great at the juggle, but I like the fact that my kids see me being creative, making stuff and running a business, albeit a small one. I’m quite obsessive when I’m working on an idea and just want to work and work on it but I can’t stay up ’til the wee small hours anymore because I know I’ll be awake at the crack of dawn. I think I work differently now, mulling ideas over and doing quite a lot of the development stuff in my head before I start doing any pen and mouse work. Now both kiddos are at school full time I should be much more productive but half-hearted housewifery sucks a surprising amount of time out of the day. I think I need a schedule with time set aside for idea development, making, social media and (yawn) laundry, watch this space…
I’m not sure I’m that great at the juggle, but I like the fact that my kids see me being creative, making stuff and running a business, albeit a small one.