Meet the Maker: Snapdragon Designs
Snapdragon Designs is the brainchild of two graphic designers, Shelley Rapley and her husband John. Originally Shelley was just looking for an outlet for her bookbinding skills, but given their design background, they began to expand their range and introduce new products, including their trademark storytelling jewellery sets that use acrylic triptychs to tell traditional fairytales and other well-known stories, and their concertina cityscape cards where iconic skylines are rendered in paper. We caught up with Shelley to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m Shelley Rapley and I run Snapdragon Designs Ltd, alongside my husband John. Snapdragon Designs started out as a way for me to create my own luxury notebooks and sketchbooks using the skills I’d gained working a bookbinder for a bespoke handmade portfolio company in London, but as well as hand-bound books we now make acrylic and pewter jewellery, laser-cut cityscape designs, as well as our new screen-printed products.
We consider ourselves to be artists, designers and makers as well as craftspeople.
How did you go from bookbinding to acrylic jewellery?
It started with cats. We have three cats and one day I asked John if he could make me an acrylic cat ring. Like all good husbands, he said: “Yes dear.” This sparked an idea: we could create sets of three rings that told a story through icons. The link to book binding is that most of our jewellery is themed around fairy stories or books – we originally displayed them on actual books with slots cut out. We learned first hand why you shouldn’t try to cut books on the laser cutter though – they set fire!
It started with cats. I asked John if he could make me an acrylic cat ring. Like all good husbands, he said: ‘Yes dear.’ This sparked an idea: we could create sets of three rings that told a story through icons.
Can you explain the concept behind your fairytale rings and bracelets?
We both studied art and graphic design for many years. This gave us an understanding that things work in threes (think religious art triptychs). When John made my cat ring he added a mouse and piece of cheese for just this reason.
Where did the idea for your cityscape cards come from?
I just woke up one day with the idea and told John we should make them. He said: “Yes dear.” (He’s a good husband). They are a simple concertina binding, something I’ve made in various forms over the years as a bookbinder and something I thought would work well as a sideline to the main books and jewellery. We had know idea they would be so successful.
We spend a lot of time thinking through the story we want to represent in our jewellery and deciding how best to show these
Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you go from idea to final piece?
It varies between products. For my hand-bound books, it’s a matter of finding beautiful fabrics and going from there, so it’s quite simple really. Jewellery is a little more complicated: we spend a lot of time thinking through the story we want to represent and deciding how best to show these. For some we sketch ideas by hand, others we go straight to the computer programme and draw directly on that. The most complex pieces are the Cityscapes cards. These start as photographs of the buildings that we draw over to give as close to a true representation as we can. This can take many hours of painstaking work (by John mostly), before we’re even ready to put them together to form the scene and make a first test cut.
The most complex pieces are the Cityscapes cards. These start as photographs of the buildings that we draw over to give as close to a true representation as we can. This can take many hours of painstaking work.
Does where you live influence your work?
Not so much the local area, but the UK itself, absolutely. The huge variety of architecture in this country, from Roman colonnades and Tudor timber framing to the Shard, gives a massive scope to the possible designs we could do. Add to that the speed with which our towns and cities change and it gives greater possibilities, provided the buildings are aesthetically pleasing, that is.
My garden studio is absolutely the best thing we’ve ever made and I love having a dedicated workspace that has a commute time of seconds.
Can you describe your workspace?
It is awesome. John and my dad, who’s a carpenter, built it for me in the garden. It was made to fit the laser-cutting machine and has loads of insulation so I can be super warm down there in the winter. It’s absolutely the best thing we’ve ever made and I love having a dedicated workspace that has a commute time of seconds. Plus our chickens keep me entertained with their antics during the day and I can go home for lunch or a tea break whenever I want.
What’s the most precious item in your studio and why?
It would have to be the laser cutter. Without it our business wouldn’t exist.
Who are your design heroes?
I really like Vivienne Westwood, Ron Arad and David Carson. John too likes Ron Arad but then tends to go for artists, such as Turner, Georgia O’Keefe and Barbara Hepworth, rather than designers. That said, he appreciates good design in any form.
Does it help to have two of you in the business?
Having two makes life far simpler, as we can divide the jobs and each focus on a particular strength from our own skills set. I’m the boss, so most of the admin, emailing and business stuff falls to me and John does most of the computer work and screen printing. The bookbinding is purely me, although John has been known to lift heavy things for me. I’m also the ideas person. We share the rest of the work between us when both we’re working, although when John’s at work (he teaches design and technology), I work solo. I suppose you could say we’re as flexible as we can be and need to be, and at times having two makes that easier.
Without a doubt, the best thing is having the freedom to make my own decisions about what I design and make
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
Hopefully it will be great! At the moment it’s not quite a living as John is still teaching full time, but for me it represents freedom. So the freedom to make my own decisions about what I design and make, that’s the best thing, without a doubt.
The link between our jewellery and my book binding is that most of our jewellery is themed around fairy stories or books
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
That’s a really tough question as we’ve had a few now. I was really proud the first time I saw our jewellery in The Natural History Museum in London. It was our first wholesale order and that was my ‘wow, we did it’ moment. Soon after that we went to the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate and we’ve now had lots more wholesale orders, but every time I see our products in someone’s shop, it shows they have faith our products will sell. There’s no feeling quite like that.
There’s a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi that John likes: ‘He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.’
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is the combination of good design and quality manufacture. We consider ourselves to be artists, designers and makers as well as craftspeople. There’s a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi that John likes – he saw it in a blacksmith’s workshop at Chatham Dockyard: “He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Get 10% off Snapdragon designs with the discount code FOLKSY10 – valid until the end of October 2016.
Credit: Skyline Designs photographed by Yeshen Venema