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Making Conversation – Tash Goswami

by Folksy Support

This Got Me Thinking

Written by Tash Goswami of www.bletheringcrafts.co.uk

Natural Driftwood Beads Top Drilled

Image by Tideline Designs

Last week I contacted a Maker that I discovered on the internet, with a view to her doing an interview for my craft site Blethering Crafts. She replied, thanking me for asking her but declined because she was not formally trained, with only 3 years experience and retired. She had however exhibited her work in a local gallery and had done a few regional shows.

This got me thinking. When does one qualify to be a Maker? Do you become one after a period of formal training? Is a lengthy experience required? Does one have to do numerous shows, exhibitions and sales? Do you have to be young?!!

In the UK at the moment, many degree courses in Crafts are ending. Ceramics, Textiles, Glass, Woodwork, Jewellery…you name it and it is probably under threat. In the last year or so over 12 major craft degrees were axed. Yet the government insists that crafts are a valid and desired – however they argue that Higher Education is not the exclusive option to getting a Craft based career and that more skills based apprenticeship opportunities need to happen. Alongside this you need to take into consideration that for many people now, studying at degree level is going to be a very costly affair.

I don’t think that you must do a degree or get formally trained to be a Maker. I do think that for each Craft there is a set of skills that need to be learnt but that can be achieved in a myriad of ways, from reading books, joining a local craft group or doing short courses. In fact really, the way I see it, a degree is a great thing to do as you get 3-4 years of concentrated and focussed access to facilities, people, ideas and materials but these things can all be achieved without one. The bit of paper that you get at the end does not get you an exhibition, job or lifestyle – if you get those things it’s because you made it happen, not a bit of paper.

In fact, I think Craft has tried, in recent years, to validate itself against an elitist Arts world by trying to become like it, replacing craftsmanship with snobbery about whether it is craft or Craft and frankly it hampers individuals.

The joy of making is where it is at! Learn your skills however you choose, define yourself by your own values and be clear about why and what you do. Some of us will make work as a hobby, others as a living and someone out there will always like it and someone will not.

Craft in the 21st Century is redefining itself. Opportunities and developments are there for the taking. Can’t get a gallery to exhibit your work, create your own gallery! Maybe a pop up one in a disused space or in your living room or online.

Want to sell your work full time, get yourself armed with good business advice – it does not have to be a formal course, there are books, online sites and business gateways offering loads of free advice. Arm yourself with a clear statement about who you are, what you do and why you do it. Take the time to cost the work properly and charge real prices.

Create selling opportunities like an online shop – there are many collective outlets like Folksy, Etsy etc, join up and get selling. Or maybe do what I do and hold an open house sale event for key calendar dates, valentine’s sales events for men, Easter, Halloween, Christmas – you get the drift!

Stimulate your creative juices by going to artist/crafts forums, reading blogs, visiting exhibitions , watching films, TV documentaries, reading books, visiting the library – anything can be creatively stimulating!

Feeling the economic pinch? Then maybe look at how to diversify your business. Sell how to tutorials, create a craft makers support group, run training courses of your own, set up your own craft fairs and markets. Use social networking to gather a following of customers and interested purchasers.

And finally be generous. Share your story, your discoveries, the places that are holding sales events, funding opportunities and your knowledge. Be generous with yourself, trusting in your creativity and work. The old adage of ‘you reap what you sow’ is really true – you don’t get vegetables if you don’t plant seeds! Or as a good friend always says – “you need to believe in it and put it out there, in order to manifest it”.

Happy making!

Tash Goswami

Creator & Editor of Blethering Crafts – www.bletheringcrafts.co.uk
Freelance Arts Consultant – www.tgconsultancy.co.uk
Maker trading as violetsands – www.violetsands.blogspot.com

If you are interested in contributing to the Folksy Blog please email hilary@folksy.co.uk

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Charlotte Hupfield Ceramics February 3, 2011 - 8:09 am

I really enjoyed reading this with my cup of tea this morning! Thank you for posting, I particularly like the bit about a piece of paper not helping you to get exhibitions etc, I agree you achieve anything like that yourself :)

Taexalia Jewellery February 3, 2011 - 9:09 am

Craft is the act of doing and it has nothing to do with a university degree. I am self-taught and I think that adventure has just as much value and arguably more value than a piece of paper from an institution. My own experience of college art teachers left me thinking someof those people shouldn’t be anywhere near creative souls.

Victoria February 3, 2011 - 9:25 am

I’ve been thinking about this myself lately, sometimes I think I’m at a disadvantage because I haven’t got a degree in what I do but I think the organic learning process suits me better.

I’d rather get down to it that sitting in lectures I guess!

Michele Nicholls February 3, 2011 - 10:11 am

I trained in dress & design at College, then went on to work in Savile Row, where I had to unlearn almost everything I learned in College! My husband is an archeologist of some 40 years experience, and finds that graduates know nothing about the coal face of the work – field archeology. Real skills are acquired by learning in practice, theory, which is the basis of most degrees, is only a foundation, if you don’t build practical skills on top of these you’re only at primary school level!

Pat Cruse February 3, 2011 - 10:16 am

What a refreshing article!! Many years ago I went into a design course after school. It was awful. I found I couldn’t ‘produce’ to order…it stifled the creative process for me! It also changed my career path (speech and language therapist) but thankfully didn’t stop me from creating in my leisure time. My husband Mike is also creative and comes from an engineering background. We both have loads of qualifications on paper but none of these say we are artists!!

heather aka NiftyKnits February 3, 2011 - 10:39 am

Interesting piece. I’ve often read crafters saying they’re *only* knitters, *only* hobbyists or *only* wanting to sell to cover the costs of their materials – it can make people like me who expect to pay their bills from their craft sound downright greedy! I have a degree, but it’s certainly not in anything crafty. My knitting skills have developed over the years and I do now call myself a professional. I think, though, that we’re all our own hardest critics, so I understand where the lady you mention is coming from.

Anna Campbell - Light Boat Jewellery February 3, 2011 - 10:42 am

This really made me think, thank you. I do sometimes hanker after doing a long term course like a degree, mostly because I would love to devote that amount of time to my art and spend time with like-minded individuals. However, at this stage in my life it’s not a choice I’m willing to make (paying the mortgage would not be possible). I am doing the Higher Metal Clay diploma at Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery and really enjoying the flexibility their approach gives. Connecting and being inspired by other artists on the internet has helped too.

dawn bevins February 3, 2011 - 11:00 am

Great article. I don’t think you need a degree to call yourself a designer or maker, your work will speak for itself. I have a degree in graphic design, and although it has proven more than valuable with what I do now (photography, editing, branding), the actual products that I create now is all self taught :)

Sarah - Rocks Jewellery February 3, 2011 - 11:02 am

What an interesting and thought provoking post. I have been making jewellery on and off for over 20 years, I am almost entirely self taught. When I first started there just weren’t that many books on the subject around and courses were few and far between, so I taught myself by deconstructing jewellery from anywhere I could get it. About 10 years ago whilst doing a job I hated, I went on a silversmithing course, but didn’t quite finish the course so didn’t get the qualification. I do not in anyway consider myself to be less of a jewellery maker than someone who studied to degree level. Its about what you do now, not what you did 5, 10 or 15 years ago. And anyway the most important aspect of being a craft designer is the ideas and your personal creativity, which cannot be taught.

However all this is not to say that I wouldn’t have loved to study my craft for a dedicated 3-4 years, without any other worries etc, as well as the opportunity to meet other likeminded people, which I think is of equal value. As crafters many of us work in isolation, and to have that kind of network behind you would be wonderful. I think that in the current climate where a university education is going to become so expensive, degrees are going to become rarer in our world.

The point I’m really trying to make is that in no way should the lady in your post have felt that she was underqualified to tell her story and shouldn’t stop anyone else from turning something that they love doing into a business.

Bev - Bits and Bobs Crafts February 3, 2011 - 12:30 pm

I learned alot of my craft skills from my Mum, Grandmothers and Aunts and it was a great way to learn. Now I want to start teaching others – because that vital link seems to have gone. I also learn new techniques from others, books, internet etc etc. I don’t have a degree in crafts – in fact most of my formal study has been around nursing and social sciences – but it doesn’t stop me being creative or wanting to earn a living. In the end its the quality of your finished work that matters and the pride you take it in. I have considered doing courses at Uni but to be honest as much as I’d love the experience, I know I could never afford the debt. I think your article is great – really balanced and gives insight into all sides of the discussion :-)

Lynwoodcrafts February 3, 2011 - 1:03 pm

Great article!

I have no craft or art qualifications – I have a degree, but that’s unrelated!

I am not an artist. If a designer and maker is one who designs and makes then that is me. If people like my work I am flattered, if they are prepared to pay for it that is great. I began to sew when I was 4 or 5 years old. As a Brownie leader I am increasingly conscious that it seems to be a dying skill. I taught 12 seven to ten year olds to sew a button onto a piece of felt on Tuesday. They were given quite fine needles and half of them were able to thread the needles themselves by the end of the evening. All wanted to do more! Bookmarks in a few weeks! Passing on our skills is important. I’m not sure how formal that process needs to be.

Tash goswami February 3, 2011 - 1:21 pm

Thank you everyone for your thoughts and feedback. I am very grateful that you took time out of your busy day to read it and then comment!

Kirsten aka Quernus Crafts February 3, 2011 - 3:43 pm

Thanks Tash, this is a great article and very timely as well. Up until now, there seems to have been quite a lot of store set by what training you’ve had, which course you’ve done, etc. I was a lawyer for 15 years before I gave it up to create wee creatures. Yes, I’ve wondered what would have happened had I gone down the creative route earlier in life, but I know that my life up until now informs what I create now. And actually I’m quite glad that my creative impulses haven’t been influenced by how things ‘should’ be done. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for learning a discipline and the tricks of the trade – but creativity comes from within, and the best thing we can do is feed it in all the ways you suggest!

As for sharing your story, this is vital. We tend to have solitary lives, and reaching out and connecting with others helps us to feel part of a larger whole.

I’m running a series on the UK Handmade blog called ‘The Road Less Travelled…” which is a series of interviews with people who have turned their back on a conventional career to pursue a creative one. It’s inspiring to read all these amazing stories, and I’m always on the look out for more people to share theirs. Take a peek at the website for the series (http://ukhandmade.co.uk/taxonomy/term/9) and drop me a line if you want to take part.

Thanks again, Tash!

Nancy (Twenty-to-Nine) February 3, 2011 - 5:01 pm

Interesting article. I like to think that I had used my fine art and art history degrees to broaden my mind and help me see. I agree with the point that inspiration is everywhere and you never know what will make you see something differently or want to create something.

Clare Rowles February 3, 2011 - 6:53 pm

Brilliant Tash, well written and an inspiring article. I have some qualifications in art but what I am most proud of is the craft work that I have made and developed through the years and have (thankfully) been able to sell well. Craft is Art and should be recognised as such.

Jay February 4, 2011 - 12:12 pm

Great article Tash! Craft is the art of making – I’ve met incompetent professionals and outstanding amateurs as I’m sure we all have. Perhaps we should aspire to Descartes quote ‘I think therefore I am’ and make / design / paint with inner belief. If we aspire to learn, improve our skills and to do our best with integrity then we can’t go too far wrong. Love what you do and do what your love. xx

Lavinia February 8, 2011 - 1:01 pm

Thank you so much for this article. I saw an add for a knitting/crochet/embroidery tutor at a local community college. Had the job description etc sent to me only to find they wanted someone with a qualification at NVQ3 or above. I’ve been crafting for years and years and taught crafts to secondary students as a lunch time activity. And I need a qualification subject specific? I didn’t apply for the job their loss as well as mine. Crafting is as much about passion as anything else.

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