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Rosie O'Neill

Rosie O’Neill – adventures in making

by Camilla

Meet The Maker: Rosie O’Neill

When Rosie O’Neill was at school she loved design but, believing she couldn’t draw, she set her sights on becoming an architect. However, as she studied for her degree, it became clear that a career in architecture wasn’t going to give her what she needed – and what she really wanted was to design things she could make with her own two hands. So Rosie established her own small creative business, designing textiles, home accessories and jewellery that celebrate making and the vibrant handmade community behind her. We caught up with Rosie to find out more…

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m Rosie O’Neill and I run a small creative business designing and making hand screen-printed textiles, lasercut jewellery and fun prints. On a busy day I can be found doing anything from designing and making, to photographing and promoting my work, or prepping for craft fairs. On a quiet day I’m most likely to be watching my latest favourite boxset (current obsessions include Supernatural, Grimm and Endeavour), or buried in my own little world reading or writing young adult fiction.

Rosie O'Neill, UK designers and makers

I loved design and technology at school but didn’t really get on in art. I couldn’t really draw and I think at the time I associated that with not being artistic, but really I just hadn’t found the right medium and style.

Have you always been creative?
I’ve always made things. It started with wonky cardboard houses for my toys, progressed to forcing handmade gifts on to my family and developed from there. I loved design and technology at school but didn’t really get on in art. I couldn’t really draw and I think at the time I associated that with not being artistic, but really I just hadn’t found the right medium and style. I’ve always had lots of (too many!) ideas.

So how did you get where you are now? Did you always want to be a maker?
I wanted to be an architect! Or a teacher. Or work in heritage. Or an interior designer at one point actually – I’ve had so many weird and fleeting ideas for different career paths it’s hard to keep up. After graduating I felt a bit lost – there wasn’t much support at university for architecture students who didn’t intend to go into that industry. The one thing I kept going back to, however, was making. Making for myself, for other people, and to learn new things. I loved the whole handmade community and its influence was a huge factor for me in starting a small business – blogs, Instagram, craft fairs. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Maker print, Maker art, Maker screenprint, gifts for makers

After graduating I felt a bit lost. The one thing I kept going back to, however, was making… I loved the whole handmade community.

Would you ever go back to architecture?
Probably not! I think it would be hard for me to get back into, and I’m not sure I’d enjoy it very much. I will say, though, that studying architecture was incredibly formative in my creative development and the way I approach a lot of tasks. There were lots of things I loved about it, it’s just that the career wasn’t for me.

Rosie O'Neill

Craft is a piece of art that can be directly traced back to another human being’s imagination, creativity and skill.

We heard rumours you’re also writing a novel…
I love trying different creative disciplines and learning new trades. I’ve got a pretty short attention span and some of them don’t stick (guitar playing really didn’t!), but some of them do, like sewing, printing and, most recently, writing. So far, writing fiction (two and a half novels and counting!) is just an extremely time-consuming hobby, but I would love for it to be more than that. Sometimes it can be hard to balance writing and making – splitting myself between two activities that require lots of thought and imagination – but it’s true that you can’t use up your creativity. I usually find writing very therapeutic and relaxing – it’s great for stress relief because it’s totally absorbing as you really can’t think about anything else while you’re doing it. I also think it’s useful to stretch your creative muscles in a different direction occasionally, and I think I’m a better maker because of it.

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I think it’s useful to stretch your creative muscles in a different direction occasionally, and I think I’m a better maker because of writing.

What else inspires you?
It can be anything at all! I’m hugely influenced by stories in particular, which is where a lot of my adventure/exploration themed work comes from. I also find other creatives in lots of different fields inspiring – artists, writers and musicians especially. The trick with inspiration is to be open to lots of different sources. You can’t just sit at your desk with a blank sketchpad and expect the ideas to flow. I’m constantly thinking about and dreaming up new designs and products – it’s not something you can really turn off once you get into the habit and lots of them don’t work, but some of them do!

Rosie O'Neill

The trick with inspiration is to be open to lots of different sources. You can’t just sit at your desk with a blank sketchpad and expect the ideas to flow.

Who are your design heroes?
That’s such a difficult question. I really look up to a lot of other designer/makers and small business owners. I love the simple and striking design ethos of Sophie from Oh My Clumsy Heart and Rachel from Oh No Rachio! is a creative powerhouse.

Can you talk us through your creative process? Where do your ideas come from and how do they become a finished product?
Ideas usually start off as messy sketches and notes. I tend to generate a lot of designs at once, which can involve something as vague as doodling mountains and camping imagery or a complete idea for a finished product. Because I like to design for a variety of different mediums, I then take the time to refine ideas and concepts while also researching suppliers, materials and making processes. I might make prototypes or test screen patterns with quick paper stencils. Sometimes this can take ages, and ideas can be redesigned and tweaked over and over, only to get thrown out! Even when I think a design is finished and ready, I’ll sometimes let it sit for a bit and do something else while I mull it over. I tend to be quite laser-focused when I’m designing, so it’s good to get some distance and perspective before investing in materials for the finished pieces.

Rosie O'Neill interview

All my stencils are cut by hand from a sturdy plastic, and I cut each one using a small scalpel, so it can be quite labour intensive.

Once I’ve made my decision I’ll narrow down the little details and order materials. If I’m screen printing, I’ll make a more permanent template. All my stencils are cut by hand from a sturdy plastic, and I cut each one using a small scalpel, so it can be quite labour intensive. I make all my products in small batches to maximise time and material efficiency, which also helps me build up a little bit of stock that I can style, photograph and list all at once.

What’s your favourite part of the creative process and why?
It’s hard to pick just one but I think the best feeling is when you’re looking at the finished product. When all the discarded ideas and scribbled notes come together into something beautiful, it makes it all worthwhile.

Rosie O'Neill on the best thing about being creative for a living

When all the discarded ideas and scribbled notes come together into something beautiful, it makes it all worthwhile.

Can you describe your workspace?
My studio is in the conservatory in my home in Nottinghamshire. It’s actually supposed to be the family dining room but I’ve taken it over completely! Being made mostly of glass, the light in there is fantastic for making things and taking photos. The main downside is the temperature – it’s always either freezing cold or boiling hot. Storage is a bit of a nightmare and because it’s a dining room there are always chairs everywhere, but it’s my own little creative zone and I love it. I try to keep it tidy but it’s definitely not minimalist. I surround myself with things to inspire me – lots of succulents and houseplants, pots full of pens and tools, and beautiful bits made by some of my favourite makers. It’s organised chaos.

Rosie O'Neill studio

I surround myself with things to inspire me – lots of succulents and houseplants, pots full of pens and tools, and beautiful bits made by some of my favourite makers. It’s organised chaos.

As an almost-architect would your perfect house look like?
I love old industrial buildings and their features. I was a little obsessed with them even at university, so maybe something like an apartment in a converted mill or factory? Something with big windows and exposed floorboards and brick. It would obviously have to have a lovely big studio for me to spread out in and tonnes of storage, so I could pack away all my mess!

What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
The best thing is probably being able to design my own day around the way I work best. It’s amazing to be able to work on an idea right away or leave something for a bit if it’s not working. My day can be so varied and I get to do so many different things. Also, if I want to watch a film in the afternoon and then work all evening, that’s fine by me! Although it can be stressful too, I really love getting to make all the little decisions and getting to exercise my own creativity and taste in all aspects of the business.

Tips for selling online from Rosie O'Neill

Selling online is a lot to do with holding your nerve and believing in yourself and your work. Keep learning, keep doing, the rest will come.

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Take yourself seriously but not too seriously. Think about your work and your craft as a profession and present yourself in the best way possible – which means taking good photographs and branding yourself properly. However you’ve got to let yourself build in confidence, skill and knowledge too. Part of that means not waiting until everything is perfect sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, if your style and aesthetic develops – part of the joy in working for yourself is being able to make changes and tweak your work as you go. Also, be patient and have courage. Selling online is a lot to do with holding your nerve and believing in yourself and your work. Keep learning, keep doing, the rest will come.

What does craft mean to you?
Personality. I love that craft reflects the individual maker so much. It’s a piece of art that can be directly traced back to another human being’s imagination, creativity and skill.

What were your highlights in 2015 and what are you looking forward to in 2016?
Last year had so many highlights! I designed and launched my first collection, got into some brilliant craft fairs and redesigned my website. I have loads of plans and goals for 2016, mainly focusing on developing the business. I’m looking forward to getting my work stocked in some shops, hopefully getting some press and keeping up the momentum. I’ve written everything down in a massive to-do list, so hopefully they’ll be a bit more actionable and achievable than a traditional new year’s resolution.

Arrow cushions, round cushions, screen-printed cushions

See more of Rosie’s O’Neill’s work in her Folksy shop >

To celebrate being a featured maker on Folksy, Rosie O’Neill is offering 20% off all her products. Just use the discount code MAKER20 before 7th February 2016.

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1 comment

anne corr February 1, 2016 - 8:30 am

A wonderful introduction to Rosie – I really felt inspired by her words about selling online – about staying true to your personality and trusting your work. Thank you – a well executed interview with a lovely young maker. Great attitude !

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