Meet the Maker: The Owlery
Sheffield-based designer Benjamin Partridge was training to be a teacher when he enrolled in a local screen-printing class. These lessons reignited a love of textiles forged at school and Ben soon set up The Owlery, his own printmaking business. He now uses lino and wood cut techniques alongside screen printing to create textiles, ceramics, products and art prints featuring clever repeat motifs. The Owlery products are inspired by the British Woodland as well as animals living further afield, and his prints often stem from hours watching David Attenborough documentaries on repeat. Studio jewellery and fellow Folksy seller Amy from Foxes and Fables spoke to Ben to find out more about his printmaking practice and inspirations.
Get 15% off The Owlery with the voucher code SEPTEMBER17. Just add the code when you check out before 18th September 2017. Shop now >
You work at Yorkshire Artspace with 90 other artists. That must be very inspiring. What does your typical day look like?
Working within Yorkshire ArtSpace is a total blessing! I spent years working on my own out of my attic at home, which quickly became way too small and cramped. Moving to Yorkshire Artspace has given me a huge social group who I can call on for all kinds of support. I’ve worked with a number of other studio holders to develop products, print work for them and bounce ideas around. I’m currently working with Giles from Small Machines to develop a series of wooden products that I’ve screen printed with surface designs and Giles then laser cuts in house.
Typically I spend my day beavering around working pretty frantically in my studio processing orders, putting together new products and sampling new work and working through what can only be described as a backlog of half-finished work! There’s always time to bug my studio buddy Linda from The Black Fish Press and beg the odd biscuit or two from her!
Ben from the Owlery demonstrates how to screen print on paper
You began developing your printing skills in 2015. Were you always interested in the arts and creative practices or did it all start with printing?
I’ve always been creative but not always in an ‘arty’ way. Throughout school I was heavily interested in textiles and music and used to channel my creativity by playing the flute and piano. When I left school I took a slightly different path though, opting for a more academic existence. I went to university to study psychology at an undergraduate and masters level before I rediscovering my creative streak. It was actually when I was training to be a teacher that I fell in love with printing and after attending a course at Sheffield Print Club soon discovered a flair for printmaking, which in turn reignited my original love of textiles.
I’ve never worked so hard but had as much fun as I do running my own creative business.
Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you start a piece?
Each piece is quite different. Some pieces start off as an illustration or as a paper print of some sort and are developed into surface pattern design (like my seagull print), while others start life as surface pattern designs and then work their way into a fine art print like my bee print. Usually I see something or I’m inspired by something very specific and on some occasions I am influenced by trends. I’m about to release a racoon print that was completely inspired by watching Planet Earth 2, and falling in love with these wonderful creatures and their escapades in the city. This started out as an illustration that formed the basis of a fine art print and subsequently became a surface pattern design.
You went from teacher to international artist. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to turn their passion into a business?
The main piece of advice I would give to someone wanting to set up their own business is to be prepared for the lows as well as the highs. It is tough but very enjoyable. I typically tell people that I’ve never worked so hard but had as much fun as I do running my own creative business. It’s not your typical 9-5! Everything relies on your own motivation and ability, which can be quite a scary thought initially, but it’s important to realise that it’s also a positive. As a on-eman business, everything I’ve achieved is down to me and only me, and not many people can profess to so much self-made success.
So go for it! It’s a ‘learn on the job’ sort of experience but there are plenty of people out there who you can take advice and support from, so make sure you surround yourself with people who are like-minded and driven, and listen to their advice. I’ve had a lot of guidance from friends and they’ve played a pivotal role in what I do and how I do it. Without their support, I wouldn’t have achieved half of what I have.
As far as my favourite Owlery product goes, I still love my bee print, which happened by accident – I find the shapes between the bees as captivating as the print design itself.
Who and what inspires you?
There is one person that heavily inspires me and my work and that’s David Attenborough (which I realise might sound a bit cheesy!). I spend far too many hours watching his documentaries on repeat but I do get loads on ideas for animal-themed prints from watching him explore the Amazon, head up a sky scraper in New York or head into the Sahara. I’m usually inspired to develop an animal-based print when I’ve watched a documentary and have found something particularly captivating or learned something interesting or unusual about a specific animal.
I love your fox print! Which design of yours is your favourite and why?
In terms of surface pattern designs it has to be the bee design. As a surface pattern design I still find this captivating and I feel I can say that about this print as it was more of a happy accident than particularly intended! I knew I wanted to repeat the design but I never set out for it to develop in the way that it has. I find the shapes between the bees as captivating as the print design itself. In terms of fine art prints, it’s my rainy bear print. I love big bold splashes of tonal colour and the raindrops are very pleasing to my eye. He has a cheeky little grin on his face too.
My favourite fine art print is my rainy bear print. I love big bold splashes of tonal colour and the raindrops are very pleasing to my eye. He has a cheeky little grin on his face too.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
It has to have been heading down to London for Top Drawer last January. I’d dreamed of heading down to this event and taking part in big trade shows in London since I started my business. Incidentally going down to London scared the life out of me, but I managed to navigate it pretty well! What was most satisfying about this show was being able to exhibit alongside some of my favourite makers, who I’ve followed and admired for such a long time. I was just around the corner from the likes of Jimbobart and Mister Berwyn who I just adore! It was a very encouraging event and I was thrilled to be able to tick it off my business bucket list (and repeat again this year!)
We are all set up at #britishcrafttradefair #bctf #bctf2017 and we can't wait for tomorrow! If you are heading down drop into stand 361 and say hello! #bctfamily #tradefair #greatyorkshireshowground #harrogate #harrogatetown #northyorkshire #britishcraft #craft #textiles #wood #ceramics #britishmade
Any tips for other artists attending big trade shows or events?
Plan it well! Doing big events can be very stressful but equally this stress is usually contained to the set-up and take down! Navigating London in rush hour, trying to figure out how to get all of your stock to the stand and then finding the hotel can be stressful enough without the added worry of trying to get set up with little to no idea about how you’re going to put it all together. You’re paying to be there (usually quite a lot), so you might as well enjoy the process and make the most of it! Plan it well, make checklists to make sure you don’t forget everything and don’t let the stress outweigh the excitement!
One other piece of advice would be to make the most of being surrounded by other people and businesses (most likely that you admire). Go in early, check out other people’s displays, look for trends and evaluate your own stand against other stands you see. What can you learn from the way products are displayed? What can you learn from that product range and the way it was put together? How are you going to do things differently next time based on what you have seen?
There is one person that heavily inspires me and my work and that’s David Attenborough. I spend far too many hours watching his documentaries on repeat…
Your Facebook page and website look great. Do you do all your own marketing? How do you balance the creative and more administrative sides of your business?
First of all, thanks! I’m pretty terrible with social media (in my opinion), so for someone to say they think it looks great is a real bonus! I typically don’t spend enough time taking photos, which is my main issue as I struggle to have enough content to post. I’m a sucker for getting really wrapped up in making work and forgetting to take photos of the process!
As someone who loves the making part of the business, I do find it difficult to drag myself away and do the admin but it is a necessary evil. I could do with an admin assistant, so I can spend my whole time making mountains of stock and new designs!
Now you’ve mastered screen printing what’s next for The Owlery?
I feel pretty confident with my printing but there is always room for development. I create my screen prints on acetate using Indian ink. What I really want to do is start to play with the idea of creating screen prints using more natural products and this is something I’m currently playing with. I’m aiming to develop my own technique of eco printing and combining this with more illustrative screen prints. I’m also developing my skills with different materials and I’m printing on to wood and other non paper materials with a view to expanding my product ranges even further.
What would be the one piece of advice you wished someone had given you when you first started out?
Enjoy it! It’s a bit of a whirlwind and you can easily get bogged down in what you haven’t done or what went wrong, without realising that you’ve made huge achievements. Also I wish someone had told me not to limit myself. I’m terrible at thinking to myself “I’m not ready for that yet”, which puts me off applying for opportunities. If you don’t place limits on yourself, you can achieve even more than you’d initially thought. That’s something I’m just starting to realise.
To celebrate being our featured maker, Ben is offering 15% off The Owlery products with the code SEPTEMBER17. Only valid until 18th September 2017. Shop The Owlery on Folksy >
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Amy Prout from Foxes and Fables, a studio jeweller inspired by stories, the glamour of the 1920s and 30s, and the incredible landscapes and gardens of Wales.