Meet the Maker – Sister Sister
Sarah Meade is an artist, illustrator and designer based in the hills above Oswestry on the Shropshire-Wales border. Together with her twin sister, Sarah ran two high-street shops but as family life became increasingly hectic, she chose to sell the bricks-and-mortar businesses and focus on the brand they had built: Sister Sister. Here Sarah talks to fellow Folksy maker Clare Anderson about that decision, why she is inspired by her children’s view of the world, and how important it is to allow yourself to create for creativity’s sake, with no expectations or judgement.
15% off Sister Sister with code FOLKSYFM – valid until Sunday 13 February 2022
Shop Sister Sister – folksy.com/shops/SisterSisterGifts
When I sold the shop to focus on Sister Sister, it was amazing that suddenly I didn’t have to worry about staff wages and VAT. All I had to worry about was myself. It was quite a liberating feeling.Sarah Meade, Sister Sister
Hi Sarah. Can you introduce yourself and Sister Sister?
Hello, I’m Sarah Meade from Sister Sister and I’m an illustrator who designs and makes a huge range of gifts, including handmade pins, hand-painted ceramics, tea towels, digital artwork and a jigsaw puzzle. I’m constantly looking at new products to bring out and am currently working on a couple of items for the Platinum Jubilee, so keep an eye out for those.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always loved drawing, painting and making things. When I was younger, I could often be found painting panels for young farmers’ floats or scenery for plays. One of my earliest memories is when one of our teachers brought in a bull’s eye (obtained from a local butcher) for us to sketch. I also remember her bringing in crows’ feet (this time from a local farmer) to paint.
In 2002, after years working as an office manager, I started my own high street retail business – a paint-your-own-pottery café – in the small town of Llangollen in north Wales. I launched myself into Llangollen town life and I even started the Llangollen Christmas Festival, which became a huge family event in the local calendar. I started doing personalised orders for customers and my twin sister Catherine came to work for me. As well as personalised orders, we launched our own range, which eventually became Sister Sister.
Because of the work I did with the festival, I was offered a job at the local heritage railway running their events. After six months I was promoted to Commercial Manager. My role was huge and it was lovely working in an office where steam engines would trundle past, but in 2011 I decided to leave and open a second shop in my hometown of Oswestry.
Then in 2013 my husband and I adopted two children and I found it increasingly difficult to juggle two stores in two different towns around a family life. I wanted to be there to pick up the children up from school and go to their school plays, so I closed the Oswestry shop.
Five years down the line, I felt the time was right to concentrate solely on Sister Sister, so I sold the shop and moved into a moved into a spare office in my husband’s building, bought a new (smaller) kiln and started to work in my own studio space. It was amazing that suddenly I didn’t have to worry about staff wages and VAT. All I had to worry about was myself. It was quite a liberating feeling.
I spent 2019 working on new ideas, sorting out what direction I wanted to go in and making my studio space feel comfortable. Obviously we all know what happened in 2020.
When the pandemic hit I relocated my studio to our home, and muddled along, working in the kitchen, in-between homeschooling, side by side with my husband. By October 2020 we knew we had to get a proper space kitted out for us both, so we converted the second reception room into a studio and office space. It’s worked really well as we no longer have to clear space in the kitchen at the end of the day, when we want to cook dinner. The problem I now have is that I’m enjoying working from home too much, but I know I will have to make the move back to my studio eventually!
My children are a huge influence on my work. They don’t worry so much about whether the perspective or composition is right, they just draw because they love it. I think this is vital for anyone creative.Sarah Meade, Sister Sister
What inspires your work?
I take inspiration from all over the place, but my children are a huge influence. Children see the world in very different ways from adults. When you watch them draw, they very often concentrate on the story of the artwork and how it makes them feel – and for me that’s a really important. Children don’t worry so much about whether the perspective or composition is right, they just draw because they love it. I think this is vital for anyone creative. It’s so easy as adult creatives to lack that artistic spark. Maybe we should take the pressure off ourselves and just create because it makes us happy.
In terms of your creative process, how do you get from idea to final piece?
Sometimes it can be a very quick process: I have an idea, I sketch a couple of ideas and it quickly pops into place. Other times I can be working on a piece for months, constantly leaving it and coming back to it, altering it, adjusting it, changing the colours. My jigsaw puzzle is a prime example of this. All in all, it took over three months to design.
During the first lockdown I really enjoyed completing jigsaw puzzles, but I’m not a huge fan of landscapes and scenery. I wanted a jigsaw that was a nice illustration. I managed to find a few but these were few and far between, so I decided I would have a go myself.
The first step was to find a UK manufacturer and sort out costs. Once I had done my research, I whipped out my iPad Pro to work on the design, but found it really hard to get started. I kept going backwards and forwards with different ideas, before eventually deciding to draw what I know. The final design is a living room with a huge bookcase full of books, plants, colourful furniture, lights and patterns (the books are all fun twists on well-known titles).
As it was taking shape, I felt the jigsaw needed something else, so I decided to include my pets. I added my older cats (Frodo & Pippin), sleeping on a chair and rug, and suddenly knew that the jigsaw should be called “Ssshhh!”. (I’m so glad I did, as Pippin was taken ill last year and sadly had to be put to sleep in September – so to have him featured in my jigsaw puzzle is very special for me). After that, the design came along very organically. The jigsaw is probably one of my proudest achievements to date.
I’m surrounded by blue hills, rolling green fields and lush woodland. Life is peaceful here – when our dog Lily isn’t barking at the horses or occasional dog walker going past. It really suits me.Sarah Meade, Sister Sister
Can you tell us about where you live on the Shropshire / Welsh borders? Do your surroundings influence your work?
I live in the hills above the rural market town of Oswestry, so when they say snow is likely in the Welsh hills, that usually means us. It can be quite bizarre driving up through our village when it’s raining in the bottom half but snowing once we get home. We’ve been snowed in on more than one occasion, which I actually love because it gives us an excuse to press the pause button and just enjoy living where we do.
We’re situated very near to the border of Wales, about a mile from Offa’s Dyke. We’ve lived here for 25 years and feel thankful that we found the house and were able to purchase it back then, as I don’t think we’d ever be able to afford it now. Although quite remote, we are still only a 10-minute drive from the town centre.
I’m a Shropshire lass through and through, and I’m surrounded and influenced by the blue hills, the rolling green fields and lush woodland of where I live. Life is peaceful here (when our dog Lily isn’t barking at the horses or occasional dog walker going past) and it really suits me. I guess you could say that I’m more influenced by my Welsh cultural background, my family and life events, as well as my natural surroundings.
Is there anything you like to have around you while you work?
My essential item is a mug of tea and I have to have a constant supply. I’m surrounded by my underglazes, different coloured twines and ribbons, HS tariff codes for items I’m posting Internationally, postal labels, envelopes, scissors, pens, paint brushes and bisqueware waiting for my next design to adorn it.
What’s your favourite part of the creative process – and do you find particular aspects more mindful than others?
I love the whole process – going from a simple drawing to product to packaging. I won’t lie, I don’t enjoy photographing the piece or writing descriptions as much, but I love to look at the final product and think: “I did that!”
When I’m drawing I do tend to go into a trance-like state and all other things will be forgotten! Much of my work now is digitally created on my iPad, which I love. I can fiddle with colours and it’s easy to make big changes without having to start all over again. When I feel the need to paint, I’ll just paint a plate or a ceramic heart and it’s very often here that I need to remember to breathe!
Who are your creative heroes?
I love how Instagram can connect you with millions of creatives from all over the world. I particularly love Lisa Congdon. She’s a self-taught illustrator and artist from Portland, Oregon, in the US and I love how she encourages other artists to find their own artistic voices, just go out there and do their own thing and not get bogged down in “am I good enough?” In a World that is so hung up on being trained and educated, we sometimes forget about passion and talent. Lisa has written books and also has an amazing podcast that I’m really enjoying listening to.
Another creative hero is Pepa Espinosa – a potter, illustrator and maker from Chile. She has inspired me to work with clay (I currently buy in bisqueware to hand paint, which I then glaze and fire), but I now feel ready to turn my illustrations into works in ceramic. Pepa’s work is colourful and full of joy, and I feel very lucky to have purchased a piece from her.
I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know quite a few Folksy sellers, who have become a bit of a sisterhood. I am forever grateful for their support. They are Jenny Newall, who makes the most beautiful bird sculptures from stained glass; Becky from Daffodowndilly – a talented illustrator who creates beautiful stationery, enamel pins and artwork; and Eddie from Eynonymous – a rare talent who designs exquisite surface pattern designs, inspired by her surroundings in Wales. She has her designs printed on to beautiful fabrics and creates cushions, often teaming them with vintage velvets, beautiful scarves and bags.
I am also a team captain for Folksy Local Wales and I wanted to give a shout out to these absolute heroes: Paula from Handforthmade, Sarah from Sarah Myatt Glass and Harriet from EightFourteen Silver. These wonderful ladies are the Folksy Local West Midlands Captains and they were an incredible help when we ran the Folksy Local Online Christmas Market for Wales & West Midlands.
Shop Sister Sister on Folksy
15% off Sister Sister with code FOLKSYFM
(valid until 13 February 2022)
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Clare from Clare Anderson Ceramics.
Read more about Clare here >