Pursuing a creative passion

Meet Vanessa Dennett, owner of The Simpson Sisters, a small business which runs creative workshops in relaxed and collaborative settings in Bristol and North Somerset. Like many women, Vanessa put her career ambitions on hold whilst raising her children, but now she is finally able to pursue her passion and showcase her creative talent through her blog and the workshops she runs.

Tell us about yourself 

I grew up in a small village in North Somerset and had a pretty idyllic early childhood. I went to the village primary school and then onto the local comprehensive where the idyll ended. I became pretty unmotivated and much more interested in horses and boys than anything academic. I was however considered bright enough to be studying the sciences at O-level and consequently wasn’t allowed to continue with the more creative subjects which I enjoyed.

Vanessa Dennett

Suffice to say that I was not successful at O-level, and after an unhappy start at a new school for A-levels I persuaded my parents to let me leave and go to secretarial college instead. I never particularly wanted to become a secretary, rather it seemed a good escape route. A couple of years temping and travelling persuaded me that office life was not for me and I applied for nurse training because I liked people and didn’t have sufficient qualifications to do anything else medical. It’s fair to say I could have given these decisions a little more consideration!

The following years were spent nursing and, following a knee injury, in various medically oriented sales and admin jobs – I recruited Australian nurses for the UK and sold plaster casts amongst other things! During this time I met my husband and we have lived and travelled around the world as he has pursued his career. Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden have all been home at various times.

Since the birth of our two daughters I have explored a number of potential careers, largely based upon what I could fit around the demands of caring for children while living overseas without any established network and a husband who travelled. I drew upon my secretarial skills typing at home in the evenings, my knowledge of anatomy as a massage therapist and my sewing skills as a technician in a school’s textiles department, but nothing left me feeling very fulfilled or enthusiastic.

How did the idea for your business come about?

While living in Belgium I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pilot online coaching programme by a friend establishing her business. I finally spent a bit of time thinking about who I am, my skills and my interests and concluded that what I would really like to do would be ‘something creative with other people’. At this point we moved again twice in short succession and I put these thoughts on hold. We returned to the UK and I found a job almost next door at St Peter’s Hospice where I helped manage their hospice based volunteers on a short-term contract. At the end of this contract I again felt the frustration and entrapment that I have so often experienced in office environments, and much as I love the hospice I looked again at the outcome of the coaching programme and thought “I just have to try something, anything, more creative”. It was at this point that several threads began to weave together.

simpsons workshops

  • While overseas we had bought a small disused barn from my parents when they downsized from our family home and I had begun to blog very sporadically about the project, simply as a personal record and a way of family seeing what was going on. I had great intentions but too many moves got in the way and I never really got going.
  • While at the hospice I undertook a Digital Mums social media management course in order to up-skill a bit and with the notion that this type of flexible working might suit me. During the course I attended an Instagram workshop at The Forge with Emily Quinton and was introduced to Makelight and the online world of creatives which had somehow been a secret to me until then.
  • Originally a Simpson, I thought that The Simpson Sisters would make a great name for a business. Though I wasn’t sure what business I could possibly run I had bought the domain name a few years ago.
  • Attending creative workshops of all sorts, from cake decorating to pottery, watercolours and stage make-up has been how I have met some of my best friends in various locations over the years and I have spent many happy hours learning new skills in this way.

It suddenly occurred to me that workshops were just exactly doing something creative with other people and that I could either keep attending them, or I could start running them. Being interested in so many different creative pursuits it seemed to me that collaborating with others would be a really great way to do this.

It has taken me a while to nail exactly what it is that I’ve been creating, but I’ve loved finding my way over the last year and can now confidently tell people that The Simpson Sisters is a small creative business whose aims are to encourage and enable creativity by offering a variety of creative workshops in a warm, friendly and relaxed environment, and by providing a small attractive venue for other creatives to use for similar purposes. I love sharing my home with people and workshop days are my absolute favourites. In fact, I’m teaching my first sewing workshop in September and have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had pursued textiles as a subject at school!

How are you embracing social media?

Social media has been a huge learning curve for me over the last 18 months, I didn’t even have an Instagram account until last year and had never tweeted until then either! However, it has proved a wonderful resource and I have benefitted enormously from so many of the lovely people I have met online. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are where I’m found regularly and although I sometimes find three platforms challenging I believe that they each offer something quite different to me. I would love to grow my audiences and have worked hard to improve my photography to this end.


Vanessa is following…

me and orla

Me and Orla : I love Sarah’s honesty and no nonsense approach, her Hashtag Authentic podcast has been one of my favourites.

simple and season

Simple and Season: I had followed Kayte’s blog for a while and jumped at the chance to hear her speak at Blogtacular. I was not disappointed and found her marketing advice invaluable.

makelight

Makelight: without some of Emily and Stef’s courses I would never have pursued Instagram, updated my website or begun sending a newsletter.


Vanessa’s work…

thesimpsonsisters.co.uk
eventbrite.co.uk/o/the-simpson-sisters-11355703362
instagram.com/simpsonsisters

Newsflash: social media exists to make money

Sorry to break it to you all, but it’s true. However, the tide is turning and a new generation of bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers are using these platforms to their advantage and making a living from them. Social media networks are marketing and advertising tools like any other, but unlike traditional forms of media (TV, press, radio) they are not subject to stringent regulation. They are embedded in our digital culture purely as ‘social connectors’ and to the average consumer that’s true (on the surface) and that’s why we all love them. But the reality is that they are billion dollar money-making corporations, not worthy social-enterprise projects.

I find it surprising that considering the overwhelming power and effect social media has on our lives that so many people misunderstand its purpose. Money and the currency of influence is what fuels these networks. But we continue to attach the morality of friendship, trust and authenticity to the likes of Facebook and Instagram and feel a sense of collective outrage and disappointment when we are reminded of the commercial realities which are bubbling beneath the surface. I probably sound very cynical, but don’t misunderstand me, I’m just looking pragmatically at these networks as business tools.

Collective delusion

Part of the reason I felt compelled to write this article is because there has been a huge amount of discussion in the last week sparked by an ‘Insta-mums‘ thread on a Mumsnet discussion forum. Several high-profile social media influencers including Mother of Daughters and Father of Daughters (pictured below) have come in for all manner of verbal abuse and criticism for making money through paid social media content. Now, personally I think that if you put yourself out in the public domain you have to be prepared for a certain degree of negativity – there will always be a few people who can’t resist judging and bitching (let’s not forget Katie Hopkins has made a career out of it). However, personal insults (or trolling) are obviously unacceptable and unnecessary, and the armchair warriors would clearly never say it to their faces. That said I do think it’s brought up some interesting points and I think there is a collective delusion going on around this topic.

Clemmie and Simon Hooper

The global corporations like Facebook (who own Instagram) are making billions of dollars harvesting all our data and selling it on to companies which in turn target us with ‘demographic specific’ advertising. We are all happy to create accounts and spend inordinate amounts of time on these platforms. The unpalatable truth is that we are all caught up in the murky net of advertising on a daily basis: consciously or unconsciously and to deny that fact is at best naive and at worst hypocritical. Where an opportunity to make money exists people will exploit it. Fact.

Winning the game

Now, if you turn this on its head and start to consider that bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers are making these mass commercial platforms work for them as a business then you can begin to understand the appeal. After all a lot of work goes on behind the scenes building a social media brand – just take a look at Mother Pukka AKA Anna Whitehouse. Her approach and response to all this judgement and ‘Daily Mail-esque’ controversy is to be open and confrontational, but not in an aggressive way – Anna plays the game as it should be played. She’s a businesswoman making a living and is happy to discuss the pros and cons of walking the tightrope between personal and business. At least she’s open to discussing it and surely that’s the point – the more transparency the better. If she’s not your cup of tea then find someone who is.

I’m not making any judgements about specific individuals, but I think it’s important if you’re going to have a debate about the perceived unsavoury aspects of making a living by selling stuff via social media that you acknowledge the part we all play as consumers in that – we are all at the behest of big business. So, if a few people choose to make money by using it as a business tool we shouldn’t be surprised or overtly offended.

You may choose to be personally upset by the commercial partnerships some bloggers choose to go into, and that’s fair enough. That’s what the unfollow button is for. Within reason you can choose what you see (damn those pesky algorithms). So, I urge people to make active choices about what and who they follow and also remember people are making a living from platforms that are making a living from you. If you have a problem with that then perhaps social media is too morally corrupt a place for you. My philosophy on the whole culture of social media brings to mind a classic quote by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. The world will be yours and everything in it”. Don’t lose sight of what drives the media-technology companies to engineer these social networks. Get what you want from them and enjoy it for what it is.

Changing the culture

Now, rather than having a go at all the people trying to make a living via social media, how about ploughing all that energy into making Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their friends more accountable for their advertising standards. Also, while we’re at it how about better regulation generally on social media and more education in our schools, colleges and universities. How about re-educating the workforce too while we’re at it? Big businesses should take more corporate responsibility for the effects their networks have on society and be clear, open and subject to scrutiny.

Curator of colour

Jessica Siggers is a photographer, social media influencer and Instagram consultant who lives in Bristol with her family. I first encountered Jess via her Instagram account Porthjess, a platform which has helped to build and cement her profile as a photographer. In person Jess is refreshingly humble and honest about her influencer status. It brings with it a whole host of opportunities which some people may feel unable to turn down. However, Jess is in the self-confessed “privileged position” of being able to select commercial collaborators that fit with her sense of identity (she has worked with Farrow & Ball, Pret A Manger, Canon, Cross Country Trains and Finisterre). But she’s also realistic about why others may choose a different path. There is a lot of judgement on social media which has given rise to the “armchair warrior”, but like anyone who has an online presence she has learned to turn the other cheek and focus on the positives and what she’s really passionate about – creating photographs that inspire others.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer
“When I was trying to think up a name for my business a few years ago, I wanted something which contained my name but also tied in with me living on a harbour plus my love of the sea. ‘Porth’ means ‘harbour’ in Cornish! Et voila.”

A love of Bristol, rainbow colours, the coast and cars are what has made her loved by over 40k followers on Instagram. This strong sense of creative identity is what Jess intends to build on in 2017. So this year Jess will be returning her focus to the art of photography and establishing different ways to earn income. As a respected Instagram influencer Jess has started to run a series of workshops ‘Unleash your Instagram potential’, run in conjunction with Bristol Media and she is also involved in Digital Gaggle (marketing meet-ups and conferences in Bristol).

Jessica Siggers Porthjess colourful bristol street

Alongside her Porthjess persona Jess also runs the the official Instagram network for Bristol: IgersBristol. This is a photography showcase of Bristol and a job which keeps Jess’s feet firmly on the ground. Although she sometimes feels like “a dinosaur” amongst the young Instagram crowd it’s a good way to keep track of the latest photography trends and what is popular online. But that doesn’t impact on her signature style, if anything seeing what is trending has only reaffirmed what subjects she loves to photograph and makes her happy.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street

One thing I respect and admire is Jess’s strong sense of identity when it comes to work and family life. Although the two need to coexist in a practical sense they aren’t linked in Jess’s mind: she’s not an Insta-mum. Whilst being a mother is an integral part of who she is, it’s not what makes Jess a successful photographer. I for one am looking forward to seeing how Jess’s career develops in 2017 and I’ve been lucky enough to attend one of her popular Instagram workshops.

JESS’S TOP TECHNICAL TIPS

1) Do you use your phone as well as your camera? If so how do you use them differently?

“I never leave the house without my compact Canon M3 DSLR and crummy old Samsung phone, permanently set to camera mode. I tend to use my phone for those quick shots where timing is everything (in my case usually an old car going past) and the camera for more structured shots where picture quality is important. I also have my ‘Big Camera’, i.e. my Canon 5D, which I use when specific shots are required for clients.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer stokes croft bristol beetle car

2) Do you alter the images at all for use on Instagram?

“There are three things I always do before any of my photos make it to Instagram: run them through the auto-straighten feature on the Snapseed app, to tidy up any wonky horizons; crop out any unnecessary bits, again through Snapseed; use one of two filters from the brilliant ‘A Color Story’ app. My filters of choice just lighten the photo and enhance the colours to how I like them so that my Instagram grid always looks cohesive.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer ss great britain bristol

3) Hashtags are an important part of Instagram: how do you choose the ones you use and are there specific ones you like to use?

“I have a list of my favourite hashtags saved in the Notes function on my phone (for ultimate Instageekery, they’re also saved into different categories such as ‘Doors’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Colour’). These are all either hashtags which have worked previously and continue to work for me and my style or hashtags which I’m just using for now but may drop in future (e.g. seasonal tags). It’s good to mix them up a bit and find new ones from time to time. Helps you find great new accounts to follow too.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street scene

4) What’s your top photographic tip for people who take photos using their phones and uploading direct to Instagram?

“Turn your gridlines on in your camera settings. Helps you to align your shot perfectly and avoids too many of those wonky horizons!”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer harbourside bristol

5) What advice would you give aspiring photographers looking to grow their online profile?

1) “Look up the local Igers (Instagrammers) network for your area such as Igers Bristol. We host regular free photowalks or ‘Instameets’ where lots of like-minded photographers get together and provide support and fresh inspiration!”

2) “Find a hashtag which relates to your style of work, e.g. I like #candyminimal, or even the hashtag for your area, e.g. #Bristol. Like and leave nice comments on photos that you like and others might do the same to you. This helps build followers.”

3) “Come to one of my Instagram workshops!”


Jess is following…

Valuable Content bristol logo

@valuablecontent (aka @sonjajefferson and @sjtanton): “Two clever, brilliant fellow Bristol Media members who are at the top of the content marketing consultancy game and also happen to be mothers. I’m also lucky enough to have them as my neighbours and my career took a big turn for the better when I took their advice over pastries at Sharon’s kitchen table one morning last year. They’re like my business fairy godmothers.”

Dolly Land

@dollyland“’Dolly is Sharon, a mum of five who lives in Clovelly, Devon. We became friends through Instagram via our love of the sea and met just before Sharon became social media manager for @2minutebeachclean, a +20k strong community of barefoot warriors taking two minutes out of their day to keep our beaches clean of rubbish. My family and I now never leave a beach or riverside without having a quick litter-pick first and that’s largely down to Sharon.”

Sara Venn Edible Bristol

Sara Venn, aka @saralimback“I’m ridiculously proud to call Sara my friend. She runs @ediblebristol, a branch of the Incredible Edible movement, launched to make Bristol the UK’s first edible city. In most areas of Bristol you’ll now come across an edible garden planted by Sara and her team. She’s also mum to one daughter like me and gives the best hugs.


Jess’s work…

porthjess.com
bristolcolourcapital.org
instagram.com/porthjess
instagram.com/igersbristol

Interview with Amy White

Design with style

Gayle Mansfield lives in Worthing and runs her own company Gayle Mansfield Designs, which specialises in producing bold, typographic prints and cards. Having changed careers and taught herself design and typography she successfully setup her studio and was able to pursue her passion for design and interiors. Gayle now runs a growing business and is a great entrepreneurial example to other women looking to find a fulfilling career which fits around family life.

We asked Gayle to share her story and her interior styling tips – check out her dreamy Instagram accounts for beautifully curated photographs of her prints (see images below) and her magazine-worthy home (which will be featured in House Beautiful magazine later this year).

How and why did you set up your design business?

I’ve always loved design and interiors in particular but never had the confidence or opportunity to pursue a career in the industry, instead I worked as a project manager for a housing organisation and interiors stuff was a hobby. After I graduated (more years ago than I care to remember!) I started working for a local council and progressed from there. After about 15 years in that field I had the opportunity to quit and took a couple of years out, focusing on renovating our house and looking after our young daughter. I felt the time had come to set something up by myself. I’ve always had friends telling me I should be an interior designer and I do hope to end up doing some styling in the future.  My partner is a graphic designer and I kept having ideas for designs for wall art so he encouraged me to set up a small shop and see how it went. He has been instrumental in the whole process and I absolutely couldn’t do this without him. We bought a huge industrial printer from one of his clients as I was keen to do all our production in-house.  I had a business idea years ago when my daughter was a baby but due to personal reasons I couldn’t pursue it (someone else has since done it!) and that really spurred me on to come up with something else.

How has digital technology and social media helped grow your business?

There really is nothing else quite like Instagram for small businesses, particularly a visual one such as mine. I owe a lot of my success so far to Instagram. I tend to use the same content on Facebook but it’s not really so instrumental to my success (aside from nudging my friends to buy something!) and I feel my business is best placed on Instagram at the moment. Having said that I am a member on some Facebook groups set up for women in business and these are brilliant. I’m currently doing a course about how to use Pinterest effectively for business, which is really exciting.

How to style prints in your home

Try hanging pictures without a frame for a relaxed look

gayle mansfield

“In our daughter’s room I have styled one of our personalised prints with a Happy banner from This Modern Life and some ball lights from Tiger. I like to hang pictures with no frames for a relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple picture ledge creates an effective display

sofa and picture by gayle mansfield designs

“Above our sofa we have an IKEA picture ledge with framed photos we sourced from Unsplash. I really like the thin profile frames from IKEA as shown here in black.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group prints together for a bold, contemporary look

pictures on wall by gayle mansfield

“We have an area at the end of our kitchen that needed to be pulled together and I have achieved this by hanging two prints above this upcycled (by me) dresser. I like the look of two different sized prints together but with the same colours (one on the left by Seventy Tree, one on the right by me).”

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t have to attach pictures to a wall – try propping them up instead

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“I like to prop prints up rather than commit to always putting them on the wall, as I am constantly moving things around! I have left the cat eyes print unframed as I like the relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By placing simple, typographic prints on shelves you can create Instagram-worthy displays

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“Again, I have propped up two prints here, on our shelving in our living room, so that I can move them around easily.  I am naturally drawn to prints that are typographic and simplistic.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gayle is following…

sarah akwiscombe

 

 

 

 

I find @sarahakwisombe‘s approach just so refreshing and real, she really inspires me so much.  She’s clearly very hard-working and knows what she wants and is very passionate about what she does.

blogga i bagis

 

 

 

 

I cannot get enough of @bloggaibagis interior styling.

selfish mother logo

 

 

 

 

I have a lot of respect for Molly Gunn @selfishmother.

Gayle’s work…

gaylemansfield.co.uk
instagram.com/gaylemansfielddesigns
Pinterest.com/gaylemansfield
hello@gaylemansfield.co.uk

Ten minutes with designer Laura Heeks

Laura Heeks is a 34-year-old graphic designer and illustrator. She has an eight-month-old baby boy and lives in Liverpool.

How did you become a designer?
After studying English Literature I started working in the marketing department at the Guardian, but quickly realised I wanted a more visually creative career than that. I retrained as a designer at the London College of Communication on a highly practical and intensive course before throwing myself full throttle into a series of internships and low-paid positions at high profile design studios to build my experience up, these included Pentagram and Brighten the Corners. Since then I have steadily worked my way up in permanent positions at design studios to where I am now. I am currently on maternity leave with my 8-month-old baby boy, but when I’m working I divide myself between working as a designer for a university and as an independent freelance creative.

Laura Heeks designer
A selection of Laura’s design work

Why did you become a designer?
To live a creatively fulfilled life! I don’t think I could do a dull office job anymore. I love the variety and detective/researcher/nosey parker nature of design – you have to really understand a brand, company or project before you find the right visual solution for a design, so no two days are the same and you never get bored. Plus, I enjoy making things look beautiful – and that’s pretty important in my line of work too!

Illustration by Laura Heeks
Illustration by Laura

What inspires you creatively and what do you aspire to?
I am in a passionate love affair with all things visual – all things aesthetic make my world go round. My interests are diverse within the arts though – from fine art to fashion, design (of course) to photography and architecture. My ambitions change day to day! I have a strong interest in perhaps teaching graphic design one day in the future. In the short term I would just like to get through each day happily with my baby – small achievements like doing the washing up, getting out and about in the fresh air and playing with rainmakers are about where it’s at right now. Once I’ve become a pro at the juggling act that is being a mum I’d like to throw my freelancing back into the mix and up the pace beyond the few tiny bits of works I’m doing at the moment – exciting times!

Child at computer desk
Trying to work around kids isn’t easy…

My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. The natural world, architecture, fine art, photography, my environment, travel, things I see on TV and the web, the shape of a cup handle or a paving stone, anything really. It’s funny how things strike you like a bolt out of the blue sometimes, you can be looking everywhere for inspiration for a logo design and find the key to it in the pattern and repetition of holes on a manhole cover!

Does digital technology and social media influence the way you work?
I’ve got to admit, I am not the most tech-forward person. I have embraced Instagram because it suits me – in fact I love it. But my Twitter account is severely neglected. Unless it feels useful or fun to me on a personal level I struggle to use it, even for work. Instagram and Pinterest are my top apps and I use them heavily, Instagram to record my ‘visual journey’ through life and work and Pinterest for project research. Both are incredibly good tools for design. I guess I use these platforms for tapping into what’s going on in the industry as well, in addition to various blogs and websites.

How has your working life changed now you’re a mum?
At the moment I’m only working on tiny, little easy projects or pieces of design for very understanding clients!

Laura’s work…

lauraheeks.com
instagram.com/lauraheeks
linkedin.com/in/lauraheeks

twitter.com/lauraheeks

lauraheeks.blogspot.co.uk
arts.ac.uk/lcc/people/students-alumni/pgcert-design-for-visual-communication/laura-heeks/


Laura is following…

jessica hische

Jessica HischeA fellow graphic designer, Jessica Hische is a typographer extraordinaire. She’s very well known for her letter art and has worked for lots of big brands – she’s currently commanding 110k followers on Instagram and raising a sweet little girl as well.

mamalina

Mamalina: Emma AKA Mamalina is a lifestyle blogger and mum with hippy tendencies – she lives life on a very loose schedule which appeals to me, as I’ve never been great with routine. She’s into travel, food, the gentle raising of little ones, nature and mess – what a lady!

jet set mama

Jetsetmama: If I need a laugh, this is my go to account. Claire Alexander-Johnston is hilarious. She’s a mother of three who lives a seemingly perfect and enviably stylish life raising her kids in Bali/Australia. She is however a dab hand at self deprecation and VERY forthright. Good for a chuckle and to feel better on one of ‘those’ days.

mere soeur

Mere Soeur: Carrie Anne has used a bit of creativity and her passion for mothering to make herself a successful little business to earn a living whilst raising her son. The ‘mamamerch’ products she comes up with appeal to the trendy mother/sisterhood around the world.

flower girl los angeles

Flower Girl Los Angeles: I’ve been following Kelsey Harper Parker ever since starting to use Instagram. She is a super cool LA florist with on point taste and a beautiful Californian life spent arranging flowers and raising her two boys. Aspirational inspiration taken to the extreme.

Interiors blogger Lisa Dawson’s top independent retailers 

Instagram is a social media platform that has really captured the imagination of interior lovers all over the world – arguably overtaking Pinterest as the social media of choice. Lisa Dawson is an interiors blogger who is riding the wave of this growing trend and has built a 25k strong Instagram following (impressive considering she only started posting photos of her house last year). It has helped raise her professional profile organically and now she now runs regular ‘Styling Your Home Workshops’ with her workshop partner Dee Campling (another interiors obsessive with a loyal Instagram following). The business Lisa Dawson Styling is going from strength to strength and now offers an interior room design service.

lisa dawson styling

Quick to realise the potential of social media Lisa finds it’s a great way to discover independent brands. “Instagram has become the social media hub to be on. No longer the domain of the teenage selfie, everyone and their dogs are getting in on the action. With the huge increase in hash tagging and its popularity as a creative platform, more and more independent companies are finding that Instagram is perfect for launching and promoting their businesses.”

Lisa lives in York with her husband Joe and three children (Ella, Max and Leo) and her “badly trained” Lhasa Apso dog, Buddy. She has a background in fashion retail, having previously worked for Top Shop. She’s learnt the hard way about running her own business (she used to sell jute bags on notonthehighstreet.com). “When the plastic bag charge came into effect and supermarkets started selling similar products to mine at a quarter of the price, I was forced to admit defeat”. So, with her new interiors business she’s keen to champion the kind of independent brands she identifies with and is “committed to the promotion and support of these inspirational companies”.

With that in mind I asked Lisa to pick her top five interiors and homeware companies which we should look out for in 2017. So check them out: “but be warned the temptation to purchase will be strong!”.

Lisa’s top five independent retailers for 2017

Violet & Thistle

Jane is the founder and owner of Violet & Thistle and she is absolutely fab. With a background in costume jewellery retail and years spent visiting the Far East in order to source, Jane realised after the birth of her first daughter that she needed a business that kept her closer to home. Based in London, she launched her online store at the end of 2015 and you could not hope to meet a friendlier person. If you follow her on Instagram, you will know that she loves a chat. Her shop is a fabulous collection of individual homewares, lighting and one off vintage pieces.  Check out her most recent stock which includes fantastic neon wall lights and a gorgeous range of macramé plant holders. My favourite all time purchase from Jane is my pom-pom basket which is always commented upon and my applause light box is about to be put above my bar so that people can clap me when I pour them a drink.

pink neon wall light love violet and thistle
Violet & Thistle sell an eclectic mix of items for the home including this vibrant pink neon sign

Curious Egg

Lorraine Aaron is a professional artist with a background of making art for public places. She has an obsessive interest in art, architecture and interiors and how the combination of these can contribute to our happiness. Her store is a curated heaven of the most beautiful items sourced for their interest and individuality. Her customer service is second to none and her shop is well worth a visit.

gold-strand-candleholder-lifestyle-curious-egg
Curious Egg has a carefully curated selection of items to make your home beautiful

Grey September

Sara Griffiths is the founder and creator of this newly formed online collection of homewares, interiors and gifts. Expect a little bit of Nordic, cool Copenhagen and the rest of the globe for a unique blend of design must haves for your space. Sara has worked in TV for the last 20 years whilst also having the extremely busy job of being a mum to two girls. Having curated her own small but perfectly formed family home, she finally decided to put the dream into reality and her fabulous store is well worth a visit.

grey september bed
Grey September is a beautifully curated shop selling Scandi-inspired homewares

We Are Amused

Susan and Donna, with their backgrounds in styling and photography, are the creative wonders behind We Are Amused. They produce innovative photographic and typographical prints from their studio in Fife, Scotland that look stunning in any interior.  Their prints will add that essential edge of cool to your space.  I’ve got their gorgeous (and I’m sure to be iconic) shoe last print, or I did until my daughter decided it would look better in her room than mine. You can contact Susan and Donna via their Instagram feed. Inspirational mums Donna and Susan started their print design business from a studio in Fife last year.  Through sheer hard work, their artwork is flying into stores. They supply Rockett St George and were recently part of a pop up in Liberty London, as well as a huge selection of independent stores.

sixties chair neon print fireplace interiors we are amused
We Are Amused produce unique prints: as featured in Lisa’s daughter’s bedroom

Hilary & Flo

Founded in 2015, Shelley’s shop is a gorgeous eclectic mix of home accessories and furniture that is an absolute must. How excited was I when I realised that Hilary & Flo was in Sheffield and therefore close enough to visit? Very excited. My (very good at shopping) friend Liz was visiting from America, had been following the Hilary & Flo feed and was desperate for a visit, so together with two other friends, we had a girls outing. The trip got off to a bad start after I drove into another car at the roundabout on the way there due to excessive chatting, but we persevered and were very glad that we did. Shelley is absolutely lovely and so welcoming and friendly, making any visit to her store a pleasure. She stocks a selection of independent retailers including Abigail Ahern.

hilary & flo interiors shop sheffield
An interior lover’s emporium: Hilary and Flo is one of Lisa’s favourite shops

Lisa is following…

Jennifer Harrison, Fleamarket Fab

fleamarket fab“Stateside Jennifer is an inspirational mother and businesswoman with an online store and design service.  Her style is recycled glam and she sources from flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores.”

 

 

Sarah Akwiscombe, Interior Stylist & Blogger

sarah akwiscombe“When I decided to start blogging, it was Sarah’s webinar that I took to get the lowdown.  She created and runs the No Bull Blog School teaching others how to start writing and also has a career as a successful interior stylist.  She’s a mum of one and lives in London.”

 

Lisa’s work…

Wesbite: lisadawsonstyling.com
Instagram: _lisa_dawson_
Twitter: Lisadstyling
Facebook: lisadawsonstyling
Pinterest: Lisajanedawson
Email: hello@lisadawsonstyling.com


Interview with Amy White

Let’s talk about flex…with Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a 37-year-old artist and designer living in Bristol with her husband Tim and their children Jet (7) and Della (4).

Helen Ward artist designer
Helen Ward

An accomplished artist and designer, Helen divides her time between working as a freelance product designer for Wild & Wolf in Bath, exhibiting her Paper Entomology work and developing new artistic commissions. When she’s not working Helen enjoys making things (let’s be honest, she’s pretty good at this), swimming and going on holiday.

I first met Helen when our children were toddlers at a local playgroup, which not only saved us the job of entertaining our little ones but also provided an important public service to weary local mums. We gossiped and moaned (think I did a fair bit of moaning) and drank luke-warm tea and hid biscuits from our prying children. Since then our children have started school (mime’s high-five) so we are at very similar points in our lives now: both striving to find creative, fulfilling jobs which pay the bills and fit around the children.

Helen Ward artist designer paper entomology
Artwork from Helen’s Paper Entomology series

Like so many women it’s not been an easy journey for Helen, both literally and figuratively. Although being self-employed worked when the children were babies’ things got much harder when three years ago Helen was offered her dream job. The job was based in Cheltenham and for 18 months Helen endured a four hour commute every day. That would be exhausting without children, but with the youngest only one-year-old it was too much and the inevitable feelings of guilt led to a decision to quit and work for herself again. The office culture of being chained to a desk nine to five seems as strong as ever unfortunately (please read my article about flexible working and how things are starting to change).

Helen still commutes to Bath a couple of days a week but as any freelancer will tell you, you have to be prepared to go where the work is. So an average week consists of working two full days a week and then during school hours only for the remaining three days. A self-confessed owl Helen often works into the evenings too. But like all of us juggling a family and a career sometimes you have to spin a few plates to get things done (hopefully not whilst serving dinner).

The path to ‘flexible working’ is not a well-trodden one. I often feel most of us are winging it to a certain extent. But what I do admire in Helen is that she is embracing the essence of flexible working without compromising too much of herself. So when the children are at school Helen makes time to go for a swim and when she’s working from home she can collect them from the school and take them “home for cuddles”. But like all families, childcare arrangements can often feel like a military operation and sometimes (but not always…) the women end up doing the lion’s share. “For several years it was me who was always the one who sorted out nursery drop offs and pick ups and this had a massive impact on my working life. It was really easy to fall into a pattern of me doing all the grunt work with this as I was the one who had been off on maternity leave twice.” Helen’s husband Tim was able to work out flexi-time arrangements with his employer which enabled the balance of power to be resumed. It’s so much better this way and not only does Helen feel less put upon but Tim is also more involved with the kids. I have a similar arrangement with my husband and from time to time you need to alter things, but appreciating each other’s professional lives is crucial to finding that balance. Helen’s top tip to achieving this is “team work” and I couldn’t agree more. “There’s no point in trying to be all things to all people at all times as it’s just not going to happen. This is the path to disappointment and exhaustion! Sharing responsibility for childcare made all the difference to us and if someone offers to help you out, say ‘Yes please!’.”

Helen Ward artist designer brass wall hanging
Brass wall hanging by Helen

But when push comes to shove (no baby puns intended) Helen is feeling really positive about her future career and although she may occasionally look back on how she could have done things differently, prioritising her children is never going to be a decision she’ll regret. “I often wonder where I would be in my career now if I had left it a bit later in life to have kids – I was 30. I know that if I had waited, I probably could have progressed a bit further with my design work and maybe seen a bit more success before getting into the baby zone…that said, now both my girls have started school, I can feel life picking up momentum again and I am feeling really positive about what is to come!”.

If money were no object would she change paths? Apparently not (which is a sure sign she’s in the right field). “I would absolutely still make things. I would find myself some ridiculous massive studio space with loads of light and craft materials and sit around in there listening to audio books.” Marvellous stuff Helen and you never know it might happen one day…


Helen on social media…

Helen Ward artist designer House of Wards logo

“The only social media I use these days is Instagram. I post my work up on there and I do get commissions from that quite often. Any of this income is then entirely counteracted by me looking at other people’s work on Instagram and spending all that money buying their stuff!”.

I feel your pain Helen and so does my credit card.

Helen’s daily digital routine…

“I was a Facebook user for years, but gave that up 12 months ago as I found the whole thing was just starting to get me down and wasn’t that useful any more. I can honestly say that I haven’t missed it once! I have a pointless habit of looking on the BBC News website which I need to STOP as it achieves nothing. I use Pinterest every day for work and have about a million secret boards for all my ongoing projects. Other than that, I just look on Instagram. I need to get a check on myself sometimes as I do go through phases of looking at it too much. I spent months and months obsessively looking at people who posted up pictures of interiors last year. Eventually I had to do a mass cull of loads of the people I followed to stop myself. I felt better once I had, but I do have a sneaky look back at them every now and then – I can’t help it!!”.

Don’t worry we all love a bit of stalking (in a completely harmless, non-creepy way of course)

“On the whole, I tend not to follow too many Mums that I don’t know. I am always mindful on Instagram that you only get a very contrived view of people’s lives and that the reality of it all really might be quite different. It’s all too easy to berate yourself because some other mum with five children and two dogs has still managed to look amazing, keep an immaculate house and has only fed her children on home cooked organic fruit and vegetables. In reality I like to think they have probably just been crying in a messy corner all day and they’re posting the pictures up as therapy while pretending to themselves that everything is marvelous (surely!). I’m not bitter – I’m practical!”

Thanks for saying what we all feel. Aspirational images, which are often carefully constructed, are the bread and butter of the Instagram and while there is nothing wrong with a bit of virtual day-dreaming I agree we shouldn’t believe the hype.

Helen’s following…

Victoria Topping artist

@victoriatoppingart

Victoria Topping: “Vic is a friend of mine and a creative FORCE!”

 

Claire Doodle Instagram

@clairs_doodle

Clair Meldrum: “Clair is a painter from Aus who I think does a good job of keeping it real Mum styles!”

 

@letsmakeartukLet's make art bristol

Karen Davies: “Let’s make Art provide high quality art workshops and events for children and sometimes adults too. Her feed is full of cool ideas for crafts for kids and some little gems from her family life too.”

Helen’s work…

Helen is currently working as a freelance senior product designer for Wild & Wolf in Bath. She designs homeware, giftware and toys for major UK retailers and the global market. Helen is currently exhibiting her Paper Entomology artwork at the following galleries: Porthminster Gallery, St. Ives; Sarah Wiseman Gallery, Oxford; Byard Art, Cambridge; Foss Fine Art, Battersea. She also accepts commissions –some of these projects can be seen on her Instagram account @house.of.wards.

helenward.info


Interview by Amy White

Let’s talk about flex…with Sophie Adams

Sophie is a 37-year-old social media manager (training with Digital Mums) who lives in south west London with her husband Dan, daughters Milla (5) and Ruby (3) and Dot the six month old schnoodle pup.

Sophie Adams Digital Mums work that works

A burgeoning career as a social media manager beckons for Sophie whose CV has almost come full circle. She started working in advertising after university and no doubt some of those core skills will prove useful in the future. A decade spent as a teacher defined her professional identity, however the familiar story of crippling childcare costs and a vocation which demands a huge amount of time meant she has chosen a different career, one which allows more flexibility around family life. Like so many of us Sophie refers to feeling guilty: “As a working mum you feel like you are always letting someone down; rushing to leave work to get to nursery, rushing the kids out of the house to get to work etc. It’s a vicious circle. That’s why I’m hoping the Digital Mums course will give me the flexibility to pick the kids up from school, but still get the fulfilment of working.”

Although ‘flexible working’ is still in its infancy in the Adams household at least Sophie’s in control of the hours she does, even if it does “involve working all evening and crawling in to bed at about 1am!”. Setting a positive role model for her children is an important aspect of life and one I can relate to. It’s about finding the balance between being around whilst the children are little and fulfilling the desire to have a professional identity.

Sophie’s top tips for finding a work/life balance is to “find a job/career/hobby that you’re passionate about, and can make a bit of money from it without compromising your family life, surely that’s the dream!”. Digital Mums have certainly captured the imagination of thousands of women like Sophie, and although I’m not a ‘Digital Mum’ in the official sense, I’d like to think I’m championing its values and ethos.

Despite the compromises motherhood naturally brings, like precious time to yourself (goodbye spa weekends, retail therapy, lie-ins, I could go on…) one thing is clear we wouldn’t change it for a thing. Although daydreaming for a moment, if Sophie didn’t need to work she might be “a very leisurely artist – painting as and when the mood took me and selling my paintings for big bucks (I can dream…)”.

Taking a leap of faith and deciding to be your own boss is a really challenging prospect and particularly hard for a lot of mums who suffer with that dreaded self-doubt we all feel. Hearing stories, like Sophie’s, gives me huge motivation and confidence to have more self-belief. “The idea of being my own boss is really exciting on paper, but the reality of having to go out there and get the work, do the hustle is a bit terrifying! But I have to challenge myself.” I’m really looking forward to following Sophie’s journey and hearing about her success.


Sophie on social media…

“Hopefully its opening up a whole new career for me. Since having kids and spending those lonely hours in the middle of the night on Twitter and Instagram, I’ve been watching the platforms evolve and the power they now wield is incredible! Its just in its infancy, though, and the future is exciting!”

Sophie’s daily digital routine…

“Email, Instagram, Facebook, the Guardian, the Daily Mail gossip (sorry!), Instagram, Twitter, Instagram, Instagram, Snapchat etc”.

Sophie’s following…

“Via Instagram I’ve found HUNDREDS of mums/bloggers/vloggers – its now such a powerful tool & some of them definitely influence where I shop & what I buy etc. I find them much more interesting than celebs!”

cissy wears mumpreneur

@cissywears: “runs an amazing business whilst having four children”.

 

 

 

don't buy her flowers steph@steph_dontbuyherflowers: “runs a really successful business since having her children”.

 

 

 

too much mothering information blog

@toomuchmotheringinformation: “an ex-teacher like me who became, through circumstance, a stay at home mum; I realised we were starting the Digital Mums course at the same time and she’s running a lovely campaign focussing on SE London @indikidsldn“.

 

 

Sophie’s work…

Sophie is using her love of dogs as part of her training for Digital Mums and has setup an online community SWLondonDogs: a place to find information for dog lovers in South West London.

sophie adams digital mums sw london dogs

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SWLondonDogs/

Twitter: @SWLondonDogs

Instagram: swlondondogs

 

digital mums work that worksDigital Mums
Twitter: @digitalmumshq / Instagram: digitalmums
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DigitalMumsHQ/
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/digital-mums/  Snapchat: www.snapchat.com/add/digitalmums

 


Interview with Amy White