Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Red Door Gallery would simply not be the same if it wasn't for the wonderful support of independent and emerging designers and artists dedicated to presenting original, inspirational and affordable artwork. In amongst all of these talented folk is the very lovely and talented Mandy Sutcliffe of Belle and Boo. From selling beautiful framed children's illustrations on Etsy Mandy's label has grown and grown. As well as prints, Belle & Boo now boasts wonderful homewares, stationery and clothing and will soon launch the first Belle & Boo 'to do' book. Here at The Red Door Gallery, we're very proud to continue to showcase Belle & Boo's fantastic products. We are delighted to catch up with the star of Belle & Boo, Mandy Sutcliffe, for our regular designer/artist feature. Thanks Mandy!

Please describe what you do. What materials/techniques do you use?
Hello my name is Mandy, I am an illustrator and I run a company called Belle & Boo with my good friend Kate. I illustrate moments of childhood, a child hugging a tree, kite flying or simply starting out on the landscape from their favourite tree. We sell these images as art prints and apply them to a growing multitude of products, from tiny badges and magnets to huge wall stickers. I use traditional drawing methods, pencil, pen and ink and I use photoshop. I recently bought a wacom tablet which is AMAZING. My background is in painting, mainly acrylic and oil. Techniques I learnt whilst painting are invaluable when using photoshop.

Where do you live? How does it feed your art?
I live in North London, with my partner Russ, who is an animator. We both work from home. Our work is very different but that works well when we need an honest opinion or an alternative way to approach a piece of work. Working from home allows me to work longer hours, which I need to, there never seems enough time as it is. Living in London inspires me everyday, the shop displays, amazing exhibitions, new and alternative ideas at markets and little independent shops and my friends that have very cute kids.

Describe your studio. Where is it? Do you work alone? How often do you go there? 
My studio is in the back garden, we had it built a few years ago, replacing a run down old garage. it is huge. Russ has the tidy half and I work from a very messy half! I would like it to look all beautiful and arty, that was my dream when it was being built but the reality is I always seem too busy to spend time making it look good, I guess I shouldn't complain. We are just about to be joined by a graphic designer that will work for Belle and Boo a couple of days a week, so I really need to make some space! The good thing about the studio being in the back garden is it enables me to shut the door and leave it alone. I used to work from my lounge and I never stopped.

Where did you get your lovely company name from? 
Thank you:) I designed the characters a while ago from some Christmas cards and at the time they were called Bella and Boo. Meanwhile, I started my company on Etsy and called it Milly Molly Mandy after my favourite childhood book. As the company grew and more and more wholesalers wanted to stock my work (Sarah from The Red Door being one of the first) I realised I had to have a name of my own. Bella and Boo seemed a good choice but when I looked to buy the domain name has recently been bought by a couple to show their wedding photos. I finally decided to go with Belle and Boo when my Mum pointed out that Bella and Boo didnt look so good written down with the 2 a's being next to each other. I not LOVE Belle & Boo and I am so glad fate stepped in and my Mum of course!

Have you always been a designer? What brought you to doing what you do now?
I was always good at art, I didn't particularly enjoy doing it but I craved the praise I recieved. It seemed the natural path to take, a-level art, followed by a foundation (one of the most intense and emotional times of my life, resulting in the highest mark they had ever awarded) then a 3 year degree in illustration at Leeds which was OK. The best bit being an exchange to Paris where I started drawing children and that developed into a series of paintings of children that on leaving college I took to children's book publishing companies. I illustrated 3 books and had an agent for greetings cards. After finishing my 3rd book, Russ and I decided to take some time off to travel. This is when I really got the grips with Photoshop (my books were all hand painted, they took forever!). Whilst in Sydney a friend introduced me to Etsy, I opened ny Etsy shop in November 2006, I sold my first print within 10 minutes and 2 months later I was doing it full time. A year later I was approached by Kate to team up, she took on the management side of the company, sales, accounts, licensing, all the stuff I was rubbish at and now 3 years on we have 3 part time staff and are about to take on our 4th.

Where did you train?
In Leeds, it was a dreadfully ugly building, which I think made everyone work that little bit harder to bring something beautiful to the environment! You should see the art college there now, its glorious, but I wonder if it is just a bit too new and cool to really relax and throw paint around? 

What inspires you?
The books I had as a child, good drawing and vintage images of children. The V&As museum of childhood never fails to inspire me.

Is there anyone or any style that you're influenced by?
I am heavily influenced by the story book illustrations I grew up with. My particular favourite was Milly-Molly-Mandy, the map at the beginning is etched on my brain. I think E.H.Shephard and Cicely Mary Barker are absolute genius. Other favouries are Bonnard, Vuillard, Degas and Maurice Sendak. Contempories I admire are Jen Corace and Mark Ryden.

What piece of machinery or tool could you not live without? 
At the moment I would have to say my Wacom tablet. When it first arrived I left it in it's box for a week, the first few days I used it were dreadful but now its an extension of my arm.

Besides the products you sell at The Red Door is there anything else that you make?
We now make Belle & Boo children's clothing, we are on our 2nd collection Autumn/Winter 2010. My favourite item is a duck egg blue, with chocolate trim wool coat, featuing an embroidered Boo bunny and pointy hood with tassel, its adorable. They are designed to be clothing we think Belle would wear and each comes with a printed paper version and cut out Belle & Boo doll to dress.

What are you working on at the moment? 
I am trying to work out how to apply 2 current designs to a tin lunch box and a melamine children's dinner set, with me luck!

What do you do when you're not working? Can you switch off? How do you unwind?
Nothing too exciting, meet friends, go out for dinner, watch movies, read. I recently joined a book club which is good fun, we tend to chat about the books for about 20 minutes and then have a good gossip for the rest of the evening. I don't think I ever really switch off from Belle & Boo, it is my passion and the main focus of my life at the moment, I do love to talk about it which generates more ideas, which generates more work. Sometimes it's hard to sleep because I am excited to get going again the next day. To unwine I make myself go to the gym, everyday if possible, this keeps me sane, otherwise I think I would just work all day with out a break. Russ and I love walking, we are lucky to live near Hampstead Heath, so we make sure we get there a few times a week, usually accompanies by a pint or 2 at a cosy pub along the way. 

What's your favourite pastime?
That's easy, working on a new piece of art (as long as its going well) cosy in my studio when it is raining outside, listening to the Archers with a delicious cup of coffee and maybe a biscuit of 2, but mainly knowing I have nothing else to do all that day, so I can be as indulgent in my work as I like.

What do you like least about being a designer? Any occupational hazards?
Absolutely...... Being too involved and then looking at ones peers and thinking that you are not working hard enough. Repetitive strain in my arm. Having too many virtual friends through work and not making time for your real life friends. 

What do you like they most about being a designer?
Working for myself and doing something every single day that I love. Working with my friends and being in control of my own time. 
What's your favourite possession? This can be anything!
Oooh this is the most difficult question, immediately I thought of Russ, but that' a bit awful to think of him as a possession! I have a gorgeous painting I bought in Vietnam of a little girl, so thinking about it, it would probably be the art I have collected over the years. Oh and my hard drive that had all my work on it!

What advice would you offer to other creatives?
Do what makes you happy and you are good at. Believe in yourself and your ideas. Listen to advice from others, but dare to challenge it. When I was working in the greetings card industry I was told images of children don't sell unless you can't see their faces, so always drew them from the back. Belle & Boos range of children's cards, produced by a very forward thinking (excuse the pun) and contemporary company nineteenseventythree, have since gone to sell in their 1,000's around the world. 

Who else's work do you love? Any artists/makers/friends/galleries/websites you'd like to share?


veronica camara bevia said...

i really love your draws :), they are very innocent and pretty, im following you :)

Daria Hlazatova said...

lovely art! such an inspirational post