We were very lucky last night to have had Abigail Mill to talk to us about her work. She brought with her an enormous amount of work and talked a lot about how she built up her business. In some senses she is/was a commercial artist who did a lot of work for publishing companies, particularly in the gift market: greetings cards, calendars, gift wrap, some ceramics and so on. You will almost certainly have seen her work if you have been into a gift shop or greetings card shop recently. I am reluctant to reproduce photos of it, even if they are on the web, after she told a horrifying story of having her work stolen by a huge company that she wasn’t in a position to sue. The following is a little taste:
I liked her new work using much stronger tweed and more earthy colours more than the popular stuff, but I don’t have a photo of that. She was very generous in passing round her work.
She explained just how hard it is to make a living and keep a grip on your artistic integrity, and there seem to have been a couple of turning points where she decided that the business was dictating her making a bit too much. Making a profit means making in volume and making what the market wants rather than what you want to make. She talked about making 400 embroidered cards a day at the height of her business. She estimated that even after deciding to scale back down, she still spends 80% of her time running the business and only 20% making. She said that when she decided to go back to a small scale business her retailers were delighted because they wanted to deal with her and not the big impersonal companies they usually buy from. This seems to be the way of lots of small business people – people want to buy you and not a stand-in for you. Business is more relational than we sometimes think.
So, that was all very interesting, but I was really fascinated to realise that she had created some of the work that inspired me when I was much younger. I never made anything, but I loved Juliet Bawden’s series of books on particular themes. I loved the one on hearts, and the one on hats and Abigail had work in both of them. The hearts book shows her technique of using multiple layers of organza:
The hat one shows her love of ornate decoration again:
I was interested to see that the books were side by side on my bookcase after all these years! This part of the evening was a really interesting bit of nostalgia. It took me back to a time when I was interested but didn’t have the skills to make things. It was before my 10,000 of practice. I know the 10,000 hours has been criticised, but practice does make us better, and the talk last night brought that home to me.
It was a lovely evening with a lovely speaker.