We ask a bunch of creatives about their process and what craft means to them

23 September 2015

When you initially think of craft your mind can wander to kitsch hobbies like making macrame jewellery boxes and play dough ornaments. But real, honest craft is a something that requires skilled hands and hard work. In recent years it feels like our digitally overloaded brains are crying out for well-made, tangible things, and slowly the need is being met by a legion of creators looking to the past for techniques, but embracing our online landscape to spread the word.

We asked illustrator Joël Penkman who we featured on the site back in 2013, print designer James Brown and illustrator and jewellery maker Lou Taylor what craft means to them in terms of the their own work, why they think craft has become so popular again and how they’re able to make a living out of what they’re making. While their opinions may differ on what craft actually is, the importance they place on skill and process is what brings them together.

Joël Penkman, illustrator

To me craft is the process of making something by hand while demonstrating skill and care. People are making less than ever in our consumer society so when someone takes the time to craft something unique it’s appreciated and stands out. The internet has been key in spreading the word and bringing people with similar interests together – with it, makers can easily share their crafts and learn from what others are doing. I make my own gesso boards, grind my own paints and hand finish my frames. I paint mostly in egg tempera, a very old painting method which fell out of favour during the 15th Century when oil paint was invented. It’s a very fussy medium with little room for error, it needs a rigid, absorbent surface so traditional gesso is perfect.

I sell prints and originals online and to galleries, and take commissions so I can make a decent portion of my living through creating. As a small business for me to spend my time running my own shop wouldn’t be viable. I don’t sell large enough volumes to justify and want to spend more time creating work. 15 years ago my situation would’ve meant selling my work through a third party at wholesale price, but online marketplaces like Etsy have allowed craftspeople and artists to sell directly to customers and keep most of the profit. I can have an online shop from from a valid website without substantial investment or regular payments.


James Brown, illustrator and designer

I print my work by hand so in the traditional sense it’s craft-based, I make screen prints and lino cuts but draw everything in Adobe Illustrator. My printing facilities are quite low-tech which enforces limitations on the way I design, so my process becomes a part of the work. To me though, craft is more of an attitude than a way of production, for instance just because I draw on a computer does that mean it’s not craft? Spending hours nudging points on a vector path to get the perfect images is just as crafty as hand whittling a spoon. I think we have the internet to thank for a resurgence in craft. People can learn, research and sell easier now and I think it’s a reaction again mass production and the need for something more honest.

I just started making prints for myself and now I’m very fortunate to be in the position of making a living out of doing what I love. I have a website which I sell from but I also exhibit my work as much as can, but online marketplaces have provided another way of getting my work seen by more people in a competitive market. I like that Etsy is a community of sellers and allows me to present my work to an international audience.


Lou Taylor, illustrator and jewellery maker

I divide my time between creating papercut illustrations and jewellery making. Although my jewellery is laser cut, a lot of it starts out as paper mock-ups and I assemble it all by hand, as well as hand painting many pieces. As an illustrator I used to spend a lot of my time on screen, but I’ve started to step away and play with paper, shapes and pattern more to allow my imagination to guide me rather than a mouse.

A craft revival matched with a growth in social media and websites like Etsy has enabled people to reach a wider audience through what they make and even to make a career out of it. I’ve been able to make a living out of what I create through selling on Etsy, my website and wholesale to shops across the UK. I chose Etsy because it’s established and respected and it means I can take advantage of the huge numbers of people who shop there every day. It’s global but there’s still that feeling of community, which is helped by what Etsy do on ground level through organising craft fairs, art exhibitions and other things.


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