From Personal to Public BIG meeting

Tue 12 Jul 2016 by Amy_Rogers

Peter James Field and Chiff Chaff Studio

We returned to Brighton’s Marlborough Theatre for the latest BIG event.
The meeting’s topic was ‘Private to Public’ and two speakers described how their personal projects became commercial successes.
Vicky Woodgate has always loved wildlife. Her father was a countryside ranger so conservation experts often visited her house and there were dead bats in the freezer. As a child, Vicky made sculptures from owl pellets and dead animals. She and her brothers gave badgers Smartie’s for Christmas. There was a badger’s head in the family living room. Vicky thought that the bum was through the wall in their neighbours’!
Vicky has been a commercial illustrator for ten years. For the previous ten years she was a scenic artist for Warner Brothers, Universal Studios and Legoland. Working for these companies taught Vicky to consider absolutely every brand related detail. Some of the directors were so particular about details that they flew people over from America to make decisions about colours.
Vicky has lived in London, Spain and Brighton and was inspired to take part in Brighton’s Open Houses after admiring Mia Underwood’s nature-inspired artwork. Vicky’s passion for wildlife was reignited and she began drawing birds again. She added little facts and funny stories to her artwork. Vicky was thrilled to see other people’s positive reactions at the exhibition.
Vicky then took Lila Rogers’ Make Art that Sells bootcamp. The cost was $99 for six months of online projects. Vicky used the course for its philosophy – do what you love and your joy will shine through and inspire others. Inspired by the course Vicky got serious about developing a brand. She printed her artwork onto bunting, notebooks, badges, tea-towels and greeting cards. She used the name Chiff Chaff Studio to differentiate the brand from her illustration work.
A national Bird Fair seemed the ideal place to launch her brand. Vicky met Bill Oddie and Chris Packham, who loved her work. Sadly, not many members of the crowd did – they preferred traditional watercolour designs. Undeterred, Vicky approached wildlife charities who loved the modern look of her products. They bought them as did farm shops and castles. Vicky had twenty new stockists following the Bird Show. She set up a website with a shop and recommends selling through Etsy or Shopify. Vicky also created a trade catalogue and put barcodes on all her products.
Taking good photos and presenting your products well is vital. Those shops that sell Vicky’s products in her compartmentalised wooden crates sell twice as much as those that don’t. The overall effect is much more cohesive.
Vicky tweets a lot when Springwatch is on and wildlife fans are more likely to follow links to her work. Vicky has recently secured a ‘Bird Book’ deal with a major publisher. The fact that her products sell was reassuring for them.
Vicky spends one morning each week getting her books together and targeting the markets she wants. Her aim is to win twenty more stockists by the end of the year. She has fourteen items in her current range and keeps adding to it to freshen things up. In the future she plans to paint more birds from overseas – I can’t wait to see them!

Peter James Field was our second speaker. He studied at the University of Brighton and in 2014 he self-published a book containing ten years worth of his daily sketches. These sketches are of isolated real-life moments, some of them are humorous, others poignant. Peter’s handwritten captions unify his varied drawing and painting styles.
Peter’s daily sketches were a side project while he worked as a commercial illustrator for the likes of Penguin, BBC Bitesize, New York Times Magazine and The Guardian. The majority of his work is book covers and editorials. Peter puts six new drawings onto his website each month. His first handmade book was created in 2009 and he made another in 2011. These earlier books were designed by Peter’s friends Anthony and Ed – two graphic designers at New England House, where they all had studios. They produced 250 books and Peter sold them to Camden Art Centre and Magma. The deal was sale on return and luckily it worked out.
The book of daily sketches was created in 2014. Peter wanted to create a beautiful object so he set up a Kickstarter page to fund the printing and proofing. The project had been planned for about seven years and he needed £7,000. It was a far cry from the A3 folded leaflets he created on graduation in 2005 (the illustrations amusingly detailed Peter Andre’s love life). The Kickstarter campaign was a success and Peter printed 1600 copies of a book containing his best sketches from the previous ten years. The sketches were in chronological order although he considered creating a dialogue between illustrations from different times.
Peter went with a Hong Kong based printer and they sent him various proofs. Peter’s top advice for successful Kickstarter campaigns is to create a good video. This will show you’re invested in the product. It also creates more intimacy and connection with your supporters. Peter asked a professional filmmaker friend to create his video. He then spent five hours talking to camera, which he didn’t enjoy!
Peter advises researching other platforms such as Indigo. He felt that Kickstarter was best for him as he needed all the money and couldn’t go ahead with only some of it. You need to be sure of all your costs beforehand. Remember that the cost of sending out rewards can be huge. Peter had good rewards such as signed books, prints, postcards and greeting cards for his supporters. His top reward for backers was a personalized pencil portrait. He recommends early-bird rewards such as cheaper books too.
Peter advises anybody setting up a Kickstarter campaign to use their social network and message people personally. Ask everyone you know to share the link. Update and communicate clearly with your backers.
Peter was very relieved when he was funded two days before his deadline. He had over 200 backers and made £7,200. The graph of his projects progress was even throughout. He went with a short time frame to generate a sense of immediacy. It’s cheaper to print more copies but Peter found that 1600 heavy books took up so much space he had to pay for shelf storage. After a while he was able to move the books to his studio. Peter found that once the diary had become a book the meaning had changed and he gave it up six months later.
In the future, Peter would prefer to work with a commercial publisher as selling yourself is hard work away from illustration.
Interesting fact: Peter uses a 2b pencil!

Thanks vey much Vicky and Peter – we look forward to seeing what you create in the future!

Chiff Chaff Studio:

Peter James Field: