A craft collaboration is a great way to grow your skills and business as well as making meaningful connections…
It’s always more fun to work together and collaborating with another maker is a great way of pushing yourself creatively, building a bigger audience, making more sales and sharing the workload.
We caught up with Rob Ryan, Sinead Koehler of Crafty Fox Markets and Charlie McKay of the Clay Collective who have all collaborated with their contemporaries to create new makes, events and sharing spaces, to find out how to make a collaboration work for you…
Why it works
Legendary paper cutter Rob Ryan has teamed up with his pals Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfenden of statement jewellery trailblazers Tatty Devine over the years to create stunning jewellery that appeals to fans of both. Rob realised the benefits of working together early on and reveals that collaborations are more than just about making a product. “Principally it makes you think differently about your work, how you produce it and how you have to adapt that process to suit another’s production requirements,” explains Rob
“It’s nice to remove yourself from the solitary head space of your own thing and let someone else in. Also, it’s good for business – you both introduce your followers and fans to each other.”
But how do you choose who is best to collaborate with? Friends with similar interests may be your first port of call. Rob has done many projects with Tatty Devine over the years after meeting Harriet and Rosie while studying fine art at college and realising they had the same goals. He explains, “I had an exhibition in their Brick Lane shop and an even longer time ago, I screen printed some bags and T Shirts for them. I think we see things in a similar way.”
Crafty Fox’s recent collaboration with Folksy for the Weekend of The Maker in Sheffield show it doesn’t just have to be an item that you create, but an event. Their collaboration was born after Sinead met Camilla Westergaard, Folksy’s Content Editor, when she used to trade at their markets before being invited as a speaker at the Folksy Summer School in 2013. “It was great to get to know more about Folksy and their values and ever since then, we’ve had the desire to work together,” explains Sinead, who had only ever produced London based markets before.
“A few months ago, Camilla got in touch to say that a beautiful new arts venue (The Roco) had opened in Sheffield and that it might just be the perfect place for our event, ‘Weekend of the Maker’.”
Collaborations are also about making new connections. “In a lot of ways, Clay Collective was born out of necessity,” explains Charlie.
“In the beginning it was a small group of friends who were attending a range of institutions and not getting what they needed. We worked out that it could be more efficient, more inspiring and more budget effective if resources were pooled into one space. Five quickly became 12 and at the same time a perfect space in Hackney Downs became available and we snapped it up. We pooled skills, resources and equipment and built the studio with a bit of help from some lovely local set builders.
“It’s also been about creating a community. Getting to know other craftspeople is a good way to make friends, share opportunities and generally be more involved with your own work. It’s easy for makers to become isolated, so communicating and working with other practitioners is key, if only for the sake of sanity!”
Pick your targets
Both parties should always benefit from a collaboration, so they work best if your businesses are at a similar stage. Make sure you work out all of the tiny details before going ahead from who will work on what aspect to how you’ll split the profits to make sure there are no arguments later down the line.
It also makes sense to work with people who have a different skill set to you so you can work to each other’s strengths and help you work on your weaknesses. “We are 12 people who all have our own practices, but very much aim to help one another as much as possible,” explains Charlie.
“It’s a pool of knowledge and varied skills so becomes an ideal environment to grow.
As well as being a great place for it’s members, Clay Collective brings ceramics to the people. We hold workshops and attend ceramics markets together, work with brands and institutions on collaborative projects to promote ceramics and to give people a chance to come into contact with the making process.”
Making it work
So what’s the secret to a successful collaboration? Rob believes that having the same drive as each other is a key ingredient. “Both parties need to respect what each other does, what they are good at and actually letting them, in fact encouraging them, to do that,” explains Rob.
“You should have like minds and both be prepared to work as hard as each other. When I was younger I was so enthusiastic about wanting to do projects and fanzines I was always trying to rope in friends to do something together. Invariably you just waste a lot of time waiting on people who aren’t as up for it as you are – drop the flakes and do it yourself! Eventually, if you are lucky, you will discover the good people or they will discover you.”
Sinead agrees that you need to find someone not only with the same drive as you, but who also feels the same way about craft as you. “I think shared values are really important for a successful collaboration. We always seek to work with organisations, which support makers in one way or another,” she explains.
Charlie adds that you should be on a level playing field so everyone gets involved equally. “Coming into a project with ideas but no ego is the key. Choosing a team where all members are able to be active in the process, but also objective in coming to the best conclusion. We are all good at different things so when it comes to working together, we already know our natural place in the project. Knowing what you’re in for is important!” explains Charlie.
“Sharing skills and information is a great way to grow. I think being able to try new processes and ideas becomes so much more approachable when you know that at least one person in the studio will have either tried or about what you’re about to attempt.
Having people to bounce ideas off is one of the best ways to speed up the creative process and having a hive-mind of technical information does the same for the making process. I personally find that technical roadblocks are one of the quickest ways of killing a good idea, so having people around to help problem-solve on the spot can be a very liberating luxury.”
Once you’ve created your collaboration it’s time to get the message out there. Use your social media to direct your fans to each other or shout to the world about your workshops and markets. Think about creating your own hashtag to get more attention.
Checking out other people’s collaborations is a great way to spark your imagination for one of your own. “I love Camille Walala who is constantly collaborating so that every week she seems to be doing something incredible, I follow her on Instagram – it’s exhausting even trying to keep up!” says Rob.
Sinead is proud that the Crafty Fox markets bring makers together who go on to work together after chatting behind their stalls. “I love to see successful collaborations between makers at our markets – two which spring to mind are designer Georgia Bosson and illustrator Cecily Vessey’s successful Landmark Locations crowd-funding project. They produced a series of 12 artworks combining their unique styles,” she smiles.
“Another collaboration that I loved was the House Series by Scout Editions and Anna Wiscombe. It’s a collection of 150 small wooden houses, which are more like miniature works of art – each completely unique.”