Anna Collette Hunt completed the Crafts Council's Hothouse Scheme in 2012
Anna is a Nottingham based maker specialising in ceramics and illustration. Anna is inspired by the heritage and stories of English stately homes, which she weaves into narratives that form the basis of her collections and installations. Anna graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a BA in Decorative Arts in 2009 and in 2010 received a grant from the Craft Pottery Charitable Trust, receiving £600 towards a slab roller back to complete the set up of her studio. In 2011 she mounted her first major solo exhibition Stirring The Swarm – a ceramic infestation of 10,000 handmade ceramic insects installed in the stairwell at Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery.
Why did you apply to take part in Hothouse?
What really interested me in the Hothouse programme was the idea of combining business skills with creative potential. I studied one module on business early on in my undergraduate degree, but at the time I didn’t really understand enough about my creative direction at the time to fully absorb the content. With a year of work experience under my belt I realised that I needed to do something to increase my output and I was hoping that Hothouse would point me in the right direction.
Which elements of the programme did you most enjoy?
For me the best part of the programme was getting out around the country to do market research. I’m based in Nottingham so taking trips to meet my mentor and attend study days in other places was a great opportunity for me to visit the outlets that my target market would be likely to visit. In London, for example, I went with my mentor Amy Jane Hughes on a market research trip to Designers Guild, Mint, Contemporary Applied Arts and the V&A shop. Amy wanted to show me how important it is to get to know your market, so we spent time identifying trends, studying presentation and comparing price points in each store. The trip really helped me to understand my market better and showed me how I could rework elements, such as my colour palettes to increase my chances of being stocked.
Did Hothouse meet your expectations in terms of gaining business skills?
Yes definitely. There was a lot of content throughout the programme focusing on market awareness and pricing. Before taking part in Hothouse the core of my practice revolved around making decorative dishes. The dishes I make are complicated to fabricate, they warp easily and command lower prices than items that are easier to make. During the programme it became clear that when it comes to the dishes the numbers just don’t add up – I’m losing money each time I sell a dish because the market will not pay the full price that it costs to make.
What changes have you made to your practice as a result of this new insight?
As well as producing dishes, I now also produce plates. It seems like such a simple thing to extend my range to include plates, but previously I just wasn’t thinking of my practice in terms of labour intensity and a pricing spectrum. I used to think that because I was a maker I needed to dissociate myself from mass production and that duplication meant a loss of value. But when faced with the financial facts laid out in a spreadsheet I had to adjust my thinking.
What else did you learn about making your practice more financially sustainable?
I can now see that it’s fine for me to produce dishes as loss leaders, but I need to place a higher value on my other stock. For example I produce a range of ceramic jewellery which sells really well, but I’ve never spent much time developing the designs or thinking about how I could extend the range. Now I have a clearer understanding of the financial realities of running a craft practice I can see that I need to dedicate a much bigger proportion of my time to developing this range. This year I’ve been accepted to take part in Lustre so I’m planning to have a new range of ceramic jewellery completed in time for the show.
Are you working on the introduction of any other new ranges as part of your financial sustainability plan?
Yes, I’m also working on a range of statues. The statues have been developed in response to the fact that all my previous work has been wall based. During Hothouse I realised that having just one type of vessel on sale significantly narrows my market potential. The statues are freestanding pieces opposed to being wall based – which should have wider appeal. I have also designed them so that they can be manufactured which will give me the flexibility to offer them at a more attractive price point in the future.
How do you see your practice developing over the next few years?
At the moment I’m in the process of carefully reassessing my practice, combining all the elements I’ve learned through Hothouse to refocus and revaluate my work. Thanks to the encouragement of Hothouse, I now feel much more confident about approaching galleries, so I’m keen to put my new market awareness to use in developing future collections and I’m particularly aware that I need to establish a greater presence in the UK. To this end I will be working on my branding with a view to raising my profile nationally. I’m also planning to start a studio group in Nottingham so I can continue to share my industry experiences with other makers more locally.
What advice would you give to makers considering applying for future Hothouse programmes?
Hothouse will take you on an amazing journey and gives you time to look at your practice from the outside. But don’t expect all the answers on a plate. You have to be prepared to take apart all the pieces of your practice and then put them back together again. Your practice will be richer for it. Most importantly, get as involved as possible with the rest of your group and you’ll make good links that will last beyond the programme.