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Speaker’s Corner: Jennifer Collier, Paper and Textiles Artist

Jennifer Collier will be speaking at Flourish, our professional development conference for makers and designers

Jennifer Collier is a paper and textiles artist who has led the way in the upcycling revolution in art and craft; a veteran maker of vintage material, investigating the re-used and recycled since 1999. Jennifer will be talking about protecting your creative business and creating a strategy for growth post-Brexit at Flourish, our professional development conference for makers and designers taking place on 19-20 June. Ahead of Flourish, we quiz Jennifer on her work, the tool she can't live without and her biggest career challenge.

See Jennifer at Flourish

Could you tell us a bit about your work?

I originally trained in textiles completing a BA (hons) Textiles, at Manchester Metropolitan University, in 1999. This was a traditional textiles course specialising in Print, Knit and Weave. Toward the end of the course I started experimenting with different materials, weaving with orange peel, melting fruit bags; all manner of things my tutors did not approve of. I honestly believe the best way to learn is by not being afraid to make mistakes, this way you allow yourself to have happy accidents. All of the techniques I use in my work now are things I have taught myself since graduating by experimenting with different media and techniques. Probably more than half of my work never sees the light of day, but through the other half I have discovered something truly unique.

What are you working on right now?

I have just finished a few really big National Trust commissions, and am currently doing the lighting for all new ‘White Stuff’ stores that are opening nationally. I am really HOPING to have the time very soon to create new work, and my next priority is to come up with new designs, and take some time to play with new stitch techniques in paper and see how I can incorporated these into new work.

What are your inspirations?

The materials themselves that I use to make my work are my biggest inspiration. I find a media and try to think how I can use it in my work and transform its function. Also I gain inspiration from the places I search for materials, such as flea markets, charity shops, fruit and veg stalls, antique shops etc. Whenever I am really stuck for an idea I seek inspiration from literature or poetry. It got to the stage that it just made sense for the papers themselves to become the media as well as the inspiration for the work. I enjoy nothing more than finding a cook book splattered with food stains or a water damaged paperback that I can save from land fill and transform into something beautiful.

What is the ‘tool’ you can’t live without?

My Bernina. I jointly bought this with a flat mate in my first year at university in 1996 for just £80, but I got custody when we left. Every year when I get it serviced he laughs at what a tatty old workhorse it is, but it has never let me down yet!

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self starting out?

NEVER take no for an answer, always ask for feedback when you do get a no, and keep chasing opportunities until you get a yes!

If you could learn a new craft technique what would you try?

Ceramics, especially mould making and slip casting- as ceramics is something I know nothing about but it is something I am drawn to, and always buy. I have just come back from The Contemporary Craft Festival in Devon, with at least 5 new ceramic pieces….

What has been your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

I have had quite a few problems with plagiarism over the years, especially when my practice focussed on making simple paper dresses and shoes. Though when I first started making very few people were working in this way, and it felt like over time I had paved the way for paper garments to become the norm, with this often set as projects in schools. I have even had people participating in an art workshop and then running my art workshop and getting paid for it. Now to protect myself in the workshops I run I teach the value of learning a new skill, then making it your own and pushing the boundaries of what can be done with that skill and technique. In my own work I devise all my own patterns, moulds and templates so they are unique to me. I am always asked how I do things, but what I honestly feel is most important is to learn a new skill and then to push it forward and make it your own. There is no point making works like someone else’s, you should strive to make work that is your own- innovate don’t imitate. Don’t be afraid to have happy accidents and spend time playing with materials, as this is when you discover something truly unique…

What’s your top tips for how makers can best to protect their designs and ideas?

The two things I did at exactly the same time (so it is hard to know which was the most effective, or if it was a balance of the two) was to join ACID (Anti Copying in Design) and to push my work forward to create much more complicated and intricate pieces that people have been UNABLE to copy convincingly. IF I do see derivative work, and it does rarely happen these days, I send a carefully worded cease and desist letter (approved by ACID) and generally the maker apologies for breaching my intellectual property. 

See Jennifer at Flourish

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