Our February Directory Maker of the Month is Annahita Hessami...
...stained-glass artist and seriously savvy businesswoman. Since founding Cut Glass Studio in 2011 Annahita has used traditional techniques to create bespoke designs, which are often challenging and sometimes made in collaboration with other artists exploring their craft. We spoke to her about her journey.
Could you tell me about your background – did early experiences influence your journey into craft?
When I was very young my mother was an accomplished pottery teacher. She also has a very keen eye and great taste, and I’m sure this is where I gained most of my creative talents. Whilst teaching pottery she met my father, who is a scientist, and moved with him to Iran, where I was born. Growing up in an eclectic mixed-race home with many tapestries, antiques and handicrafts has definitely influenced me.
Once I got to secondary school, I became aware of my interest in art, craft and design. I argued to be allowed to drop most academic subjects and pursue textiles, art and drama at GCSE. It was in my textile classes that I luckily came across a substitute teacher who encouraged me to apply for a textiles/fashion course. I had my eyes set on Barnet College to which she laughed and encouraged me to apply to The London College of Fashion. I had no idea I would be accepted let alone on an unconditional offer. Massive thanks to her for seeing some potential in me.
I spent four years at LCF from the age of 16, graduating at 19 with a Foundation Degree in women's wear and pattern cutting. After three or so years working and learning about fashion, my ideas around becoming a fashion designer were slowly diminishing. I had decided at this point that I wanted to continue studying rather than going out to work, so I graduated and went back to university at The London College of Printing and pursued a degree in Surface Design. Here I had the opportunity to explore many different areas of craft, art and design - all hand processes including screen printing, etching, embossing and book binding.
After completing my degree, I was offered a position in a stained-glass studio as an apprentice, I had never touched a piece of glass before this and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of learning and growing in the craft.
You (bravely) set up your own business in 2011 – what has been your toughest moment and how did you get through?
There have been many tough moments. Being an artist and not a business woman I have had to learn many things that neither interest me nor enjoy, like accounting, paper work, time management and how to work under pressure, it has taken me the longest time and the greatest challenge so far has been to learn how to manage my own stress.
The largest physical challenge I have faced has to be taking over a subcontractor’s business and combining It with my own. This meant I went from a one-woman band to a team of three, and now we are five! Also, the challenge of combining a fine art business Cut Glass Studio with a more commercial business – Philip Bradbury Glass – has been a huge learning curve.
There have been many challenges that I have had to overcome in doing this: learning how to manage others within my own environment, delegation, dealing with larger sums of money, learning the VAT system, managing way more work at once and trying to keep some kind of work life balance. I have very minimal time for myself and off time – running a busy business is a seven-day a week task. It has changed the way I work and the approach I am able to take toward the business.
I used to enjoy most mornings to myself and roll into work around midday and work until I am tired. Now I have to be up out and working during business hours as well as the hours I prefer to work in the evenings, this makes for very long days and even less time and energy for myself and personal life. One thing that has helped me through the tough times has been my amazing supportive family and taking up Tai Chi, not only has this taught me how to channel my energy, it has taught me how to slow down and keep some goodness for myself. It is very easy to get caught up in the rush and constantly tend to others and forget oneself. This is something I am now working on with top priority and with great effect.
You’ve done several interesting and high-profile collaborations, including recreating Sir Peter Blake’s Dazzle Discs. What do you enjoy about collaborating and have you had any standout experiences?
Collaborating has been so much fun - I never imagined this is something I would do let alone so many! I have had the honour of working with some amazing artists from many different backgrounds and disciplines. One of my favourite collaborations was Audrey Hepburn with Pure Evil: making such a well-known face by such a well-known artist was a massive challenge! It took me a month to produce, I totally undercharged and learned a lot from this collaboration being one of the first I did. The project ended up in the Saatchi gallery which I couldn’t believe. The piece then went on Channel 4’s Four Rooms and was sold to Alex Proud. As far as I know he keeps the piece in his collection at Proud Galleries Chelsea.
Editioning with Sir Peter Blake on his dazzle discs has been another favourite. This is ongoing, and the discs are for sale through Warton Hall Studios and will be an edition of 50 once complete.
I have recently been exploring typographic works by collaborating with a few different type designers, this is something I never thought possible let alone with such great results, my favourite so far is Love You piece with Ryan Mills which sold in a charity auction raising money for the homeless in conjunction with a collective I am a part of called Trapped in Zone One.
Collaborating with others enables me to explore the craft beyond making standardised windows for people’s homes that have briefs and restrictions. It helps me explore my own skill set, build upon these skills and add new ones through the journey of recreating someone else’s vison in a different medium.
You have a very impressive Instagram following! Can you give any top tips for makers using social?
I started up my Instagram and Facebook page through being isolated working alone for so many years. It was initially a free platform to promote my work and ideas and has now become something much greater.
It has opened my friendship group and allows me to share, talk and promote the work we do here. I have met so many new people and talk to so many people daily who share common interests and or want an insight into the craft, how I approach it and take inspiration from.
Advice?! Don’t take it too seriously, always be positive online, do not use it to be negative or put others down, support as much as you can, we all need support!
Where from here, what’s next?
I genuinely take every day as it comes, I have never had a long term plan as such, just that I would like to share and promote the craft as much as possible, make people aware that it still exists and is not ancient or restricted in style, approach or outcome despite the fact the process has remained the same since mediaeval times.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self / what do you wish you’d known starting out as a professional maker?
Ha! Take more time for yourself, the work will still be there Monday!