We’re back with our second monthly maker of the year and this month we chatted to Rachel Owen; artist, graphic designer and Make North Docks resident. Sat in our wonderfully colourful soon-to-be Make Hamilton Café I caught up with Rachel over a Zoom call and a cup of tea. Rachel told us about some exciting projects she’s worked on in the past (TV AND Fashion!) And what she’s got coming up next. So to find out more have a read.
Hi Rachel! Can you start by telling us a bit about your craft?
I am an artist and designer working in mixed media, though it’s only over the past few years I’ve been able to focus on producing my own work and find ways to commercialise it.
Recently I have been focusing on creating digital images by mixing my illustrations, paintings, and photographs together. I blend one layer over the next as an accumulation of memories, with some elements remaining distinguishable and others disappearing or taking on new forms. I’ve concentrated on building repetitive images under different guises; a response to the daily monotony of lockdown.
I have always loved art and making things. I did a Public Arts degree at Chelsea School of Art and enjoyed the creative process. Particularly experimenting with different materials incorporating sound, light or movement. After graduating, I was commissioned for a sculpture installation at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and exhibited further sculptures at the Henley Festival of Arts. I did a Fine Art post-grad at St Martins Byam Shaw some years later. But the business of securing commissions needed a certain skill set and confidence to pursue, which I just lacked at the time.
Based in London, I found more financially secure work at various design agencies. I did design work for clients and then went on to manage design teams and client accounts. It gave me great insight and understanding into design processes and creative strategies and I worked with lots of interesting clients from small business to supermarkets, Burberry to the British Heart Foundation.
After years in the world of design and production in London, I moved to Liverpool in 2019 to realise a long-held dream – to pursue my love and passion for art, design and making.
What type of design work would you do with the clients?
Sometimes we would work on their branding and packaging. With the British Heart Foundation, I worked on digital collateral that went out with their videos and films, like leaflets and information documents. With Burberry, I worked on product development in makeup and perfume so we would design the look of the packaging and the materials they used. For example, If a new blush came out and they wanted the powder engraved to look like lace, we would work out the logistics of that, working out the right colours and materials. We would take a brief from a client, come back with options and they would choose the ones they like. Or sometimes we would rework a brand, or help a new company create their brand look.
What do you focus your own work around? What are your inspirations behind that?
I am inspired by nature and the wilderness. I grew up in North Wales and always loved the coast and countryside, being between the mountains and the sea. Spaces that allow you to escape from the constant buzz of life, think a little clearer and reconnect to the world. Since moving to Liverpool I’ve really appreciated being close to Crosby beach and being able to use the features of industrial buildings, cranes and containers along the docks to the contrasting expanses of the beaches to create geometric landscapes.
Before I came to Liverpool I took some time out to pursue my other passion, horses. Through the Workaway programme, I found work at equestrian yards in the UK, Norway, Portugal and Spain. I learnt about racing, classical riding and exercising, and looking after horses and various other animals. It was a great experience and an opportunity to study the shape and form of animals. I brought back lots of horse imagery, some of which is reflected in my art. I’ve been working with paper mache, clay, and jesmonite on horse sculptures that I will be developing once back in the studio properly.
What sparked your initial passion for making art?
As a kid, I was always making something, drawing, sewing or chopping things up in the shed. I have a family background of makers, from the make and mend generation when spinning and dyeing their own wool for knitting and tapestry was often the norm, and presents were ‘make your own’ craft sets. In school, my art teacher was supportive and helped me get on to a foundation course. And it went on from there.
What has been one of your favourite projects you have worked on?
Creating a portfolio of artwork for the set of the BBC drama series, Life. I had started work on some abstract images when I first started at Make and asked a friend, who is a production designer working in film and TV, for feedback. She really liked them and asked if I could produce a selection for the programme she was working on. The series was based in a large shared house with lots of characters, so I was given a brief with all their personalities and colour palettes for the rooms, and had to create mood boards showing styles that would suit the characters. I created about 50 artworks and spent time on set in Manchester. Often working to tight deadlines to get everything finished on time. It was exciting and having a background in design really helped as I was used to working to briefs, deadlines and impromptu changes.
I loved seeing the brilliant actor, Alison Steadman, musing over one of the paintings.
I also recently finished a project for a short-form drama series for Clerkenwell Films called Cheaters. I’m looking forward to sharing the set images but have to wait until the series is broadcast.
Do you get to use the artwork you create afterwards to sell etc.?
Yes, I own the rights so I can put them in my shop and sell them. (when I sort my shop!) The production company just gets the rights to use them in the show. I also had to source some images from public domain sites so had to do lots of background checks to ensure there were no copyright infringements. That’s a minefield in itself.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work for themselves or work freelance?
Just do it. It has taken me years to finally take the plunge and build up my art practice. I think you have to believe in yourself and have a go, even if it’s small steps to start with or even sideways steps!
What are you working on next?
I have a small commission in the pipeline for another television series starting soon.
As well as building my network and reputation with production companies, I also want to start selling my work. I’ve created my basic website, now I am expanding it to incorporate online sales, another daunting task but bit by bit!
Have you learnt anything new or developed any skills recently?
During lockdown I’ve also honed some new baking skills and made a mean upside pudding; successes have been with jackfruit, mango and pineapple – delicious!
Is Make your first solo studio? What’s it been like?
Make is my first studio. It’s really inspiring when you chat to other residents and see the diverse range of stuff they are working on. It gives me hope. The Make team are really supportive too. It’s been a difficult year with having to shield and restrictions. I’ve found it quite hard to keep motivated working from home alone, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the studio and into the creative community there.
Where can people find your products and services?