Channelling the beauty of her home surroundings in Cornwall, Alison Bick's bold and beautiful lampshades certainly pack a punch. Using her talents in graphic design, Alison has created a unique modern floral style that translates perfectly to lampshades, both large and small and as a recent winner of our #memadeshade Instagram competition, she stole the show with her whopping one metre Bird of Paradise shade!
We find out more about Alison's inspiration, her approach to lampshade making and her successful role at Etsy Cornwall.
How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
Feeling like a swan, gliding on the surface and paddling like crazy underneath! It has been incredibly busy, I’ve got lots of orders for lampshades and cushions which is amazing – I’m working on my order book to get everything sent out for Christmas.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?
I usually start the design process with a quick sketch and take lots of photos on walks around gardens for inspiration. My designs have a story behind them, either my favourite flowers or family events. I live in Cornwall and so fortunate to be living in a coastal countryside so get my inspirations from daily dog walks.
How would you describe your style?
Bold and colourful – I’m trying to bring the outside indoors with a pop of colour!
How do you adapt your designs for lampshades?
Once I’ve created my initial sketched out ideas, I’ll turn them into vectorised motifs using Adobe Illustrator. I can then change the colours, play with the scale, create repeat patterns which can then be used to print onto any surface – from paper to fabrics like linen and velvet, canvas or sublimated onto hard surfaces.
When did you start making lampshades?
In 2017 – I had signed up to a creative business support programme, and my mentor at the time suggested that I try out printing my designs onto fabric. I bought some lampshade kits from Dannells and gave it a go. I started off with a few designs, and after some really great feedback from customers, I gradually started selling more and more and developing new designs.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
It is the end product of my design process, I love seeing the designs that have come from my head, imagination and life experiences get printed onto fabric. Sitting quietly and making a 3D version of my design and listening to BBC Sounds. It is very relaxing.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
Without a doubt it is the Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) design. A customer who had bought shades from me in the past asked if I could design a tropical flower lampshade for her, with oranges and purples. Of course it had to be Bird of Paradise Flower! It has been my best seller ever since!
What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business?
I make to order, that way I can keep my stock levels down. At the beginning of the year I made every design as a lampshade in the different sizes that I offer, and paid for a professional photoshoot to take lifestyle shots and product shots.
Since Lockdown One I have taken part in virtual fairs, live streaming from my Facebook page from my sitting room or workshop – so it is great to have stock for that, as it gives people a real flavour of all the different designs I do, and they create a strong identity of my style when they are all together. I’m really clear on my website and Etsy shop that all my shades are printed to order, and take two weeks to make, so each one is bespoke and made especially for my customers. It is about managing my customers’ expectations so that they know that I’m not going to be sending their lampshade to them overnight after placing an order.
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
If you are a designer-maker then make to order, try to keep your stock down so you don’t end up with lots of shades and no space to keep them all!
Start small, do your research into your ideal customer, find your niche and make sure that people want to buy your shades before you invest a lot of money. Join the Lampshade Makers advice Facebook group!!
You’ve been very instrumental in setting up Etsy Makers Cornwall, how do you fit this role in with your business and designing?
I co-founded Etsy Makers Cornwall team with some other Etsy sellers, initially to host Etsy Made Local fairs in Cornwall. We organised four events to date, which got so popular and we built up a reputation for hosting quality and magical events. I always positioned my stall near the entrance and loved hearing the gasps of delight as visitors walked in through the doors. We moved the event from St Ives to Penryn in 2019, to a bigger venue and had 5,000 visitors who spent £78K on our stallholders. This year we have organised online events, but really miss the buzz of the face to face events. It has been hard juggling my business and the organising over the past four years, and a lot of hard work! I also run a Facebook group called Etsy Makers Cornwall, which has become a supportive networking group where small businesses like mine who sell online can seek and offer advice about anything!
When are you at your most productive?
The mornings! I’m definitely a morning person, exhausted by 10pm.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
Coffee and water. Oh, go on then - maybe a biscuit or a bit of chocolate…
Could you tell us about your workspace?
I’m just starting to get organised this year, orders have really taken off so I’ve had to buy a lot more lampshade components and I’ve had to think about my space and how it works for me.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I would love to be doing what I’m doing, perhaps more designing than making. I would love to have a proper studio, and to find someone local in Cornwall who I could work with, to help out with orders. This year I got my first shade stockist – a lovely indie shop on the Isle of Wight and it would be amazing to build up my business to have more stockists.
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
No experience or skill is wasted, and that by starting out on something is the best way to find your path – even if it wasn’t the path you intended! I went back to college in 2000 as a mature student, to study an HND in Multimedia design. I thought I wanted to be a web designer, and I was one for 15 years after finishing college. I’ve ended up using a tool like Adobe Illustrator to develop my own designs instead of other businesses’ logos and websites, which is far more enjoyable, creative and satisfying to the soul. And never stop learning, and it is never too late to learn new skills.
Find Alison's lampshades, homewares and prints at www.alisonbick.co.uk or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To find out more about Etsy Cornwall's virtual craft fairs check out their facebook page here.
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