Starting her career in fashion, Wendy Carlton of Dotty and Flo, has enjoyed applying her talent for painting to many commercial mediums over the years. More recently, after turning her bright and exquisite artworks into fabrics, Wendy made lampshades and cushions to give her customers the chance to own affordable pieces of her art and bring her passion for nature and colour into their homes.
Building her successful homewares business up from scratch, we're thrilled to find out more about Wendy's art and her lampshade making journey for this month's Meet the Maker post.
How do you start the design process for your artwork and where do you get your design inspiration?
From being a child in Sheffield all I wanted to do was paint and draw. I went on to do a degree in Textile design in Nottingham and gained 1st class hons. Chosen to be one of 30 students nationwide to display my degree work at The Design Studio in the Haymarket London, as a consequence I was offered a job in a textile studio in the centre of London designing fabrics. My work was used mainly for swimming costumes because it had a bright tropical look.
I started designing greeting cards and found myself an agent and became a full time freelance artist designing cards for all the big card companies and a few independents too, which I did for 17 years, even after eventually moving back to my home town of Sheffield.
Bored of working on a small scale, I started to paint on large canvases, never thinking I would be able to make a living. I took a chance and painted a small collection of paintings, after I married. I began exhibiting in local art fairs one being the Art in the Gardens at Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens. Exhibiting in the huge Central Dome of the Pavillion, my large scale, bright, bold colours and floral themes worked extremely well with the surroundings. I have kept that same space for 18 years and will do so as long as they will have me 😁 I also exhibit nationwide and have my paintings in a few art galleries around the country.
How has your artistic style evolved over time?
My artistic style has developed over the years and is still evolving, but the one constant which remains is my love of colour, florals and nature. I like my work to be noticed and make people happy when they see it. Cheerful, happy art to lift the spirits, to stand out not blend in. I generally want it to be that pop of colour to enhance the room.
What artist techniques do you use to create your paintings?
For my paintings I use Acrylic paints usually Liquitex or Golden and acrylic inks. I always paint on canvas, mainly large stretched deep edge ones. I occasionally paint on canvas boards if someone wants a framed piece.
Three years ago I decided to put images of my work on fabric to make my own cushions as I had been asked at my art shows by people who liked my paintings, but couldn’t afford an original. I fancied bringing fabrics back into my work life. The cushions went down very well and I sell through Not on the High Street and Etsy, as well as a few local shops.
I added placemats and coasters to my collection and shortly after lampshades. I’d been asked a few times about shades, but thought they would be too hard to make and I was worried about posting them. I think they have been my most successful homeware product.
When and why did you start making lampshades?
I bought my first single kit on Amazon so I paid full whack, saw the name of the manufacturer, Dannells, so looked them up! The first shade took me ages, I not only followed the written instructions, but a video too.
I really liked the look of the finished product though so tried making more. My first order of several individual kits from Dannells was probably about two and a half years ago. I then started buying the Makers packs, moved onto Manufacturers packs and now the Start Up Trade packs.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
My favourite part of making a shade is probably the rolling as you then see how the lamp will look. I still get a thrill when I am trying a new design and I am seeing it as a shade for the first time.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
My best selling Lampshade for a long time was the 30cm one called “Blow me Away” now I would say I get more orders for both "Teal Dotty" and “Into the Woods"
We couldn’t help notice you’re a fan of our floor lamps kits. How do these fit in with your homewares range?
I put my first ever post on the Lampshade Makers Facebook Forum in April this year introducing my work and asked members for other ideas of lampshade to try. Floor Lamps were suggested by a few people and I love the end result, they just light up a corner and are a statement piece.
I find them harder to make as the tucking in is a bit awkward, I have only posted out two so far but sold others locally for people to collect. Packing the two took me as long as the shade did to make. I was determined they wouldn’t get dented so went a bit overboard 😁. I’m still deciding whether to sell them online due to the risk of damage in transit or just at my art shows for people to take them away.
Do you do commissions as part of your business?
I do take on commissions as part of my business in all my homeware products. For lampshades I have been asked to do larger shades, the largest being 45cm diameter and taller than the standard shade, as sometimes I cut my own liners.
I have only ever made drum lampshades and I am sticking to that as my work is so patterned and vibrant I think it works best on a simple shade.
How do you divide your time between making shades and cushions, running your business and being a painter?
The way I divide my time is dependent on the orders I have coming in. During lockdown the homeware side of my business went crazy! I was working all hours including weekends on whatever orders I had that day.
I make lampshades to order and don’t keep that many made up due to space. I have more stock made up when I am exhibiting as I need them to show, but as they were all cancelled last year (except for one) I used up all the pre made ones and now just make to order. I have about 200 cushion covers made up in stock and have loads of cushion fillers in the garage ready to insert when orders come in. Placemats and coasters are also already printed and in stock.
When are you at your most productive?
My mornings are spent packing to get them to the courier for 12pm, I then take my dogs (Dotty and Flo) a walk, clear my head a bit and relax. I then start making up more orders ready to go the following morning. I like to keep on top of my orders or it can get a bit overwhelming. I don’t have a particular time when I am most productive, each day can vary really.
Last year I had very little time to paint, but things are slowing down online now, I have a few art shows booked in so I must get new paintings done. Having sold most of the ones I had and am very low on stock of originals now. The only new paintings I did last year were commissioned pieces and a very large one for our house.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
I snack on crisps 😕 when I am working and can often skip lunch. My husband makes our evening meal quite often as he knows when I am busy, I just DONT STOP!!
Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?
My workspaces are all over really, several places, I use a spare bedroom/studio which is purely for my paintings, I work in there in autumn/winter and use this for storing stock too. Another spare bedroom is now called the “cushion room” it has piles of cushion covers, filled cushions and space for the floor lamps.
My lampshade making rings are stored in a lift up bench seat in the conservatory and the liners slide under beds. In spring and summer I paint in the conservatory and outside so as you can see I am all over the place 😁.
What does running your own business mean to you?
Running my own business has gradually evolved from the early days as a greeting card artist where I had an agent and paid for an accountant. To now where I do all the ordering, stock taking, packing, making, exhibiting and when I get time painting. My husband took over with my accounts so I don’t do any of the paperwork - thank goodness, as it’s not my strongest point! I only use Facebook and Instagram for marketing but would like to try paid ads at some point when things slow down.
Where would I like to be in 10 years time?
If I were younger I would be full of ideas to push the little business I am building up. I could never stop painting, as it’s my passion and I will do it as long as I am able. I don’t want to end my Dotty and Flo Homeware business and would have loved my daughter to take over and carry on with it as she has the brains as well as the artistic talent, but she’s going down the Science route.
Ideally, I don’t want to be working as hard as I did last year, but orders have definitely slowed down now with lockdown lifting, so it may carry on at a manageable rate. I do have help with my cushion making.
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
Packing orders takes FOREVER!!! I never realised how much time and expense goes into that. Stock taking, creating fabric and ordering products and materials all take time and are things which I don’t enjoy doing, so if I did get very busy again I would want to employ someone to help me out. Ideally I’d want more time to paint at my leisure and do the things I enjoy.
I’ve also learnt throughout my long career in art to do what comes natural to me i.e my love of nature and bright bold colours are something I have always had. Sometimes, however you make a living, you need to also consider what is commercial and appealing.
You have to have a combination of doing both what you love but keeping an eye on the changing trends, mixing the two, while keeping your style!
Wendy Carlton Designs
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