“I have created a knitted, nostalgic, distinctive, colourful world of creatures accessories and products for your home.” We speak childhood, creativity and designing textiles with the brilliant east London-based artist and mum-of-two Donna Wilson…
Donna Wilson, 40, lives in east London with her partner Jon and two young boys.
Do you remember your first piece of artwork, as a child?
All I remember is a lot of doodling on scraps of paper, back of envelopes etc. One that stands out is a watercolour apple on a branch that I painted at my grandma’s house, which she framed and sold at a local art exhibition.
I must have been about eight and it was the first thing I’d sold, and I remember practising my signature for the corner, and finding myself with pocket money from the sale!
What inspired creativity in you when you were growing up?
Drawing was just something I really enjoyed and was good at, which gave me confidence from an early age. I remember my first school teacher making an example of my drawing showing other class mates this is how it should be done.
My parents and grandma always encouraged me creatively as a response to my love for making things, I had every craft kit going!
Were your parents artists?
No, not at all, I’m from a long line of farmers.
What was your childhood home like?
It was very traditional, with antique furniture that my mum always wanted to modernize, she loved decorating and restoring and was very good with colours.
Did school nurture you, artistically?
I think so, I was always asked to put my drawings up on the wall, and work on the scenery for the school concerts etc.
What piece of artwork do you remember feeling particularly proud of as a child/teenager?
I remember drawing a big Cinderella in her ball gown and adorned it with lots of bows, it was always drawing people and designing amazing dresses for them.
Did you go on to study art?
Yes, it was no surprise that I went on to study textiles at the nearest Art school – Grays school of Art, Aberdeen. (1995-1999) I had such a great time there, and felt like I met more of my kind there!!
When did you begin focusing on art as a career?
Not till after Grays, I remember being desperate to find a job in textiles in Scotland, but there really wasn’t anything, so I moved to London for a job in a knitwear company.
I realised after a year that what I really wanted to do was have my own company so that I could be creative again.
Can you describe your work?
I have created a knitted, nostalgic, distinctive, colourful world of creatures accessories and products for your home. We still hand-make the creatures in the same way as I started making the 14 years ago, and make as much as we can in the UK with very loyal small-scale manufacturers.
I’m so lucky to be able to do something I love and feel passionate about for a job, and I love the spontaneous element of it, as you don’t know what opportunities are just around the corner!
Is it difficult to make a living as an artist?
It really is hard in the beginning, and you certainly need to have a business head to make it work. I ploughed all the money I made back into the business for the first 8 or so years, then things go a bit easier as I got a bit more established, but I never take it for granted!
When did children come along, and how has this impacted your practice?
I had my first baby when the business was 10 years old! And I thought it would carry on as it had been and he would sleep in a little basket by my desk, this was not the case! I think I was in shock for the first year, after that I made a conscious effort to let go of the guilt I felt, and after that I realized that I was never going to feel on top of things again, and I was ok with that!
Where do you look for inspiration now?
All over the place. I’m always looking for inspiration, recently I was inspired by an old scout hut I went to in my home town in Scotland.
In what ways do you encourage creativity with your children?
I encourage them to draw, paint and make a mess, and play with Lego, and try not to let them watch too much TV. I make things with them, and take them to work sometimes!
What is your home like now?
It’s a mixture of old and new, Jon loves collecting things- tins, tables, tools, I love textiles and color so it’s a bit of a mix of everything, with a bit of my own work on the walls and on the sofa’s!
How do you balance home/work life?
It’s a constant challenge! I always feel like I don’t have enough time to work, but also don’t want to give up my children time too. I work 4 days a week, with one week day with the kids.
Can you describe your workspace?
Since I have my new assistant Amelia, it’s very organised and tidy, but if left on my own it gets very messy as I never want to throw anything out. I love working in the studio, mainly because of the other people that I work with.
Any tips for other creative parents looking to make a living from their work?
Having children does give me a whole new perspective on my work, I can see it for what it is now, and I’m super driven as I know it’s for me and my kids in the long run.
Also, it gives me the flexibility to work when I can (once they go to sleep) which is good, however tiring it can be.
My tip would be to learn how to delegate, and let go a little bit, which is hard for creative people to do, but it’s the only way to move on!
I would love to do another kids clothing range, and have started developing some more handmade ceramics. At the moment, I’m working on volume 2 of my MYO, a publication about creativity and I’m really enjoying interviewing other creatives for that.