Clarity Through Craft: Meet Jane Crisp

Shortly after starting THIS GIRL MAKES, my course leader approached me at college with a copy of Craft Magazine from 2015.  The page was open on an article that featured Buck’s furniture alumni, Jane Crisp. Grateful, I read the article, and was instantly intrigued to speak to her about her success, and enthusiasm for making. As she described it in 2015, Jane said her career “seems to have taken a natural development”, and I wondered why this might be the case… Maybe she was focused right from the beginning? Or perhaps always knew what she wanted to do? Or possibly, stuck to what she enjoyed?

Her answer was: “I’ve always been hounded by urges to create. The only thing I’ve ever been confident in is knowing that I wanted to make and why conceptually. This is my brand and this is what connects my ranges and creates my style- it’s like projecting my thinking. The emotional connection to my craft is reflected in soft satisfying lines and the qualities when handling the work. As well as the way my trugs rock like boats, like a kind of nod to the traditional boat builder’s skills and copper fixings that I use. This clarity helped shape my individuality and is my driving force, but this is only one area of an entire world of running my business.

The article painted an idyllic picture of the location of Jane’s workshop, which I will repeat for the benefit of those who like a good mental image: “its patchwork of fields swaying with golden corn and vivid red poppies in late summer, reedbeds dotted with small hump backed bridges and lined with rustling willows, and yards full of ancient farming machinery…” I wondered as to whether this was a conscious decision to base herself in a rural part of the country? And simultaneously, did this have an affect on the set-up and running of her business?

She said, “After living in many areas and cities within the UK, as well as abroad, I bought a narrow boat and moored on the river Wissey in Stoke Ferry in Norfolk. I fell in love with the area and with nature, evolutionary crafts and the old-fashioned ways of the community. It was in an old boat yard that I became fascinated with steam-bending and the forms of boats. I’ve been in the area ever since bar three years studying Furniture: Design and Craft at BUCKS New Uni.

“My boyfriend and I bought our remote house with the intention of me running my business from home. It’s three miles from the nearest moorings, so I often get visits from friends cruising narrow boats and I’m still surrounded by the water, wildlife, fauna and flora that inspires me. I started out in an old out building and shed, now I’ve built a large workshop with lots of equipment. My boyfriend has built his own engineering shop, which is very handy for quick welding jobs or pipe bending! I sometimes look around my workshop and I can’t believe it’s mine”.

Having read previously that Jane had ‘always enjoyed making things’ when she was younger; such as a window box for her mother when their fence blew down in a gale, a rabbit run and a shed; I was lead to assume that Jane was someone who had never felt held back from making things from wood whilst growing up. But I had to ask the question, have you ever felt deterred by being a woman in this industry?

“I worked as a carpenter for a joiner mate before starting education in furniture. Most of the time it was OK, but I definitely had my confidence knocked a few times. I also found getting suppliers to take me seriously hard at first. I couldn’t be more serious about materials, but my voice is quiet and I guess I sound young. Now I ring up and they say “not you again”, but this is just a joke!”

I am very much interested to hear the different experiences craftswomen have in being able to balance their personal and work lives. Jane’s response was, “This question is a good one right now: I am working too much! I won an amazing prize at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair last year, and as part of the prize I got to take part in a Design Trust marketing course for 28-days. Being so busy over the last few years meant I had neglected some areas of my business. Based on this course I have set myself a 28-day program for every month this year to help catch up. This year it will be very difficult to balance.

The article in Craft Magazine also informed me that Jane is part of the Craft Council’s Hot House scheme’s alumni. Interested to hear how she had been nurtured through the program, I asked: how did you find Hot House, and how has your practice developed?

“The Hothouse program made me feel like I was under the lovely Crafts Council’s umbrella – it’s a great comfort. I learned from and confided in the other participant’s. The tools that the program provides cover all aspects of business thoroughly and they are something I still revisit and develop now. It’s a place where my quirks were celebrated and channelled into practical business sense. I would strongly recommend getting involved with the CC HH program if you are starting out in business – I found it invaluable.

And finally the point I chose to end our interview on was what advice would Jane have for others who are wanting to enter into the furniture, or craft industry?

She replied: “Be yourself: know yourself and your values.

Build credibility, profile and trust from your audience.

Exhibit: be brave and show your work, and tell people what you do.

And finally, Network – I prefer to call it ‘connecting’ – share thoughts or give someone something to think about or remember you by”.

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