Interview: Corbeau Press

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Jessica Bartlett is an artist and maker of beautifully scratched items. Jessica works with wood, paint and glass. I was lucky enough to interview Jess about her work and shop. 

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

I'm great thank you!

Tell us a little bit about your background. 

Hello. So I am Jess, I grew up in Plymouth in Devon, which is where my love of nature comes from. I spent a lot of time growing up on Devon and Cornwall’s beaches or picnicking on Dartmoor. I’ve always been a collector of ‘treasure’ (leaves, twigs, stones and shells). I loved the way you can hear the sea in a shell, these natural souvenirs hold a romantic memory that inspires me greatly. After my A levels I took time to do a foundation year diploma in art and design at Plymouth Collage of Art before going on to study a BA in Fine Art at Bath Spa University. This is where I really got into drawing as a process.

I spent the three years experimenting with different techniques materials including pyrography and etching. I moved to Bristol after my degree and got a work space at BV studios in Bedminster. Over the years I’ve worked part time jobs in museums and art galleries before starting my family. I have three young children, including 3-year-old twins. They have really helped me focus on what is important as time is so limited you have to use it wisely. I set up The Corbeau Press as a way to channel my creativity and making into a business that meets the needs of my family. 

I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Corbeau Press? 

The Corbeau Press was created out of a need to make and produce things whilst being a stay at home mum. Initially it was cards for friends and family’s birthdays, I was getting such positive feedback, I thought I should market them.  I’ve always had an artist practice and was used to making large scale canvases and conceptual works.

I wanted to set up a creative business alongside my studio work to bring in a steadier income, I decided to set up The Corbeau Press and this has given me more freedom to get making and develop new collections of artisan products alongside the one-off studio pieces. 

What does your shop sell? 

Beautifully scratched things.

I hand engrave glass. I try to use recycled and repurposed glass where possible, like spice jars or interesting bottles. I am interested in surfaces and materials and my emphasis is on drawing and the quality of making something by hand. I also sell panels which have been engraved as well as glass bunting! And of course my cards as this is where it all started!

Why did you call your shop Corbeau Press?

It comes from my married name, Corbet and its French origins for the word crow- corbeau. I love the folklore connotations and imagery of crows and ravens and it suited my aesthetic, the first card I drew was a crow for my husband (now available in my shop). I like the way it ties together the different parts of my life.

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How has your creative process changed since the start? 

My creative process is rooted in drawing and this is a discipline I practice daily and hasn’t changed too much over the years. I am constantly learning about materials, and surfaces and this evolves continuously but is fairly intuitive. My biggest learning curve and change to my making process has been with setting up the business having to be savvier with marketing and building an online presence. I really enjoy this but it can be a challenge at times when all you want to do is make things. I have also worked on more commissions and bespoke pieces since setting up The Corbeau Press. It is a totally different way of working which I love, it’s really is wonderful to make something special for an individual and totally inspiring as you never know what you’ll be asked to do.

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

Art school is definitely where it all started. Then it was a bit of trial and error, practicing lots. And of course, You tube videos!! You can learn anything from youtube!

Have you always been into design, illustration and craft?

I have always enjoyed being creative and have always wanted to draw. I can remember asking for art materials from the Easter bunny rather than chocolate (he bought me a little watercolour set). An artist visited my primary school, to help out, we were doing a project on totem poles of all things. I really got into drawing all the creatures and I remember the artist telling me about art school. My eyes were as big as saucers…. I couldn’t believe there was a school where you could do drawing ALL day. I just had to go. Then I found out I had to get some qualifications first, but that set me on a path.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use? 

I struggled with social media until I found Instagram. Using a visual platform to communicate suits me down to the ground but I also have found a real community of makers and artist who are so supportive and friendly, it’s a very positive place to be.

Who inspires your shop?

I have been working with the Dream Plan Do planner this year after taking part in a workshop run by Patricia Van den Akker at the Design Trust. This has been totally inspiring and motivating and I can definitely recommend her website and advice.

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Do you have any favourite pieces from your shop that you adore at the moment?

I really adore my spice jars, they seem to encapsulate everything I value. They are beautiful overlooked objects and are fun to decorate and repurpose into something unique and quirky. Plus, they make great little vases for a little poesy of wildflowers, gorgeous.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram page? 

Wow, this year? I’ve been working week to week! So really I want to get more of my work on their, perhaps show off more of the technique and processes to connect with lots more lovely people.

What’s your typical working day?

My structure and routine comes from being a working mum, my day revolves around school pick up and drop offs. I get to the studio at the beginning of the week when all three of my children are in childcare, and either work on commissions or on the new collection, things that I can’t do a home. Glass engraving is very noisy and kicks up a lot of dust so can only be done in my studio. I try to avoid being on my phone/laptop around the kids so pick up admin tasks after they’re in bed. (Although cbeebies does come in handy sometimes!) I pretty much always have my sketchbook with me and always looking out for interesting leaves and things to draw, which the children are always keen to get involved with.

What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground? 

Time, is the boring but true answer. If only I had more time!! I think these are the words muttered by every parent in the land. I have also found that prioritising my time for the business in the early days was a struggle. I used to play it down in conversations as my hobby, I am getting much better at saying I am going to work and giving myself credit for the work I have done.

Do you have any exciting plans for this year? 

I feel excited about everything I am doing at the moment as it’s all so new and such a learning curve. Launching a new collection in the Autumn will be the big focus. That and getting organised for Christmas (sorry to say that c word in June!) I had only just launched the Corbeau Press in Autumn last year and so was on the back foot for all the markets. This year I want to hit the ground running. It would also be great to get my work into a few more shops.

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What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style? 

Style is all about being confident in doing what comes naturally, if you don’t overthink it then it will develop overtime. Have a look at your Instagram and I bet there is a sense of style, edit out the photos or captions that don’t fit in and go from there.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own shop?

"Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle." Quoted from ‘Dream, Plan, Do’ from the Design Trust. 

What’s next for Corbeau Press? 

A summer of making and creativity, mainly for the festive season but also to make the most of my studio whilst its warm! It gets so cold in there in the winter. Make hay art whilst the sun shines, they say!

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

Just get on with it. Why not?

To see more of her work, you can take a look at her website 'www.jessicabartlettonline.com' and Etsy shop 'https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TheCorbeauPress'.