It wouldn't be September if I didn't make it extra special by sharing another instalment of Female Reflections. As regular readers you know that, in irregular intervals, I interview inspiring women whose voices I would like to amplify and whose stories I would like to give another platform. The aim is simply to share with you the joy that meeting these characters has brought me. Perhaps, like me, you also experience a lot of friendly curiosity around your favourite makers, shakers, movers, artists, or even people in general. If so, then this is for you. Keep reading more about their process, typical day, background, and inspiration or motivation.
So let's get to it straightaway... I give you Anne Harrington Rees from Anne Harrington Rees Designs, one of the amazing women I get to trade alongside in Skibbereen Farmer's Market. Seeing Anne every weekend is worth getting up at 5am for, I can tell you that much in advance. You won't find many people as lovely, genuine, and kind as her!
1. Many thanks, Anne, for agreeing to be an interviewee for Female Reflections. Many will have met and know you as the designer-maker behind your eponymous textile design brand, with your uplifting creations getting wide media coverage and being instantly recognisable for their colourful yet natural palette. For those who are new to your work, how would you describe the art (and consequently the textiles) you create?
I think you’ve just written my description, Nicole! I would have said that I create uplifting, colourful designs to inspire people to reconnect with and look after Nature.
2. Based on this description, what would you say are the core values of your design brand?
My brand core values would be:
Compassion - for Nature and people.
Connection - Nature is home and we are all connected. Making connections with people.
Communication - passing on information about Nature through my designs.
Eco-consciousness - being aware of what goes on around us and the never-ending cycles that occur in Nature. Using Fair Trade and organic fabrics, recycled paper, compostable packaging.
Joy - of colour and Nature.
3. Now that we know a bit about your creations, how do they actually come into being? What is your personal design and making process, from idea to finished items?
A new design will usually come about as a result of something that I’ve seen while I’m out in the garden or on a walk with the dogs. For reference, I try and photograph whatever it is that’s caught my eye, either with my phone or my little Canon camera. I’m not one of these people who pounds the pavements and gets from A to B as quickly as possible! I’m constantly scanning, looking for little pieces of magic that can be seen everywhere once you start looking. I don’t necessarily start working on the new design that day. I store the images to reference at a later date.
Sometimes I will work in the garden and use plain white paper supported on a clipboard with ink pens and just start drawing from what I see in front of me. This could be a flower, a leaf, a grass stem, whatever…
Once I am happy with what I’ve drawn and feel that I’ve got enough views of the subject matter to build into a design, I will scan the drawings into the computer and start working on them digitally, using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, isolating the line drawings from the background, adding colour and creating the layout, which sometimes maybe a repeating pattern, depending on the final use. Occasionally, I will start working digitally and create a design on my tablet, which I then upload to Illustrator and finish it off using that programme, but I tend to prefer drawing with pen on paper. Maybe I just need more practice with digital drawing!
Once I’m happy with the design, I send the image file to my printers, based here in Ireland. They then print and finish off the designs to my specifications and send them back to me a few weeks later. I then fold or mount, label and package the products and get them ready for selling at the market or for distribution to retailers.
4. What would a “typical day” in your maker’s life look like, if indeed there is such a thing as a typical day? Are you working on your textiles full-time?
There’s no such thing as a typical day in this house! Apart from the fact that the dogs are fed in the morning and in the evening around the same time and if you’re a bit slow about it they will let you know!
In 1998, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and although I feel so much better than I did, I’m still susceptible to pain if I carry out repetitive tasks. So, I’m not someone that plans too far in advance as things may change depending on how I feel on any given day. But a snapshot of a day might go something like this…
I get up during the night to check on one of the dogs. She lost the use of her back legs last year, so I turn her over and settle her before going back to bed. In the morning, I’m usually up between 7 and 8 am, depending on how long I’ve been awake during the night. Sometimes I have breakfast, sometimes not, as I fast from evening until lunchtime a number of days during the week. Once the dogs have been fed, I then sort out any housework before I start into my business work for the day. I break for lunch any time from 1 to 3 pm, depending on what I’m doing, and I take the dogs for a walk then too. I break again in the evening to get dinner and occasionally continue working for an hour or two after that, if I want to finish off something or have any deadlines.
As so much of my inspiration, well, all of it, comes from Nature, I spend as much time as I can out in the garden, trying to create a variety of habitats to encourage as many different species as possible to set up home on our acre. So I’m a bit obsessed with weather forecasts! If it’s a nice day I will spend hours out with the dogs, watching, photographing, drawing, as well as creating new planting areas.
Of course, when you run your own business there’s a lot of admin to take care of. So, every day I will check emails and social media. I try to post a few times every week on Instagram and Twitter. I may have orders that need to be fulfilled and posted. Our nearest post office is a fifteen minute drive away, so usually my husband posts orders for me when he’s travelling for work every day. I try to be eco-conscious in all aspects of my business, so this also means not making too many unnecessary car journeys, and saving up jobs and shopping until Saturdays when I’m out doing the market.
On the not-so-nice days, I get my accounts up-to-date, work on designs on the computer, order stock, label stock, update my website etc. I sometimes go on courses or watch zoom webinars run by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland or the Local Enterprise Office.
On Skibbereen market days, I get up around 5:30 am, make sure I have a good breakfast before leaving home at seven and I am set up ready to meet everybody by 9 am. The market is open until 2 pm. I then pack away all of my stock, take down my tent, have a chat with the other stallholders before I leave and have a relaxing evening at home, spending time in the garden or catching up with friends and family. If it’s been raining, I have to take out the tent and dry it off during the week. Sometimes my display tea towels and tablecloths get wet, so the house looks and feels like a laundry until they dry off!
I have done bigger craft fairs and Bloom in the Phoenix Park, which take a lot of organising in the months and weeks beforehand. They are expensive to do, but are a great way of getting your name out in the public domain. As my sister says, if you don’t promote your business, who else is going to?
5. What is your background as a designer-maker? Have you set out making textile art, always knowing this was what you wanted to do? What professional and/or personal background journey brought you to where you are now?
Like many people, I came to where I am now in a roundabout way!
I’ve been drawing, sewing and gardening since I was a little girl. Both my Mam and Granny are/were dressmakers. They taught me how to use their old Singer sewing machine and I started off making dresses for my Sindy doll. I progressed onto making clothes for myself and I even managed to make my own wedding dress. I love natural materials and objects. I have a stash of remnant fabric that I think will come in useful some day, as well as a collection of ceramics, shells, birds’ nests, pebbles and beach glass! When I’m drawn to an object, I like to touch it, to get a sense of the material, the surface quality; to see how it changes in different light; the shadows it casts; the smell of the material, in the case of baskets and wooden items. So, I guess I’ve always had an appreciation of well-designed, well-made items, be they found in Nature or from a human hand.
When I finished secondary school I applied to go to art college as well as to university to study Agricultural Science. I was offered a place in art college but was advised against going as “you would never make a living from being an artist”. I accepted a place in University College Dublin to study Ag Science, and, in 1992, I graduated with an honours degree in my specialist area of Landscape Horticulture. During my time in UCD, when I wasn’t studying, playing camogie or working in the faculty coffee shop, I continued to sew, draw and knit.
Soon after graduation, I left Ireland and moved to England to teach horticulture. After 3 1/2 years of teaching I moved to North Wales and set up a garden maintenance business, maintaining gardens, mainly for retired people in the Anglesey and North Wales area. In my spare time, I carried on sewing, knitting, drawing and doing cross stitch.
In 1998, I developed chronic health issues, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and had to close my business. In 1999, when I began to feel well enough, I went back to college part-time and completed an Access to Art course which led on to me completing a Higher National Diploma in Craft Design. On that course, I tried lots of different materials and techniques, including ceramics, metalwork, woodwork, textile design and construction, graphic design and illustration. My final project was a collection of tiny sculptural baskets created from natural fibres which were selected for exhibition at New Designers and Chelsea Craft Fair, both in London. I was then selected to join Fibre Art Wales and exhibited across the UK with them. My baskets won awards at the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Royal Dublin Society National Crafts Competition.
I continued to exhibit my baskets when I moved home to Ireland in 2006, and through the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCI), ran craft workshops in primary and secondary schools. I also started working with the West Cork Arts for Health team, facilitating workshops in local community hospitals and day care centres.
However, well received as they were, my baskets were not selling, and I couldn’t keep filling our home with them, so I stopped making them and looked for other creative ways to earn some money. I needed something where I could work within my limitations, as I found that any repetitive or physical action was causing discomfort and pain. I tried lino printing and had a good response from customers, but couldn’t cope with the physical processes of carving and printing over a prolonged period, so I had to reassess where I was going with my artwork.
A meeting in 2017 with business mentor, Jackie Gowran, organised by the Local Enterprise Office, led me to research how I could monetise my drawings. I found that I could do online courses in surface pattern design. So, from late 2017 to 2018, I did three modules, learning how to digitise my drawings and how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I then started creating the designs that you now see on sale. The course also covered how to run a business, branding, marketing, copyright etc, so it gave a really good grounding in exactly what I needed to know. I developed my branding and applied for various fairs and events. The Courtmacsherry 2018 Christmas Craft Fair was my very first market, followed by Skibbereen Farmers’ Market, which I have carried on doing almost every Saturday since.
In 2019, just after I turned 50, I shared a stall in the DCCI Craft Village at Bloom in the Phoenix Park. Before I went, I decided that I needed a website, so, on the recommendation of Valerie Fahy from Liberty & Jasmine, I created my website using the Shopify platform. That was a very steep learning curve, but I managed to do it and have since availed of the Trading Online Voucher from the Local Enterprise Office to help with website Search Engine Optimisation.
So that’s the story of my design business. It’s taken a few years to get here, but I love working for myself. It’s important for me to be able to pace myself and carry out tasks depending on how I feel on any given day. And I love the market community. We’re like one big family coming together each market day for a catch up with each other and with our customers, and to make some sales too. I’ve met some wonderful people, and dogs, through having my stall, many of whom are now friends, and they’ve enriched my life enormously. I can’t imagine what I would be doing now if I hadn’t gone to speak with Jackie back in 2017.
6. Where or how do you find inspiration for your work?
In Nature. Inspiration is all around me. Pure and simple! Not in large expansive landscapes, mountains, seascapes, rivers, but in the little things - a flower bud before opening, the symmetry of florets making up a flower head, pollinators on a flower, moths, butterflies, birds, the shadows cast by leaves on each other along a stem, lines on pebbles, combination of colours, contrasting colours, patterns found in Nature…
7. What motivates you to keep making and creating?
My love of Nature motivates me to keep creating. I create to help people to feel the healing power of Nature through my designs, and to raise awareness of environmental issues. We have to come together as a community to regenerate our home. Fear and mistrust drives people apart, but love of Nature, our home, can bring us together and help to create a better future for us all.
Also, one of my designs, ‘Kelp’, is inspired by Luna, who we were devastated to lose to cancer in 2018. On my stall and through social media, I try, through telling the story behind that design, to raise awareness of the plight of sighthounds in Ireland and to encourage people to home one of the many hounds taken in by rescue centres all over Ireland. I am biased, but lurchers are the most beautiful souls and I’d bring them all home if I could!
8. Lastly, is there something that you always wanted to share, yet never got asked to? Maybe your proudest moment or any advice, words of wisdom or other bits that you feel your clients or even fellow makers should know about or could benefit from? Relating to work or life, as you see fit.
Put down the phone. Turn off notifications. Reconnect with the real world, not the fake one that’s prolific on social media.
Learn to ‘be’, to be present in the moment. Watching dogs is a great lesson in being present.
A friend once told me to “Dance like no one is watching”. Don’t be caught up with what people might think of you. They probably have enough worries of their own that they’ll have forgotten about you in a few mins. So be yourself. Be true to who you are. I’ll see you on the dance floor!
And remember “Nature is Home, not a place to visit.” 💚
If you are as enchanted by Anne’s clear vision and inspired by her fierce love for nature as I am, either visit her website www.anneharringtonreesdesigns.ie directly or join her buzzing social media hive for many useful thinking prompts around nature, lovable rescue dog content, and just about everything related to this beautifully wild corner of the world we call home. Otherwise, pop by her fabulous market stall at Skibbereen Farmer’s Market (Saturday) or check out her list of stockists. You’ll be happy to discover a world of goodness, drawn from the wildlife surrounding us! A consistent and gentle reminder from a gentle soul that nature really is home.
Now that's it from me for September! I will finish the market season in Schull, get ready for the "next chapter" [as per my last journal entry] generally speaking, and otherwise will be back on to you some time in October or whenever I have news to share... Maybe you had better join my email clan, just to be sure you won't miss out?