From her home studio in Auckland, Jill Butler designs and screen prints fabric, which she then makes into homewares, accessories and stationery items. Jill used to dream about having a place to sell her work where no door knocking was required, and where she could have total control over the colours, design and pricing of the screen printed products she sells.
The simplicity of having an online shop is really appealing to her. She feels that small business owners, with craft/art businesses, are so lucky now to have the opportunity to sell online. “With the internet and online sales platforms we have a wonderfully simple business structure, where we potentially just make stuff… and sell it. We can focus much more attention on making, rather than trying to gather our courage to knock on the doors to get retail outlets! I also like the direct contact with customers.”
What do you make?
I am a surface designer and screen printer. Mostly I screen print fabric, using my own designs, which I make into items such as gift cards, cushions, scarves and makeup bags. I also print my designs onto wooden coasters and placemats.
How did you get into your craft?
Years ago I did a two day batik course and fell in love with the idea of being able to put my own designs onto fabric. I was working in a library at the time, feeling really uncertain about what I wanted to do as a career. The excitement of designing fabric took hold and though I have had many other ‘day jobs’… in HR, banking, sales and currently gardening, designing fabric has always been there. Sometimes it has been pushed into the background more than I would have liked, but it has always been the work that has given me the most pleasure.
I fell in love with the idea of being able to put my own designs onto fabric.
After a few years of doing batik, a friend who I shared a studio with showed me the basics of screen printing, and from then on screen printing had me hooked.
Your favourite materials, tools, processes?
My favourite tool is my black pen and a ream of photocopy paper. I love drawing with a black pen. It’s the starting point of all my designing. I like to draw on the photocopy paper because it’s cheap and cheerful. I don’t feel the pressure to make a perfect drawing first up, as I would with more expensive beautiful paper. Mistakes and scribbles are made and abandoned without guilt.
What inspires you?
I love gardening, and drawing plants and flowers is almost my default setting. But I’m pretty much open to anything. Geometrics have intrigued me in the past, and lately I have been inspired by the designs on old plates, tapestries and Chinese embroidery. These are things just floating around in my head right now and I’m longing to spend some time, pen in hand, seeing where they take me.
Describe your creative process?
Oh dear, I am a bit haphazard… not very methodical. It’s all based on enthusiasm. I get an idea, and go for it. It propels me forward until it’s either finished or I take a wrong turning somewhere and I come to a standstill. At that point if I don’t know what to do next, I put it aside and it can rest… as a drawing or an incomplete piece of work… as I mull… sometimes for months… until the solution appears and I can complete it. So I suppose part of my creative process is letting my subconscious get to work on one project while I get on with another.
As far as the day to day work goes, I’m a list addict. Lists motivate me to get through the work. I love crossing off the things I’ve completed.
Describe your work space
I have a lovely studio that was originally a storeroom at the back of my carport. I am lucky that it has masses of deep built in shelving, sky lights and a concrete floor so I don’t have to worry too much about spills and splatter.
What other creative projects have you enjoyed working on?
I’m a real fan of the 100 Days Project, where you commit to doing a particular creative thing every day for 100 days. One year I did a doodle a day and the next year I did a small painting a day. Both times I have only managed to get to the 50 day mark, but loved the practice of drawing or painting daily. The organisers have recently announced this year’s start date in August. So I’m thinking about whether to do it again and if so, what my project will be. Perhaps not quite as time consuming as my other two, so that I have a better chance of completing the full 100 days.
Another crafty thing I have done lately is make peg angels. One of my gardening clients gave me a huge box of old lace and trims, which is perfect for their dresses.
What are you currently listening to?
Lately I have become addicted to listening to podcasts and TED talks while I work. There are so many wonderful podcasts out there, but one I have found inspiring recently is a series about living creatively without fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, called Big Magic. They are podcasts based on the book she wrote by the same name, which I highly recommend to any stuck creatives out there.
As for TED talks, I recently worked my way through the top 10 most popular talks of all time. When I’m designing or writing I prefer silence.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The Red Balloon, by Albert Lamorrisse. It is the story of a lonely boy in Paris and his friendship with a big red balloon. Based on an award winning film, the book is illustrated with photographs that had been taken while filming. I loved the story, but it was the photographs of old Paris that I adored.
I still have my very old copy of the book and I’ve sometimes thought I’d like to frame some of the photos to hang on my walls. I can’t quite reconcile the thought of cutting up my old book, but maybe I’ll take photos of some of my favourites and do it that way.
What are you reading now?
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge. The story is takes place in London and the Southwest of England during the blitz (1940). It’s a gorgeous, meandering story. The writing and characterisation is superb. But it is the details of what it was like living in England at that time that really sets the book apart, as it was published in 1941, so Elizabeth Goudge was writing about current events, so there is a real authenticity about her descriptions of life at that time.
A favourite quote?
“What you resist persists.” – Carl Jung. So, so true!
Tell us about your pets?
I have a little old lady cat called Whisper. When I got her she was almost a year old and had been abandoned, and by her nervousness I would say she had had some rough treatment. She was for sale in the shop attached to a vet practice in Newmarket, Auckland. The group of vets working there at that time rescued strays and found them homes. I was working nearby, and went in my lunchtime to buy a kitten and came out with Whisper. She was too cute to resist.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Trust your instincts! I’m not saying there aren’t times when you need advice and help, but remember you are the expert about your business, about you, about your goals and motivations. Everyone you talk to will have an opinion, but only you have all the facts about you and your business.
What’s in store for the rest of 2016?
I want to hand paint more screens. So basically, more designs, and I want to add to my product range. I’m keen to make more cushions and scarves… and a few Christmassy things towards the end of the year.
Jill has very kindly offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of a set of her gorgeous white rose coasters (below). These stylish screen printed wooden coasters are varnished four times to protect them, and backed with felt to protect your table. To be in to win this lovely prize, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Jill’s story and her designs. The draw will be made on Friday 29 July and is open to New Zealand residents only.