Greetings to all as 2023 begins, full of hope as always for a new year.
Many thanks to those who have kindly signed onto my mailing list, only to be greeted with silence, and tumbleweeds blowing down an empty street. This is not because nothing is happening, rather the opposite. Like so many self-employed folks, I’ve been trying to do several jobs at once and not always managing to keep up with all of them.
It’s coming up on five years now since we moved to Berwick and Tidekettle opened. Back in 2018, we hit the ground running. At the time I asked our wonderful neighbour Dr. Simon Heald, the late, great owner of Slightly Foxed Books, how he had gone about the recent opening of his own shop. It seemed to me there were two options: firstly, delay opening, spend lots of time and money getting the place absolutely perfect, and do a big, splashy launch. Secondly, open up sooner while still a bit rough at the edges, and test the waters more quietly. Simon’s advice was that you don’t know how your space will work for you straight away, and that the latter was a more sensible option. How right he was, especially as the pandemic changed everything for public-facing businesses and we all had to adapt to the new normal.
We have learned so much since 2018, and it’s time to take stock.
Papermaking is a process with many stages, each requiring different types of attention and concentration, somewhat akin to ceramics in that regard. Thanks to the interdisciplinary way I learned the craft at Columbia College in Chicago, I work along multiple strands. These are, in order of time devoted to them:
- Small batch production papermaking (stock for the shop and custom orders).
- Teaching (Morley College, West Dean College, more local venues and at my own studio), in person and online.
- Hand printing of cards and making other stock for the shop, along with custom card orders.
- Maintaining equipment and studio, admin, website and social media.
- My own 2D and 3D artwork, writing and artist’s books.
This is probably typical for many similar one-person businesses. I’ve had invaluable help from Sinéad Kempley over the past couple of years, especially with tech stuff and photography, and when finances allow, would love to take on a permanent assistant.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of running the shop is presenting an inviting abundance, a rainbow variety of as many different papers as possible at a reasonable range of price points. Financial accessibility is super important as I want as many people as possible of all ages to be able to use the paper.
However, I have started to find that this approach is a bit of a recipe for overload (too many mental tabs open at once), and I need to narrow the focus a bit. In the coming year I’m going to rein it in and streamline the variety you will see in the shop, particularly in terms of colour. Of course custom orders can be as out there as you like – we will just need a bit more notice.
I also want to move towards using more locally harvested fibres, and as local plant-based papers always sell out quickly, this seems like a sensible commercial decision as well.
Another welcome development is the modest renaissance of traditional production hand papermaking in the UK after the closure of many smaller mills from the 80s onwards. Our friends at Two Rivers in Somerset are on a roll. They have been working away all along but have recently moved to new premises where they are much more visible, and visitors can see the paper being made. Most importantly, they have trained a new generation who will take the reins when needed. If you want the best specialist watercolour paper, they have it.
Another great new enterprise is the Paper Foundation in Burneside, Cumbria. When the owners of the wonderful Griffen Mill retired, they collaborated with the modern paper manufacturer James Cropper to create a new facility with very old roots. They make high quality handmade papers for artists, binders, conservators and others. They also house Simon Barcham-Green’s unique collection of heritage moulds and deckles.
As a one-person operation (for now), I do still have a wee niche at the production end of things. That is making very small-batch bespoke papers for individual projects which the slightly bigger producers might not find worthwhile, as well as keeping a selection in stock for local artists and small online customers.
I also work with fibres and inclusions which the bigger chaps and chapesses might raise eyebrows at. A vital part of the papermaking process is cleaning all the equipment between batches which is labour intensive and time consuming, and you can’t make large quantities of very unusual papers unless you are sure someone will buy them. Fewer than 100 sheets with a different plant inclusion every 5 sheets? Kozo with rag from a special garment mixed in? That’s my department.
So, going forward as people in suits like to say, I’ll be concentrating on a slightly smaller stock selection, more bespoke orders and my own artwork. The teaching side of things here in Berwick, at West Dean and Morley College goes on as ever. Thanks always for your support and here’s to 2023, when I will TRY to get out at least one newsletter. Hope springs eternal!
The most regular studio updates, pictures and news are now on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at Lucy at Tidekettle Paper: click on the links top right to take you straight there.
You can join my mailing list via the contact page for email updates at decent intervals, though I'm rather bad at producing newsletters - too busy making paper!
Do get in touch any time using the contact page, Instagram or Facebook. We can arrange customised workshops for up to four people, adults or children - anything from an introduction to papermaking to more specialised areas. If you are an artist or student who wishes to incorporate handmade paper into a project, I would be happy to help. I also provide a reasonably-priced fibre processing service if you don't have access to a beater, do get in touch for details.
Perversions of Paper, Invitational Symposium, June 20 2014, Birkbeck College, London
Meeting the Mayor of Kagithane in Istanbul with the late, great Oz Tugrul and his lovely family (sorry no Turkish g's/i's!)
Check out my entry for The Sketchbook Project 2011
Working with young entrepreneurs
Lucy is available to teach papermaking and book arts workshops for adults and children by arrangement. Please use the contact page to discuss your requirements.