Brief Encounters

The Design Trust is helping artists market their work through identifying and finding their real audience.

Veronica Simpson

By Veronica Simpson

The Little Globe Co is the product of two years' painstaking development and refinement for ceramic artist Loraine Rutt. Built around a range of six miniature globes, inspired by the original 18th-century 'Gentleman's Novelties', it renders in exquisite porcelain relief and delicate paintwork the wonders of our planet or its lunar companion. To hold one is to feel afresh the fragility of our planet, and how precarious, troubled and yet magical is our existence on its surface.

Rutt trained as a cartographer and worked at Birkbeck, but quit mapping when digital tools started removing the input of eye and hand. She switched to ceramics, studying at Central Saint Martins under some of the UK's finest ceramic artists, including Richard Slee, Gillian Lowndes, Ruth Dupré and Rob Kesseler.

After graduating, she won a Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship, and journeyed across Spain, the USA and Mexico, investigating architectural ceramic styles and finding inspiration for a whole new body of work -- which sold out at the resulting show. But although she has been making cartographically inspired work for more than 25 years, it is hard as an artist to keep the momentum going, and making has occasionally taken a back seat to teaching and inspired (but time consuming) house renovations.

However, a spell of enforced postoperative downtime in 2013 gave Rutt the mental space and momentum she needed to engage with the idea that the blend of creativity, project management and budgeting skills she so patently demonstrated on her house renovations could assist in her artistic practice too.

She says: 'Rather than thinking what would I like to make today, I engaged with the idea of what would people like, what has been the most successful thing about my work? It was about finding a way to fine tune how I make things in order that I can make really intricate work but in small batches.'

Assistance for her mission came from several sources, including Patricia van den Akker's online business school, The Design Trust, aimed at supporting artists, designers and makers. Says Rutt: 'I spoke to Patricia in a webinar. She really helped me focus and think about where my market is. And the other influential thing was a book I read -- more for the product-design intelligence than anything -- a brilliant book by Fiona Humberstone called How to Style your Brand. I would recommend it to every artist.

'It's all very well making beautiful or provocative work but at the end of the day, if you want to keep making, as a maker you need an income stream. And what Fiona Humberstone's book makes you think about is: who would want to put the things I make in their home? How am I going to find them and how are they going to find me?'

In this respect, Rutt is one of the lucky mid-career artists, says van den Akker, having already realised she could be entrepreneurial.

She says: 'People come to me at three years, seven years, 20 years. They have very specific questions at those stages. At 20 years, they are established designers/makers. They have a good name, a good profile, but maybe not a good income to go with it. The main reason for that is they may have relied on the galleries to sell their work. That scene has changed dramatically -- that whole way of selling craft.

Then it's about asking yourself: are you staying up to date with the market for designers/makers? That has changed dramatically. What business are you creating? It's not just about the products that come out of you, but what are your income streams?'

Small but perfectly formed: a globe and case from Loraine Rutt
Small, but perfectly formed: a globe and case from Loraine Rutt

Entrepreneurial is not the same thing as commercial, says van den Akker: 'It means being proactive, understanding who your clients are, what impact your creativity and product can have on an audience -- on your clients... A lot of art colleges do very little in the way of teaching marketing or getting students to understand who their clients are.'

As an example, van den Akker cites a graduate who came up to her at her workshop during New Designers in Business (an annual showcase in Islington for some of the most promising art and design-course graduates).

He was struggling with his marketing, he said, showing her a picture of a huge oak table that took him six months to make, and which would have to be priced at around £12,000.

'So we went through the questions about who would be interested in paying that? They would very likely have a kitchen extension, they would love entertaining. A table like this would be the cherry on the cake of feeling very rich, very lucky or enjoying their good fortune.

And they might like to have some input. I told him: 'You need to be selling the idea that they will be working with you, that they can participate in the fun of the creative process.' I said: 'Make a couple of good pictures and sell the aspiration, not the product".'

As for Rutt, she realised that small-batch slip-casting could speed up the first part of the making, allowing her to spend time on the fun part -- scribing the craters, the mountain ranges, the coastlines and then painting and customising each globe. She also decided that her typical customer would want the presentation to be every bit as exquisite and artisanal as the creations inside. She found a British maker to create cases out of hand-turned, wind-felled oak, and another who could hand-tool them in leather. She then hand-painted maps and astral charts on the interiors and gilded the apertures to create the most treasurable version of the globe possible.

And her hard work is paying off: having finished the range in early 2016, she was immediately listed on the luxury website Culture Label. Better still, her collection has been snapped up by one of London's leading galleries, TAG Fine Arts, which has sold nearly every piece wherever it has shown them, in London and New York. This opens new doors for Rutt. She says: 'TAG has an established marketplace for cartographically inspired art. So, now I have a viewing platform for all these other things that I want to make. It's incredibly exciting.'

It would seem appropriate to wish this entrepreneurial artist bon voyage.

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