Our intrepid reporter Juliet Bawden meets the legendary Annie Sloan and asks her about her life, design and of course, paint.
As Annie Sloan launches her third Bookazine (hard copy, editorial like a magazine, no adverts like a book), I thought you would like to read an interview with her about her life, passion and rise to fame. Annie Sloan is known for her paint company and in particular her chalk paints. She also produces at least one book a year on different aspects of painting, decorating and up-cycling furniture. Recently she added a limited edition of printed textiles to her products.
JB: Did you go to art school originally and if so where and what did you study?
AS: I went to Croydon art school to begin with and then I finished at reading University, I was at art school for seven years. Stared off doing a foundation, which I actually did for two years whilst I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to do everything!! In the end I chose Fine Art because Fine Art seems to be the basis of everything.
JB: Annie I met you many moons ago when we were both craft authors. Can you tell us how you made the leap from being an author to running your international paint company?
AS: Yes I remember well!! I wrote books and I was also going out and painting for people for commissioned pieces. I had a young family and I wanted to be able to have something that I was doing and making but that could be sold whilst I was still raising my children. I was looking for something, I got the idea for paint from other paints that were around at the time. People were beginning to think back to traditional paints such as milk paints. From that idea I started to think about what I could make, and one thing led to another.
JB: What made you want to produce your own paint and was it difficult to find a manufacturer?
AS: Once I became keen to make a paint, I happened to mention it whilst out for dinner in Utrecht. I spoke to a Belgium man who just happened to know someone who owned a paint factory and made paint.
JB: You have to create a range of colours and obviously some will sell better than others, was it difficult in the beginning to know which ones would sell best?
AS: I wasn’t thinking about selling to be honest, I was thinking about what colours I would want and need. Money doesn’t come first. I was already painting furniture and I was after certain traditional colours that weren’t available. It was important to me that I could mix colours to make other colours, just like an artists paint palette.
JB: Can you influence sales of certain colours by presenting a fabulous upcycled project on your web site or blog?
AS: We do know that when we get something printed in a popular magazine, we often see an influx in sales of that particular product. I think that’s the same in the shop, if I painted something in Antibes, people would buy more of that colour.
JB: You sell abroad do any of your suppliers hold franchises? If so, how does this work?
AS: No we don’t have any franchises at all, the reason being that we are a creative company and I feel to offer someone a franchise is too restrictive. Creative people need to be able have there own style, we just look for wonderful shops to sell the paint, run workshops and be inspiring. We love passionate people to get involved.
JB: Are any members of your family involved in running the business and if so what roles do they perform?
AS: My husband works with me, he is in charge of the finances. He’s the calm cool one!! My middle son Felix is the Brand Director and has a Graphic Design background, he’s very much like me but also completely different. Felix’s partner Lizzy is also involved in the business, she does the Digital Marketing but at the moment has just had her third baby so she is on maternity leave.
JB: What is a typical working day like for you or is there no such thing?
AS: No such thing!! Every day is different, tomorrow I am off to Venice, we make some of our woven linens , so I am off to do some colour matching there- it’s important to get these things right! Last week I was at conference in Rotterdam with our European distributors. I was painting yesterday, working on some new products which I am excited about. We are painting furniture for photo shoot in London next week. I am also doing plenty of events this year. (Handmade Fair in London September and I also do The Country Living Fair). Things are very busy!!
JB: One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and or aged parents. Have you ever had to deal with either of these of issues and did it impact on your creative life or business?
AS: Yes and no, I didn’t really start the business until my children were a little bit older, I was 42 when I started making the paint and running the business. I wanted be a around when the kids were small so I suppose I put it hold for awhile, I always worked but was able to be there when they were ill and look after them.
JB: You run creative workshops at many different events and venues. Do you enjoy doing them?
AS: Yes I do! I love meeting people, I find people so interesting.
JB: You collaborated with Oxfam producing a colour for them how did this come about?
AS: Well it was just one of those magical things. Oxfam are based in Oxford, hence the name Oxford and Famine, and they were looking for a paint company to work with. The discovered that we were also in Oxford, it was a marriage made in heaven. They asked us if we were keen to collaborate and I didn’t even think twice about it.
JB: What did it involve and did you enjoy the experience?
AS: It was one of the most excellent experiences of my life, so impactful. I went to Ethiopia and made a colour inspired by my travels. It makes you realise that people are people, for me it confirmed that money is not what it’s about- it’s about other things. The people there are just amazing, they do need things but they are still vibrant and positive.
JB: What is the best part of your work and what is the worst part?
AS: Collaborating with some amazing people and groups, it’s just so incredibly special to work with some wonderful people and places. It’s open up so many worlds for me, such as Oxfam. Worst part endless days were there are just so many meetings and I can’t get any painting done.
JB: Who or what inspires you?
AS: The Punk approach to life is absolutely fabulous- anyone can do anything!! You don’t have to be posh, you just have to be interesting. People inspire me, I talk to everybody and want to find out as much as I can about others.
JB: How long have you been working as a professional designer?
AS: I suppose since 1975, so guess over 40 years…oh gosh!!
JB: What advice would you give to any designer starting out today?
AS: Don’t give up, practice and keep at it. Trust your gut. It doesn’t happen overnight. Someone once criticized me in art school and it really had an effect on me, don’t let criticism put you off!!
Read more about Annie Sloan HERE
To read more of Juliet’s Meet the Maker Series, why not start HERE with Kate Watson Smyth