In the first in our new series Meet the Maker, Juliet Bawden speaks to Jehane Boden Spiers, textile designer and art licensor and consultant
I know you as a textile designer and maker, Can you tell me if you went to art school and if so what did you study?
I was born & bred in Brighton. I studied Textile Design at Winchester School of Art (1994 – BA Hons).
How and when did you become an art consultant?
I have curated my fellow artists’ work since first opening my house for the Brighton Festival in 2002. I discovered that I am skilled at selling other artists work and enjoy talking about the creative process. I became a licensing agent in 2004 when my children were born. Through my work as an agent, I have received many submissions from artists that I have not been able to represent for one reason or another. Being an art consultant means that my services can be offered more widely. I now offer one-to-one consultancy to emerging and established artists internationally.
You contributed a chapter to the very successful book ‘House of Cards’ did you enjoy the writing process and have you ever written a book of your own.
I loved it! I would love to do a book of my own. It’s on my bucket list.
Can you give us a brief history of how you started out.
I first licensed my own designs in 1992 as a student at Winchester School of Art. I worked as a textile designer in Vienna when I graduated. I set up as a freelance designer back in Brighton in 1996 under the name of Cloth of Gold.
I designed for industry (mainly paper products), made one-off embroidered pieces for private clients, and created hand-made items for small batch production sold to galleries and retail outlets nationally.
My designs have sold for textiles, gift-wrap, greeting cards & more. Licensees of my designs include Stewo, Jung Design, Gallery Five, Sanderson Fabrics, Baumann, Penny Black, Collage, Medici, Zoewie, Boots Plc, and The Paper House Group.
My designs have featured on London Underground posters. My retail clients have included Liberty of London, English Heritage, the RSC, and Vienna & Sydney Opera Houses. My one-off embroideries have sold in galleries nationally. I have given many talks about her artwork including at the V & A.
I also had a variety of agents before I set up on my own as an Artists’ Agent. I was always very pro-active, exhibiting at trade fairs and contacting shops/ licensing clients directly.
What is a typical day for you?
Everyday starts with catching up on my Instagram and planning the day’s social media. I will walk down to my workspace at Studio Eleven where I have been for 7 years. I have my own room in a shared studio space of creatives. It’s a great atmosphere and very focused. I currently spend all of my time at a computer although I have started planning a new range of products for my Open House in May. A typical day I would be designing and writing new marketing campaigns, liaising on existing licenses, contacting new clients, and giving creative direction to the artists that I work with.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love being immersed in another artists’ work. I enjoy the wide variety of client responses to artwork and the fun of trying to predict who might like what. Most of all I love combining my love of the visual world with conversations
What do you dislike most about what you do?
Being solely defined and seen as an agent. Being a designer is at the source of everything I do.
What made you want to start your own creative business? I knew it would be the thing I would most regret not doing.
Your business seems to have really grown over the last few years how has this happened?I have always worked hard. I have never taken time out. More recently, I have spent a lot of time asking myself difficult questions and challenging myself. What is really important to me? I realized that working in an inter-disciplinary manner is hugely important to me. It has guided me to expand my offer. I have been able to promote hard as a result because I am very sure of my vision. This has really helped me to grow my business.
Can you describe your creative process? It always starts with a response to either pattern, colour, or words. I often need to make associations and connections between things.
What are your biggest challenges?
So much to do, so little time.
I also find it hard to send short emails!
Focusing on the bigger picture when there are so many details pulling me the other way.
Speaking in public – I have lots to say but I get incredibly nervous.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field today? Work hard. Ask questions, Don’t be scared to put yourself in front of people. Think about your own intent, what is important to you, really important to you? This will be invaluable in guiding your decision-making. Present everything visually and beautifully. Attention to detail.
Compared with when you started, do you think it is easier for designers to set up on their own nowadays or more difficult? Why?
I think it is easier. There are more resources and the creative industries are booming. Even though they are marginalized in schools, they are more recognized by the government (and people at large) as being crucial to the economy. 35% of the UK’s income is from the creative industries. Websites and social media make it much easier to be seen and to connect with clients.
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 if so how did it impact on your creative life or business?
One of the reasons I decided to license work by other artists was when I had my children. I was scared that if I took a seven year break from my designing, to have my two children, that I would lose confidence and be unable to get back into the industry. Having children can be isolating as can be working on your own. Working as an agent meant I still had lots of contact with people even though I was working at home. I worked virtually full time when my children were young in order to develop my business but I decided against having a nanny or an au pair. It is a constant juggle!
Have you exhibited? If so, where?
Yes – all over the country, mainly in group exhibitions but all over 15 years ago.
Liberty of London
Grace Barrand Design Centre
Manchester City Exchange
Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art etc
How do you find clients?
Trade fairs, social media, trade magazines, look at the underneath of products
What are you currently working on?
Planning new products with my designs for my open house
New newsletters for Jehane Ltd
A bespoke licensed range with British Airways i360 and Cressida Bell
Talking to New artists for representation
Planning my open house; getting flyers ready to print
Has social media impacted on your business and if so in what way? Yes, hugely. It has been the launching pad for my new business Jehane Ltd and has been the main reason that I have attracted the new artists I represent and the new clients I am talking to.
What is next?
An online shop on www.jehane.com
Interview: Juliet Bawden
Pictures: Antonia Attwood