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16 December 2014

Inspired by our Maps Collection: Meet illustrator Josie Shenoy

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I first met illustrator Josie Shenoy a few years ago at a ‘Make it, Sell it’ speed mentoring event I ran at the British Library, and she also took part in our Spring Market. She produces beautiful illustrations and has experience of working both for herself and big brands – her work is stocked in the Whitechapel Gallery, Foyles andWellcome Collection.

A year later I invited Josie her to a ‘show and tell’ event at the British Library to see our amazing Maps collections first hand and meet our Maps Curator, Tom Harper. We inspired her to create a new piece of work in response to the British Library archive, which is now one of her bestselling designs.

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Hi Josie. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! I am a London-based illustrator, and I work in my studio amongst a community of talented designer-makers at Cockpit Arts, Deptford. My work showcases my love of pattern, decoration and drawing, and is often influenced by the natural world, folklore and a love of storytelling. Alongside taking on commissions and freelance illustration work, I design collections for print and textiles. Drawing is at the heart of my creative practice, and I love the idea of crafting images. My work also often features vintage colour-ways, intricate collage and traditional print methods fused with digital processes. My own product range currently features greeting cards, lighting, stationery and prints, and is stocked in the Wellcome Collection, Foyles and Whitechapel Gallery. My freelance clients have so far included the Design Museum, Imperial War Museum, M&S and Somerset House.

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How do you spend a typical day?

Every day is different and that's one reason why I love illustration. If I'm working to a deadline, my day would be spent at the studio at Cockpit. I share a studio with an amazing jeweller called Maud Traon, and the building is so friendly, there are always people to chat with- it really is a blessing, as illustration can be very solitary work. I would come into the studio in the morning and have a tea with Maud, then I go through my emails and make a list for the day.

Our studio has a lovely serene, quiet environment, and we sometimes put 6 Music or Radio 4 on in the background if there's a good programme on. If it's an illustrating day, I'll start with some sketching and make sure I'm away from the computer, as I find it such a distraction! Everything is done by hand, apart from the very last stages of the illustration, such as cleaning up or adjusting the colours on Photoshop.

My illustrations are quite intricate so it might take me a few days or weeks to finish one, starting from extensive research, to product placement and sampling. If I've got a show coming up, there might be lots of packing up to do, and working out display, pricing and packaging options- I've recently got into Pinterest and love using this to look at ideas.

Or if I'm right at the beginning of a project with a client, I might be visiting them, pitching my work or going through potential ideas. Lunch is always spent with people around the building and we take it in turns to have lunch in our studios- it is such a healthy thing to do to step away from our work at this time. Creatively, I work best in the afternoon, and often don't leave the studio until after 8, however I'm getting better at sticking to 'normal' hours!

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What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting up your own business?
I studied illustration at university, and although I couldn't have wished for a better degree, there have been so many extra things I have learnt in the professional world, that you aren't taught in education.

Finding work and getting my work shown to the right people was a challenge to begin with, and still is at times. It can be tricky making sure that work is lined up for the year, as I get so engrossed in my current projects that I don't always think ahead as much as I should. Also making sure my prices were right for wholesaling and retailing, and learning all the jargon and official processes in this line of work, for example going through contracts and agreements.

Making sure that all the correct terms and conditions are in each contract can be really hard, especially because you're so keen to impress the client, and chasing payments is another slightly sensitive issue that comes up from time to time- it's really important to make sure you word emails clearly and find the right tone of voice. And, of course, finance! I've learnt to make compromises when making the freelance leap, and I never really stop working - but this isn't really a problem when you do something that you love for a living.

What advice would you give to other illustrators looking to commercialise their work?

I'm so glad I studied illustration, because it has drummed a philosophy into my work, which is making sure that the image comes first. It's very easy to start thinking about the product or outcome first, or get busy with all the admin extras, and the illustration can get lost along the way even though this is the heart of your business. I think it's best to find your own way and not get too worried about what other illustrators are doing, just making work about a subject that you are passionate about and that you are proud of. I try not to think too much about what my 'target market' might like when it comes to making a new image, as this goes against everything I believe as an illustrator - and I think this is how the most sincere and successful artwork gets made.

The best piece of advice I can give would be to make the most of all the support that is available when you leave university. Becoming a commercial illustrator and the freelance world itself can be quite scary on your own, but IdeasTap, Cockpit Arts, the Design Trust and the Prince's Trust are all organisations that have helped me hugely along the way. Of course designers can also use the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.

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Lastly, can you tell us about how you have been inspired by the Library’s Maps collection?

Last year, I attended the amazing maps tour at the British Library with Tom Harper and Fran. It was Tom's map tour that inspired me to create my latest illustration, 'River Thames' which has gone on to become my best-selling design. I wanted to create a map which wasn't accurate or practical, but which somehow resonated with people due to the images, words and textures that I included. I really love the narrative nature of illustration and strive to create work that makes the viewer feel like they're going on a journey and seeing something new each time they look at the image.

After visiting the map tour, I became very interested in different artists that have explored the art and science of cartography (such as Grayson Perry and Sohei Nishino), and also old maps from Japan and India. I really love learning how and why they were crafted, and why they differ aesthetically from culture to culture.

 

25 November 2014

Maggie Semple turns the British Library's Olga Hirsch Archive into Fashion Collection

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Maggie Semple OBE's career spans broadcasting, print and digital media. In October 2010 she founded Maggie Semple Limited (MSL) to coincide with the publication of her book ‘Women, Fashion, Stories’ and now uses the concept behind the book to host ‘Semple Secrets’ a series of conversations with inspirational women from a diverse range of fields. She also sits on the British Library Board.

The MSL Fashion team is proud to announce the launch of its first clothing collection designed by the incredibly talented Laura Ralph, in association with the Library. Laura is an up-and-coming designer whose signature ‘two-pieces’ have been featured in Italian Grazia, German Elle and The Telegraph.

The collection takes inspiration from the British Library Olga Hirsch collection of decorated papers, which includes over 3,500 sheets of paper and 130 books in paper wrappers or decorated with end-leaves. The papers can be marbled, embossed or block printed and have been collected from around the world, from Japan to Italy.

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Olga Hirsch, nee Ladenburg, came from a prominent Frankfurt family. After her marriage to industrialist and music collector Paul Hirsch in 1911, she became intrigued by the decorated papers used to cover music scores in her husband’s library and began to research and collect them. During the 1930s, the family moved from Germany to Cambridge and the British Library subsequently acquired both the music library and decorated paper collection.

The MSL Fashion team, recognising an emerging trend for coordinates, and with a passion to work with new British talent, chose to work with Laura Ralph to select three of the papers and turn them into beautiful prints. The final pieces are made from eco-friendly, 100% cotton and manufactured in the UK.

Being ethical is very important to MSL, therefore the printing, designing and creating was all done with this in mind. They worked with the Centre for Advanced Textiles to print the fabrics as their digital textile printing process is recognised as reducing dye wastage. Laura worked with a team of locally sourced and trained seamstresses who are paid above the UK living wage for their skills.

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Digitising patterns originally created for paper was a first for the team, and the process was trial and error. The first challenge was to create a repeating pattern and the second to redesign the original initial design. Following this, the prints were sent off to be printed onto cotton, steam washed and finished. The pieces are then completely hand made by Laura Ralph and her group of UK seamstresses – they were cut out individually by hand, sewn with an overlocker and then a sewing machine to finish the seams.

You can buy the pieces online.

Find out more about the Library's Olga Hirsch collection.

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17 November 2014

How the British Library supports designers

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If you are involved in illustration, graphic, interior or product designillustration, graphic, interior or product design, we can help you.


Be inspired by our collections
The Library’s collection includes a copy of every book and magazine published in the UK, photo books, artist’s books, knitting patterns, newspapers, vinyl covers, fanzines, calligraphy, maps, stamps and more. Whether you’re interested in interior design from the 1950s or examples of gothic type, we have something unique for you.

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Image: British Library music collection

So how can you use the archive?  You need to get a free Reader Pass to see our collections in our Reading Rooms in London and Boston Spa, Yorkshire. These short animations should help get you started.

Product designer Eleanor Stuart was inspired by the Library’s Alice in Wonderland original manuscript to create a new home ware range:

Designer and architect David Ajasa-Adekunle used our Business & IP Centre to develop his award-winning Tetra Shed (below).

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Image: Tetra Shed


See our Pinterest board of designers who have used the British Library to help develop their ideas.


Get help with the business side of things
In our Business & IP Centre you can get advice and support on working for yourself and setting up your own business. This could include business planning, finance, market research (we have some amazing reports on retail trends, for example) and intellectual property.  We run a full programme of events, networking and one-to-one advice sessions. Lastly, if you have already set up in business, you could benefit from our EU-funded Innovating for Growth programme.

A place to sell your products
The Library holds one-off markets and stalls within our buildings – previous examples have included a Christmas Market, Spring Fair and pop-up market for our Gothic Music and Fashion day.  We also stock designers’ work in our Shop (onsite and online).

Watch our Spring Market video:

Read more design-related blog articles here.

 

04 November 2014

Interview with music writer Zoë Howe on The Slits and The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

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Music writer Zoë Howe has used our collections to research many of her books, from Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits to Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story. I got in touch with her to find out her story.

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Image: Ian Treherne 

Hi Zoë. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! I’m a music biographer and I am in the process of writing my ninth book to date (or tenth, if you count the rock ’n’ roll novel in the drawer). My books include: Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits, ‘How’s Your Dad?' Living In The Shadow Of A Rock Star Parent, Wilko Johnson - Looking Back At Me, Florence + The Machine - An Almighty Sound, Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story, Stevie Nicks - Visions, Dreams and Rumours and I co-authored British Beat Explosion- Rock ’n’ Roll Island, a book that celebrates Eel Pie Island’s place in music history.

I also write sleeve notes and biogs for artists on request, very occasionally pen things for magazines and sites including The Quietus and Play the drums.

The book I’m working on right now is about much-missed Dr Feelgood frontman Lee Brilleaux.

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Image: Ian Treherne 

Can you tell us how you did your research for your book ‘Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story’ at the Library? Did you find anything surprising in the archive?

I actually started to use the British Library when I was working on my first book about The Slits, but that time would set the blueprint for how I would continue to work on non-fiction - I love to work from home, but I knew I could lay my hand on anything I needed at the library in terms of research materials. Going online for information is never enough, but at that time, hard as it is to believe now, there really was quite a limited amount of information online about The Slits anyway, comparatively speaking. I also prefer pages to screens wherever possible. So I really valued being able to dive into the archives of music papers (I’m obsessed with old music papers anyway) and get a sense of historical context as well as adding to the information I’d garnered from interviews.

I used the collection in pretty much the same way subsequently, for ‘Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain Story’. There was more information about the Mary Chain out there than there was about The Slits, but as I say, with research, you can always go further. Time is often an issue, of course, so sometimes you can only do so much, but any time spent at the BL in this way is well spent; it’s such an incredible resource that it’s like opening a casket of treasure, all of that information, all of those articles, even tiny news stories, some of which might not have been read since they were published! Those are the jewels that I’m looking for; there might just be one scrap of information that sheds some light on something you’ve been puzzling over, clarifies a date that no one can quite remember, or displays a perspective that, thanks to hindsight, has either been forgotten or morphed into something completely different over time. It’s painstaking but worth it.

What is strange about working this way is that it’s so intense, and I spend so many hours reading music paper after music paper from the time that I’m writing about that, if those are the only papers you’re actually reading every day, you have to keep reminding yourself that this isn’t actually 1978, 1985 or whatever. I’d find myself flicking through the pages and after a while the bondage trousers advertised in the back of the NME would start to look increasingly appealing, or I’d suddenly get excited: “Ooh, Echo and the Bunnymen have got a show coming up at the…. ok, hang on…” Weird bubble to live inside, but also strangely enjoyable. Basically, thanks to your collection, considering the theory that perception is reality, I was living through the 1980s again, immersed in the pop world, but also safe in the knowledge that Thatcher wasn’t actually in charge any more.

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Do you have any tips for writers who want to use the British Library’s archive?

YES. Eat something substantial before you go in to start your research, because, obviously, you can’t take food in, but you can’t exactly nip out and grab something if you’ve set up your laptop and chargers and the papers you’ve finally found. Some of the blood sugar lows I have suffered in there have been monumental. I still associate using the library with feeling light-headed and weird, although that might just be me.


Last question. What are you working on next?

Thank you for asking, I am in the midst of working on a new book about the phenomenal singer and all round rock ’n’ roll gentleman Lee Brilleaux, which I’m very excited about. I get very excited about all of the books I work on, it wouldn’t be too good to basically spend about two years (if you’re lucky) with these characters living in your head (and sometimes keeping you up at night) if you weren’t passionate about them, of course, but the Lee project is particularly close to my heart.

You can find out more about Zoë on her website

 

Off the Map competition: Turning Gothic literature into games

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One of our Digital Curators at the British Library – Stella Wisdom – is working on a great project to encourage games makers to use the Library’s archive for inspiration. For the last few years she’s been running Off the Map, a partnership competition with GameCity and Crytek to challenge UK higher education students to make videogames based on British Library collections.

This year’s competition had a gothic theme to accompany the Library’s current exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. The exhibition showcases manuscripts and hand-written drafts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the Twilight series (check it out, it’s on in London until 20 Jan 2015).

Stella created this video which shows footage of last year’s winning entry from Pudding Lane Productions, De Montfort University. It also gives details of the 2014 gothic sub-themes and shows flythrough clips from this year’s shortlisted entries.

The third winning entry was Team Shady Agents from University of South Wales in Newport with their Edgar Allan Poe inspired game Crimson Moon. The second winning entry was Team Flying Buttress from De Montfort University, who created a visually rich interpretation of Dracula's Whitby. British Library Chief Executive Roly Keating announced the winning entry: Nix, this was created by Jackson Rolls-Gray, Sebastian Filby and Faye Allen from the University of South Wales.Using Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for 3D gaming,it challenges players to reconstruct Fonthill Abbey via collecting hidden and moving glowing orbs in a spooky underwater world.

Of course, these projects never happen on their own. Stella worked with our Curator for Terror and Wonder Tim Pye and Tom Harper, our Maps Curator, as well as the lovely teams at GameCity and Crytek.

Plans are currently underway for the third competition: 'Alice's Adventures: Off the Map', which we are launching at the Library at the start of December. I’m also working on a few Alice-themed projects myself (watch this space).

You can read more about the project on the Library’s Digital Scholarship blog.

13 October 2014

Interview with Dave McKean on Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

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As I mentioned in a recent post, Dave McKean designed the wonderfully macabre artwork for our Terror and Wonder: The Gothic imagination exhibition artwork. That means that his image appears in all our marketing materials, from leaflets to tube posters. I asked him a few questions...

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Hi Dave. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have worked for the past 25 years as an illustrator, artist, photographer, designer, writer, musician, composer and film maker. I've illustrated around 50 books for an assortment of authors including Ray Bradbury, Heston Blumenthal, Richard Dawkins, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, David Almond, SF Said and John Cale, and I've made hundreds of CD and book covers including the entire run of Neil Gaiman's popular Sandman series. I've written and directed three features and several shorts, including MirrorMask for the Jim Henson Company/Sony, The Gospel of Us with Michael Sheen and my new film Luna.

How did you first get involved with the British Library and the Terror and Wonder exhibition?

I was asked to design the previous exhibition, Comics Unmasked, by co-curator Paul Gravett. I really enjoyed working with the British Library, and problem solving on such a large scale. The curators of the Gothic show were also interested in aspects of my work, especially my illustrations for Neil's book Coraline, so then it seemed possible that I could do the poster as well.

Can you tell us about the creative process behind the artwork?

I drew out six or seven rough ideas, trying to find an image that was not a single specific character or story, some way of representing the breadth of work in the exhibition, but touched on key Gothic texts - Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, and for me, The Hands of Orlac. Something that suggested the psychological aspects of these stories seemed appropriate. I also wanted a simple, bold, almost silhouetted flowing image, something that would stand out in a variety of formats and sizes. The drawing was made in ink and graphite and simply toned in Photoshop. The strange shadowy smoky face was an abstract ink stain, distorted into a face in Photoshop.

What are you particularly excited about seeing in the exhibition?

The design and presentation of the narrative. It was a steep learning curve for me creating the Comics show, so I'm now very interested to see how others approach storytelling in an exhibition space. And of course, I'm sure the British Library archives have unearthed another fascinating collection of work.

What’s coming up next for you? I know you're speaking at one of our upcoming events.

Yes, I'll be speaking with Vaughan Oliver, one of the most important influences on my early art school self, and he still is to this day, so I'm a bit daunted. I have a new film out called Luna, currently doing a small indi tour of the UK via PictureHouse. I have an exhibition of drawings in Paris at Galerie Martel, a new book of covers out from DC Comics called Dream States, and new collection of short stories out from Dark Horse Comics, Pictures that Tick Vol.2, I'm planning a new film with the theatre company Wildworks, and drawing more comics, including a new graphic novel inspired by the wonderful expressionist film the Cabinet of Dr Caligari. I'm hoping to create a new performance piece for the British Library as well, as part of the Gothic exhibition.

You can see Dave's artwork for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination below.

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01 October 2014

Be inspired by the Magic of Birds

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Did you know the British Library has a Publishing team? They release lots of great titles, and have just launched a new book called ‘The Magic of Birds’. 

You can find examples of imagery and symbolism of birds in cultures from around the world. They have captured people’s imagination since earliest times, with their beautiful plumage, behaviour and ability to fly. Birds are often linked to themes like birth, death, freedom and captivity.

Our author Celia Fisher has traced the ways in which artists, writers and storytellers have depicted them, from the myths of ancient Egypt to humble garden birds.

You can find out more on our Shop website and read a guest article  with Celia on our Asia and Africa studies blog. In the meantime, here are some of my favourite images from the book:

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Arctic Tern from The Birds of America by John James Audubon, 1827-38.

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Earl Mar's daughter, illustration by Arthur Rackham from Some British Ballards, 1919.

 

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Florican from Oriental Memoirs by James Forbes, 1813. 

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Golden oriole among leaves from Kyomjae hwachop, 'Album of paintings by Kyomjae', c.1900. 

 

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Page from Tennen hyakkaku (Tennen's one hundred cranes) by Kigai Tennen, Kyoto, 1900.

24 September 2014

Meet the Makers: Terror and Wonder in the British Library Shop

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Next week sees the opening of our latest exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ and once again the Shop area has been transformed. This time, we are entering the study of an old English country house where, by the flickering candlelight, we can see our host opening a leather-bound volume and inviting us to take a seat.

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We spoke to two of the people responsible for supplying the props that transformed this area: Guy Arzi and Cog O’ Two.

Guy Arzi is a designer who uses reclaimed architectural salvage to create modern decorative and functional objects. His repurposed candelabra are perfectly suited for the gothic shop, as they are a modern reinterpretation of a classic icon of gothic melodrama.

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How did you get started in design, and why architectural salvage?

I am a fine art graduate, but I have also studied Architectural Conservation, and I worked as a Conservator for St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a conservator looking after the interiors of some beautiful old buildings you get to look closely at objects and architectural features and you get to understand the materials and the craftsmanship involved in making them.

It seems to me that we don’t make things as we used to, by which I mean the quality and longevity of everything we produce isn’t as good as it used to be. So I feel the need to recreate some of the old craftsmanship, and salvage it from distraction or decay - or maybe I simply can’t resist old objects!

But while working at Westminster Abbey I really started to appreciate carvings and the general wit in old art so it came naturally to me to use reclaimed architectural salvage in my art.

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Is there a particular age or style you like to use in your work?

I like mixing styles a little; it is like how our street architecture is full of buildings from different times. When you mix styles you realize how much these styles are a repetition of themselves but with a little twist. And the streets of London can often be a good source of material that I can rework into new pieces.

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You’ve worked at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’ve created work for the British Library and The National Maritime Museum, do you enjoy working with museums and galleries?

Yes, I’m a museum junky! I love so many museums across London for so many different reasons - The Wallace Collection, British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, John Soane Museum, Hunterian Museum, I can go on and on. My all-time favourite museum is the Victoria and Albert; I would love to make a massive work for the V&A.

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Cog O’ Two is a real family business. Jon and Micheala and their sons Liam and Nathan produce laser-cut steampunk-inspired props. For Gothic, their aesthetic worked beautifully, being at once antique and modern, ambiguously aged and curiously contemporary. The hanging keys and clock hands help create the ambiance of the gothic study, and the ominous birdcages add a touch of drama.

We asked Jon how Cog O ‘Two came about.

I’ve always been into making things even as a child and probably inspired by my dad who was a keen model engineer and model boat enthusiast. As part of a fancy dress party for my 40th I was persuaded to buy a decent set of Star Wars Stormtrooper Armour and afterwards join The UKG. The UKG ( UK Garrison ) is the UK arm of global costuming group The 501st. Their sole aim is to raise money for nominated charities and have fun whilst doing it – in 2013 the UKG raised over £66,000. The whole family ended up getting involved, Michaela as Ghost Rider with Nathan as Wicket and Liam also as The Ghost Rider, participating at many events all over the UK in a variety of costumes we had made. From there we made a number of props for friends, and since then we’ve just grown.

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And did you have experience with laser cutting and etching before this business, or did you learn to make these pieces?

Neither of us had any experience other than my attending FabLab Manchester and using their machines, which was a really good foundation in lasers and 3D printing. FabLab was a wealth of knowledge with their staff and volunteers and a plethora of people that popped in to use the machines. So other than learning the basics at FabLab we’re pretty much self-taught.

And it is a real family business, isn’t it?

Liam, our eldest, is 19 years old and he actually created the first cogs we made into sets and sold. Since then he’s designed a number of our products and generally looks after all the cutting and maintenance of the machines. Nathan is our youngest son and is 13 years old, and he helps out with some drawing, selling on the stall when we do events and doing odd jobs around the workshop.

Why steampunk? Was this something you were already interested in, or did it develop through the business?

As well as the UKG, some of our friends within that group were also into Steampunk and we were invited up to Whitby Goth weekend in April 2010. This is probably the second biggest event where Steampunks meet, as there are many crossovers with the Goth scene, and our passion for it grew from there. Our business actually grew through our love of Steampunk, as we’d already made bits for friends in the Steampunk community. Michaela saw an opportunity to take that one step further and provide components that weren’t readily available in a material that was light weight and cheap enough that any Steampunk could afford. Already having the laser at this point made quite good business sense and the machine could be put to good use.

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As well as selling to other Steampunks, who else do you work for?

We’ve created props for The National Maritime Museum, The National Space Centre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Harvey Nichols, Various TV and Theatre companies, and many high street retailers.

And if money and size was not an issue, what would you most love to make?

A full size Nautilus Submarine from 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea!

Thanks to Guy and Jon for answering our questions. Full length versions of these interviews can be seen on the ExhibeoVM website.

You can also see our full range of Gothic products on the British Library Shop website.