This month in my online Facebook group 'Helen Hallows - Creative Courage' the topic for discussion has been 'Change' - how we grow as creatives, how we stick at one creative pursuit, or juggle many.
I have followed Alys Power for a number of years and I have been inspired by how she allowed for her own creative growth and allowed herself to develop a completely new body of work. I asked Alys some questions about this transition:
Tell us about your creative journey and the changes you’ve been through.
I've always been encouraged to be creative and I think I always knew I would end up doing something craft focused. I've been making and selling jewellery for 15 year now and, in fact, this year marks my ten year anniversary of committing fully to my business and becoming exclusively self employed. I studied Sustainable Design and Craft at Derby University graduating in 2004 and worked in various creative roles alongside my jewellery business until 2008 when I had my first daughter. Since then I have worked part time to build the business slowly and manageably, fitting it in and around my personal life.
My work focused on hand crafted jewellery made from vintage and precious materials. Pieces were assembled from reclaimed vintage objects - tiny lost treasures that I combined with silver, gemstones and other materials to make unique narrative jewellery. I started teaching jewellery making classes in 2012, a big change in terms of how my creativity connected with people and something I enjoy far more than I ever thought I would.
In 2014, after having my second daughter, I went back to university and achieved an MA in Contemporary Craft at Nottingham Trent University. This marked a real change in direction in my work. Something I had been considering for a while. Taking a year off on maternity leave was a real catalyst for the change. I had loved my work but it was stagnating and I felt stuck in rut producing the work people expected from me but had become too formulaic in its design process. Even though every piece was unique the making process was repetitive. When I completed my MA in 2016 I completely relaunched the business to reflect my new work. In autumn 2017 my youngest daughter started primary school My current work is clean, contemporary and far more minimal. It still focuses on assembly and a layering style, combining shapes, objects and elements to create small scale compositions.
The style of jewellery you sell has changed in the last couple of years. Were you fearful of the change?
I wasn't fearful of the change itself - I was more than ready for it but I was worried about how it would impact my business and my customer relationships. My narrative work always held a strong emotional and nostalgic connection for a lot of my customers and I really enjoyed that aspect of my work and worried I might lose that. I had built my business on being recognised for a very specific style of jewellery and from an outside perspective I made a very sudden and dramatic change in style. It was a more gradual process for me but once I decided to do it I felt that I had to make a clean break between the new and old styles. The change in the style of jewellery meant I had to re brand and re think a lot of areas of my business to bring them into line with the new work which was far scarier.
Have you felt that there has been criticism for the changes your work has undergone?
On the whole people have been hugely supportive of the change in my work. I was delighted that so many people could see the threads of continuity that link both styles and could still recognise the work as 'me'. For some people my newer work is just not their style but it has also helped me reach new audiences. I think as an artist or maker you often seem to represent a romanticised notion to people of a career they wish they could have if they didn't have 'proper' jobs and they invest emotionally in you and your business. Making a brave creative decision, changing the work to represent myself more fully and trying something new has surprised a lot of my customers and peers but it's amazing to hear how it has also inspired them to do the same.
How do you feed your creativity? How do you research your collections?
My work is inspired by the world around me, particularly the urban, human built environment. My MA was very much about rediscovering and accepting my own creative process and my journey from inspiration to finished piece.I try and encourage myself to relax and let it ebb and flow without forcing it. It's quite and elusive process sometimes. I find making inspires ideas which which inspires making and so on. Working definitely feeds the creative process.
What does creative community mean to you?
My creative community could be friends, peers, colleagues or customers but it is a network of support, motivation and encouragement. It's so vital to have that around me, it helps me deal with the difficult and scary parts of being a self employed maker. The opportunity to learn from those with more knowledge and experience and to support and help those coming along after helps me recognise how far I have come and what my next steps might be.
What’s next for your business Alys Power?
This year I am teaching more than ever. It's a wonderful way of connecting with other creatives and also getting to know my own work better.I have a few spring and summer events coming up including my open studio in May. This year is about becoming comfortable in my business again and having gone through so many big changes in the last couple of years I'm really looking forward to a period of stability and more gradual growth.
Thank you to Alys for answering my questions so insightfully. Sustaining our creativity is a challenge, especially combined with running a business. Alys' commitment to her creative growth, through her MA and continued design development is really inspiring!
You can read the responses and comments to this interview with Alys in the Creative Courage group.