Q&A: Dr Ana Attlee of Seedball and Project Maya April 22, 2017 11:11

In the latest in our Q&A series with creative thinkers, we meet Dr Ana Attlee, co-founder of the multi-award winning Seedball brand and of Project Maya, an eco enterprise that's striving to build a global network of urban permaculture reserves.

Find out what the average day looks like for someone with a plan to save the world, plus multiple eco businesses to manage, not to mention small children, a dog, a cat and a rabbit to take care of…

How did Project Maya and Seedball come about?
Em (Dr Emily Lambert, the other half of Project Maya & Seedball) and I were researchers at Aberdeen University. Em was researching climate change impacts and I was researching how to improve community conservation. Really we just wanted to save the world! We realised that we weren't the only ones that felt like that, so we got together with a group of like-minded academics to start Project Maya.

Foxgloves in the wild, the ultimate aim of Project Maya is to create permaculture reserves

Dr Ana Attlee and Dr Emily Lambert got together with a group of like-minded academics to start Project Maya - they aim to create nature reserves and believe that business is an effective tool for large scale conservation

Ultimately the aim is to buy nature reserves, and there are interim aims to create impact from research. During the early stages of Project Maya, Em and I had the chance to go on a course designed to equip academics with business skills. With the help of that course (the Environmental Researchers Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) we came to the conclusion that business might be an effective tool for large scale conservation. We came up with the idea for Seedball as a result of our shared love of bees and our inability to grow wildflowers.

How do seed balls work and who is Masanobu Fukuoka?
Seed balls are an innovative technique for protecting seeds whilst they grow and for reducing the amount of effort needed to grow them. All you need to do is scatter, water and watch them grow! The clay in the ball stops birds from eating the seeds, the chilli puts off seed predators like ants (and even helps to deter slugs and snails whilst the shoots grow), and the compost gives the seeds a bit of a head start.

Scattering seedballs to grow beautiful wildflowers

Seed balls are an innovative technique for protecting seeds whilst they grow and for reducing the amount of effort needed to grow them

The idea for adapting a seed ball recipe for UK wildflowers came after reading Masanobu Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution' and learning about his work using seed balls to grow crops with very little effort and without damaging the soil or the environment.

Which is your favourite wildflower?
That’s such a difficult question! It’s amazing how beautiful our wildflowers are. My current favourites are poppies (as you can probably tell from our Instagram and Twitter accounts). Over the last few years we’ve had a real spate of pink poppies and unusual patterns/colours, which are stunning. As a scientist I'm fascinated by the potential cause for these quirky colours. Is it something in our poppy seed balls or in the way they function that causes this? I don’t know and I'm dying to find out!

What does your average day look like?
Absolutely crazy! I’ve always been pretty driven and full of energy and enthusiasm so I do tend to wake up excited about what that day will bring. I have a few businesses all with an eco edge, plus twin three-and-a-half year olds, and a dog, a cat and a rabbit! So it can be a challenge to squeeze everything in that needs to happen in a day.

Dr Ana Attlee peeps out from behind a box of Seedballs

Dr Ana Attlee (pictured) and Dr Emily Lambert came up with the idea for adapting a seed ball recipe for UK wildflowers after reading Masanobu Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution'

Most days I get up early (between 5am and 6am), set up social media for the day and get on top of emails, then head out for a jog with the dog, grab breakfast, drop the littles at nursery, get into Seedball HQ and pop the kettle on ready for everyone to arrive.

At lunchtime I tend to cook for the Seedball crew. Mornings and afternoons are a mix of working on different businesses – planning and setting goals, doing social media and looking at how to move the businesses forward, plus a LOT of time on the phone. Then it's time to pick the littles up from nursery and do the bedtime routine. Once they’re asleep it's back to work… and that’s whatever needs doing - whether that's mucking in on seed ball manufacturing (which is great as I listen to audio books/podcasts) or computer/admin work (which I hate!).

What (or who) is your greatest inspiration?
People who have changed the world, creative thinkers and risk takers … Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson, Vivienne Westwood, Wangari Maathai.

What advice would you give a would-be entrepreneur?
Start where you are, don’t think you need to know more or be more before you get going. If you really want it you’ll learn as you go. Take advice from people who know better than you and employ people cleverer than you when you’re building a team… and have fun on the ride!

Musk mallow growing from seed at Mimosa Street HQ

Rose pink musk mallow growing from Butterfly mix Seedballs at Mimosa Street HQ

What do you consider to be the biggest threat (or threats) to the environment? Oh, it is so sad. There are so many including habitat destruction and climate change. Perhaps one of the largest threats is the feeling we all have that this is a hopeless situation… it’s not!

Together we can save the world and it can be as simple as turning a tiny bit of space (even a hanging basket) over to wildflowers and helping nature. If we all took a look at our lives and the space in which we live - whether that be a house or a flat - and actually thought about what we could do to help nature just a little bit in our everyday lives, the impact would be huge.

If you were prime minister for the day what would you do?
Fill the UK with wildflowers! Road verges, railway sidings, public parks...

Aside from growing wildflowers, do you have any advice about other small steps we could all be taking to look after nature?  
Buy organic, shop local, reuse, upcycle and recycle, buy less stuff, work at home or locally, cook food from scratch, substitute your alcoholic beverages for bee-friendly cider, put in a pond (no matter how small), choose a hedge over a fence, if you have a fence pop in a hole for hedgehogs… the list is huge!

Apple orhard - bee-friendly cider

 There are a huge number of ways to help take care of nature, including swapping your favourite tipple for a bee-friendly cider

Any other exciting eco projects on the horizon?
Yes… but it's early days so I can't spill the beans quite yet!

After a busy day at Seedball HQ how do you unwind?
I like little spots of unwind time throughout the day; a morning jog, a steaming coffee with cream, a woodland walk with the dog, time cooking for the team, family or friends, sitting around the table chatting over a meal, and a book or a magazine in a lovely bubble bath.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?
"If you think you’re too small to make a difference – try going to bed with a mosquito!"




Q&A: India Johnson of Greengage Studios November 4, 2016 16:00

In the latest in our Q&A series with inspiring bloggers, makers and artists, we meet designer-maker India Johnson of Greengage Studios, who runs her own creative business while also studying Fine Art at Newcastle University.

Here she offers an insight into the creative process behind her designs and explains why she'd like to travel back to the 1890s.

How do you like to start your working day?
I start most days early - after a little encouragement to get out of bed - with a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea. Having a good breakfast always keeps me focused on the tasks ahead - whether it’s finishing a painting or printing a bolt of fabric.

Poppy screen printed fabric drying, Greengage Studios

I love the walk to university in the mornings, and getting in early keeps me productive. Every Friday morning my mum and I go out for an almond croissant before I head to the studio - it's become something of a tradition!

Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Pattern has always captivated me. I began with a few lino cuts and worked them into bold screen-printed designs. When setting up Greengage Studios, it was important that all my designs were hand printed, as I think it's always such a shame when a print you love is aesthetically beautiful, but lacks the tactile quality of the ink on the surface, which tells you so much about the print's story.

Screen-printed pouches featuring India Johnson's designs, Greengage Studios

Screen-printed pouches featuring India's bold prints, from £10

When I'm working with pattern, I start with a lot of sketches and translate these into working drawings. I’ll then test them on lino to see how they transfer onto paper or textiles.

My creative process varies enormously depending on what I'm doing, whether it's screen printing, block printing, painting or stone lithography. I’m inspired by all sorts of things, from photographs I’ve taken or found, to organic shapes that catch my eye.

What could you not do without in your studio?
My favourite thing at the moment is the hand-bound sketchbook that my boyfriend made for me. It's filled with really heavy watercolour paper and the cover is left blank for a lino print. Also, my brushes are brilliant; they're perfect for everything from tiny watercolour sketches to huge paintings.

What is your greatest inspiration?
I love hunting for beautiful patterned things in charity shops and at vintage fairs. Coffee pots, jugs and retro fabrics provide me which a constant source of inspiration. I’m mainly drawn to mid-20th century pottery and textiles for their use of rich and earthy colours: mustard hues and velvety reds that are used to create abstract motifs and playful patterns. I am also drawn to simple shapes in nature: heavy poppy heads or olives in a jar - things that can be exaggerated and simplified into a repeat pattern.

India Johnson of Greengage Studios

If you were cast away on a desert island what would you take with you?
I'd choose my sketchbook! I love to record what is around me, from landscapes to figures. A friend told me there is much more movement in drawing from life, which is something I’m trying to work on at the moment.

If you were prime minister for the day, what’s the first thing you’d do?
I would emphasise the importance of teaching the arts in schools and universities. If courses are cut or funding is reduced in these areas, we'll lose some really important skills.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
I'd go back to the 1890s. I’d love to get first-hand inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement and see their block printing in action! I'd also visit William Morris to learn about his traditional textile dyeing and printing processes.

What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting their own creative business?
The most important advice I would give, particularly to those still at university, would be to start doing what you love as soon as you can. Yes, starting a business while at university has been a challenge, but there are lots of facilities available that go unused by everyone else, and that's a huge advantage.

Poppy washbag by India Johnson, Greengage Studios

Hand screen-printed washbag in India's Poppy design, £22

Another good tip, and this one I picked up reading Orla Kiely's 'Pattern', is that no one is going to tell you exactly how to do things, so you've got to figure it out yourself. This involves a lot of trial and error - printing, sourcing materials and making patterns, for example - but it's entirely worth it. The skills you learn from putting in the time to understand a process or a material are invaluable.

After a day spent designing and printing, how do you wind down?
I am terrible at winding down and switching off from art or pattern-related endeavours, but when I do finally stop, I like to cook dinner, read or bake (my favourite recipes at the moment are Jamie Oliver’s banana bread and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s banana, chocolate and cardamom loaf).

Q&A: Helen Round December 4, 2015 09:10

Continuing our Q&A series with inspiring bloggers, makers and artists, is an interview with designer-maker Helen Round, who has a background in fine art textiles and printmaking. She is based in Cornwall and works from her garden-top studio which is perched on a hill above the River Tamar.

How do you like to start your working day?
My day begins with a slow walk up the steps which lead through the flower beds to my studio, which is at the top of the garden. I’ll usually have a mug of mint tea in hand - and a piece of toast with my dad’s honey on it.

Helen Round

What could you not do without in your studio?
I love our big cutting table. It is the central hub of the studio and it doubles up as a print bench. It is also a great place to gather with the team when we are creating new ideas.

What is your greatest inspiration?
The amazing views from the studio are always transforming with the weather and the seasons. They provide an ever changing backdrop and are a constant source of inspiration for new designs and ideas.

Country garden washbag by Helen Round

Screen printed country garden washbag by Helen Round, £22

If you were cast away on a desert island, which piece of music would you take with you?
I have followed the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen since I was a teenager, so I think I would choose You Got Me Singing, from his album Popular Problems.

Which book would you take?
I love language so I think I would like to take a dictionary so that I could continue to find new words and definitions, and also play scrabble against myself!

If you were prime minister for the day, what’s the first thing you’d do?
I would want to put in place support for small creative businesses that are struggling to grow and survive in rural areas.

Helen Round's studio

"The views from my studio provide an ever changing backdrop and are a constant source of inspiration"

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
It would have to be to the roaring Twenties, the fabulous flappers... and Paris.

What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting their own creative business?
Be sure of what you want to do and stay focused and determined. Surround yourself with supportive people, don’t be afraid to ask for help and always make time for your family.

Birdsong washbag by Helen Round

Birdsong washbag by Helen Round, in natural linen, £22

After a day spent designing and printing, how do you wind down?
My daughter Phoebe and I both love to cook, and at the end of a busy day I like nothing better than spending time with her in the kitchen, preparing supper and then relaxing by the fire together. I also love to have friends round for dinner, and a good competitive game of cards.

What motto do you live by?
Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today!

Q&A: Cheryl Rawlings October 19, 2015 17:41

With her characteristic monochrome style and calligraphic aplomb, Cheryl Rawlings, 34, is one of our favourite illustrators. An avid trend-spotter, Cheryl was a fashion buyer for 13 years before recently giving up her day job to concentrate on her artistic endeavours. She is married with two sons, and lives in Suffolk.

The Little Things print by Cheryl Rawlings

The Little Things Print by Cheryl Rawlings, £14

How do you start your working day?

As I have a nine-month-old son, my working day can start at any hour. I often respond to emails and catch up on social media in the morning, then leave sketching until the evening when I can lay everything out without fear of it being grabbed or crawled on. When I’m working, I tend to have several sketchbooks and pencil cases out at any one time!

Cheryl Rawlings and family

What could you not do without in your studio?

Besides my pens I probably couldn’t live without my Mac and Wacom digital drawing tablet.

What is your greatest inspiration?

My work is very much inspired by everyday life and feelings. It could be a conversation, or something that’s happened to me or my family that conjures up the words for my next piece.

Dream Big print by Cheryl Rawlings

Dream print by Cheryl Rawlings, £14

Instagram is also a lovely visual source of inspiration, and having worked in the fashion industry for more than a decade, I still love to follow trends and see all the new collections.

If you were cast away on a desert island, which piece of music would you take with you?

All You Need Is Love by The Beatles. It was the first song that was played at our wedding after the ceremony as we left as man and wife. I also have this quote on my wall at home to look at every day.

Cheryl Rawlings print - love

The Love print by Cheryl Rawlings, £14

Which book would you take?

Sketchbook! Does that count?

If you were prime minister for the day, what’s the first thing you’d do?

Resign! I do think that this is one of the hardest jobs out there. Our country has become so diverse and is forever evolving. Being as indecisive as I am, I certainly don’t think that I could lead.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?

I would relive my wedding day just as it was all over again.

What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting their own creative business?

Have confidence in your ability. I’ve only felt brave enough to put myself out there in the last 18 months, and I have certainly done this very slowly. Competition is strong, but embrace this and network as much as you can; this will often ease your worries as you realise that there are others in the same boat. I have met and shared with some wonderful people, and interesting opportunities have arisen as a result of these meets. Take a deep breath and dive in!

Cheryl Rawlings postcard set at Mimosa Street

Beautiful monochrome postcard set from Cheryl Rawlings, £5

After a day spent designing and illustrating, how do you wind down?

As my working day is so flexible I often illustrate at night, but this is after spending time catching up with my family. I do have an obsession with books, my latest purchase is the English version of the Fine Little Day book - I LOVE this brand! I also recently bought the Art Inc book by Lisa Congdon, which I’m hoping will give me some nuggets of business inspiration. She came into illustration later in life too and is now a huge global success.

What motto do you live by?

As I’ve got older I have begun to realise the importance of appreciating the now, and not always looking to the future. I Googled quotes along this line and found this one by A.A. Milne which really made me smile…

“What day is it?"
“It's today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day," said Pooh.

Cheryl Rawlings print - journey

Journey Print by Cheryl Rawlings, £14

Cheryl Rawlings (@cherylrawlings) is on Instagram and you can shop for a selection of Cheryl's beautiful prints and postcards in our Prints and paper goods collection.


Q&A: Kate from A Playful Day September 29, 2015 20:53

Kicking off the new Q&A series featuring inspiring bloggers, makers and artists is an interview with Kate from A Playful Day. From knitting, crafting and upcycling to photography and illustration, her blog and podcast explore creativity in all its different forms.

Here she offers some essential advice to would-be bloggers and explains why she always assumes the best.

Knitting at A Playful Day

How do you like to start your working day?
After dropping my daughter off, I usually go for a jog. I find it easier to organise my thoughts when I’m running and problem solve best when I’m outdoors, taking everything in. It means that by the time I’ve showered and flipped on my laptop, I’m more likely to be ready to focus on what needs to be done.

What could you not do without in your studio?
My journal. I’ve created a working journal that helps me keep track of little to do lists, quotes that have inspired me or appointments I need to know about each day. Without it, I’m completely lost.

What is your greatest inspiration?

The people I get to work with every day. I’m always amazed at how creative people are and I’m so lucky to work with them - in my professional life and as a podcaster and blogger. I’m a naturally curious person - I want to know all about someone’s thought process or inspiration. I ask lots of questions as a result!

Kate's running shoes, A Playful Day

If you were cast away on a desert island, which piece of music would you take with you?
Oh that’s tough for someone who has endless playlists to suit the mood or moment that I’m in! I can listen to anything from Harry Belafonte to get me going in the morning to something gentle like The Lumineers. If I’m in a bad mood, it’s pure pop all the way. I think I’d prefer silence and hum to myself rather than restrict myself to choosing just one piece of music. I do that a frightening amount actually - humming is my thinking noise.

Which book would you take?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I have several copies and it’s something I look for each time I visit a second hand store. It’s small but perfectly formed and reminds me that everyone feels lost once in a while but we can all reinvent ourselves.

If you were prime minister for the day, what’s the first thing you’d do?
Open doors, support and nourish our communities and remove barriers. I think we could all do with it after the last few years of government.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
I’d love to have an afternoon tucked inside the parlour with the Brontë sisters. I couldn’t think of better company.

Advice from Kate at A Playful Day

What advice would you offer someone thinking about starting their own blog?
Tell YOUR story. Only you are in control of your story and a blog is your place to write it down in the way you wish. You can share as little or as much as you want about yourself or your business but ultimately, it’s yours to share. Blogging and social media offer us rare opportunities to take complete ownership of our narratives.

After a creative day spent blogging and making, how do you wind down?
My favourite thing to do is to curl up with a pile of knitting, some blog posts or a podcast and lose myself for a few hours. A bubble bath and a paperback would be a close second.

What motto do you live by?
“Assume the best”.
In this digital age of fast response and little thinking time, it’s so easy for words and meaning to get twisted. I’m a naturally self-critical person and will almost always assume I’ve done something wrong. To counter this, I’ve tried employing an “assume the best” policy to absolutely everything and I have much happier interactions as a result. A quick text can have a million meanings. I strive to communicate when I’m in the right frame of mind and put a positive foot forward first. Communication is so important to get right.

  • A Playful Day is a blog and podcast for knitters, makers and all people who love tales that are rich in creativity.   
  • Kate (@aplayfulday) can also be found on Instagram where she co-hosts the #wipsandblooms hashtag with @ceramicmagpie. The tag, which is all about celebrating the creative journey, is open to all artists, crafters and makers. If you’d like to join in, take a snap of your work in progress (wip) and your favourite blooms. Don't forget to use the hashtag and tag the pair above.