Staffordshire artist has designs on a creative career

From charming canines to happy hares, Staffordshire artist and designer Fay Shoesmith enjoys capturing the faces of animals in her range of greetings cards and prints.

The 42-year-old founded Print Circus Studio,which also offers luxury gifts as well as bespoke commissions such as pet portraits, in 2015.

And the business has grown to supply many independent galleries and shops throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe.

Fay’s creativity had always been bubbling away under the surface since an early age.

“It has always been in me, though I didn’t realise until later that you could actually engineer your own work by concentrating on what you love and what you are good at. There was little enthusiasm or encouragement for the arts at my secondary school, my art teacher was great but creative vocations weren’t spoken about at all, it was a very academic school and I ended up making the wrong A-level choices as a result,” explains Fay, who lives near Lichfield.

Her art training began at Stafford College in the late 90s when she completed an art foundation course.

“I absolutely loved the life drawing classes and all of the areas of art and design we had the opportunity to try. I specialised for the final term in textiles. I’ve always been drawn to colour, texture, pattern, drawing and painting. These attributes lend themselves to textile design, so I naturally headed in that direction.

One of Fay’s popular designs

“From Stafford I moved to Birmingham to do a BA (hons) Textile Design course where it became quickly apparent that print should be my specialism. Throughout my career I have used the knowledge and skills developed during my degree course.

“I was very influenced by Lucienne Day’s 1950s pattern designs and concentrated on hand painting repeat patterns, unusual colour solutions, and screen-printing my final designs by hand,” Fay tells Weekend.

In the following years she had a variety of jobs in interior design, textile design and later in education, studying for a PGCE at Greenwich University in 2008.

After her two children were born, she devoted her time to developing her own design studio.

“Print Circus really came from the heart as I started concentrating on working on my own niche when my twins were babies in 2014. That time in my life, when they were asleep a lot in the day, allowed the freedom to develop my own style and way of working, which has become the building blocks to my brand.

“I registered the business in 2015 but as you can imagine I had very limited time because I was the main carer for the twins while my husband was working full time. I decided to begin by designing cards as they are small and everyone sends them – they seemed like a good way to dip my toe in the water. I had to decide if I wanted to design for other people and sell the designs or become a publisher, which obviously would mean setting up a different type of business.

“I had known since visiting shows during university times that I wanted to create a brand one day but didn’t know what or how. This was the perfect opportunity and time, so Print Circus was born and I decided to become a publisher so I could have full creative control, not only of the designs but also of the final products.

“Where and how products are made, which manufacturers to work with and ethical and environmental issues are important to me. I’m really fussy about the details,” explains Fay.

In September 2017, when her children started school, Fay attended her first trade show with her products.

“It was a big step and was amazing so I have worked hard to build the business from there. I still work with a lot of the buyers I met at that first show,” she says.

Her favourite materials to work with when creating her designs are a mixture of acrylic paints, inks, pencil and collage and artwork features a few recurring themes.

“I love dogs and animals, especially the way their faces have such character. That’s what I try to capture as I think it’s one of the things that people are drawn to. Also the colours, making the colour scheme inviting, eye catching and unusual is really important to me,” says Fay, who licenses some of her original art work for large scale pictures to Camelot Pictures in Nottingham.

In recent months she has also been having a go at making clay characters.

The dog design created in clay

“Following watching the Great Pottery Throw down, I was reminded about my love of working in 3D in clay. I dabbled a bit at college and university so in lockdown I bought a load of air drying clay to make things with the children. Wow, it was amazing – we are all hooked. I made a few of the Print Circus characters in clay and plan to push this idea as a bit of a passion project and see where it leads,” says Fay.

She is always scribbling in notebooks and sketching out ideas that may inspire future creations.

“I often look back through old sketchbooks and designs to find old gems which may fit with the current project, be that colours, motifs, characters or ideas. I use the original paintings to make digital designs by photographing and manipulating using Photoshop.

“Here I can change colours, scale and repeat things if necessary – this is where the designs really take shape. But of course only about 20-40 per cent of my time is actually creating art work or designs, there is a lot other work that needs to be done to keep the business going.

“I have a great assistant, Laura from Cloud Chameleon,who works with me on a lot of projects, such as getting the inventory organised and anything techy or numbers orientated. I have another amazing freelancer I call on for help with shows and sales. “My husband is really supportive – it helps to have great people around you to discuss things with,” explains Fay.

Founding her own design studio and creating her own brand continues to provide plenty of job satisfaction and sense of achievement.

“There are so many aspects that I love. Creating the designs is obviously my first passion, bringing collections to life with the characters, patterns, themes and colour schemes. I love developing new products, receiving the first samples and seeing how they will work.

“I get a huge buzz from trade shows. Designing the trade stand, the drama of setting up and I love meeting buyers and developing the relationships with them – it’s great to see familiar faces, and the other business owners that you meet and get to know. I have met such a lot of really lovely people doing this job.

“Of course a lot of the buzz comes from sales. That is a wonderful feeling knowing that you have created products that are commercially viable and exciting to buy. I am genuinely excited every time an order comes in on the website, either from a trade stockist or the general public!

“When I make portraits of pets I love the big reveal – it’s always quite challenging as I like to take into account the tastes of the owners obviously, within the framework of my style.

“Most of all I really love the feeling of developing a recognisable brand. It is constantly evolving, such as the customer experience, the designs, the overall feel – I think it’s the ultimate creative challenge.”

Fay has taken great care to ensure her products are made from the finest materials and she believes this is what makes her creations stand out from the crowd.

“I love that people buy my designs. It’s great to know that the cards could be part of someone’s special day and the wrapping paper is used to finish a special gift – people often say it’s too nice to use! My products are printed using G F Smith papers, they are the most luxurious British paper manufacturers so everything feels exceptional to use. The products not only look colourful and fun but they are really tactile,” she tells Weekend.

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