Getting to know Eleanor Young
Supplying The Glasgow School of Art Shop since her student days, Eleanor Young's bright geometric designs and her aptly named company Fun Makes Good have gone from strength to strength. We catch up to find out about how her practice has grown and the new inspirations informing her work.
The GSA Shop stocks products designed by students, staff and alumni of The Glasgow School of Art…Can you tell us a bit about your time studying at GSA?
Well time really flies - I graduated from GSA Textiles department in 2007 with a specialism in embroidery and I loved my time at GSA. I loved working in the studios of the Newberry tower - it was a hive of activity, a really unique environment and I enjoyed being surrounded by design all day - The work I do today very much stems from the work I produced in my degree - very geometric, often starting from a collage base and still very colourful but now my work covers not just textiles but print and products and in a variety of scales.
Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your designs?
I always have my eyes peeled for inspiration - mainly looking at colour, shape and texture. When I lived in Glasgow I’d look to architecture - the details in buildings as well as general city life and the urban landscape. Having recently moved out into the countryside my eye is adapting to the more subtle details and textures in the landscape and I’m beginning to soften my hard edges and combine strong shapes with softer lines and more subtle colour combinations. It’s been interesting looking again and taking inspiration from a new source.
Can you tell us a bit about the kind of processes and materials you use?
I like to start with collage - it just feels like a very instinctive way to ‘draw’ and get pattern and colour down on the page. Sometimes these lead nowhere but sometimes a small snippet might lead me off into a new direction and from that I’ll develop the pattern, do some pencil sketches, play with scale and think about how this would translate into either a textile based product or a printed product. If I’m working with a client on a specific project often a brief will be set or through discussion we’ll focus on a particular direction but even in my commission based work I’ve had a lot of freedom to find my own starting point and develop a design and finished piece which is true to my own personal style.
How long have you been trading for and what led you to start your business?
As a student I’d make small textile pieces and accessories and sell these at student pop-up shops, it was an easy cost effective way of testing the market and making a bit of cash. After my degree I continued making, experimenting and building a collection of work, focusing on interior accessories and patchwork upholstery. I started to approach independent shops in and around Glasgow to see if they would display and stock my work. I then got my first commission for some bespoke upholstery and it really gave me the confidence to make a go of running my own business. In 2009 I properly started trading as Fun Makes Good and got onto the Cultural Enterprise programme for creative start-ups - ‘Starter for 6’ which gave you a crash course in running a creative business with mentoring and practical hands on advice. I was lucky enough to receive some funding at the end of the programme which helped take me to my first trade show and buy some much needed industrial machinery which allowed me to step up my production and take on larger tougher projects.
What are the hurdles you face as a maker in starting and running your own business?
It can feel very overwhelming at times so finding advice at the right time can be a real boost. It’s something I’m constantly seeking whether it’s through reading a blog post by the Design Trust or chatting to other self-employed friends, it can help you to spread the load and re-focus. It can be a bit of a hard slog at times but your creativity and perseverance can help you though.
And tell us about the high points that make it all worthwhile?
I honestly love what I do so every day feels like a little high point! But there is nothing better than getting feedback from a customer who says they like what you do. I’ve been so incredibly lucky with the variety of projects my work has lead me to but a personal highlight was when I landed my first large scale commission for a commercial space - designing and making bespoke upholstery for a restaurant in London. It was a really exciting moment.
What advice would you give to makers starting to design products for retail?
It’s ok to start small, try these ideas first and then built on them when you have confidence to go bigger. Use platforms that allow you test the market first before approaching retailers like taking a stall at a design market or building a shop on Etsy.
How are you finding the independent retail scene currently?
I think there is a resurgence in customers caring about where their purchases are coming from and independent retailers are key bridge between the makers and the market.
How long have you been supplying us?
I am hugely grateful to the GSA Shop as I have been stocking with them (in one shape or form) since I was a student! Their orders at the start really boosted my confidence and as my business has evolved and my products have developed they have been with me all the way. As a retailer they are extremely passionate about promoting each individual designer not matter what stage of career you are at so it feels like very special company to be in.
Give us a sneaky taste of things to come, what are your big or small plans for the future?
I’m currently working on some upholstery commissions which I always enjoy as they are very hands on and provide me with a bit of technical problem solving!
What’s your favourite new material to work with or colour combination just now?
I’m having a slight thing for a particular shade of purple at the moment. It’s slipping into all sorts of projects and will be appearing in a new clock design heading for the GSA Shop soon!
Which other designers or makers products impress you?
I’m a huge fan of designers Ptolemy Mann, Lubna Chowdhary and Morag Myerscough a quick look at each of their instagram feeds and you’ll see why - colour, pattern and scale! Their work is so exciting.