Making your own products takes energy, determination and talent – but it’s not hard to see why more and more creatives are taking up the challenge. The market for design-led products is booming, and the choice of objects you can create is bafflingly broad.
Bouf’s range of products includes these Motorway plates by Snowden Flood, and handpainted mugs based on portrait photos, by House of Harriet.
Illustrators of all levels of fame can transform their designs to postcards, wallpaper, screen-printed posters, mugs, badges, laptop cases, wall decals, homewares, vinyl toys, T-shirts and other apparel, and far more – and such products meet an eager and growing audience.
For creatives, the benefits are obvious. Creating products offers a chance to get your work seen by new audiences. An eye-catching product can be a great way for illustrators to build their profile – and hopefully make some money while they do so.
Here are 10 tips to get you started.
TIP ONE - Team up
When you’re just starting out, getting products made can be hard: collaborating with an independent craftsman can be a good way to get off the ground. Whether it’s jewellery, furniture, or a beaded screen where each bead is a laser-cut character, a skilled pair of hands and an extra brain could help you decide whether your idea’s a winner or a flop, and help get your dream made, marketed and sold – or you could end up making something completely different thanks to their input.
As with all partnerships, find someone you get on with and trust. Design fairs, festivals and product design graduate shows are all good places to hunt for up-and-coming, collaboration-minded talent.
Boreal is a three-strong company that makes limited-edition, handmade illustrated vinyl wallets (boreal.org.uk). Art student Stephen Gibbs came up with the concept, frustrated at the lack of ‘imagination and ingenuity’ in men’s fashion. He teamed up with fashion designer Sally Smallwood and graphic designer Chris Barter to design and launch the product; Smallwood initially hand-sewed all the wallets herself. Boreal has since developed a thriving community of artists who contribute illustrations for the wallets.
TIP TWO - Play with the form
Henrietta Swift’s project is a deceptively simple set of stickers called Light Up your Mood (henriettaswift.com). You stick them onto your light switches however you choose, adding a little personality to what is normally a dull bit of a room. It’s a quirky little product that cleverly uses something everybody already has lots of.
She says: “The Young Creatives Network [a creative agency] set me a task to create something to cheer them up for £10. I had the idea of changing all the light switches in the building to happy faces, and stickers seemed to be the best approach.”
Many of the best – and most eye-catching – illustrator-made products work because they move beyond being simply pictures adorning objects: they play with the format. Witness the recent mini-explosion of gloves, mugs, pencils and even dog toys that make the user (or wearer) look as though they have a flourishing weightlifter-style moustache, or Mathieu Herbert’s competition-winning badge for Stereohype, which mimics a Victorian cameo brooch, or DecoSticks’ wall decal for Bouf, which adds a procession of giant ants to your skirting board.
This interaction with the real world is part of the reason that creating products – whether in collaboration or alone – is so exciting for illustrators: it offers them a chance to move beyond the screen and sketchbook and into three dimensions.
Above and Right: To create the Boreal range of illustrator-designed wallets, Stephen Gibbs enlisted the help of a fashion designer and spent months perfecting the designs. He says: “One of the best methods for improving our product was using the wallets as we would in the real world.”