Monday, 11 February 2019

What the NW Craft Network has achieved - Autumn/Winter 2018

Connections and ideas continue to flow for the North West Craft Network. Ideas, small and large, hatched in the early part of the year are slowly coming to fruit, and we are beginning to revisit more ambitious plans that were seeded in early years and we now have the firmer foundation to start to make these things happen.

Intelligence exchange
  • Research, exhibition invitiations and information exchanged widely.
  • Awards and opportunities for makers shared with Development Group and wider networks. As a result of connections made through the NW Craft network in 2014 Liam Hopkins was shortlisted for Arts Foundation’s Designer Maker of the year award 2019.

Sharing members’ expertise and good practice
  • Jo Kay, an audience development specialist and member of the network has shaped an ‘Audience Targeting for Craft Sales’ session for the next Meeting of the NW Craft Development Group (early 2019). This part of the meeting has been opened more widely to organisations who don’t usually attend the meeting but who sell craft.
  • Crafts Council launched UK Craft Network, and we’ve talked with their lead on this to see how we can connect our North West members into this national network, exchange information and ideas, best practice and advocate for North West craft.
  • ARC’s (Arts for Recovery in the Community) CPD programme for volunteers on their Pottery Pioneers project is underway and will engage Network members to train volunteers.

Building the case for the value of craft
  • A task group will meet in early 2019 to workshop a collective letter about the value of Craft to Education for circulation to educational policy makers.

Building infrastructure for collaborative work and resource sharing (joint projects and exhibitions)
  • The Network will revisit its plans for an outstanding NW generated Craft showcase touring exhibition at our next meeting in March. This follows on from initial research in the previous years of the network.
  • The Jerwood Makers Open will come to Manchester City Gallery and members are keen to get involved with collaborative projects. This will be developed at the next meeting.

Supporting a healthy craft ecology
  • Manchester Craft and Design Centre connected with the lead on the Greater Manchester Cultural Strategy and we will be exploring collaborations.
  • Inspired by discussions around nourishing makers of the future, Manchester Art Gallery has decided to put on another Future Creative Event in March 2019. Students will be invited to respond to the gallery's displays to make products for sale in the gallery shop
  • Professional coach and maker Victoria Scholes delivered the third of three business review days for residents and networks of Manchester Craft and Design Centre in January 2019.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

North West Craft Network - what we've achieved

Here are just a few things the NW Craft Network has been working on in the last six months. Get in touch if you see anything that interests you, you can see a potential for partnership or something that you want to get involved with...

Intelligence exchange

  • Excellent NW Craft exhibitions - invitations shared, including Thread Bearing Witness by Alice Kettle at the Whitworth, The Other in Mother (with ARC) at Manchester Art Gallery), Eunmi Kim at Manchester Craft And Design Centre, The University of Bolton School of the Arts Commemorative Show, Kate Hayward at Manchester Art Gallery, Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, Alice Rawsthorn Lecture at Bluecoat Display Centre to name just a few.
  • Relevant Research exchanged. For example, research from Cockpit Arts about disruptions in the craft sector, The Crafts Council’s new video series ‘What’s Your Craft’, and Tom Sutton’s presentation ‘No Line on the Horizon’ summarising how current educational policy could impact on craft education and attainment in the future.
  • Awards and opportunities for makers shared with Development Group and wider networks

Sharing members’ expertise and good practice

  • An ‘Audience Targeting for Craft Sales’ session for organisations selling craftwill be offered by specialist Jo Kay at  the next Meeting of the NW Craft Development Group (March 2019)
  • Exploring the value of craft for health and wellbeing: Contact has been made with Clive Parkinson of The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health and Social Change to discuss potential speaks on craft and wellbeing for a future meeting. 
  • ARC (Arts for Recovery in the Community) are creating a development programme for volunteers that will connect with various Network members and their expertise and experience.
  • Manchester Folk Festival created a programme of craft workshops to complement their music, driven by Jo Kay and encouraged by network members.
  • Building the case for the value of craft : We’re preparing a collective letter about the value of Craft to Education for circulation to educational policy makers

Building infrastructure for collaborative work and resource sharing (joint projects and exhibitions)

  • Conversation is still bubbling away about making an outstanding NW generated Craft showcase touring exhibition happen. This follows on from initial research in the previous years of the NWCN 
  • Bluecoat Display Centre is talking with ARC about outreach programmes and funding opportunities and ARC’s contact with Bolton School of Art has lead to tutor Faye Power being offered an exhibition ‘Movement Maps’ at ARC Gallery in Spring 2019

Supporting a healthy craft ecology

  • Professional coach and maker Victoria Scholes delivered a business review day for contacts of Manchester Craft and Design Centre in August 2018. Plans are underway for a further day to be offered in January 2019.
  • Manchester Craft and Design Centre (MCDC) continues to look at collaborations that will build the scale, value and audience for craft. Currently they are working with Yorkshire Artspace. Future possibilities include Creative Lancashire, NESTA, Crafts Council and ARC.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The North West Craft Network is back in action!

After a between-funding break, the NW Craft Network is back.

We’re delighted to say that the Manchester Craft and Design Centre has been awarded some funding to pay for administrative support for the Network. This will allow us to meet and share information to help support contemporary craft in the North West.

More to follow soon, but for the moment we’re getting our data in order and sending out emails to ask if you want to stay in touch.

You can opt in to receive emails from us here

Monday, 27 February 2017

North West Craft Network - more news soon!

We're between projects at the moment while we work on a funding plan for our goals around bringing makers and Museums together; developing a top quality touring craft exhibition for the North West and incubating our amazing NW talent.

Watch this space for news about what next....

Monday, 12 September 2016

What next for the North West Craft Network

The North West Craft Network is planning an ambitious three-year programme to build an entrepreneurial, resilient and outstanding craft community in the North West that is positioned firmly at the heart of the region’s creative industries.  

We aim to grow the market, build audiences, increase revenue, incubate makers and keep our craft talent working and showing in the region.

To kick-start these plans, we’ll be aiming to run a series of three pilots, funded (we hope) with a £15K bid to Grants for the Arts, matched with funding from Network members. Key elements are:

  • Makers and Museums. Developing and testing a model for the sale of high quality craft in NW museum retail spaces that will increase revenue and build the markets and audience for craft to the advantage of both makers and museums.
  • Developing a proposal for a touring NW exhibition. A collective approach makes a stronger sector: we'll share expertise and collectively develop an outstanding idea for a touring craft show that will create a big message about craft, invigorate collections, commission new work and develop significant new audiences.
  • Incubation. Exploring and testing sustainable options to develop and keep craft talent in the NW in the long term. 

All this comes from the opinions and data we gathered over the last two years from a wide range of craft professionals in the North West. The programme proposes a way to enhance the vitality of the North West craft sector and make it a recognised centre for national activity and excellence.

To decide how to go forward, we asked ourselves a few key questions. What will we do best as this particular group of people? Some things are best done by individuals, partnerships or small groups - what can NW Craft Network do as a group that no other group could naturally do? What is ambitious and far reaching in its scope? And lastly and more practically, what is feasible for us to do?

If we're successful in our bid to ACE, we should be up and running with this in early 2017. Watch this space for more, keep an eye on our Twitter account @nwcraftnetwork, or sign up to our mailing list.

Results from data gathered for our 'Growing the Craft Ecology: 2' project

The NW Craft Network has been spending the year talking to makers, galleries, museums, craft and arts organisations from the region about what would make the most difference in terms of strengthening craft in the North West.

We thought you'd like to know what came out of it all.

One of our priority areas was maker development. This is what you said would make the most difference:

•    Professional development: coaching, mentoring, workshops
•    Incubation studios for emerging makers
•    Exhibitions and Residencies in NW venues

We've been looking at how to develop the market. This is what you said about that:

•    Take a group of NW makers to new audiences 
•    Makers and Museums – how they can work together for mutual economic benefit and to build audiences
•    A big NW (or Northern) Craft Festival

And with regards to advocacy about craft, that is, building confidence, getting the good news out there and promoting the sector within the NW and beyond, you picked out:

•    Reposition craft as part of the creative industries
•    An award of an international residency
•    A public facing website celebrating NW craft (but there were widely ranging opinions on how to deliver this)
•    Advocacy and education in community and schools

And finally, we wanted to see how we could develop our curators and curating of craft in the NW. These things were highlighted:

•    An international project – an exchange or collaboration with international venues and makers
•    Invigorating craft collections – a project across NW venues where makers respond to collections
•    A high profile touring exhibition of contemporary craft
•    Open studio tours to meet NW artists
•    Partnerships between freelance and collections curators to develop exhibition ideas
•    Work with online platforms for more craft presence
•    Digitisation of craft collections in NW museums and galleries

We've had a chance to sift through all of these and think about what to do next, and that's the subject of our next post…click here to view

Friday, 15 April 2016

Top Five Product Photography Tips for Makers

@Janet Broughton
Professional photographer Janet Broughton of Definitely Dreaming offers makers some fantastic tips about photographing contemporary craft.

Beautiful photos can do so much for a maker – helping your work to stand out from the crowd and giving it a long-lived web presence.

Bad photos, on the other hand, can work very hard to make even the best stuff look drab and boring, and are a disaster when it comes to competitions and show submissions.

Janet Broughton gives her advice to help you take photos that won’t let you down.  And if you need more help, Janet runs photography workshops for makers in her studio in Bolton – perfect for those of us based in the North West. And there’s a cheeky little discount available too. Read on.....

1.     Use the best camera you can afford.

Much as you may love your phone camera and find it quick and convenient to use it’s not ideal for product photography. Unless you always shoot flatlays in perfect light and your products aren’t very three dimensional a DSLR will produce much better images than your phone. If you are serious about your business it’s worthwhile investing in a camera and learning how to use it in Aperture Priority mode.

By all means keep using your phone for those quick behind the scenes or work in progress snaps for sharing on social media but use something better for those images that need to sell your products.

2.     Avoid white backgrounds.

Unless you have a compelling reason to shoot on a plain white background, don’t! They can look sterile and bland and they definitely won’t allow you to inject your brand personality into your product images. But even more importantly they are difficult to photograph well, you need very good, even lighting and you need to know how to override your camera’s automatic exposure.

Don’t forget that your customers are highly likely to spend time on Pinterest and Instagram and they have become accustomed to seeing high quality lifestyle images, badly executed white backgrounds will stand out to them, but not in a good way unfortunately.

3.     Never use the built in flash on your camera.

There are no circumstances where the little in built flash is going to enhance your images so please, just turn it off and forget it even exists. It casts an ugly, harsh light with horrible shadows and lots of glare. It will never flatter your products!

4.     Use natural light wherever possible.

Unless you have the tiniest windows and are surrounded by tall buildings or trees you are likely to have enough natural light to photograph your products, you might need to search for it though!

 Start by placing your products close to windows and look at how the light lands on it and what sort of shadows you have, some shadows are good, just make sure they aren’t too dark. If the light seems too bright move away until it looks better. If there isn’t enough light in the window try opening a door and working in the doorway. If you have a garage you could even open the garage door and work in the doorway, you can use fabric or other backdrops to disguise your location.

5.     Don’t overdo the editing.

A little editing of your images is usually a good idea, a gentle lightening of shadows and a contrast boost can transform a picture but be careful not to overdo it! You should always aim to get your picture as good as you possibly can “in camera”. A badly taken picture can’t be rescued without the final image looking artificial and the colours becoming a little strange. Avoid gimmicky edits at all costs, they will cheapen your products and your pictures will soon look dated.


Janet Broughton is an award winning photographer based in Bolton and working throughout the North West. In addition to offering commercial photography services to smaller businesses Janet runs regular product photography workshops to help creative business owners improve their own photography skills so that they can showcase their products online.

Janet also has a blog, Definitely Dreaming, where she shares photography inspiration and advice.

Details of upcoming photography workshops can be found at