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

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

North West Craft: curator collaboration event

Thurs 28 April 2016
1-5.30pm (with infomal chat and drinks until about 7pm)
The Manchester College, St. John's Centre

We're inviting people who curate contemporary craft in the North West
to look at how our practice can strengthen high quality craft in the region

If you're a curator of contemporary craft collections, a freelance curator, a gallery who sells, a maker-curator, an emerging curator or if you're at the cutting edge of craft research - we'd love to see you here.

The NW Craft Network is putting together an afternoon of networking and collaboration to address the challenges we face, enhance our strengths and make strategic and practical plans for the future.

We'd like to find ways to co-ordinate, build ideas, share expertise and provide encouragement. What we don't want to do is simply make more demands - it's about working cleverly together to get things done in a difficult economic and social climate and building a plan that will make a significant positive impact on the curating of contemporary Craft in the North West.

Participants will be able to share their ideas, explore best practice, identify promising projects and look at next steps. There will be time to meet others and network both formally and informally.

The afternoon will start with some case studies to get us thinking. Steven Whittle from the Atkinson, Southport is going to talk about the Creative Tensions project with reference to invigorating craft collections, and Kaylee Jenkinson of Manchester Craft and Design Centre is going to talk about showcasing emerging makers with the Crafts Council in the Hothouse Programme. We're working on one more case study to look at a critically engaged open exhibition and/or international collaborations.

From there, we're going to ask participants to look at some of the ideas and projects that have been suggested over the last two years of the NW Craft Networks activity, add more, and to assess them for feasibility, impact and priority.  Then we'll home in on two or three ideas that seem most promising and work them up into proposals that could be taken forward.

After the formal activities are done, we're hoping to head down to Manchester City Gallery for a look at the new Design Gallery, and then for a drink and chat in the café.

There are 30 places on this event, and we're hoping for a good representation from each area of curating. If you curate craft and you'd like to come, or you know someone who you think should come, please contact Victoria Scholes, the co-ordinator of the NW Craft Network at, and she'll arrange for an invitation.

The NW Craft Network is organising this curator collaboration day in conjunction with another event, 'Shaping the Future' that will bring the craft community together to look at building the NW craft market, maker support and advocacy. Together, the findings from these events will feed into the Network's strategy and plans for the next three years and aim to put NW craft on the map.

Lunch. The event begins at 1pm, but St John's centre has a restaurant where people arriving early can buy their lunch or bring their own.

The Manchester College. St. John's Centre, Quay Street M3 3BE (near Spinningfields and Old Granada Studios. See a map here
There is no on-site parking, but there are plenty of car parks around the centre. See Parkopedia to check nearby car parks. There are good train and tram links from surrounding cities and towns.

Organised by the NW Craft Network in partnership with The Manchester College

Friday, 19 February 2016

Making connections, getting inspired, hatching plans

Shaping the Future: making a vision for craft in the North West

10 March at the University of Bolton

Tickets £15      
Book here

Make connections, build your practice, talk about your challenges, and hear talks by people who make, move and shake in the craft world. You'll have a chance to shape future plans, as well as meet and network with some of the UK and Ireland's best makers and craft organisations.

Open to makers, curators, galleries, managers - anyone who works with contemporary craft in the NW. Make connections, be energised & hatch plans to put NW craft on the map.

Speakers are Louise Allen, head of programmes and innovation for Craft and Design Council Ireland; Geoff Mann, Scottish glass artist, innovator and educator and Liam Hopkins of Lazerian, an internationally renowned creative studio based in Manchester.

Organised by the NW Craft Network in partnership with the University of Bolton

More about the day here
Book tickets here

Friday, 22 January 2016

OUTLINE - Shaping the Future: Making a Vision for Craft in the North West

Outline of the day

10 March 2016
The University of Bolton, Deane Rd, Bolton BL3 5AB
Tickets £15

Join us for an afternoon of talks and activities that will shape the future of craft in the North West. For details of the programme and speakers, click here.
To book click here


Registration and coffee.
Networking hub open

Victoria Scholes, co-ordinator of the NW Craft Network and Donna Claypool, Programme Leader for Textile and Surface Design, University of Bolton
Speaker:  Global Futures - Louise Allen, Head of Innovation and Development Programmes, Design and Crafts Council Ireland

Speaker: Liam Hopkins of Manchester Creative Studio Lazerian
Networking Hub and coffee
Book a time or turn up and chat


Breakout Strands – making a plan
Pick one of these

  • Activities about Maker Development
  • Activities about Market Development
  • Activities about Advocacy – building knowledge, confidence and understanding

Speaker: Crafting Innovation – Geoffrey Mann, Scottish Artist, Designer and Educator and a pioneer of new technologies

Breakout Strands – making a plan
Pick one you didn’t do last time

  • Activities about Maker Development
  • Activities about Market Development
  • Activities about Advocacy – building knowledge, confidence and understanding
Pulling it together
Feeding into the future & building a plan 

Panel Discussion
With our speakers and members of the NW Craft Network Development Group

Wine and conversation

To book click here


NETWORKING HUB - Shaping the Future: Making a Vision for Craft in the North West

Shaping the Future - Networking Hub

10 March 2016
The University of Bolton, Deane Rd, Bolton BL3 5AB.
Click here for more details about the programme for the day. To book a ticket for the day, click here

As part of our day, members of the North West Craft Network's Development Group will form a Networking Hub, offering you the chance to ask specific targeted questions about your work or practice.

We're inviting a host of craft experts including makers, curators, gallery owners and directors, museums policy-makers and audience development people.

You'll be able to ask questions, chat through issues and just get to know people and what their aims and motives are. You'll be able to book a 5 minute slot, or just turn up and say hello.

Stuck for what to ask? Check out the ideas below.

The people listed here have agreed to come and offer their advice and expertise. We'll add to it as they sign up, so keep an eye out: 

Samatha Rhodes, Assistant Director at the Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool
University of Bolton 
Clare Knox-Bentham, Designer and Outreach Manager for Manchester School of Art  
Rebecca Hill, Curator of Art at Gallery Oldham 
Vanessa McDermott, Director at Gawthorpe Textiles Collection  
Kaylee Jenkinson, Exhibitions officer at Manchester Craft and Design Centre 
Stephanie Boydell, Curator at Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections  
Ann Marie Franey, Co-Director of Great Northern Events, who run the The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair and Little Northern  
Jennifer Harris, Deputy Director of Whitworth Art Gallery 
Fiona Moorhead, Head of Marketing, The Crafts Council
Janet Boston, Craft and Design Curator, Manchester City Galleries  
Alice Kettle, textile artist and Professor of Textile Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University

What you might ask

Gallery owners, retail managers and curators might want to look for people who would be willing to collaborate with them on ideas and projects - or just to bounce and idea off a peer.

If you're a maker, just a tiny sample of the questions you could ask includes:
  • What do they do
  • What are the breadth of projects that they run that might be of interest to you
  • How you might approach an organsiation or gallery
  • What kind of work they show and if they sell, what sort of price range
  • How do they like to be approached (email, images, face to face)
  • For a regional or national museum what is their collection strategy - who do they collect and why?
  • What kind of craft objects or projects really excite them.

Some people have significant expertise in allied areas such as community engagement (Gallery Oldham, Bluecoat Display Centre, Gawthorpe, The Whitworth), in marketing (the Great Northern Contemporary Craft fair) or networking and working with emerging makers (Manchester Craft and Design Centre). They might be able to offer advice about those things and how they could work for you.

If you have a question and you're not quite sure who to ask - just come and ask the first similing face you see and they'll help point you in the right direction. That's what the NW Craft Network is all about. A question doesn't have to be perfectly formed.

Do bring images of work or a project on a phone or tablet to share. Be ready to shout about your good news and look for answers to your issues.

Shaping the Future: Making a Vision for Craft in the North West

Join us for talks and activities that will shape the future of craft in the North West
10 March 2016, 12.30-7pm

The University of Bolton, Deane Rd, Bolton, BL3 5AB

Geoffrey Mann, The Secret Life of Shadows @SDeleau

Tickets £15        To book click here

What are the challenges you face as someone who works with contemporary craft in the North West? What can we do to make craft and makers great? What actually is the Northern Powerhouse? What does the future hold?

Liminal Exhibition 2015 - DCCoI
Come and talk about your challenges; hear inspirational speakers on topics such as trends, Northern-ness and new technologies and what they might mean for us; take part in structured sessions that will form a plan of action to strengthen the sector, and build your connections with a vibrant network of makers, galleries, museums, educators and Arts organisations.

If you're anyone who works with craft in a professional capacity in the North West, this day is for you. Together we can make the North West a brilliant place for contemporary craft and the people who make it.

Louise Allen, Innovations and Development DCCoI
Speakers are Louise Allen, Head of Innovation and Development Programmes, Design and Crafts Council Ireland (DCCoI); renowned Scottish Artist, Designer and educator, and pioneer of new technologies, Geoffrey Mann and Manchester dynamo and the brains behind creative studio Lazerian, Liam Hopkins

Special sessions will seek your views on a host of potential activities that could form our future plans – covering maker development, increasing markets and improving knowledge, confidence and understanding about North West craft inside and outside the region.  We’ll look at things like getting more craft exhibitions in the North West’s museums or setting up a major regional craft open of national quality. Could we have a North West Craft festival? What about a yearly celebration of making like the Sheffield Design week, or open studios like C-Art in Cumbria? Or could we encourage more incubation spaces and business support for makers? These ideas and lots more will be on the table.

Making friends and connections: the heart of it all
There will be lots of opportunity for you to ask specific targeted questions about your work or practice. Central to the afternoon will be a networking hub gathering many of the members of the NW Craft Network Development Group. These include makers, galleries, curators, museums and more. They'll be ready to meet you, chat about your practice and answer questions. See information about the Networking Hub here.

For an outline of the day, click here

To book click here


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Coming up on 10 March - a day to shape the future of craft in the North West

Geoff Mann, Crossfire wineglass. Image Sylvain Deleau
Shaping the Future: Making a Vision for Craft in the North West
10 March, 12.30-7pm
University of Bolton

Tickets £15 (to be released 25 Jan)

Coming soon! An afternoon of talks and activities that will shape the future of craft in the North West.

Come and talk about your challenges; hear inspirational speakers on topics such as global trends, the Northern powerhouse and new technologies and what they might mean for us; take part in structured sessions that will form a plan of action to strengthen the sector, and build your connections with a vibrant network of makers, galleries, museums, educators and more.

Speakers so far announced include Louise Allen, Head of Innovation and Development Programmes, Design and Crafts Council Ireland and renowned Scottish Artist, Designer and educator, Geoffrey Mann.

Put the date in your diary! More to follow soon.....

Friday, 15 January 2016

Craft in the North West this January

Some serious craft shows going on in the North West of Englan this January; and a few to catch before they close.  Stuff to sooth the soul and inspire creative thinking and doing!

Last Chance
Exploring Wonderland at MCAD To 14 Feb

Art_Textiles at the Whitworth. To 21 Jan

On now

Modern Japanese Design at Manchester Art Gallery. 4 Dec to January 2017.

The Pilcrow: The pub that Manchester built (or is building, to be precise) Ongoing workshops - check details here 

Natural Makers at Touchstones Rochdale To 27 Feb 2016. 

Jarred: Ceramics from the Collection is on at Touchstones. To Spring 2016

Sculpting Stories at Gallery Oldham, including studio ceramics from their collections.  To Summer 2016.

Coming soon
Brilliance at The Bluecoat Display Centre To 5 March 2016

New gallery space opens in January 2016 at MMU MarketPlace Studios, Stockport.