'Imagination will take you everywhere'
In a world of status updates, viral videos and live-tweets, people often get lost in a virtual world of nothingness. It’s enough to make many turn to something tangible – like craft-making – to fill the void.
According to the Craft Council, the UK craft industry is booming; in 2014 it was estimated to contribute nearly £3.4 billion to the UK economy. Forget digital start-ups – the new breed of East London hipsters are taking on the creative mantle armed with knitting needles, clay and home-made dye.
Craft businesses have seen a rise in sales in recent years. Folksy, the UK’s most popular online marketplace for buying and selling craft has seen sales of over £1million and has built a community of around 13,000 designer makers. Camilla Westergaard, Content Editor at Folksy, believes that consumer patterns are changing and the British public are valuing craftsmanship more.
“The period leading up to Christmas is by far our busiest of the year and normally accounts for about 30-40 per cent of all our annual sales on Folksy. This year we have also seen a spike in sales over the Cyber weekend, when more shoppers are online,” says Westergaard.
She adds that programmes like The Great British Pottery Throw Down has encouraged people to not only embrace their creative side but also appreciate hand-made craft and the work behind it.
Textile Design student, Ellie Williams, is a prime example of how the ‘maker movement’ is sweeping the young generation. A digital native, she now prefers spending her time doing embroidery, than surfing the web.
“Our generation is so obsessed with living online that they forget to live offline. Making something with your hands is one of the most life-affirming things – I think the rise in popularity of craft is a reaction to the artificiality of the digital world,” she says.
“I may sound like an old woman, but I find it calming doing hand-embroidery and value time away from the internet. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you create something hand-made.”
This nostalgic return to classic techniques isn’t confined to the craft and textile industries. Artist, Priya Baxter, has recently produced a collection of photographs using a large format film camera from the Victorian era. Raised by an Indian mother who has a passion for craft and a Liverpudlian father who adores classical paintings, Baxter has creativity running through her veins.
She says her love of film photography stems from the unpredictable nature of the medium. “There’s an element of chance within film that there isn’t within digital. I’ve had the time to sit and think about it and if you mess up then that’s it,” says Baxter.
Baxter believes that technology in the digital era has made people appreciate the techniques of yester-year – particularly in photography. “They’ve realised that everything’s so ephemeral now,” she says.
So are we seeing a backlash against digital technology? Will millennials now write letters, make jam and take up pottery? Dr David Giles, Professor in Media Psychology at Winchester University, thinks not. He believes it is the way people use social media that is changing.
Furthermore, he says that those who are taking up traditional craft are probably working on a website or social media account to sell their wares.
“The fact of the matter is that you would have to become a total recluse on a desert island to truly opt out of the digital world,” says Giles.
Williams agrees: “It may sound a bit hypercritical denouncing technology, as I actually use technology to promote my work online. Instagram is a major visual influence – it’s an amazing platform for creativity and to connect like-minded people.” Indeed, social media, particularly Instagram, is seen as empowering a new generation of creatives; giving individuals the ability to publish directly to their audience.
The art app Artsy recently conducted a survey which revealed that over 50 per cent of art collectors who are active on Instagram purchased work from an artist they discovered through the platform. In the survey, one anonymous New York art collector said; “If your artwork isn’t represented on Instagram, do you exist?” A telling expression of this digital era.
Westergaard believes that social media has become a “very necessary tool in a maker’s armour”. She adds that the most successful sellers on Folksy all have very strong social networks.
“Social media doesn’t just give you direct sales, it also contributes to your search ranking, i.e. Google rankings depend on links onto a page, so the more people share your work on blogs, link to it on their social platforms and tweet about it, the better your rankings,” says Westergaard.
Glass-maker, Lynn Foster, doesn’t use social media – although she admits she’s one of the few. Despite not updating her website regularly she still gets lots of enquiries. “But I don’t sell online, and so I think that it’s much more important if you’re selling online to get people to your website because they’re buying from it,” says Foster. She recalls excitedly how a German gallery recently contacted her to exhibit work and the wife of a local Noble Prize winner bought three pieces to add to their international art collection. Proof that social media isn’t the be-all and end-all.
However there’s no denying that technology has benefitted both the art and craft industries.
When once, the art world was seen as an exclusive club, with people sauntering around white-walled galleries filled with multi-million pound art, now it has become a more inclusive community. Technology has democratised the art world. Baxter describes it as “breaking down that barrier of perceived snobbery.”
With the rise of technology comes the blurring of boundaries between art, craft and tech. Baxter hopes the end result will be an equilibrium; where all elements work in harmony together. “I think people are going to start integrating craft with digital – seeing that sweet spot in the middle – and that’s what I’m really excited about.”
This article was originally published on LTS Magazine.