Well that’s it now then – a final word from Tom

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Just finished the last North cohort day on the Hothouse program.

And it all feels a little bit odd to be honest. I think I am really going to miss it.

The brief for this session had been playing on my mind for quite some time. We were given the task of presenting our “business plan” to the rest of the group and a few invited craft professionals and I was struggling with the whole idea as I really didn’t consider what I did in my making to be an actual business, primarily because I wasn’t actually making any money through selling the things I had made. So I had decided to forget about the scary business word and just call it “my plan for future making”, which just made more sense to me.

I arrived at Manchester Craft and Design Centre with a chronic stomach ache, (probably psycho sematic) feeling nervous (normal) but also kind of strangely excited about the prospect of talking about my future plans (not normal).

It was great to see all the group again and after a quick catch up it was time to get down to business. When it came close to my time to present, that weird thing happened where I start to nervously shake or kind of vibrate internally. I’m not sure if anyone else can actually see this when it happens, but I feel like I’m having some kind of seizure which everyone in the room is just ignoring out of politeness. Anyway, I told it to go away and this time, for some reason, it did.

I began my presentation by apologising to the attending Hothouse partners for the fact that due to my difficulties with the written word I would have to totally concentrate on reading word to word from my notes, and that my eye contact with them would be very minimal. (Good to start on a positive note)

I then introduced myself and said..

“ Hello My name is Tom Philipson, I am a furniture maker and designer, making nontraditional furniture and sculptural objects. I use traditional woodworking tools and techniques which have been adapted experimentally to produce works that are unique and unusual in their form and construction”.

“But basically, it has become apparent to me that, I just make weird stuff from wood that few people seem to want or need”. (My very own Unique Un-Selling Point or UUSP)

“But that’s Ok.”

“As I believe there is a way that one day I can somehow start to make this pay”

“I have come to the realisation over the past year, through the Hothouse program and through reflecting on my practice, that people on the whole may not want or need many of the things I produce, but generally people seem to actually really like and admire my work. And even those that do not like it at the very least find it interesting and it gets a reaction from them. It’s a bit like, Made you look, Made you think.. and this is a good thing.”

“At a recent craft fair I exhibited at the comments ranged from:”

“That’s amazing, you are a genius”

“which was a bit over the top and I had to pull them up on it”

“to:”

(Cockney accent) “Oh no… Chop It up and f***n burn it… I don’t like spiders..”

“ which was hilarious and I will treasure the memory of those words for the rest of my life”

“So, the question is, how do I turn making furniture and sculpture that doesn’t seem, at present to be hugely commercially viable, and doesn’t appeal to everyone’s taste or pocket, into a successful craft practice.”

“The answer I have come up with is to simply widen my audience. To do this I will have a core to my practice which I can rely on for income to pay for the necessities in life like mortgages, school shoes and toilet rolls. And this will give me the freedom to continue producing weird stuff that makes people go.. “Wow” or “What?”

I then went on to talk about:

The Core Waged part of my practice, Show pieces, Batch production, Experiments, Commissions, Hypothetical shelving of ideas and products, Dumbing down work and then getting bored of making it, Dyslexic mushed up brains, (You had to be there) What I intend to be doing at the end of this year, Next year, and in five years’ time.

I handed round examples of the different types of direction for my work.

And I finished it all off with a bit of reflection:

“This has been an interesting exercise for me. It has helped me to realize how far I have come, where I am now and how far I can possibly go in the future.”

“Some of the statements I have made about where I perceive myself to be in five years’ time felt a little far-fetched and over optimistic when I was writing them down, but if I look back and see where I was when I started this designing and making journey I realise that this is not the case.”

“It was only three years ago that I was working for builders on a construction site with small town, racist, homophobic, bad newspaper reading, bad radio station listening habits. Pulling down ceilings in order to pay for school shoes and toilet rolls.”

“So in just three years my practice has developed immensely and I know now that if I carry on in the direction that my passion for making takes me that there is possibly no limit to where I may end up.”

I then looked up and gave them all some eye contact:

The feedback everyone gave me was very kind. No-one seemed to mind that I just read it out, they seemed to think that what I was saying was actually more important than how I was saying it. I was very relieved and it filled me with confidence. Katia even said that it made her feel emotional and she started to well up. (But I’m not sure I believe her)

I then went back to my seat and listened to the rest of my fellow makers presentations. They were all fantastic. Everyone did brilliantly and it was great to see how far everyone has come over the past few months.

In the final part of the afternoon we all took part in a meeting potential applicants for next year’s program thing, or Networking (Hate that word).

This was fun. Bit weird at first. They all looked awkward and nervous like first year students waiting to come in but it soon became really relaxed (thanks to the Scottish co-hort for their left over prosecco) and it was very interesting and enjoyable to meet them all and give out some advice about applications and the content of the program. Good look to you all.

I left the session feeling really relieved about getting my presentation out of the way. But at the same time I also felt a little flat about the coming to the end of the program. We still have one session left in September where we all get together in London, So I’m not saying it is actually over to myself yet.

So on a positive note, it’s great to know that I don’t have to worry about having to do any more scary presentations in the near future.

But the weird thing is that I think I am, ever so starting to begin to, kind of, In a very small way, actually enjoy them.

(“Did I just say that!”)

Thank you Hothouse I’m doing things I never thought I could do.

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Tom on – Peer networking day at Toynbee Hall, London.

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Another really brilliant day meeting up with all the other participants. Now i know it would be emerging maker, Crafts Council suicide to say otherwise, but truly, i had such a good time..

A really hectic and yet enjoyable day. I went with the clear intention of properly meeting and introducing myself personally to all the other participants on the program. This turned out to be a little bit like speed dating, or “Speed Hothouse Maker Meeting” as I think I will call it.(Perhaps they should introduce this into next years program). However I still didn’t get round everyone, must finish it off next time.

The only slightly negative part of the day for me was that usually when I am in a beautiful historic building similar to that of Toynbee Hall for any particular event or reason, I can always seem to find the time to drift off and study the architecture and interior woodwork to consider its history, the techniques involved in its construction, inappropriate restorations and alterations etc.(What an exciting life I lead). But today there simply wasn’t time and rightly so. I’ll just have to go back one day.

In the morning session, Sarah Hewett, community programs manager from Etsy, gave us a great talk on topics including, selling our work online, images, pr and press. This was all really useful even for those among us who had never considered selling our work through an on-line platform.
I will have to read through the notes on this as unfortunately I had to leave for my slot of PHOTO-TAS-TIC TIME, with photographer Tas Kyprianou, “What a Dude”. He was such a hilarious and genuinely nice man, put me totally at ease.
Having never had a professional photo-shoot of myself with my work before I was expecting feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment and for the whole thing to ooze cheesiness with forced smiles and cringe-worthy Marks & Spencers poses. It was in fact the total opposite, so much so that by the end of the session I had even started directing him as to the weird shots I wanted taking. (They won’t use those ones). I even managed to convince him to photo-shop out the dodgy logo on the shirt I had borrowed that morning. (Didn’t really do shirts before Hothouse. Getting into them now, but not with dodgy logos)
So thanks Tas, It was incredible to be in such proficient hands.

In the afternoon session Anna Collette Hunt, participant on Hothouse 3, talked about her experience on the Mentoring and Buddying schemes. I personally found this extremely useful in terms of my own work and how I want the schemes to assist me with the intended direction I am currently concentrating on for my future practice.

Then it was !!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGH !!!!!   ” Talking About The Work ”

We all had to stand up and talk about the work brought along by a fellow participant. I have found these exercises excruciatingly uncomfortable, but now through the pain and nervous embarrassment I have come to the realization that its all cool and fine, and that non of it really matters. I know that I am not a good public speaker, but why would I be, I have never done it before, and thus I am not practiced. The first time I ever made a piece of furniture I am sure it was pretty crap really, and this is no different.  So I have decided to be as open and honest in my professional practice as I am in my actual making. And just do it. Don’t over-think it and don’t worry about it. Then surely I will slowly improve through practice.

However it was truly great to see all the work everyone had brought in and to hear all the presentations. So well done everyone. And also, on top of everything we learned from the exercise, we also had the added benefit of COLLECTIVELY CAUSING LAUGHTER INDUCED FACILITATOR FACE ACHE!
(This, for those not there, is a good thing)

Then it was quickly outside for more “Photo-Tas-tic time”, for the Hothouse 5 official group photo. I cant wait to see the results when they come through…
So thanks to everyone involved in providing such a valuable experience, I had such a laugh, but also learned loads too.

Oh.. and I also forgot to mention lunch. (A seemingly popular part for discussion on the Hothouse experience so far).  Well to be honest I cant remember.  I was too busy shoving salad leaves into my mouth (attractive) as I walked around trying to do “Speed Hothouse Maker Meeting”. But I’m sure it was probably lovely….

Tom Philipson, on breathing, thinking and telling lies…

Another great session on the Hothouse program. Today’s session was held at the Craft and Design Centre in Manchester’s northern quarter. A Victorian fish market lovingly converted into studios with a great cafe, and an exhibition space which will be showcasing all the North cohorts work in September.

The morning session was spent with Mark Sinker, freelance sub-editor, Crafts magazine. Mark spoke to us about writing Artists statements, and kindly went through all our statements with us personally . This was incredibly useful, especially for the literacy challenged like myself!

The afternoon was a bit more scary…  but only to start with…
Dan Goode, talent spotter and actor, had us, standing up, sitting down, talking about ourselves, talking about our peers, taking our shoes off, lying down, breathing, thinking, telling lies and by the end laughing our heads off.
A great session about conquering and understanding the fears of public speaking.

So thanks again Crafts Council.
It’s off to London next to meet up with all the other cohorts on the program and have our photos taken.

Tom Philipson

More from Tom… ‘Designing your future’

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Days 2 and 3 were held at Marketplace Studios, part of Manchester School of Art in Stockport’s old town, a surprisingly beautiful little enclave nestled within the urban sprawl.

Day one was all about ‘Designing your future, Putting ideas into action’, and ‘The business of you’. We were treated to some excellent talks from established makers, Claire Norcross (lighting), and Amy Hughes (Ceramics). This was so useful, it was great to hear about their journeys that got them to where they are now.
I took away many useful tools and ideas that I will hopefully incorporate into my own practice, but mainly I learnt the value of looking further than the end of my nose.. “or further than the end of my chisels.” Which I tend not to do.

Day Two was Business Modelling, (a day jam packed full of information.) We kicked off with each of us giving a short presentation about an established maker and why their craft business inspired us. I talked about the engraver and silversmith Malcolm Appleby. Again I was totally out of my comfort zone with the public speaking, but learnt some very useful tools for dealing with the nerves and all that, and I physically shook allot less than last time, so I think I could be improving!

We then had sessions with Katy Drake on financial tools and responsibilities and Pete Mosley on business modelling. Thinking about tax, finance and things like business models is something that I have spent the majority of my life avoiding like the plague. I have always imagined that they were things that actually got in the way of experimentation and the ability to create things freely without constraint for a maker. Things that would force me out of my workshop and take up too much of my time.  But just through these sessions I have started to realize that all those scary words I have been avoiding and ignoring are in reality just other words for ” Getting What I Want”. and that through a better understanding of these issues I will have more time and resources to be able to be even more experimental and practiced in my work.
But i think I might still have to employ the services of an accountant though, ” Any bracket fungus loving accountants into swapsies out there.”

So once again, Thanks to The Crafts Council for a enlightening and productive couple of days.

Next stop  ” Presenting Yourself ” at Manchester Craft and Design Center.
(Might even buy a new shirt – from a charity shop of course – No point getting ahead of myself yet.)

Crafts Council Hothouse 5 – supporting emerging makers program

Back in 2013, October to be precise, Lakeland Arts in collaboration with Rachael Matthews artist, author and curator presented, Collect Cumbria a vibrant selling exhibition exploring the skill and innovation of craft in the Cumbrian region. Held in the unique setting of Blackwell, the exhibition gave makers the opportunity to showcase the best of their skills and artistic vision. Tom Philipson was one of the makers, showing in Collect Cumbria. Tom is a contemporary furniture maker whose aim is to produce high-quality hand-crafted pieces using skills and techniques perfected in the ‘golden age’ of English furniture by Georgian cabinet makers .

Tom was one of three craftspeople chosen to receive an Acorn Bursary. The bursaries were to support emerging craftsmen and women and set up by the Lakeland Arts and the former High Sheriff of Cumbria, Diana Matthews. Tom acknowledges that this was a fantastic boost for him and he used the money to have a website designed and produced.

Since then Tom’s career path continues and he has just started Hothouse 5 – we asked him to give us a brief ‘blog’ on his first session – over to Tom…

“Great start to the Crafts councils Hothouse 5 supporting emerging makers program. I arrived at Bridewell Hall, just of Fleet Street, for the start of the induction day feeling nervous and worried about whether my work and practice was worthy compared to all the other 38 participants. To kick us of ( ice breaker) we had to stand up with a piece of our work and talk about our practice. I took along a test piece which was an experiment using compressed wood shavings trapped between curved ash, a bit of sculpture in its self really ( iiiustrated ) I was dreading this bit, but it went OK and the rest of the day went swimmingly from thereon in.
I met lots of very interesting people and it was a great start to the program.
All the pieces that my fellow makers and I had taken along were all set out on a table for us all to study and handle. This was fantastic, being able to pick up things that I had previously only seen over the internet. This also helped me to realise that my work was of a similar standard, and worthy of being there because it was there. ( illustrated )
So already confidence has been gained from Hothouse.
It was only at the end of the day during group reflection that I realised  that my initial fears were just what everyone else on the program were experiencing as well.
So thanks Crafts Council. And now very much looking forward to next weeks session at Manchester School of Art.
Where the business really starts.”

We look forward to following Tom’s career and hope he may share more with us as he progresses.

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