We are back with another instalment of ‘Get INKspired’. This is a series of blog posts where we take a look at the past four years of running a business and skills INKubator for jewellers and silversmiths, the very thing Vanilla Ink was founded upon.
Over the years, the Programme has changed shape, evolved and taken time to listen to the industry. Now going in to its fifth year, we dig a little deeper and tell you more about what happens on the inside. Learn about who has taken part and read about their journeys, as well as being introduced to our INKsperts and industry insights.
Today we talk to Ashley, our current INKer in Residence and former INKer. A jeweller who strayed away from making for a few a years, then came back to the bench to join the INKubator Programme in 2018.
Vanilla Ink: Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself - what’s your name, where do you come from, where are you based and what kind of work do you make?
Ashley: I’m Ashley and I run a brand called Behind Bracken. I live in Edinburgh but currently work between there and Glasgow. I specialise in responsibly made jewellery with a view to creating pieces to be worn and treasured everyday. At the minute, stone setting is my obsession so will be working on some special heirloom pieces soon.
VI: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey in to jewellery making? Did you always want to make jewellery, did you go somewhere to study, what did you start off making, how has your practice evolved and what are you known for now, are you full time or do you support your practice in any other way (ALL THE QUESTIONS!!)?
A: It’s been a bit of a winding road to get to where I am now. I studied 3D Design at Gray’s School of Art years ago and loved jewellery design but didn’t really have the confidence to take it further. After a few year’s travelling then working in retail or office-based work, I started making again and have been at my bench nonstop ever since. I started my business a year and a half ago and quit my full time work a few months later in order to give my all to the INKubator Programme.
At the moment, in addition to Behind Bracken, I also work two days a week in a great independent lifestyle store, Lifestory, which helps take the pressure off my emerging business.
VI: You were part of the INKubator Programme last year. What led you to it?
A: I’d always been aware of Vanilla Ink but while I was on my making hiatus I guess it wasn’t something that was really relevant to me at that point. But once I started making again, I realised my confidence problems with my skill levels were still there, so signed up for the Summer School Revision course to see if that would help. I chatted with Scott about the Programme when I was there but was still dubious that it was something I’d be able to do or was ready for. After spending a bit of time in the Vanilla Ink school while working on some of my own projects, I knew it was somewhere I felt really comfortable and a really unique place to come and learn. I decided to just go for it and throw myself into the deep end.
VI: What were your goals coming in to the Programme? Did they change, did you achieve them, were you surprised by anything during the course?
A: My goals were to gain a better understanding of how to run a business, build on some of my skills and to refine and develop my brand. I definitely achieved all of these, although some will be a constant development through my career for sure. I was really surprised to see how my goals for my business have grown and expanded because of the Programme, and my skill development has improved dramatically. I was also surprised by the community that we created- it’s so important to have people to bounce ideas off, or to ask advice from and just be able to have a cuppa with. I hadn’t realised how isolated I was within the industry until I joined the Programme.
My goals were to gain a better understanding of how to run a business, to build on some of my skills and to refine and develop my brand.
VI: At the end of the Programme, you were invited to be our INKer in Residence. Tell us about the Residency, what does it entail?
A: I love being an INKer in Residence- so thank you!
Through this Programme I get access to the workshop for another year, more specialised skill building sessions with Scott and a new mentor for the year. In return for this, I teach some of the taster sessions and 8 week blocks. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoy teaching, so for me this is a win-win situation!
Quick Fire Round;
Silver or Gold? Gold
Shared Workshop or Flying Solo? Shared
Tea or Coffee? Tea
Planner or Last Minute? Love to be a planner but usually last minute
PC or Mac? Mac
Inked or Clean? Inked
Sketch first or Straight to the bench? Straight to bench
Your favourite tool? Green Lion Saw
VI: What does an average week look like for you being part of the INKer in Residence Programme?
My weeks vary depending on what classes I'm teaching but as a general rule, I'm in Glasgow every Tuesday and Wednesday to teach and work on my own projects. I work at my part-time job two days at the end of the week and occasionally make a third Glasgow trip too. Mondays I try to use as a day off! (You can check out Ashley’s recent takeover on our Instagram)
VI: There are still a couple of months left of the Residency but how have you found it so far? What have you learned, would you have done anything differently? The INKer Programme also took a sabbatical this year, has that impacted you at all?
A: I’ve really enjoyed the Residency- I’ll probably still rent a bench space every couple of weeks so I can come back!
It’s been really beneficial to me and my business to have that extra support and structure for another year. Access to the workshop and the tools have been great as the level I work at has grown since the start of my time at Vanilla Ink. I now rely on some of the more specialised equipment that I don’t have access to back home. Skill building with Scott has been invaluable for refining my skills which will hopefully allow my business to develop and reach my goals. Having a mentor has also been great- she gives great advice, encourages me to get a bit of perspective and has been a really useful sounding board for ideas and plans.
Skills Development with Scott
Not sure I would have done anything differently, possibly would have seriously considered a move to Glasgow for the year but the commute has been pretty manageable for the most part.
It’s hard to tell if the sabbatical has impacted me- it might have been nice to have a full workshop but at the same time that can be quite distracting! We have a great community with the residents in the studio next door so the workshop never feels isolated. I do miss being able to see Carol (you’ll meet Carol in a blog post later on) on a regular basis though!
Images from STARK Studio commission by Vanilla Ink.
VI: Do you think things would be different now if you hadn’t done both the INKubator and Residency Programme?
A: Ohhh, difficult one! I think for sure my business would not be where it is and I think I would be more inclined to treat it as a hobby instead of taking it seriously. Being accepted onto the INKubator Programme really gave me the push I needed to take action and work towards my goals, so I think without that I would be much further behind in my career path.
VI: What do you have planned for the end of the Residency, we obviously can’t let you leave without a party!
A: I'm really excited because the end of my Residency coincides with the release of my new work so we are going to have a showcase and a bit of a party to celebrate.
VI: What have you got planned post-Residency?
A: Next year I plan on looking for a workshop space, possibly with the addition of a space for retail too. In the future I'd love to sell work from other jewellers in there too.
VI: What are the 5 main things you have taken away from your time in Vanilla Ink?
- To break down large goals into manageable steps
- To have confidence in my skills
- That having a community around you is so important
- Not to limit goals to what's inside my comfort zone
- That Buckfast spiked mulled wine is actually pretty tasty
VI: And finally, if you could tell your younger self anything before entering the Programme what would it be?
A: Not to worry about what stage of business you are at and whether or not others are more established. They might be, they might not, but that doesn’t matter. Every journey is individual and will look completely different- it doesn’t mean yours is better or worse.