Shona McGuiggan is the illustrator and photographer behind Eilean Shona Arts.
Shona’s illustration and photography has many admirers with commissions from novelists and artists alike. Her collections can be found in shops such as Au Boutique and Hannah Zakari. Shona’s work has also been featured in some impressive publications including Visit Scotland publications and the cover of the July 2006 issue of The Drum Magazine. This is currently her third year in a row showing a solo Landscape Photography exhibition at Glencoe’s National Trust For Scotland Visitor Centre, they last a month and are often such a success that they are extended. If that wasn’t impressive enough, in 2006 Shona was short listed for the Nationwide Mercury Music Prize and and her nominated illustration was then purchased by Mercury Music after the exhibition toured and now hangs permanently in London.
With such an impressive and varied background I was really excited to ask Shona to be the latest Featured Maker and find out where it all began, here’s the interview…
1. How did you begin illustrating?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember! I always wanted to go to Glasgow School of Art to study and learn new ways of thinking and seeing, and somehow I managed to make that happen! I wanted to try everything and Visual Communications was a great way to do that as it was as much about learning how you as an individual think and see the world, to then create your own style of working and figure out your voice in your chosen field.
2. So how do you start with a new design?
The natural world is my biggest inspiration. Being a photographer as well as an illustrator I often head outside for inspiration. Then I begin drawing from there. Over the past year or so I have been concentrating on collections each time I begin something new in order to explore a subject. There is always so much that can be done!
My illustrations do need to be scanned when I reach the process of creating products from my illustrations, such as journals and greetings cards, but I always strive to keep the result as close to the original as possible as this is what I created and that is very important to me, not to alter that. I feel that is a big part of what people like about my work.
3. How did that lead to selling your designs?
I reached the selling point with my art work gradually. The more that people saw what I created, the more requests and commissions I received. Since leaving Art School my work has been on the cover of Drum Magazine, I was shortlisted for the Nationwide Mercury Music Prize art inspired by music, had work included in Visit Scotland publications, and now run my own annual solo exhibition in The National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.
I also began making products from my work as well as prints, and sell at fairs, exhibitions and to various retailers. I am resident illustrator at a beautiful jewellers in Glasgow, Au Boutique and I continue to push my work forward with new designs and collections as to always have something new to offer. I am always looking for new places to sell and creating new art work.
4. How long have you been selling for now?
I have had a lot of sales experience with my work over the years. My business, Eilean Shona Arts, will be a year old this August!
5. What is your favourite part of selling something you’ve created yourself?
The most fulfilling part about selling something I have created is watching someone see it for the first time, connect with it and want to own it. A lot of what I do, I do because I love it, it is all very personal. (After all isn’t that how you create something with enough passion to make it worth existing?) But the idea that a stranger would fall in love with something I create and want to own it is inspiring in itself.
6. Have there been any hurdles along the way that you’ve learnt from?
There of course have been many hurdles and many things to learn from each time I do something new. The best advice I could give someone who wants to sell their work would be to put a folio together and get out there and talk to people, approach shops, go to fairs, meet the organisers. If there is something you want to do, find who to talk to to make it happen. It is the best and fastest way to learn right and wrong ways to go about things. It will be different every time and it can be daunting if it isn’t something that comes naturally to you but it is amazing the connections you can make, where it can get you, and how much you will learn.
7. Do you think there is an added value to buying from small businesses or individual makers?
Definitely. Buying directly from the designers that handcraft their products gives a personal touch that you otherwise wouldn’t have. It makes it special. Contacting and talking to the artist also means there is scope for requesting exactly what you would like, making it something no one else will have which means it is worth so much more.
As far as businesses are concerned, I prefer to sell to small independent traders and boutiques because these are always the places you find something unique and different and that is where I like people to find my work.
8. You had said that you often get asked for custom orders, as this is something that a larger business possibly couldn’t offer have you had any feedback from people about what it means to them to have something made specially?
I have had countless commissions and it is one of my favourite things to do because it is so personal to the customer. Discussing the brief and exactly what they would like is a very enjoyable challenge to take on. People love to have something unique that has been created just for them and the satisfaction of seeing someone’s face when they lay eyes on what you created for them is unbeatable. It can be very nerve wracking the moment just before you show them for the first time, haha, but wonderful when they fall in love with it because it means so much to them and you created that happiness. I have also received emails and thank yous from customers who have been so happy with their purchases, from myself personally and also if they have purchased my work from shops.
9. There’s a lot of talk about Craft and DIY growing hugely in the past 10 years. Do you feel like craft in Scotland is seeing a new lease of life? Have you noticed a change since you’ve been showing at fairs?
I think it definitely has. There are a lot of ways you can sell what you make these days, online and with so many different fairs on the go around different cities. I think more people are turning to try and make their own money from what they can create. Hopefully we are reverting back to the days where it is all about independent designers and about sourcing from the artist. This is a great thing and something I am currently working on. It is not always possible to own a shop, particularly when you are just starting out, but the likes of Etsy and Folksy give creators the next best thing and allow artists and makers the chance to have their own outlet and reach a wide audience where customers can buy directly from them.
10. Was it hard to make the transition to doing what you love full time? And what are your hopes for the business in the future?
I certainly did always dream of being a full time artist and it has now been almost a year since Eilean Shona Arts has been up and running! It can be a struggle being an artist as a lot of the time you leave study and have to go straight into the likes of retail to make a living and give you time to find your feet. It is tricky at times simply because you rely on yourself and your art for an income. But that is the point, surley, and if you love it then you have to make it happen. I never want to do anything else as illustrating and photography is everything and takes me in so many different directions. Maybe someday I will have my own Gallery and artists boutique.