Artisan designer Julie Dodsworth on becoming a brand – and the one thing on which she’d love to work

With her artwork on a plethora of household items, we spoke to Julie Dodsworth about her journey, values and Everyday Rules.

Julie! I know you’re terribly busy, thanks for speaking with us! So… Your current career is that of an artisan designer. But what’s your background?
I left school at 16 to be a florist’s apprentice. From there I went on – once qualified – to own and build my own tropical plant business, Dodsworths.

Interesting! Is that still going?
Yes, that’s still running today. It’s working nationally, serving bluechip clients, and international for stadia events.

Stadia! Lovely… Bonus point to you for using a little-known plural! I’m curious, then: how did you transition into this?
When I was working in our display business in the south, my home from home was my narrowboat, Calamity Jane. I spent the weekends painting and decorating Calamity Jane…

Julie Dodsworth, Artisan Designer
You were just decorating the narrowboat? For pleasure?

Exactly. It was my daughter, Beth, who thought the motifs and decorations I was creating around the boat were “on trend” and would appeal.

And you still do your work aboard Calamity Jane, somewhere on the Grand Union Canal? I think that’s exactly what people want from a creative person! What, though, feeds your creativity?
Yes, all my designs originate from Calamity Jane. I use heritage paints in just three colours – as the bargees of the 18th century would have done. I paint to watering cans, milk churns, small chairs, etc. From here, the design makes a form… I then recreate the same design on flat paper. Canal art is driven by florals, castles, birds and lettering.

Those designs then appear on homeware of every kind: stationery, kitchen and garden equipment, fabrics, toiletries… At what point did you first think about licensing your work?
After the spark from Beth, I went along to my local garden centre and studied the labels on many products. I worked out the top brands were indeed using a ‘hidden’, less-known manufacturer.

Julie Dodsworth, Artisan Designer
That’s incredibly astute. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone doing that before. So what happened after you realised these items had a ‘secret source’?

The seed of licensing was sown in my mind. I started to create my own prototypes, art work and so on. Then I approached the same manufacturers! I had many “maybes” – my biggest hurdle seemed to be not being known.

How did you overcome that to build your own brand?
Perseverance… The perseverance paid off and within a couple of years I’d signed six major keystone-homeware manufacturers. And as I’d never been to an art class, and my work was simply from my canal art, it had a story, a way of life and an ethos. Everything we make must fall into these very original, simple values.

Julie Dodsworth, Artisan Designer
Story, way of life, ethos… You’re clearly very values driven. I also understand you have a positive outlook – and Ten Rules of Everyday! Briefly, what are the Ten Rules?
In no particular order, the Ten Rules of Everyday are: Exercise, Do the Hardest Jobs First, Keep a To Do List, Start Early, Dress for Work… Speak Rather than Email, Stay in the Moment, Enjoy the Little Wins, Keep Off Screens… And Drink Lots of Tea!

You nearly lost me with exercise – but tea?! I’m in! You recently started visiting Mossy Bottom to work on Shaun the Sheep designs! What is it about the character that makes it a great match for you?
Shaun the Sheep and I are most certainly kindred spirits! There’s a dry humour there, with the ability to laugh at yourself… And yes! I love his creative thinking!

Julie Dodsworth, Artisan Designer
Given your own values, positivity, humour, rules and creative thinking, then, what qualities do you look in a licensing partner?

Three things… Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry!

Ha! It comes down to that! Okay… Just before we wrap this up, are there things on which you’d like to work that you’ve not yet had the opportunity to?
I’ve always stayed in fashion, home and gift… But furnishings would be amazing.

Julie, this has been a pleasure, thanks again for making time. Last question: what’s the oddest thing you’ve had to do for your brand?
Perhaps not the oddest, but the most enjoyable things really have been getting involved behind the scenes of the manufacturers. For example, having a go at glass blowing at the amazing Dartington Crystal Factory… Then there was watching the models rehearse for a runway show at Barbour. Oh! And being able to have a go at plate decoration at Churchill China… Just amazing experiences.

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