Made in an Image
A wood-turner and artist on a mission to promote an accessible form of feminism, Amy Isles Freeman explains how vital image is to her fledgling business.
“Image is absolutely everything to my business. Without social media, it might not even exist,” says Amy Isles Freeman. Vibrant and vivacious, Amy’s hand-turned and hand-painted pots have taken her from a converted cowshed studio in the depths of Cornwall, UK, to Parisian department store, Le Bon Marché, and the iconic Liberty London. How did she get from there to here? Well, it’s quite literally all in the image.
How did your business begin?
I started my first business straight out of uni. The idea of Wayfairing Makers was to sell my artwork alongside other people’s work at affordable prices – allowing the everyman to become an art collector. Selling prints, small bits of ceramics and woodwork, I created a little community through social media. That’s when I recognised its power for business. And that’s also when I started woodturning.
Around February 2016 I got a commission to do a larger pot for a family friend. I simply took a picture of it in progress and put it on Instagram, and then a design blog reposted it. Just a few hours later I got a call from London Design Fair asking if I’d like a stand at the next event – of course, I said ‘yes’. So between February and September I had to step away from Wayfairing Makers and build a whole new business – because I lied on the phone and said I already had one, oops! That’s where it all began.
So in terms of the importance of image to your business, it was one image that really started it?
Yeah, image is absolutely everything to my business. Without social media it might not even exist. And I’ve rarely used a photographer. I’ve done it all myself. That’s the beauty of it. You have so much control. You can curate your own brand.
The candid nature of social media has also been a huge asset for me. That first image was a work in progress shot. It wasn’t a product shot at all. These images are so popular. People can go to your website or your shop to see your products. But, certainly with my followers, they want to see where you work and how you work.
Where I live, we’re spoilt to be part of a ridiculously creative community where you see how things are being made all the time. But so many people have no access to that. Social media allows people to see inside my studio and follow my progress.
I’m that person who’s always on my phone – when I’m not turning or painting of course. But, and I can’t stress this enough, every single piece of work I’ve got, every commission has come through Instagram – through my images. My website is really important, but Instagram is my front door. And it can be very obsessive!
“I’ve rarely used a photographer. I’ve done it all myself. And that’s the beauty of it. You have so much control.”
Do you feel that the candid nature of social media particularly suits your business ethos and brand?
Absolutely. Think of things like Instagram stories. I’m working with Liberty London at the moment and they created an Instagram story about me. I thought, ‘Who’s going to watch this?’. Then I did one and 300 people looked at it. People consume these stories. I mean I’ve done it. I sit on the toilet watching stories for no real reason! Stories bring another layer of candidness, because people can see what you’re actually doing today, rather than the edited version you put out – giving the impression you’re doing something really cool but actually you’re just sat on the sofa. Or that selfie that took four attempts to get right.
This accessibility also relates to the other motive behind my work. So much of it is just pretty patterns, but I also try to communicate a colourful, inclusive form of feminism. With every new follower I know I’m reaching a wider audience with that message. The bigger stage I have, the bigger voice I have, the better. And all of that happens with images. The second I try to put these things into words, it sounds wrong. My message just gets totally lost. When I start talking about feminism and female sexuality, people can think I’m coming across too strong. Or maybe they’re just not up for hearing about it that day. That’s where the images I put out come into play.
“I can’t stress this enough, every single piece of work I’ve got, every commission has come through Instagram – through my images.”
With the abundance of images being cast out into the world every second, how do you choose to set yourself apart?
You look at someone’s feed and it’s just a series of micro decisions. I think it’s fascinating. We’re all becoming curators. You’re constantly figuring what’s going to best illustrate what you’re up to, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. It’s a really exciting time to be someone who’s putting images out into the world. But the second you put out a photo and know it’s the wrong one, you see your followers go down. It’s a fickle thing.
I think I’ve made a definite choice to be as honest as possible. I want to keep my personality in there. I try to set an overarching tone, to be as playful as I can. For me, there’s not so much of a disparity between my practice and my life, so it’s quite easy for me to be like, my work is playful: my life is playful; my feed is playful. However, as much as I’d love to put up pictures of me partying or with my friends on the beach, I have to sacrifice that: it’s just about knowing your audience.
What advice do you have for creatives starting out on their own, in terms of social media and image?
Make it cohesive. Really think about what you want to say with your image. And, to an extent, that’s about your personality. You will have to do some soul searching. You need to ask yourself, ‘what is my personality and how does that interact with my business?’ Because some people might be kooky off-the-wall types, but making super sleek metal work – and you’ve just got to figure out how those things come together in an interesting way, to find that seam.
But always remember to make it fun for yourself. After all, that’s why you’re starting your business – so you can do things your own way.
Are you starting out in the creative sector? Tell us how important image is for you @kodakphones.