Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Interview: Penny Eager aka Pocket Carnival

I've been a big fan of Pocket Carnival for several years, ever since I spotted Penny's gorgeous designs at Mathilda's Market in Melbourne. I own several of her Pocket Carnival pencil cases (a bit of a fetish on my part I think) and she has a wonderful range of other lovely goodies. Not only is she a talented crafter, artist, designer and businesswoman, she is a genuinely lovely person whose business practices reflect her personal values about the environment and sustainability.

In Penny's own words:
I live in Melbourne, in a quiet little area with lots of lovely cafes and restaurants nearby. I’ve been running Pocket Carnival for about 5 years now and am really happy with it. I’ve recently started an eco-design and business resource website Oh My Green which I began for two main reasons. I, like so many people I know, and like all of us should be, am very concerned about what we’re all doing to our environment. I like to think that we can live beautiful, well designed lives that are also environmentally and socially sustainable. I also hold these values up for Pocket Carnival, and I was starting to get a lot of queries from people wanting eco-resources for their business, so I knew the website was a good idea. (Oh My Green is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can read more about Pocket Carnival here.)

Pocket Carnival softies. Image Credit.

When did you know you wanted to work creatively (from a young age or did you come to it later?) and what steps did you take to make it happen?
I think a great part of it was rebelling against my university degree and subsequent office jobs – finding a creative pursuit is a great antidote to being in an office during the day! Little did I know there is an immense amount of admin to do when you run a creative business!

I did an Arts degree, studying politics, women's studies, sociology and Indigenous Australian studies. My design & art practice is all self taught, with the addition of some short courses in various art & craft forms - ink drawing, hand felting etc! Whilst my university degree hasn't directly trained me for the design & creative work I do, it definitely helped sharpen my ethics and personal beliefs which inform my business values. This has also inspired me to start Oh My Green.

To be honest it's extremely difficult to run a handmade business when you've grown to a certain level (I guess that would be the level where you're relying on it for your income!). Sometimes I feel like I'm shooting myself in the foot by not moving production to China, or using conventional cottons (which are cheaper!) rather than organic, but that's a personal choice I've made.

Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or a new project? How do you motivate yourself?
No daily routines! Perhaps I should! At the end of the day I like to go for a walk or a jog to make myself feel a little fresher and clearer. When I start working on a new product or project I do have a bit of a routine, more just a flow of looking at why I’m working on it, efficiency, and just planning well so I know what I should be doing. This also helps with motivation – I find I’m unmotivated if I don’t have a clear goal.

How do you balance the creative/design aspects of your business with the administration side? What processes or methods do you use?
This is the tricky part, and lately I can see why having an agent or business partner might be a good idea! For me it works best when I divide my time clearly – maybe I’ll split the day into two, so before lunch is creating and after lunch is admin. It depends what I’m working on, how many orders I’m completing, that sort of thing. 

How do you go about developing new illustrations and designs?
It’s a little different depending on whether I’m working on a collection or an individual illustration. I love my Talking Animal cards because I can just add a new card in when I’m in the mood! If I’m developing a collection I sit down and figure out colour and pattern inspiration, which products I want to work on and how many designs I need. It can take a long time, but it’s good to have an overall plan!
Pocket Carnival Harlequin Collection. Image Source.

What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'?
This happens more than I’d like to admit! I’ve come to the realisation that the best thing to do when I’m stuck on something is to distract myself with something completely unrelated for awhile. Anything from doing some cleaning to going for a coffee…cleaning actually works really well because it helps me to realise I’d much rather be working!

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating?
I love my black markers. Millennium brand is my favourite! And although the hours of sewing can be a bit daunting I love my printed organic cotton. It’s wonderful to open up a new delivery of certified organic cotton printed with my own designs. There’s something special about knowing that a few stitches here and there can turn a piece of fabric into so many different things – creating things is pretty special! I also enjoy the online side of marketing and promotion – I love working on my website, although endless tinkering with html and css codes can be very frustrating! That’s when I go back to something made of fabric.

Penny Eager at work (image courtesy Pocket Carnival)
Pocket Carnival's website
Penny's blog
The Pocket Carnival shop
Pocket Carnival on Etsy
Penny's eco business resource site: Oh My Green

Thanks so much for joining us today, Penny! I loved hearing about your approach to work and it's so inspiring to learn more about your ethical business practices.

Be sure to check out more of Penny's work at the links above!