Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Life at Cockpit Arts

I’m often asked what it’s like working at Cockpit Arts. I’m not really sure because I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I’ve never worked in a bank (except for a stint of temp work when I was in college – I had to borrow my mom’s clothes to look the part) and I’ve only ever had one full-time job in my life (I could never get my head around the idea of only two weeks’ holiday a year - this was in the USA) so my experience of “normal” working life is limited.

What I do know a lot about is being at college. (I’ve done nine years at university and can finally say that as of this year, I have matched that in working years.) And being at Cockpit is actually not all that dissimilar to being at university, with the one exception that you are now judged by punters - not professors - and it is ultimately the saleability of your work that determines your success.

You rent a space of your own here but in most cases you share a workshop with other craftspeople, often from various disciplines. Here in Studio E2G, I share with two other businesses, one that makes bespoke hand-sewn shoes; the other is a woodwind technician. As a result, the studio soundscape ranges from gentle tippy-tappy hammering with the odd swear word, to hundred-decibel sax solos wailing from the far end of the room as another Selmer Mark Six emerges from its overhaul. Add to this the fact that I often practice my violin in the studio first thing in the morning, and you can forgive the curious looks from passers-by.

To me, this is preferable to sharing with a studio full of jewellers. No offence to all my lovely jewellery-making buddies, but it is very easy to lose perspective when you are embroiled in your chosen displine all day. I judge my work from the persepective of a jewellery designer, so if I want a second or third opinion, I’m much more interested to know what a non-jewellery person has to say about it. That’s where space sharing really has its benefits; you’ve got an instant soundboard to bounce ideas off, and constructive criticism if and when you need it. You’ve also got loads of tools to borrow.

Of course the biggest benefit of being at Cockpit is the Open Studio events, which I visited with wide-eyed envy as a student. As every designer knows, taking part in an exhibition is not a matter to be taken lightly. There is not only the expense but the colossal effort involved in getting your work to the exhibition, along with its requisite showcases, props, wall hangings, and all the clobber necessary to make the work look amazing. In addition to the time you need to take off to be at the fair you can usually write off a day for packing, one for setting up, one for unpacking, and one for recovery. Not so if you are exhibiting in your own workshop. I can do all the prep work in a day now. I think the Open Studio experience is probably a bit more interesting for visitors than that of your average fair or exhibition, especially for couples – she can try on necklaces and earrings while he admires the Durston double rolling mill.

Our next Open Studio event is just around the corner - from 26th-28th November 2010. If you are a fan of the handmade, or if you’re just nosey, it makes a great day out. Or to find out more about Cockpit Arts visit

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