Friday 6 July 2012

Tea & a Chat with Sue Bulmer

Today I'm having tea and a chat with Sue Bulmer, whose striking black and white illustrations are eye-catching, cute and trendy.  Her blog is well worth following, too, because ... well, I'll let Sue explain as we drink our tea...

Hello Sue!  Good to see you, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

Ooh, I’ll have a cup of Assam tea please, nice and strong,  milk and a small sugar, in my big favourite mug! Mint club biscuit on the side if there’s one going!

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

Ok, so my name is Sue Bulmer, I’m married to a fab fella called Steve and we live in a little cottage with our Border Collie dog, Mac, in rural Nottinghamshire. Up until about 5 years ago I was working four days a week as a Pharmacist until I enrolled on a Foundation Course in Art and Design.  Over the next two years I rediscovered my love for Art and being creative and I knew I wanted to continue along this path once the course had finished.

I decided not to pursue it to a degree level as I wanted to go down more of a self-taught/discover it yourself kind of path so we had the building at the top of our garden converted into my lovely studio and I spent the following couple of years developing my work and playing around with ideas, setting myself briefs to work to, taking part in the odd craft fair, and trying to decide what I really wanted to do.

In 2010 I was on the verge on giving it up and I hadn’t really found any direction but I applied to a Nottinghamshire Creative Business Scheme run by the County Council and I found this really helped me get back on track. Since then I have never looked back and have taken part in several group exhibitions, have taken part in my first trade fair, and now have my work in 20 galleries and outlets across the UK.

What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin? 

I think my sister initially inspired me to start my business. We had thought we might start and make handbags as a joint business venture but when she decided to leave her job and set up her own  design business it wasn’t to be. It was her idea to enrol on the course initially and as she is a Graphic Designer herself, I knew how rewarding it could be work for yourself in the creative sector.

As I said previously, I was lacking in direction before I really started my business, I knew I wanted to do something creative but wasn’t sure what. Being a part of a great mentorship scheme I mentioned gave me the boost I needed to see my break down my own barriers and start to take my business forward. As a result  I branded my business as from ‘sooziebee’ to ‘Sue Bulmer’ taking advice from others in the group, and I am now concentrating on my ink illustrations, instead of ‘a bit of everything’!

How has your business changed and developed since it started?
I think when my business first started I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and found myself dabbling with different media, ideas and designs, heading off in too many different direction and not getting very far as a result.
Since then I have sought lots of advice from a variety of different people, attended courses and workshops through the Creative Greenhouse in Nottinghamshire, become a lot more focussed, and as my confidence has grown so has my determination and drive. I’ve read a few good creative business books, listened to a lot of creative business podcasts and have put into action the things I have learned along the way.
I’m a lot more organised and have learned lots about the way I work, and I’m quite ahppy with how things are going. I am a bit of an obsessive list maker, and I rely on these lists of tasks and jobs, to track my progress and find them really useful to look back on and chart how things are moving along. I think it’s good to reflect on what you have achieved on a regular basis and focus on what has gone well, rather than dwelling on the negatives. It certainly helps keep you motivated!

What are the main ways you promote your business?  Which methods have been the most successful for you?

I’ve written a blog for a quite a few years, which in the beginning was more of a diary of what I was up to. Now I use it more as a platform for forging links with other creatives, featuring others work as well as my own, inviting guest-bloggers, peeking into the sketchbooks of other designer-makers, and also sharing my experiences along the way. My series of ‘BCTF- what worked for me’ was hugely popular and I think a lot of readers found it helpful. I’m a firm believer in karma, and I think if you help others out with knowledge, contacts, advice, it’s a great way of getting your name and your business name out there.

I also use Facebook, but am constantly confused by the ever-changing nature of it. It seems to work well but I’m favouring Twitter in the long run. LinkedIn is also fab, and I’m loving the group feature on there.

What’s your workspace like?  Can we have a sneak peek?  And do you have any workspace organisation tips for the rest of us?

My workspace is a converted pig-sty at the top of my garden. It used to be our garden shed and oil-tank house. We had it converted a few years ago and it’s gorgeous, I LOVE IT! I’ve got two big oak double doors looking down the garden, under floor heating and a sofa-bed for extra sleeping space for when we have guests. It’s light, bright and airy and full of my art stuff! At the moment I’m in dire need of some new storage space so it’s not the tidiest it’s ever been but I had a big spring clean a few weeks ago when I had about 6ft square of floor space. It’s now looking loads better.

My main workspace tip that works for me is: keep it tidy! I can’t work in an untidy space so if it’s a mess I need to clear up before I make a mess! I like to have ideas boards on the walls, which I change depending on what I’m working on and I’ve got loads of gorgeous pictures on the walls to keep me inspired.

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?
The best bits have got to be the feeling of all of the small achievements and progress, and the feeling of freedom of working for myself.
For me, the worst bits are the fact I only have two days a week to work, so I need to be really organised to maximise my time. I sometimes get frustrated when I end up spending my days doing paper-work, emails and phone calls, running around to get supplies and collecting work from galleries and framers, but all of these jobs needs doing and as there is only me to do them, they are things I need to do it keep business ticking over. 

Which other small (or not-so-small) creative businesses do you admire? 

I admire people who get off their back-sides and ‘do it’, people who have made something from nothing and have grown their businesses from scratch.  I really admire Heather Moore, of SkinnyLaMinx, whose blog I have followed for a long time. Also Holly Becker, from decor8, Grace Bonney from DesignSponge, whose blogs have grown into something huge over the past 5 years. Closer to home I love reading about Rachel Taylor who has some amazing surface pattern designs and now runs her own e-courses,  Isa Maria Seminega, who writes a great marketing blog and is growing her own business. In podcast land I admire Pat Flynn of Smartpassive Income fame, and also Anne Marie Cross of  Ambitious Entrepreneur and also I have loved reading the book ‘Wake up and Change your Life’ by Duncan Bannatyne, one of the Dragons from Dragons Den, who writes about his experiences in business, building up his empire from owning an ice-cream van. I think all of these people prove what is possible with a bit of grit and determination.
What tips can you give to others who run (or hope to run) a small creative business?
Take advice, believe in yourself, be determined and don’t believe your dreams can’t come true.

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future?  
My immediate plans are to gain five more stockists by the end of the year, and to take part in a couple of good selling shows before the end of the year. I’m being patient and just want to do things slowly but small steps get you there in time!
This year I have been lucky enough to be accepted onto the new Design Factory Mentorship Scheme as a Mentee, and I’m really looking forward to working with my Mentor over the next 6 months to develop my business and myself further.
I’d love to have a solo exhibition at some point in the future, I’ve secured a space exhibiting with two other artists for next Christmas which will be a step closer to that dream! All in all, I just want to keep growing my business, expanding my product lines into other areas, ceramics and glass perhaps and I have a couple of ideas for an e-book in my head at the moment (whether they will ever see the light of day is another story!)
I want to keep learning, keep growing and keep enjoying life!

Finally, where are the places we can find you online if we want to partake in a little friendly cyber stalking?

Twitter: @sooziebee71

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue – it was so nice to be able to take the time to chat with you!

Thanks for having me x


Annie Cholewa said...

I 'know' Sue through her blog and Twitter but it was lovely to read a bit more about her, thanks for the interview Wendy :D

Christmas Pie Crafts said...

I love your work Sue and am really envious of your workspace. Under floor heating - how lovely.

Julie Baswell said...

I like your thoughts on your idea board. I think I need to do that with my pinterest ideas. That way they would be right there in view all the time. By the way Wendy, I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. You can read about it on my post at

Highland Monkey's said...

Great post. I like the sound of your work space, sounds really cosy with underfloor heating!