This British creative consultant is committed to supporting and promoting the creative practice of contemporary craft makers.
Melody Vaughan is a writer, an artist, and an educator. She originally trained as an archaeologist, with a degree in Ancient History & Archeology from the University of Edinburgh. She has an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Newcastle and worked in Museum Education for many years. Recently, Melody embarked on a new career in contemporary craft after gaining a first class degree in Decorative Arts from Nottingham Trent University.
Melody works as a freelance creative consultant for contemporary craft makers, based at Hotel Elephant since November 2017. Being passionate about objects, their journeys, and their hidden meanings, Melody is committed to giving a voice to emerging makers. She supports and promotes their creative practices in lots of different ways, mainly focusing in developing skills to communicate verbally and through writing: she runs one-to-one sessions and workshops on how to tailor presentations, personal statements and product descriptions for websites and social media; she writes resources such as e-books, blog posts and newsletters with tips and advice; and she also coordinates the Oxford Makers Group, a meeting point to discuss what it’s like to run a business and share experiences. Melody is also a maker herself and has exhibited her ceramic work nationally, worked on commissions in the UK and the Netherlands, and delivered various projects involving the public.
We met Melody in her studio at Hotel Elephant, Spare Street to find out more about her latest project, her studio at Hotel Elephant and to get her advice for those starting out on a creative career in craft.
Hi Melody! The breadth and variety of your education is impressive. How come did you choose to undertake such a career shift?
I have so many interests and I always try to follow them and see where they take me. After working in museums for almost ten years, I felt the need to explore my creative side. I’ve always been a maker, so I did an Art & Design Foundation Diploma at Oxford Brookes University and then headed to Nottingham Trent for my BA in Decorative Arts. When I moved to London, a couple of years ago, I initially started a PhD at the Royal College of Arts, but it wasn’t the right thing for me- it’s more a path you should follow when having clear ideas rather than an opportunity to figure out your practice! While I was on this research degree, I realised that writing and communicating about objects was a key part of my practice.
Among all your commitments, you are also the coordinator of a project called ‘Makers & Tools’. A work in progress exhibition was held here at Hotel Elephant in July, and you’ve already talked about this project in a dedicated post on our blog. Would you maybe like to say a few words for our new readers?
Makers & Tools is an experimental project that brought together six emerging makers. It aims to establish a method of prospective enquiry, fostering connections, and challenging the creative practice of contemporary craft makers. The makers’ practices were disrupted on the basis of the question ‘what if the tool came first?.’ They were asked to make a tool and send it on to another maker, who then created an object in response to the tool they were sent. The work in progress show at Hotel Elephant was the first time all the tools and objects had been brought together, and the first time most of the makers had met! We are having another exhibition of the work at Clayhill Arts, Bridgwater as part of Somerset Artweeks in September/October.
You’ve had a space at Spare Street for nearly a year now - What do you like the most about working at Hotel Elephant?
There are always different events and things going on, such as the Photo Scratch series, as well as other talks. It’s nice that I can sometimes stay a bit longer after work, and it’s also a good way to network and hear different perspectives. We also have great professional development support by Patricia from The Design Trust which has really helped my business.
Can you tell us a bit about how you use your studio at Hotel Elephant?
I see it more like a quiet office space. It’s where I meet my clients and I also run small workshops. I like being here surrounded by other creative people and their exhibitions - I feel it’s important to be in a community and see what happens around you rather than being on your own. I don’t make any work here at the moment, but I’d like to, so maybe my studio will become more relaxed and full of making in the future!
At Hotel Elephant we’re interested in creating a creative community and encouraging collaborative working - How important do you think collaborative working is to your industry?
Everything I do is a collaboration. When I meet my clients, our session are based on dialogue. When I teach, it’s always about finding a way to do things together and reflecting on it. Although I may have a point of view, the focus is always on the maker and what they want to achieve. It can be hard for makers when they launch their businesses as they often spend a lot of time alone in their workshops. It’s important for them to find opportunities to work collaboratively to keep their practices moving forward.
Do you have any advice for recent graduates or those just starting who want a career as an maker or in the creative industries?
The craft world is incredibly generous and it’s important to connect with as many people as possible. Find out what work you like and the makers you admire, then find out how they are doing it. You might want contact them and ask them any questions you have - people love to talk about what they’re doing, and if you are genuinely interested and passionate people will be happy to offer advice. Try to build a network of relationships from the beginning, while you’re still studying, and try to maintain them. It can be so hard to find support when you are suddenly out there in the world, especially from people who really understand the career you have chosen. Having people who you can talk to about your creative practice and your business is absolutely vital.
The next exhibition of Melody’s ‘Makers & Tools’ project will be at Clayhill Arts, Bridgwater, Somerset from Wednesday 27th September to Sunday 8th October (excluding Mondays & Tuesdays). Find out more about the project and the past exhibition held at Hotel Elephant in July in our dedicated blog post.
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