I’m delighted to bring you another edition of our ‘The Hills Meets’ series and today we are chatting to the lovely - and wonderfully talented - Rachel Bennett of Puffin Prints.As you know, here at The Hills we have long felt that having a connection with the natural world is hugely conducive to the creative process, and Rachel is no different! Based on the Isle of Anglesey, it is very difficult not to be inspired. Drawing the most inspiration from the lovely creatures resident to Puffin Island and the surrounding Menai Straits, I met up with the talent behind Puffin Prints to find out more...
Tell us about your business...
Puffin Prints is a small illustration business run by myself and my Mum! I am the illustrator, and primarily I paint and illustrate quirky puffin pals engaged in their favourite activities, such as eating sandeels, rowing, fishing, and even painting! These illustrations are then printed onto various puffin products, mugs, canvases, coasters, magnets, prints, bags, and our best-sellers, cards. We sell these at craft fairs, via our website and also sell wholesale to stockists across North Wales and to a growing number across the UK.
I also take on commission based work, and have painted everything from puffins driving a race car, to floral wedding invitations, to a pony on a surfboard!!
Book illustration is another passion of mine, and so when I can find the time this is something I also love to pursue - being a massive bookworm, the idea my art published in a book is a dream come true!
Where are you based?
We’re based in Beaumaris, Anglesey, and this is, undoubtedly where most of my inspiration comes from! Just off the coast of Anglesey near Penmon, there is an island inhabited by many wild seabirds, seals and in particular, puffins! It is called Puffin Island and from years of sailing around the bay, and around Puffin Island itself, I was inspired to start painting these adorable little native birds.
Why has this particular bird become the name and the main feature of your current artwork?
It all started from my passion for the sea, and my love of the area that I live in. Anglesey is such a beautiful place and living in Beaumaris there are endless opportunities to soak up the stunning coastal views across the Strait, as well as over to Puffin Island. Having lived in the area for many years, moving away to a city-based university in England made me pretty homesick. I sent a hand painted birthday card to my Mum whilst away at university, and happened to paint a puffin for her because it reminded me of home. Mum loved the card so much, she wanted to print some and trial selling them in our family business, a ladies clothes shop based in Beaumaris. Pardon the pun, the puffin cards flew out and the range expanded from there!
When did you launch your business?
I sent the card to my Mum in February 2016, my final year of university. I graduated with my degree in Theoretical Physics around August, and then spent the following year building my business and expanding the range, as well as working two other part time jobs.
Does anyone else work with you?
At the moment, our business is run by myself and my Mum. I take care of the painting, graphic design and a lot of the admin and we work together on ordering and testing new products and finding new stockists. Mum then manages the stockists and stock levels, as well as lots of other jobs!
Where do you do your painting? Do you work from home or do you have a studio space somewhere?
I will paint pretty much anywhere, I always carry a sketchbook and a portable paint palette with me for when inspiration strikes! However, I do have a dedicated studio (a converted second bedroom) in the house I share with my partner Farren. It is a large room filled to the ceiling with puffin stock, with one corner that I have turned into my working area. It’s here that I paint puffins, package orders and usually do most of the admin work that comes with the business.
How easy has it been to set up Puffin Prints?
In one way, very easy indeed, in the sense that it happened quite naturally and almost by accident! It wasn’t at all what I had planned for myself, being at university to study Theoretical Physics, my plans were to go on to study a Master’s degree, and work in the world of Physics. I was always a little unsure which path to follow though, art or science? I struggled with my decision for a long time when I first went to university, and I think this way, I got the best of both worlds. However, I think that I’ve always been drawn back to art, I have always been so passionate about art and nature, and with Puffin Prints, I can combine my love of both in my paintings.
On the other hand, though, it has been quite difficult to manage, since I have been working at it part time for the past two years, alongside two other jobs to make ends meet. It has often been a struggle to get things done outside of regular working hours, and more often than not I am up late into the night trying to finish a painting, or get an order in, before getting up to go to work at one of my jobs the next day. This often means I’m running on empty and it isn’t a healthy way to live, as increasingly I found I didn’t have time to relax or enjoy myself, so in that sense it has been quite a challenge to persevere.
What is your goal for your business?
At the moment, my goal is to expand the business and locate more businesses across the UK to stock my puffin designs! I would love to be able to commit to my business full time, I feel like I would really be able to move the business forward in a significant way if I had more time to dedicate to Puffin Prints, so my current goal is to support myself financially so I can have more time to paint!
My long term goal is to be able to help endangered puffins by raising money through the sales of my puffin designs. The Atlantic Puffin is endangered, and their population is declining. If there was some way I could contribute to helping prevent this tragic effect, then I would love to be able to do so one day.
Tell us about your new range of beautiful stationary!
As I mentioned earlier, another branch of my job as an illustrator is taking commissions. I have designed and illustrated several wedding invitations in the past few months and it is something I have thoroughly enjoyed. My main priority of course is that the Bride-to-Be is happy, as I appreciate what a stressful time planning a wedding can be!
As such, having enjoyed this process so much, I am going to offer bespoke designs for invitations and cards with customisation available. I still have a lot of planning to do for this though, so it may be a few months before they are available on my website.
We are also awaiting samples of some new Puffin Prints stationery - A6 magnetic notebooks for the fridge, featuring our favourite puffin designs. Watch this space!
What have been the obstacles, if any, to your progression and growth?
The main obstacle throughout the process of building my business has always been time! I am always trying to find extra minutes and rushing around, and it is often very difficult to prioritise your own business when you have two other jobs to do! Accountability is a large part of this, since if I don’t do my job properly in my other main jobs, I am 100% held accountable by my supervisor or boss, and have immediate consequences to face. With your own business, this isn’t as true, since if you don’t find the time, the job doesn’t get done and it’s only you to tell yourself off! Having my Mum as a partner in the business has been a great help, since she certainly holds me accountable, which definitely helps me stay motivated!
Do you have any tips and advice for artists, like yourself, to start to sell their work, and create a successful sustainable business?
My main tip at the very beginning seems very obvious, but it took me a long time to do it.
As an artist, it is very common to doubt yourself and especially your own work, I know for a fact that I am absolutely my harshest critic. From this, it is very hard sometimes to get over the hurdle and just go for it. But just going for it is the best advice anyone has ever given me, and going for it has meant I have been able to pursue my passion, make some amazing connections and most importantly, make people smile with some quirky puffin pals!