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My creative space – Sue Bulmer

Yes, here’s the next installment of our creative workspace features (or our having a nose round other people’s stuff features, if you will). This week we enter the converted pig sty studio of illustrator Sue Bulmer.

(That sounds terribly rude, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a studio that has been converted from a pig sty, I wasn’t passing judgement on Sue’s working environment…)

Talk us round your studio

When we first moved here we used it as our garden shed and I worked in the house, but I decided I needed more room so a friend converted it for me. It’s nice and light and has underfloor heating so keeps warm in winter. There’s no phone signal here and my husband got so sick of walking up and down the garden every time someone called me that we now have walkie talkies so he can summon me when he needs to. (Also I use them to ask him to put the kettle on!) I started off with just the desk and the sofa and revelled in the space but now I’ve got to the stage where I really need more storage. I’ve got my mood boards up on the wall – just things I find inspiring or use for ideas. I used to work at the other end, where the sofa is but I like to look down the garden so I switched. The map on the wall is from an exercise I did mapping my stockists.

Do you have a daily routine?

I’m here in the studio two days a week – I work part time as a pharmacist – and some evenings or weekends though I try and keep those free for family if I can. I’m up at 7, go for a run, take the dog for a walk and have breakfast before heading up here. I usually make a “to do” list the night before a studio day because otherwise I waste time procrastinating. When you only have two days you need to make the most of the time available. So I just work through the to do list – it’s usually answering emails, delivering work to framers and galleries, marketing and so on. When you first start out you think it’s going to be a lot of time doing new work but I don’t often get much time for that. The days I like best are those when I manage to get some new work done and get my paints out.

How do you go about creating new work?

I have a good look through things I’ve collected – things I like or find inspiring from pictures or magazines. I have stacks of sketchbooks and I like to have a look through those and find ideas from the past that I haven’t had time for yet. I tend to say my work is a bit sentimental – I’m just a big softie – and I find inspiration in home and garden, and in travel. At the moment I’m looking into adding colour into my work. The last series of designs were really intricate and I kept them in black and white to emphasise that but I’ve really enjoyed getting my paints out recently.

When did you start out?

I loved drawing at school but I had to give it up because I wanted to do pharmacy.  Then I took it up again in my mid-30s – I dabbled in a few short creative courses, mainly to fill a gap, and then I decided to do a foundation course. I finished that in 2007 and spent a few years dabbling and experimenting with different media before going on Nottinghamshire’s Creative Business Scheme. This was the boost I needed to start up properly and turn my hobby into a business. I work three days a week as a pharmacist and two days a week here – it’s really nice to be able to build up the business slowly. Some people suggest I just dive in and go full time but I like being out and work with some great people. It’s still really rewarding to take baby steps in this business and it suits me at the moment.

I joined Design Factory in 2011 which I’ve found really helpful – I’m on their Creative Mentor scheme with Debbie Bryan as my mentor. It’s let me examine the issues I’m facing at the moment and find ways to tackle them – Debbie’s passed on a lot of knowledge from her experience and I always come away from a session with her full of ideas.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to concentrate on building up a larger range of stockists and so I want to find stockists in London and the South East. I did my first trade fair – the British Craft Trade Fair – in Harrogate this year, which I was nervous about, as a newcomer, but there were so many friendly small independent makers there that I really enjoyed it. Next year I’m planning on attending two trade fairs which should help to consolidate my position. I’m also doing my first fair direct to the public this year in the run up to Christmas. I’m currently looking into producing a range of whiteware – plates, jugs and so forth – as well as my usual prints, cards and tea towels. Ultimately it would good to shift my work priorities so I did less pharmacy and more of this business. I’m not sure I could do this all the time – I think I might find it a bit isolating.

In the immediate future, I’m doing some collaboration work for the Festival of Words next February, but also at the launch event on Wednesday 12 September at Antenna. I’ll be drawing live on the night and the results will be on display in Antenna for a closed auction. Some of my work has been around words, often based on song lyrics, but this is a really different kind of collaboration so I’m looking forward to it.

Many thanks to Sue for her time, tea and biscuits! For more details of Sue’s work please check her out at her website or on Twitter. If you would like to feature in our Creative Space series please contact or leave us a message below.


Sue is one of our team of bloggers. When not having a good look round people’s studios she can be reached on sue AT and followed on Twitter @basfordian