Here is a bit more about me!
Jen Horsey is one of the many business owners in the UK who were hit hard by the lockdown restrictions imposed during the pandemic. In this interview, Jen chats about how she dealt with losing her business and how she took this opportunity to create Jen Horsey Designs.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your business?
Hello, I’m Jen, from Hove. I set up Jen Horsey Designs during lockdown. Right after my business in the travel sector got forced into hibernation due to covid. Searching for a purpose, and a focus, I delved into my professional design background and started getting creative.
I started out making greetings cards because I couldn’t get to the shops. And then people started asking me to make some for them. Shops said they liked them, so I set up an instagram page and a website and things have sort of snowballed.
I design and make individually hand printed greetings cards, using pigment inks and acrylic paints. I welcome commissions and can personalise everything too.
I have also started making original, affordable artworks – using a combination of bold colours, abstract details and even the odd portrait (think Frida Kahlo!).
And I create art using sea glass, pebbles, shells and driftwood that I collect on my travels, and turn them into fun, framed artwork that is perfect for gifting… or even to just treat yourself!
I have sent artwork to Australia, Sweden and the USA. But I love the face to face pop ups and craft fairs that I have exhibited at – and getting to meet my potential customers! It’s been a humbling and exciting journey, and to have a creative outlet for me has been very rewarding for my mental health.
I have many ideas for what to create next… so watch this space!
What do you love most about Brighton & Hove?
I love so many things about Brighton and Hove. The people are amazing, individuality is celebrated, diversity is normal, and the ambience (in non-covid times) joyous.
I have also discovered my absolute addiction to beach combing. I find the beach a place of serenity for me… but I can’t sit still. You’ll find me head down trawling the pebbles for the next piece of magic just waiting to happen! I love the changing emotions of the sea, from boisterous and playful to calm and tranquil. Having lived for many years in Melbourne, Australia, Brighton & Hove offers a similar experience in terms of lifestyle, and proximity to the sea. If only the sun would shine just a tiny bit more!
How does your environment inspire your art?
I find inspiration everywhere. That sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. It could be a colour, or a shape, or a feeling… All you have to do is open your eyes, and there is beauty.
The sea (and any body of water) has a magical calming effect on me. And now I can combine a trip to the beach with beachcombing – it’s a double whammy winner. Beachcombing is literally that – combing the beach for treasure.
Treasure could be anything from a beautifully shaped pebble, a piece of glass that has been thrashed about on the waves, or even just a broken shell.
Everything has a tale to tell. I wonder where these pieces of glass have been on their travels. And when I find something special, it’s epic!
People often ask me how I find the right pieces. Well, they sort of shout at me. I find it hard to look for a specific piece, so tend to wait and see what I find before deciding what to do with it.
As for my prints and greetings cards, a lot of my inspiration has actually come from commissions. Of course, I have a whole mental list of things I want to draw and paint, but customer requests often have me thinking outside of my regular box.
For instance – Rex, one of my bestselling greetings cards is a Collie dog, drinking a glass of red wine. I created it because someone wanted a card to send to someone who loved red wine, and had a Collie dog! I might never have put those two together without a request, so I do love requests!
You spent 5 years in Australia. What are some of the biggest differences between life here in England and life on the other side of the world?
I lived in Australia for nearly 5 years. I went as everyone does for a bit of a break from normality and to mix up life a bit. I ended up getting offered a job, and only returned to the UK when love came calling – albeit from a long distance.
Life in Australia was a riot of fun! Everyone was laid back, easy-going, and nothing seemed too much trouble (no drama mate). The weather helps of course, and I spent a lot of time outside. Although I have never been as cold in my life as on some of the wintery days in Melbourne!
The buildings are geared up for heat, not cold, so it is a myth that it’s glorious sunshine all day every day. It even snowed briefly on my first “hot” Christmas!!
When I came back, the first thing I noticed was how busy everyone here is. It seemed like to arrange a drink with a mate would be a clash of diaries, and booked 6 weeks in advance – the total opposite from my time down under. Hopefully, when covid is done, everyone will say yes to everything… and opportunities will be plentiful!
I think the work-life balance in Australia is far better than in the UK. People take their work seriously, but they also prioritise their own needs. I returned to the UK in the midst of the recession, and struggled to get a job that I wanted. Aand then when I finally did – it was nothing to do with design and all to do with sales. My work-life balance was way off.
This even killed my passion for creativity. My motto after that was to “create for fun, not for money!”. Until now – when I’m hoping that by creating on my own terms, and for my own business, I can combine my passions with business.
And the beaches… well I love my little bit of Hove beach, but it doesn’t quite compare to the glorious golden beaches swathed in sunshine and blue skies of down under. *Whimsical sigh*
Do you think that some people are born to be creative or is creativity something that can be taught?
I think there is an innate need in some people to create. I feel it in myself. If I haven’t created for a length of time, I feel cooped up, trapped, and crazy, and then a sense of calm, relief, and happiness when I have made something that I’m proud of.
I have no doubt that some creativity can be learned, and indeed skills improved upon through practice, teaching, and workshops. Of course, creativity takes many forms, but for those born with the need to express themselves through art, or music etc, to not be able to do that is a disservice to the person that they are.
I’m really glad I have found my creative outlet again. I have missed it since I left the world of professional design, and I’ve got my mojo back – even if I do say so myself! I hope others agree.
It’s quite confronting putting yourself out there for public scrutiny, but it’s humbling and exciting when the feedback is positive and the sales come in. Fingers crossed it stays positive!
In a world where we can send messages in an instant, what does it mean to you to send a handmade card?
We live in a world where everything is available immediately, and instant gratification is expected. But I still think there is nothing better than a handwritten note. And how better to deliver it but inside a carefully crafted card!?
Who doesn’t love happy post popping up amongst the bills and junk mail? Everyone loves to be remembered, and sending a handmade card is about the same price as a mass-produced one, but infinitely more thoughtful. And you are supporting artisan businesses and independents along the way. Win-win!
What has your experience losing your livelihood and having to build a business from scratch taught you?
When my tour company (The English Bus – www.theenglishbus.com) first felt the effects of covid, it was before any other industry had noticed it. We were on track for a record year, but almost overnight, mid Feb 2020, bookings stopped. Then the cancellations started flooding in.
My husband and I worked together and so when the world went bang!, we were hit hard. We worked tirelessly for weeks, processing refunds – to the tune of tens and tens of thousands – and working out a covid strategy in order to cope with these difficult circumstances. At that point, I was pretty low.
My friends hadn’t felt any economic downturn at that point, so couldn’t relate to me losing my job, my purpose, and my income overnight. It was a lonely place. I have kind of come to terms with it now. And although I am hopeful that tourism will start again in the coming months, I’m not as desperate for it as I was at the start of it all. I think that is in large part due to my starting Jen Horsey Designs.
I have mentioned before it has given me a sense of purpose, and direction. We were luckily in a good financial position, having spent frugally over the last few years, as we were not eligible for any government grants.
I actually started Jen Horsey Designs by accident. My husband calls me “The Accidental Entrepreneur” – I think if I had had the chance to (over)think about it all before, I probably would have found a reason not to do it – for fear of failure. But by the positive reaction I have received to my work, and the sales that I have made, I have just rolled with it. I have now started doing some pop-up shops, and craft fairs too. It’s amazing to get out there and have a physical presence. The online market is pretty competitive, so every little helps in getting my business off the ground.
My role within The English Bus was a lot of back-end business-type stuff (not upfront with a microphone kind of glamour) and that has put me in good stead in terms of knowing how to keep proper records, accounts, and other business-related things.
I built all of our operational systems myself, and a lot of them translate into my new business. But of course, I’m running solo, and so I have to don many hats – designer, maker, postman, delivery driver, marketing, sales – you name it. You can’t leave it for someone else to do when it’s yours, as no one else will do it!
I think I have learned that when the going gets tough, you can either sit still and do nothing, waiting for things to get better. Or you can try again – and maybe, just maybe, something good might come of it.
What are your future plans for Jen Horsey Designs?
I am hopeful that I will be able to run Jen Horsey Designs alongside The English Bus when that eventually comes back. I have so many ideas – paintings I want to create, new designs I’m working on, improving my website… to name a few!
I am investigating digitising my work to print onto other formats – such as homewares, and gifts and can’t wait to expand my range. I am also running an art swap initiative (#jhartswap) to celebrate talent, and put community over competition. I have been lucky enough to have some amazing artists around the world join in. It’s a simple swap of art, and a shouty celebration of each others’ talent.
I am hoping that the beginning success of Jen Horsey Designs is just the beginning. I don’t know exactly where it will go, but hopefully, I will just keep having the desire to create and people will continue to like my style!