Kitty Pennybacker: Textiles Artist

Kitty Pennybacker, knitwear and textile artist. Photography by Joanne Crawford.

Name: Kitty Pennybacker.

Job title: Textiles Artist.

Career path: This has been a really long and round about journey to actually running my own business. At home I was making clothes from the time I got obsessed with Vogue magazines and was trying to recreate the looks from the catwalk. I was at a school that had an amazing art department where I was exploring textiles, doing a lot of embroidery and dying fabrics. My mum probably was instrumental in buying me a second hand Bernina sewing machine which did free hand embroidery and I spent most of my time on this until I left school. I absolutely knew I wanted to be a Fashion Designer although my teacher was always saying “Textiles Designer” which I dismissed, not really understanding this was an actual job. 

I knew an Art Foundation course was necessary and spent a lot of my A-Level year going to open days all over the country. After doing my Art Foundation at Leeds College of Art I went on to Fashion Textiles at The University of Brighton. This was especially appealing to me as there was a year in industry, I was able to work for a knitwear company in London and also a block printing company in Jaipur, India. This year was vital to getting some really good industry experience and opened many doors for when I finished university. Colleagues who had not had a placement year had to spend the first year out of university interning for free in London and it is worth noting that if you do this as part of your degree your loan can help you through the year, whereas when you finish most people have to take paid work which means you can easily end up not following your passion.

I would say it was only from interning that I learnt about the various roles within the fashion and textiles industry; university and school really are not very good for this as you are being taught by full-time tutors. I fell into the trap of not trusting my instincts, as well as needing to pay my bills, so I took paid jobs to survive in London. I was creatively very unfulfilled and it took moving to New York and getting a scholarship for a Masters at Parsons School of Design for me to redirect my path to find my creative voice.  

Ideas & Planning: Having developed my practice during my Masters Degree in New York, I have quite a set way of working, developing ideas for weeks before I come to a final conclusion in the form of an art piece. For example, the pieces I am currently working on have involved me doing a lot of colour work, firstly with paint that I have then moved into my textiles, making colour swatches on my knitting machine.  Only when I have the swatches together can I make decisions about the final work. I like to work in a fast-paced way when sampling but find it takes days to re-look at pieces to decide what is working and edit this so I have a clear vision for my final piece.

Finance: As I sell handmade pieces there is really no helpful way of talking about money as it is not in any way like running a business; a business plan is not relevant to me. I have found I have had to constantly re-visit the online tools I use to aid my practice as they can seem essential and then you realise they make the monthly outgoings unfeasible and you can tweak the way you sell your work. 

Networking: While in New York I was regularly going to meet Interior Designers and did a lot of networking. Now in York I have been attending York’s ‘Women Who Mean Business’ which has been really good for building a community. I also think I need to build my network in London. It would be great if someone started more creative networking or dinner events here.

Work environment: My working environment is really important to me as I think it inspires me in all my work. I work between my home studio, a deconsecrated chapel and a shared space in York. My home studio is freezing but with beautiful features such as a stone alter that I have my machine on and and parquet floors. My shared space in York is in an old printing studio with a lot of different artists’ work around the place, it is being around the other artists that I find inspiring. 

All graphics by Hannah McCreath

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Joyce Cowles: Co-founder of Late Night Agency

Joyce Cowles, Co-founder of Late Night Agency

Name: Joyce Cowles.

Job title: Co-Founder of Late Night Agency. Late Night Agency creates digital content (from album artwork, to social media assets, to Snapchat and Instagram lenses, to YouTube visualisers and websites) for recording artists, music producers, DJs, record labels and festivals. They work with the likes of Sony, Apple Music, Netflix, AEI and Ministry of Sound.

Career path: I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do until maybe my last year at university. 

I was studying Events Management with Arts & Entertainment at Sheffield Hallam; I didn’t find a year-in-industry position and so I had to complete a number of hours “in-industry” alongside my final year. This requirement is the real catalyst for where I am today; after working on a few projects around social media in events, I sought out a few internships (a mix of paid and unpaid) and part time jobs in social media management (a new role that was just emerging) which then really showed me how much I was interested in it. 

The internships and short stints of work meant I got to work on a huge range of industries and opportunities with low risk; from community management of a feminist travel blog, to managing social media accounts for law firms to swing bands, and creating a social media strategy for an art gallery, I also got to work with my partner making videos for social media content for an Olympics 2012 sponsor, and music videos for grime artists in the north. Dan and I also decided to launch a (short lived) music label, we had merch and t-shirts made, and threw successful club nights. We were really taking every single opportunity as it came and gave it 100% every time.

I was hired as a social media exec. at a PR firm in Harrogate (2 hours each way commute from Sheffield, but I was so excited to be full-time employed!) and then moved to be an account exec at HMA in Barnsley – I was immensely lucky to have two great bosses there, Nicola Tiffany and Emma Casimir, who inspired me that account management was definitely a career I wanted; they showed me a career roadmap and taught some invaluable lessons about account management and working in digital agencies. 

Dan and I moved to Leeds, we worked at other digital agencies, and worked together on projects – we started to slowly build a picture of what we wanted to achieve together, we learnt a lot! Living in the north meant that we were able to cover the bills with just one pay cheque if we had to, and when we were ready, Dan set out to work full-time on Late Night Agency.  I was named co-founder right away, working in the evenings and weekends to make sure jobs were invoiced, project managed where I could and helped prioritise work coming in, all whilst still being at Elementary Digital; Gyles Seward and Andy Holland (managing partners) were incredibly supportive from the get-go, they gave me trust, opportunities for career and personal growth, and some sage business advice when I was ready to go full-time at Late Night Agency.

Ideas & Planning: I am an ideas person, but I struggle getting ideas completed. If you’re like me, my advice here is to lean into your strengths and find someone who can do the completion parts of your ideas for/with you (whether it’s outsourcing, or partner-up with them like I did!). When I do have to complete my ideas myself I have to break down every little task into little tickets in a trello board so I don’t get overwhelmed by huge day-long tasks and means I get that dopamine hit when I can move that task into a DONE column. 

Creativity and curiosity are both muscles that need to be worked out every day. Practicing your creativity and learning about new things regularly means you can flex these muscles when you least feel like it (in a project you’re not feeling, or when you’re staying up late to meet a deadline or surprise first-thing-on-monday client calls etc). My new creative output du jour is “analog” collage – it’s off the screen and gives me instant creativity gratification. If I don’t do an actual creative activity, then I’ll start my day thinking of 10 ideas for a client (this bank of ideas has saved my ass more than once when I’ve been stuck!).

Resting is not counter-productive to getting work done. It’s taken me 30 years but I figured out recently that to get the best out of my work I need to eat right, get some fresh air and have nine (!) hours of sleep; this shouldn’t be shameful and it’s nice to see the change of tide against Grind Culture. If I’m a sleep deprived zombie then this impacts not only my business, but also everything outside of work!

Finance: Both my partner and I are making more money now working for ourselves than when we were working for other agencies. I was surprised by this initially, but I guess that’s the whole point of going at it on your own, the freedom of not being tied to salary and seeing where every hour I spend goes to and what it’s making me. We’ve worked hard to get a mix of retained, project and ad-hoc clients to ensure good cashflow.

We’ve had our fair share of unexpected fees! No one mentions employers insurance; or how specialised creative-industry-focused insurance can be.  The one that’s hurt the most so far this year is paying nearly a grand to get a hard drive fixed! All I can say is: BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVE.

Networking: We were really lucky when based in Manchester, we were at Un.titled Studios near Media City, there are a ton of great creatives there. It’s been so good to be able to say to clients “actually we don’t do that, but we know someone who can – let me intro you”. We’re all just out here trying and I really feel that the creative community on the whole are happy to help and to see other people succeed!

Meeting other people who do what you do is such an essential part of being a business owner for me – not only is it a support group, I get so much more from that than any podcast or business book.

Quote to live by: Always back up your hard drive! Haha no it’s: “Everything is figure-out-able” (thank you, Marie Forleo!).

Graphics by Hannah McCreath