Meet the Maker: Belle and Boo Creator Mandy Sutcliffe
Welcome to to the wonderfully whimsical world of Belle and her four pawed bunny friend Boo, created by the ever so talented illustrator Mandy Sutcliffe. In the eight years since the business started it has gone from strength to strength, and you can now create your very own Belle and Boo papercraft projects with their new range of papers, wooden shapes and clear stamps to name but a few (produced by papercraft manufacturer Trimcraft).
Here we ask Mandy what sparked the idea for Belle and Boo, and how she successfully went form craft seller on Etsy to now being stocked worldwide!
Belle and Boo Creator Mandy Sutcliffe
We love the wonderful world of Belle and Boo, how did the idea first come about?
I have always loved drawing children ever since a university exchange trip to Paris. I would sit for hours in the parks drawing the beautifully dressed children, floppy hair bows, Mary Jane shoes, double breasted coats.
I rediscoved all the children’s book I loved when I was a child especially the Milly Molly Mandy series and I used to create little characters of my own. Belle and Boo were a duo I sketched a lot (I have always loved bunnies cuddling them and drawing them!) and I started selling images of them alongside other children on Etsy after a friend in Sydney introduced me to the website.
We know you’re super talented when it comes to illustration, but do you have any other crafting passions?
I love making handmade note books and photo albums, I had a stall at Camden market for a couple of years at weekends selling them which was hard work but very rewarding.
I still get very excited when in London and have time to visit Paperchase on Tottenham Court road, their HUGE array of handmade papers, unfortunately my free time is very limited at the moment, running a business, bringing up three year old twin boys and renovating a crumbly old house, but I still get my fix of buying handmade papers for my sister who I taught how to make photo albums
What does your workspace look like? Give us a tour!
It is surprisingly dull and usually very messy. I inherited a glass desk (its all a bit corporate looking!) I have a large i-mac and Wacom tablet, a very old scanner (I like the way it scans my drawings, new scanners are a bit too precise) a printer that is broken, I decide to use the businesses joint printer which is a small walk away to make me stand up every so often!
I have a small scruffy toy rabbit which is my lucky charm, I won him in a Dutch drawing competition years ago as a child. I have an in tray crammed full with bits of tracing paper and printer paper of the latest project I am working on, once a project is finished I transfer it all a huge recycling bin I have under my desk and lately I have noticed that our designer here has been rescuing bits of drawings and sticking them artfully around her desk, I really should try harder to make my space look nicer like hers!
What would be your top three tips when it comes to illustrating?
Hhhmmmmm my dad always says there is nothing so scary as a big blank sheet of paper, so just start and things will happen. At college I used to make myself do a page in a sketch book a day which usually turned into many more pages, when I went for my interview for an illustration degree I arrived with a suitcase bursting with sketch books and the tutors joked I was there to stay.
Draw what you love to draw, for years I was told that people wouldn’t buy illustrations of children from the front because it wouldn’t look exactly like their child, I ignored them and luckily people have bought them phew!
Also hang on in there, I was told it takes around eight years to get established as an illustrator, it took me about 12 years, with many many part time jobs along the way.
What’s your favourite medium to use when illustrating?
Pencil on tracing paper and then Photoshop.
Where do you start when it comes to coming up with new character ideas?
I look at hundreds of images I have saved to inspire me when I have a time to create something new.
What made you want to start up your own business?
I wanted to be able to draw and sell what I wanted to draw and not work to other peoples briefs.
What’s the best bit of business advice you’ve ever been given?
That is takes 10 years to fully establish a business, we are about 8 years in, so heres hoping!
What does a normal day look like for you?
I take the kids to nursery and then usually arrive at work around 9.20am. I make coffee and tea for everyone already at the office and then huddle down with a latte and check my mails. Once all the admin side of my work is up to date, I open up photoshop and listen to podcasts of LBC and radio 4 and get stuck into what ever creative project I am working on.
We usually have a meeting or two within the day, I naughtily eat lunch at my desk and usually browse Pinterest or eBay trying to find inspiration for my house. There is always a naughty treat in the afternoon, however good we try to be someone always buckles and brings in some biscuit or homemade cake. I leave at 5.20 and home by 5.30 which is when the real work begins!
How did you go from craft seller on Etsy to Belle and Boo becoming a successful brand that’s stocked worldwide?
I was fortunate to join Etsy at a time when it wasn’t too huge so people could find my store easily, it was also at the time that small independent stores were looking to Etsy for new products and talent, so it wasn’t long till I was approached to start selling wholesale.
After a year of working crazy hours fulfilling orders online from all around the world via Etsy I was approached by my good friend Kate who saw there was a bigger opportunity, she came from a design background and had worked with big brands like Disney so her experience was invaluable to grow Belle & Boo. We started small in my lounge and then moved to a studio in my garden, as the business grew and we needed more space and staff (and we had four children between us) we moved to Bristol and are now happily based there.
And for the future? What’s next for Belle and Boo?
I have just finished working on the fifth Belle and Boo book which is quite a change from the others, full colour and more magical. We are developing a sub brand called The Little Dancers which is very exciting and are talking to different publishers globally about that. We are hoping to produce our own Homewares range for grown-ups, so oven gloves, tea towels, cushions etc, which I am personally very excited about and we have just finished working on a new range of cards and stationery for gorgeous 1973.