The Creative Islanders is an new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life.
The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.
Next up in the series is Superfolk founded by partners in life and business Jo Anne Bulter and Gearóid Muldowney. Based in Westport, in the wild west of Ireland, Superfolk design and craft exquisite homewares. Inspired by the outdoors and with respect to the raw and rugged landscape and materials which surround them, both Jo Anne and Gearóid’s work exude craftsmanship with comes with much patience, practice and a deeply rooted passion for elegance and beauty. I greatly admire their decision to move out west, working to create a business in tune with the landscape while generating employment and opportunities for the region.
Jo Anne also inspired me recently to take up lino cutting again, and gave me some very useful tips and hints (thank you!) I also love popping into their Instagram feed to have a visual dose of the west… they take some stunning images.
Now over to some words from Jo Anne & Gearóid..
Photo Credit:Henrietta Williams
What makes you tick? What motivates you?
Jo Anne: I love to understand the relationships and connections between things and am curious about simple things in nature, animals, our weather and our environment. In designing I always want to try to understand the core or the essence of a material, a process or a problem. I want to always be proud of the work that we do and I love sharing that with others. Some people connect in a very emotional way to the sensibility of what we make and really get it and that’s very rewarding. We want to build a business where we will be creating employment in the west of Ireland.
Gearoid: I like to identify problems and rectifying them. I enjoy fixing things. But at some point its best to start afresh and thats why I design new things. Being able to understand your built/designed/made environment helps orientate a person. Being able to tell a story through our products is normal; materials have a history, objects are created in a context, keeping that context part of the product is an integral part of what we do.
What keeps you in Ireland?
Jo Anne: Our families – My father passed away in 2006 and Gearoid’s father died in 2012. The sense of sadness and loss is profound, but, bereavement also brought a deepening appreciation for our family, our friends and the feeling of ‘at home’ we have with living in the west of Ireland.
Gearoid: I love Ireland. My upbringing and my education has given me a wonderful appreciation for this island. My parents and my primary school teachers introduced me to the rich cultural heritage that is ours to discover. Ireland’s geography, natural history and culture fascinates me. With Superfolk, we are trying our best to use all of these elements to our advantage. We don’t want to leave.
What do you do just for the love of it?
Jo Anne: I love learning about what I am seeing around me and anything that involves fresh air and being outside – walking, hiking, climbing, kayking, snorkelling, camping. I love trying to identify wild flowers and plants. I want to understand how a single plant can tell the story of its habitat – the relationship between the climate, topography and geology of a place. I want to know not just the name of everything that grows in the wild but why it chooses to grow where and when it grows – the wider inter-connected story of habitat. And I love watching Homeland. And Vikings.
Gearoid: I like being outside. I use fly fishing as a legitimate excuse to roam the countryside, study maps jump fences and talk to strangers. Fly fishing gives me the license to stand in rivers in silence, whilst water rushes all around you. I can stand motionless in a ditch listening for a plop of a trouts lip as it sips in flies trapped in the water surface film. I like the silence of big open spaces. Hiking in the hills of Mayo energises me. We have a large dog, ‘Woody’, a Wiemaraner and he demands plenty of exercise, so he’s another excuse to be in forests and hills and beaches.
What does the creative process teach you?
Jo Anne: Good work will not be forced. We might push really long and hard trying to make something work and eventually have to admit defeat. Good work is more instinctive, more fluid and truer to ourselves. When we are slogging at something it can be hard to stop and accept that what is more easy, free and simple is the better work. The slog is an important part of the creative process but its not the work. I think this is described best in the phrase ‘the simplicity on the other side of complexity’.
Gearoid. How to be honest. Well made things are honest. There are no tricks, if you want to make something that will last, and function well there are no short cuts. Use good materials and do them justice.
How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?
Jo Anne: Turn it upside down. In my foundation art course my tutor Robin Jones would tell us to frequently turn the page of a drawing upside down to make us look at the drawing with fresh eyes. So I try to find similar ways to keep fresh eyes and perspective on whatever I am working on. Turn the page upside down, take a step back, take a break, go for a walk. Learn to change your position relative to your work and learn to see with fresh eyes.
Gearoid: I don’t get stuck much these days. When I was younger I might have been more precious about my ideas and less willing to give up on something that wasn’t working. I’ve gotten better at scrapping something that isn’t working, ideas are two a penny.
Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?
Jo Anne: We are designers but it is really important to us that we are always looking outside of ‘design’. When Gearoid and I travel to new places we always look out for the folk museum, the natural history museum, the odd strange decorative arts museum. I really love any outdoor folk museums even really touristy ones. I love ‘Den Gamle By’, the outdoor folk life museum in Arhus in Denmark.
Gearoid: Humans have been designing and problem solving for thousands of years. Its only in the last few hundred years that we have begun to document some of these results. My interest in vernacualr life tools is endless. I love folk museums especially if they have an outdoor element and archaeology, you cant beat digging in the ground and speculating.
How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?
Jo Anne: The memory of that first feeling of Spring in the air – at any time of year. And anything William Wegman ever made. Walking and listening to podcasts.
Gearoid: I used to smoke, rolling tobacco and I really enjoyed the peaceful time it gave. It allowed me time to meditate on things. It turns out smoking kills you, so I walk the dog now or go fishing.
What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way?
Jo Anne: Don’t take criticism personally. Listen and understand criticism as subjective insight.
Gearoid: Play the long game. Make good work. Don’t rush things. Give yourself time to do a good job. Be nice to people and don’t waste time on negative thoughts.
What have you learned from your ‘failures’?
Jo Anne: Never be afraid to cut your losses. Don’t keep going with something that in your gut doesn’t feel right because you are too afraid of losing what you have already invested.
Gearoid: Not to give up. Move on quickly and regroup. Moving forward and not dwelling in the past is important. Keep moving forward.
Do you have a morning routine?
Jo Anne: Roughly along the lines of …Feed the dog, go for a walk, come back have porridge and coffee and have a short meeting about what work is needed to be done that day.
Gearoid: Porridge. Clean and tidy, start work as soon as possible. Morning is the best time to have clear thoughts and energy.
Or other creative habits or rituals?
Jo Anne: Walking meetings – when we are figuring something out together rather than a sit-down brainstorm we take walking meetings where we walk and talk through our ideas. For some reason when we are more active, walking, you can be more insightful and make big decisions more confidently.
Gearoid: I like to have a place for everything so I’m constantly trying to put my life in order or de clutter my life. It is a struggle, the world wants me to have so much stuff.
What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?
Jo Anne: The Wild Flowers of Ireland by Carsten Krieger and Declan Doogue – It tells the story of wildflowers and wild plant life from the point of view of habitat – I love to think about the inter-relationship of factors that create an amenable habitat for plantlife– in a funny way it is really quite relevant to home-wares designing. Also ‘The Way That I Went’ by the naturalist Robert Lloyd Preager. When I’m drawing I listen to podcasts like ‘On Being’ and podcasts about slow food movement and plant life on ‘Heritage Radio Network’.
Gearoid: I have referred to the SAS survival handbook since I was a child. Its a guide to doing everything a human needs to do to stay alive, it has nothing superfluous of luxurious in it its a stripped back guide to living. Its not a bad place to begin if you are designing lifestyle or homeware goods.
What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?
Jo Anne: Trust your gut. Don’t wait to be perfect (because there’s no such thing)
Gearoid: Be brave.
Find out more over on their website Superfolk
Follow them on Instagram here.
Thank you so much Superfolk. You are, indeed, super folk. Clare x