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18th May 2017

Celebrating creativity: Q&A with Donna Wilson

Donna Wilson has come a long way since her days of selling Fimo jewellery in the local craft shops of Aberdeenshire. She’s made a name for herself from her bustling East London studio with quirky knitted creatures, colourful cushions and characterful ceramics – she is even, to borrow a phrase, big in Japan.

Donna has now turned her creative energy to the serious business of, well, creativity. We couldn’t be more charmed by MYO (it stands for “make your own”), her new publication. Packed with oversized woolly critters, playful ideas and tempting recipes, the bi-yearly magazine celebrates creativity in all its forms – music, cooking, making – and Donna’s own passion for colour and craft. We took a long look (and a strong sniff – the fresh-from-the-printer ink is quite heady) over a cup of tea.

Where did the idea for MYO come from?
I’ve run my own company for 15 years. It’s brilliant and I still love it, but it’s all about me. Initially MYO was just about doing something a bit different, trying to connect a network of creative people who have become my friends over the years. I want my children to be creative, but there’s a lot of talk about these subjects being pushed out of schools. I find that really upsetting because that was the only thing I was any good at. Some kids are just not academic. Where are they going to stumble into that special thing that makes them feel passionate? I was so lucky to find something that moved me at quite an early age. It really helped my confidence. 

Why is making so important? Why is creativity so vital?
I don’t think I would be me if I weren’t creative. It helps us evolve. Without it we’d all be stuck within these rules. It should be encouraged and celebrated. That’s why we have a whole section in the magazine asking people about creativity. We wanted to illustrate how important it is to so many different people out there. I’ve just interviewed an accountant, who needs to tap into a creative mindset to think about furthering his business, about getting new clients… We all need that spark. Let’s challenge what’s come before us and think outside the box. 

Does MYO ask, then, how to foster creativity, starting with children?
I didn’t want the magazine to be too childish. It’s aimed at families and adults, giving them ideas about things they can do with their kids but also for themselves. We don’t want to alienate people who don’t have children. The magazine feels quite grown up in a way, but it’s also playful. 

How does it feel when you’re in that creative sweet spot?
Running a business isn’t always creative. Developing ideas and making stuff is a small part of my job, but I always feel it’s the best part of my day. Designing something I really love is just the best feeling in the world. It’s often such a struggle to get to that point, it can be really hard, but if you can push through that you’ll get to something worthwhile. It’s a tactile thing for me. I don’t get that same buzz when I’m working on something on the computer. When I first got my hands on the magazine it was all about the smell, the feeling of the paper. There’s pleasure in the process as well as the end result, particularly with knitting: controlling colour and pattern, creating something out of nothing. 

Describe the process of creating the magazine.
It went through quite a few different versions. I didn’t really have a fixed idea of how I wanted it to look. I wanted it to be me, but also have a strong visual identity of its own. I work with a fantastic graphic designer called Marcia Mihotich – we’ve collaborated for more than 10 years – who was really keen to be involved. I’m not sure she would be now though! [laughs] There’s been a lot of back and forth; we tried a lot of things. We settled on doing the book in sections: projects with step-by-step instructions, inspirational images and creative interviews. We’ll follow the same structure in each edition, but we might change the themes. We want to showcase different designers, too: I hand-stamped all the section spacers, but we’d like to get another designer next time to do their take on the title pages.

What would you tell Etham age 6, interviewed in the magazine?
Ethan is actually my nephew. He’s really smart, he’s really good at maths. His mum is a lawyer who wants to encourage her children to pursue academic careers. A creative career is not for everyone, but creativity is part of everyday life. Even Ethan’s mum has to be creative to be successful in her job. We’re very lucky to have a nice garden at our home in Leytonstone. These two kids were peering over our wall for ages, so I invited them in to play on the trampoline and started making things with them – masks, flower garlands… It was so rewarding to see their faces lighting up. They’re bored because they spend all their time in front of the TV. Now they’re telling their teachers about me and want to come round all the time. They’re desperate to make things! It’s so funny because my kids wish they could watch more TV.
Ethan’s brother is really keen on acting, so it will be interesting to see where he takes that.

Have you started the second edition already?
Yes… I really wanted to get this one out first to see the reaction. We’re just selling it on our website at the moment, but the reception’s been fantastic. We’ve received 100 subscriptions from all over the world just based on what we’ve posted on Instagram. We’re keen to get other contributors involved. We’re not trying to compete with the many excellent DIY blogs out there, but rather to trigger ideas and use the reader’s imagination as a starting point. I’m looking for originality. Take the project with the wrapped vegetables. It’s something I played with in art school – so random but pleasing and effective. We’ve also started the MYO challenge, trying to get people to share their ideas and processes. We’ve had more than 600 entries – now we have the hard task of choosing a winner.

MYO’s launch event is sold out, but you can subscribe to the publication online and at selected stockists.


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