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Craft With Conscience: Pauline Hagan of Benu made

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Pauline Hagan of Benu made

Sarah Benning


Pauline Hagan of Benu Made // Jewellery Designer // Prague, Czech Republic

Benu Made is a jewellery brand combining bold shapes and beautiful leather textures. All jewellery pieces are drawn, designed and skilfully created by Pauline Hagan in her studio in Prague, in the Czech Republic. She's self-taught, and her vision is to create bold, eye-catching conversation pieces that bring personality and twist to the simplest of outfits.

Check out more of Pauline's amazing work on Instagram and Facebook.

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet has been very instrumental for me. I grew up watching my mum cross-stitch and doing her best to sell her creations at markets on Saturday mornings, which would be her only outlet or sales channel. When I think about how much has changed, I question whether I would have been able to get to where I am now without the internet. Social media gives us designers and artists power - to talk about our work, to build a brand, to share ideas, to communicate with and sell directly to our customers. It enables us to be fully independent, brings us really close to our audience and encourages dialogue and community. Everyday, women from around the world tag me in photos of them wearing my jewellery, and as a designer there isn't anything more rewarding than that. However, competition is so strong and the market so saturated that it takes a really special story and product to stand out, and that's a constant challenge - though admittedly, one I enjoy!

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

I find inspiration everywhere, by being outside, observing the shapes and details of buildings (there's an abundance of inspiration here in Prague), travelling, being in nature or during conversations with friends who’ll say 'I'd love to see this on a pair of earrings' - which might spark an idea. I also use Pinterest and follow Fashion Week shows to ensure I'm not too far off the mark and still feeding into current trends.

I usually design a new collection once a year, so over the course of the remaining 11 months, I gather ideas, cut outs, Pins, and notebooks full of sketches - without developing them into final products. When I revisit the ideas at the time of delving into new designs, I forbid myself from touching a computer or Pinterest for a part of the creative process. I'll take a stack of paper and explore as many avenues as I can based on those ideas - some of them may have evolved in my mind, some I'll interpret differently and might take on a new angle. Somehow, something special filters out of this process and these slowly baked ideas.

The internet has impacted my design process in the sense that the overload of visual information we receive from it is overwhelming and sometimes takes precedence over real-life inspiration. This is why I try to use this 'filter' of passing time and evolved ideas to simplify things and bring them as far away from the virtual world as possible.

Photo credit:  @igorzacharov

Photo credit: @igorzacharov

3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?

It's been a slow process, and I've only recently felt like I've arrived at a place where I've found my creative voice and am proud of what I do. It's taken years of attempting a myriad of avenues and possibilities, materials, designs, tweaking my brand and the way I communicate - but I finally feel I've reached a certain balance and sense of harmony. The benchmark I've set myself is an eternally moving post though, so I'll have to keep up!

Another aspect that helped me to find my place and voice was moving from my home studio into a shared studio over a year ago – a really cosy, creative space I’m always very happy to spend long hours working in. This move really transformed my motivation - being surrounded by successful, creative people all running their own businesses is really inspiring, as well as making a distinct separation between work and private life.

Photo credit:  @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit: @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit:  @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit: @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit:  @janovajohana

Photo credit: @janovajohana

Photo credit:  @janovajohana

Photo credit: @janovajohana

4. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I'm more than happy for others to be inspired by my work - that's a wonderful thing actually! Last year however, for the first time, I encountered blatant copies of my hand earrings - and little metal, mass-produced earrings started popping up everywhere, from boutiques in NYC to markets in Europe, Instagram posts and large high-street stores.

Here in the Czech Republic, a non-profit organisation helps local designers navigate issues like intellectual property. Their lawyers offer partly pro-bono work tackling plagiarism and are currently helping me counter some of the bigger players selling my stolen designs. Often, I’ll receive messages from my lovely, helpful customers or followers, who let me know of a shop or Instagram account they've come across selling the copies. When that happens, I politely write to the shop and let them know the design is stolen - sometimes, they'll be unaware of it, be understanding and take the product down. At other times, the conversation is more complicated.

Photo credit:  @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit: @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit:  @eliskakyselkova

Photo credit: @eliskakyselkova

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

One of my favourite quotes is 'You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with'. I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with good, positive, driven people. Six years ago, when I started my business, I was inspired by a new group of friends of mine who were self-employed or didn't have 'conventional' jobs. They showed me that it was possible to succeed from creativity - it’s contagious! - and I decided to follow in their footsteps.

Photo credit:  @mariekebosma

Photo credit: @mariekebosma

6. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

All of the following women are talented, driven artists and dear friends who work really hard and have made their crafts their full time jobs: @andsmilestudio (an illustrator), @karolinastrykova (a hand lettering artist and designer), @annanemone__ (an illustrator and textile designer) and (an artist and graphic designer).

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Photo credit:  @janovajohana

Photo credit: @janovajohana