SUSAN ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW
Bored of buying plain terracotta pots for your plants? Susan Armstrong has the answer, for she is busier than ever hand-painting stunningly detailed pots for people in the Driffield area. Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, Susan talks about the techniques and inspiration behind her endeavours to brighten up local homes and gardens…
You run your own “cottage business” called “Pretty Pots.” When did you set up the business, and what inspired you to do so?
The business was launched last September. I teach Horticulture to people with learning difficulties and mental health problems. One very wet day, we decided to paint some plastic pots for fun. They loved it, and a lady who saw our finished results asked if I would paint her terracotta pot for her in order to cheer it up, so I did my first pot, and decided to decorate it with a vinyl flower design. It looked great, and it was perfect for outdoors. That’s how the idea was sown. After a lot of research, I found that no one had ever put vinyl and terracotta together before, so it was all systems go! It’s still very early days as a new enterprise, but we’re learning how to market, and — more importantly — where. For me, it’s all about building a good customer base, which we seem to be doing, as we have customers who keep coming back for new designs when they’re posted on our Facebook page.
I take it that everything you do is hand-painted?
All my pots and saucers come in five different sizes, starting from 19 cm, and going up to 31 cm. They are all hand-painted with exterior patio paints in many different colours and designs, depending on the theme that I’m using. I may sponge-paint or use chalky furniture paint to give the much-desired “distressed” look. All pots and saucers are then sealed with an exterior sealer. This keeps them frost and damp-free.
Do you have any formal qualifications in Art, or are you self-taught?
I’ve always loved the subject. I have two very good friends who paint, and they’ve helped me with tips and tricks. Other than that, there has been a lot of experimenting with colour-wheels!
So how do you come up with the ideas for your designs? What process do you go through?
I’ve always been fortunate to live in the country, watching the seasons of the year and all they bring with them. I walk a lot, and I’ll see a poppy growing in a wheat field, and that will be enough for the idea to find its way onto a pot. Working in a garden all day, one sees colour and plants growing, so it’s been a matter of “testing the waters” with everyone’s favourite roses, daffodils and pansies. It’s the same with all our favourite wildlife friends, such as hedgehogs, squirrels, rabbits and deer. I find a design, and then it’s turned into a vinyl.
Is it possible for customers to produce their own designs for you to paint?
I’m asked all the time if I can turn a favourite photo of a much-loved pet into a vinyl and then put it onto a pot of the customer’s choice. Wording is also added… as much or as little as one likes! This makes for a perfect gift; it’s very personal, and – even more than that – very different. Let’s face it, where else can you buy a terracotta pot made just for you?
Have you ever considered “branching out” into other forms of “vessel”-painting?
Yes – I have just completed my first set of three cutlery pots (in a wooden crate) for knives, forks and spoons to sit on one’s worktop. I’ve also done a set of three herb pots, in “shabby chic” style, which will go to a lovely shop in Pocklington called Bumblebee Cottage. They have supported me with tips and ideas from the beginning, and they carry a nice range of Pretty Pots, which are forever changing. I’ve not tried trough-painting as yet, but I’ll certainly give it a try. I’m always open to new ideas; when “in business,” it’s a prerequisite to be able to think outside of the box at times.
Roughly-speaking, once you have a design to hand (or at least in mind), how long does it take you to paint a pot?
The whole process can take two weeks… to allow for paint-drying time! Some can be done sooner, depending on size and design specifications.
So, if there’s anybody reading this who would like one of your pots and wish to personalise it, either for themselves or as a gift, how would they go about it?
They need to send me a high-resolution photo of their choice, along with the size of pot they would like to purchase. We work out the colours and wording they would like to use, and then we go from there.
2016 has seen you begin Pretty Pot Parties! What do they involve, and how can people book such a party?
Due to our disappointing summer so far, I have only just launched the idea in the hope that the weather would improve and we would have some warm summer evenings so we could get a group of people together in the garden, surrounded by Pretty Pots. I’ll talk about how I design them and the history of terracotta; it has so many uses, as it’s naturally cold pottery, and very porous. It’s been used in the garden for years and years. There’s so much to learn, and what could be better than having wine and nibbles in such a nice setting? What’s more, the host gets to keep a pot as a “thank you.” So, if anybody is interested, please call me on 07816 395729.
Your pot-painting aside, are you creative in any other ways?
Yes — I love decorating and putting interior designs into my home… not to forget gardening!
Finally, how can people find out more about “Pretty Pots”?
Visit my Facebook business page by typing “Pretty Pots by Susan Jane” into the search engine. That’s where you’ll find all my contact details, and you’ll be able to read many of the great reviews that customers have posted. My pots are also available to buy in Flower Style (Driffield), Rotherham’s (Driffield), Bumblebee Cottage (Pocklington), and Warley Cross Animal Store (Beeford). People are most welcome to visit my workshop at anytime.