Ann Worsnip, originally from Rochdale, is a typewriter artist, based in Lytham, Lancashire. Despite being told she couldn’t draw at school, her business ‘Oi Doris’ which she started last January, has evolved at an alarming rate over the past eleven months. Booked to exhibit at next year’s Progressive Greetings Live (PGL) exhibition in London, we met with Ann to discuss her work and how she plans to launch her unique designs to the greetings card market.
‘I still can’t quite think of myself as an artist,” says Ann as we sit down in her cosy studio, situated at the back of her garden, a stones-throw from the family home she shares with her husband and three sons. “I’m a qualified chef, florist and interior designer but my work has always needed to fit around my family so over the years I’ve had to be flexible and chop and change.”
Finding herself, after living near Stroud, Gloucestershire, back in Lancashire, Ann retrained and took a position as an art technician at a local school in Blackpool. It was whilst working with her students that Ann came across fellow typewriter artist Paul Smith. Ann was instantly inspired, “Paul Smith was an incredible artist, sadly he died in 2007. He had cerebral palsy and used his typewriter to create amazing work. I found him because of my work with the students, we were looking for artists to study and I came across him.”
“My first piece of work was a Christmas present for my nephew and then my son asked me to do his car, he has a vintage mini, then my husband asked me to do his push-bike and it just grew from there.”
Ann now has a portfolio of over twenty-two designs and a collection of fifteen typewriters which she never pays more than £25 for!
“I do have a favourite,” explains Ann when talking about her machines, “I strip it down so that I can see it all working and I get really hands on with it. I have got really old ones and some portables, some I bought because I like the colour. People like to play with them and have a go, children especially. We get them to send a ‘vintage text’, they just type a sentence and we post it to them, they like doing that and it’s great to connect with them, introducing something from the past in a fun way.”
Talking to Ann it’s clear that she is incredibly passionate about her work and incredibly focussed. Having discovered that her niche lies in greetings cards she has become a member of the Greetings Card Association, “Through the Greetings Card Association I’m attending the Ladder Club which helps people who are setting up in the greetings card industry. From my experience so far with ‘Oi Doris’ I started off doing commissions, this led to designs for the cards which I also explored with screen printing so that I could print material and develop soft furnishings but I know greetings cards is what people like and buy. I’m hoping the Ladder Club will help me with the industry jargon and I’ll learn what needs to be on the back of my cards – barcodes, envelope sizes.”
Planning for next year is high on Ann’s list of priorities as she will be exhibiting at her first trade show, PGLive and Ann has to have at least fifty designs ready as well as her costings and of course her stand.
“Next year is scary, I feel sometimes like I’m in above my head but it will all be fine. My husband and my son are both coming to the show with me. My husband helps me think through the commercial side of the business and work out my pricing and my son, well, he’s so charming, he’s got the gift of the gab so it’ll be great to have them both there for support.
“I’m going to keep my stand simple. A piece of driftwood will help display my typewriters and my cards will be on the wall behind. I had thirteen designs when I signed up, I’ve now got possibly twenty-two and I’ve got to get at least fifty ready for the show so I’ve a lot to do but I know I want to focus on the key events of the year and build from there, for example Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day. I’m very male orientated at the moment which is good as there’s not many male focussed cards out there but I’d like to expand my range and look at butterflies, birds – they’re popular at the minute. For me it’s all about feedback so I know which of my designs are popular.”
Going from consumer facing craft shows to a business-to-business trade show is the start of a new chapter for ‘Oi Doris’ and looking back at the journey so far Ann commented, “I’ve learned a lot from the craft fairs, people have been really positive and I’ve learned not to take a negative comment as criticism. They’ve given me confidence and provided market research, I know now that my cards sell and my commissions sell. People like to have personalised commissions and you have to listen to what people are asking for, there’s no point trying to sell work just because I like it – it has to be in demand.”
Looking ahead, Ann is conscious that she will have to listen to retailers now as well as consumers in order to grow her business. “I’m already debating about how to take my designs forward. I’ve had advice to make the cards smaller, I like being A5 but I know retailers only have so much room on their shelves so you have to be prepared to adapt. People have also advised to use brown paper envelopes rather than red, I feel that my designs are contemporary and I’m conscious not to make decisions based just on trends. I want to stay current and I want to develop creatively but I want to maintain a style that is unique.
“I know my target customers and I have to trust a retailer to know theirs which is why, given that there are so many card designers out there, I’m working to stand out from the crowd. My price point isn’t aimed at supermarkets or discount stores. I have to be confident that my work is essentially a piece of art and I believe my pricing and the materials I use reflects that. I am looking forward to developing my range, I have sourced some lovely board to print on and I can’t wait to use it. It is a balancing act trying to fit in at least three commissions a week as well as the preparation for next year.”
Here at The GBE we’re confident Ann will be fully prepared for everything 2016 has to offer and we’re looking forward to working with her and getting her designs out to the retail market.
A selection of ‘Oi Doris’ greetings cards are currently available on The Great British Exchange for retailers to purchase.
As of the 4th December a selection of Oi Doris will be on display at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool.