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Meet: Steve Watts

Steve Watts

Steve and Angela Watts

Steve Watts graduated from BA (Hons) Product Design at Central Saint Martins in 2007. Originally from South Africa, after spending time in London and travelling the world, he moved to California to pursue his childhood dream of setting up Slyde Handboards with his wife Angela. The idea (a small handboard used to improve your body surfing experience) took off, and they recently received a high profile investment after appearing on the USA TV show The Shark Tank. Find out more about Steve’s journey from studying at CSM to riding the waves of self-employment, and keeping afloat in the competitive surfing industry!

What were you doing before you came to London to study at Central Saint Martins? 

I was doing all sorts of odd jobs and travelled around the world before studying. However, I knew all I ever wanted to become was a designer and the only place I ever wanted to study design was at CSM. The college has an incredible reputation and an awesome tradition of producing the best graduates.  The old campus in Holborn was on the route to a job I had on the Embankment, and I would walk past it every day, dreaming of studying there. I eventually got my opportunity and took it with both hands. There was never any doubt in where I wanted to end up.

I loved my time there, it was a fantastic experience. I was probably the third or fourth oldest in my class, so I’d had some time to travel and realise this is what I wanted to do with my life.  I also had a sharper awareness than when I was in my early 20s of how lucky I was; to be attending not only university, but the school I had always wanted to attend. Like any university, you get out what you put in, and there is no difference with Central Saint Martins.

I think the biggest high was my third year final project pitch, in which I got a first. Believe it or not, that pitch gave me the confidence to stand and deliver for other pitches to come. In fact it was easily the most intense pitch I have ever given.

The lowest point was making the rookie mistake of thinking, “Well I got a first in the last project…”  and then taking my foot off the pedal, by not pouring everything into my second project, which I got a second in. It taught me one very valuable lesson; don’t ever sit back and think, “Well I did well before, so that will just follow on over.”  You are only as good as your current project and always, always put your absolute best foot forward in everything you hand over.

Steve with his Handboard on The Shark Tank

Steve and Angela on The Shark Tank

What were your favourite things to do in London?

There is so much to do In London. From concerts, pubs and clubs, to all the short trips you can take and amazing galleries on offer.  The Tate Modern was one of my favourite places to go and take in.  As they say – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

A couple of places that really stood out to me were Hampstead Heath and the hill overlooking London for sundown – it’s a semi-secret spot that just allows you to get out of the hustle and bustle and really take in London from a distance. It’s almost meditative being up there. Also Gordon’s Wine Bar on the Embankment was my favourite bar to just go and chill – the history round there is phenomenal.

How did you make the decision to move to California?

I loved living in London, and took full advantage of it while I was there. However, I grew up near the beach, and had visited California and loved the beach lifestyle there, so I always knew that was where I wanted to start Slyde Handboards.

The support structure in California for new up-and-coming business is also phenomenal, especially within the surf industry. Our offices are in San Clemente, which is about 90 minutes south of Los Angeles on the coast. It’s known as the surf centre of California, which pretty much makes it the surf centre of the world. Our neighbours are huge iconic brands like Stance Socks, Dragon Sunglasses and Rainbow Sandals, which makes our growth that much easier.

Mark Cuban and Ashton Kutcher

Mark Cuban and Ashton Kutcher

Where did the inspiration for Slyde Handboards come from? And how did you turn the idea into a reality?

The inspiration for the Handboard came from when I was a kid. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa.  To get us out the house my mother would take my brother and I down to the local beach and let us run amok. We would body surf a lot and play in the waves.  It wasn’t long before we started using objects on our hands to get more lift and speed when going down the wave.

I remember using frisbees and flip-flops – anything we could find. One of our favourites was a fast food tray.  We quickly evolved from those objects we’d found to tearing open our old surfboards to hand shape a more refined board from the foam inside. At the time, there was no brand associated with this, even though a lot of kids were doing it. That’s when I decided the brand and product would be something that a new generation could associate with. Those found objects were essentially the early prototypes for what you see on our website today.

Tell us more about your exciting new investors? And what the future has in store?

Our two new investors are Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban. Mark is the owner of the Dallas Maverick NBA team, and a billionaire. It’s always good to have a billionaire partner! We pitched the company to them on the US TV show Shark Tank, which is a very similar format to Dragons Den in the UK.  You pitch in front of five investors and they either invest or don’t, all on national television.

I remember watching Dragons Den when living in the UK, and thinking what a great opportunity that would be. Little did I know that, five years later, I would be pitching to Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban and the rest of the Sharks, in front of 6.5 million viewers.

We filmed in June of last year and since the deal closed in November of 2015 we have been firing on all cylinders. Both Mark and Ashton have been phenomenal in their support. Mark is amazing with the business, hooking us up with all sorts of amazing opportunities and avenues to grow our distribution channel. And Ashton has been incredible on the social media side, plugging us into his immense network. We are have grown 100% year on year since inception in 2010, and this year we are predicting a million dollars in revenue.

Our aim for the company is to get as many people involved in this awesome water sport as possible. To grow the brand through worldwide events and spread our distribution channels to other countries that have a huge surfing and beach market, including Brazil, Australia and the UK.

Steve and Angela at their warehouse space in San Clemente , Ca

Steve and Angela at their warehouse space in San Clemente, Ca

What advice would you give to any UAL graduates wanting to turn their ideas into a successful business? 

Choose something you love to do and never, never, never give up!  We have pitched to a lot of people and we heard NO a lot of times. Honestly, I didn’t care. I always had the attitude “your loss“.  You have to believe in what you are doing and believe you are supposed to be in that room. In the end you are offering them an opportunity too.

Also be prepared to eat very cheaply for a while (unless you have a surplus amount of cash), because unless you are very lucky, it will take time. Another thing to remember is that often when you are design and art oriented, generally speaking you do not focus so much on the numbers, and this is all an investor cares about. Know your numbers inside and out, and if you don’t, partner with someone who knows how to make your proposition as viable to an investor as possible. It doesn’t matter if you just invented the lightbulb, if your numbers don’t match up no one will give you a second look.

Try to remember these guys have money because they don’t waste it, so know what you can bring to the table in the way of return on their investment.  Also be charismatic; there are many investors that will invest in you. Mark Cuban is one of these investors that like to invest in a person, so bring your “A-schmooze” game and impress them with you passion and commitment to the company, and to getting their money back as quickly as possible!

 

 

Meet: Rebecca Moyster

Rebecca Moyster studied BA (Hons) Textile Design at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2004. After a successful career working in product development at Burberry and the Designers Guild, she decided to quit her job to follow her dream of perusing her own idea. This led to her launching the highly original and successful luxury balloon business, Bonbon Balloons.

Rebecca Moyster with balloons

Rebecca Moyster with some of her Bon Bon Balloons

After graduating from Central Saint Martins I got an internship with Burberry, and I ended up staying there for two and a half years working in product development.  It was quite different to textiles design, hard work but really fun. I developed the lines for the handbag and jewellery runway collections.  After a few years I moved to the Designers Guild, still working in product development, but with more management and pure fabric development.

Then, four years ago, I just decided to leave my job and start my own business.  I didn’t really have a business idea, I just knew that I wanted to go out on my own, and it was now or never.

About a week after quitting my job I had the idea for Bonbon Balloons. I was looking at some sketch books on my table, and I saw these Tim Walker photographs with giant balloons on the sea and my brain started ticking… Giant balloons… Why don’t you see them? They’re amazing! I also started thinking about the balloon string and how it usually just a plain bit of string that gets ignored, and I thought how cool it would be to have decorative string. It escalated really quickly. I thought of the name that night and registered it, but I didn’t know anything about balloons. So then I spent the next six months trying to learn and making mistakes, working on the identity of the brand, how I wanted it to look, the logo, photography etc. and then launched it. That was four years ago, and we have been trading ever since.

I have never had to spend much money on marketing because the balloons promote themselves at events. Instagram didn’t exist when I launched on social media, I was just using Facebook and Twitter – and I got picked up by blogs and press straight away, and the momentum started to build from there.  Then the first company that contacted me were Dior in Paris. It blew my mind, I nearly fell off my chair in the one desk studio in Angel I was renting at the time.

Bonbon Balloons

We are a luxury balloon company who work with each client in a really bespoke way, creating something exactly to their preference.  Everything is from scratch and so creatively we never get bored, it’s always different. We work with luxury fashion brands, PR companies, events, venues, weddings, parties as well as individual clients.  We also offer the ‘balloon in a box’ service which enables you to order a balloon with a personalised message – the balloon gets delivered and floats up out of a beautifully packaged box when opened. They are really durable and will still be floating five weeks later (they last longer than flowers).

We source our balloons from a traditional balloon supplier, but we use them differently. All the confetti we use is hand cut and hand inserted into the balloon, so we can use any colour/pattern. We design and make everything in the studio, and everything is hand crafted. Nothing is off the peg, and we adapt it for every client.

We’re now based in a studio in Dalston, and I have a team of three people working with me in the studio. When we have larger jobs we call on other freelance creatives.  We’re not a traditional balloon company – there’s nothing we could have ever been taught from another balloon company – so the people that work for us don’t have to have any experience working with balloons, they just need to be creative and have a really good eye. It works really well because we have a great collective of different backgrounds when we do events.

When you’re setting up on your own you almost have to have a big heap of nativity – I look back four years on and I’m not the same person I was.  Now it feels really reckless just giving up my career to start my own business.

The most daunting thing I faced was the constant mistakes. Still now we make mistakes, but at first you make LOADS. And obviously you learn from them, which is the lesson, but it’s still really hard to swallow. You’re constantly not quite sure how to do things because there’s no handbook on it.

BonBon Balloons on location

I was also following a business model that I’d never seen before, so there was nothing to compare it to.

Something that is a constant challenge to us is those that see our ideas and also want to pursue them. It does strengthen the trend, but we also have to be really mindful of copyright, because there are certain companies who have really infringed on our copyright. We are putting ourselves out there on Instagram all the time and telling everyone what we’re doing, so it is part of it. The way we deal with it now is to just create something new, we never sit with the same ideas, which keeps things really fresh.

We are constantly expanding. The next step is to expand to international markets, so we can offer the services we offer in London in other places, inflated. We want to take what we have done here and bring it to other places.

Creatively we want to keep working with the great brands that we’re working with, pushing things and doing new installations. Our business is great because it’s totally led by who we work with. We’re usually given free reign with the projects as well. The team love it because one week is never the same as the next.

Get yourself a BonBon Balloon today.

Follow BonBon Balloons on Instagram.

 

Sokari Douglas Camp: Primavera

Europe supported by Africa and America 2015, Sokari Douglas Camp

Europe supported by Africa and America 2015, Sokari Douglas Camp

7th April – 14th May 2016
October Gallery, WC1N 3AL

You can see the work of internationally renowned sculptor and Central School of Art and Design graduate, Sokari Douglas Camp at her new exhibition Primavera at the October Gallery in London.

Sokari Douglas Camp creates her works primarily in steel. Her often large-scale sculptures make frequent reference to her Nigerian roots, at the same time, encompassing contemporary international issues. Douglas Camp studied fine art at the Central School of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art. She has represented Britain and Nigeria in a number of exhibitions and has had more than 40 solo shows worldwide. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo and the British Museum, London.

Primavera brings together major new sculptures which focus on the reinterpretation of familiar figures from the European classical tradition. The large work Europe supported by Africa and America, recreates and adapts an 18th century engraving by William Blake. This intricate composition features three female figures touching and supporting each other, dressed in contemporary clothing remnant of high fashion in Nigeria. The central figure holds a long wreath which grows into a fuel hose – the whole composition offers a wry commentary on social issues and their ramifications for wider environmental concerns. Other works reconfigure detailed scenes adapted from well-known Botticelli paintings, in which the instantly recognisable figures metamorphose into more modern icons of contemporary culture and society.

Douglas Camp is one of the winners of the memorial for Ken Saro-Wiwa in London, and was one of the shortlisted artists for the Fourth Plinth in 2003. She collaborated with Ground Force to create an African Garden for the British Museum, as part of Africa ‘05. In 2005, she was awarded a CBE in recognition of her services to art. Her critically acclaimed work Battle Bus travelled to Nigeria last year as part of Action Saro-Wiwa, a campaign to clean up the Niger Delta, eliciting nationwide support after having been held by local government officials.

UAL alumni are exclusively invited to the private view on 6 April, from 6pm.  To RSVP please email press@octobergallery.co.uk.

Find out more

Meet: Emma Amos

Painter, printmaker, and weaver Emma Amos was born and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. After attending segregated public schools there, she enrolled in a five-year program at Antioch University in Ohio. She spent her fourth year abroad at the London Central School of Art, studying printmaking, painting, and weaving.  After her year in London, Emma went on to have an illustrious career, working in various teaching  roles, making prints, sewing, weaving, quilting, and doing illustrations for Sesame Street magazine.  She also developed and co hosted Show of Hands, a TV crafts show.  Emma has won numerous prestigious awards and grants, and her work has been exhibited internationally.

We were so grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Emma and find out more about her time at the London Central School of Art, as well as her remarkable career since then…

Portrait of Emma Amos. Photography by Becket Logan. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

Portrait of Emma Amos. Photography by Becket Logan. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

When did you realise you wanted to pursue art, particularly printmaking and weaving?

From a very early age, all I did was draw and paint. My parents always encouraged me so there was no other thought in what I could do. When I was a little girl, being an artist was the only thing I ever wanted to be. I first learned printmaking at Antioch College in Ohio, and then took real classes in London.

What were you doing before your first trip to the London Central School of Art? And what made you want to travel so far to London in particular?

I was studying at Antioch College where we were encouraged to work over the summers, or certain periods, So I got to spend time in New York and Washington. They also allowed us to take time off to pursue other studies, and for me there was no question about going to London to be an art student. I spent my fourth year of Antioch in London. Eric Newton, the art critic, said there were three good schools in England, and Central School of Art was one of them. My father wanted me to go as well. He came and visited me, and we went on a break to Italy, which was wonderful. I had real art classes, with all these painters around me, and that is where I started printing. I took a lot of classes in etching there, as many as I could.

After a year and a half in London, I went back to Ohio and graduated from Antioch and then returned to the Central School of Art to get my diploma.

Emma Amos, "Three Figures," 1966. © Emma Amos. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

Emma Amos, “Three Figures,” 1966. © Emma Amos. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

What happened after you graduated from London Central with your diploma in etching in 1959?

I went back to Atlanta for my first solo show there. Then I was fooling around for some time with not much more to do and my parents actually suggested that I try moving to New York, which I did. In New York, I first started teaching at the Dalton School, as an assistant teacher. They didn’t pay well, but I made good friends there. Then I wanted to put my experience with textiles, which I had learned in England, to work. I worked with the famous textile designer Dorothy Liebes, who hired me for the quality of my etchings. After a year or so, I went back to school, getting a Master’s Degree from New York University, while continuing to work as a weaver. There I met Hale Woodruff, who remembered me from when I was a little girl when my mother tried to get him to teach me. He apologised for being so reluctant years before and really started to mentor me. He very much liked the prints that I had done in England, and asked me if he could show them to this group called Spiral. It turned out that they invited me in, and I was the only woman and the youngest member.

I got married to Bobby Levine and had two children, Nick and India. It wasn’t easy to keep up with everything. I kept working at the Printmaking Workshop with Bob Blackburn. When my kids were a little bigger, I was teaching weaving at a school called Threadbare on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. I did “Show of Hands,” a TV series for WBGH in Boston, and that was a lot of fun. I co-hosted it with a colleague, Beth Gutcheon. We did shows on woodworking, on stained glass, on weaving, quilt-making and clay – it was great.

I got a studio back in SoHo (New York), and there were many exhibitions. I started teaching at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey, a drive from my home in New York. I taught drawing, painting, and printmaking, and had the chance to teach and mentor many promising young artists during my time there. I retired as Professor after 28 years, and after having served as Chair of the fine arts department.

All through the 1980s, I got more connected with women artists. I did a series of works on women, especially on women artists, they are too powerful to ignore. I got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 2002, and another from the Georgia Museum just this past week; there were some Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and a few others. I got to spend time in Italy a couple of times, first at Bellagio through the Rockefeller Foundation, and then at Civitella Ranieri Foundation. I was an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and later became a Governor on the board. They still keep me there, as an Honorary Governor.

Installation of "Emma Amos: True Colors," 2016. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

Installation of “Emma Amos: True Colors,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

What was it like being educated in the segregated school system? And how do you think it has affected your work?

My parents were so solid that I was able to get around anything, really. We were part of a special group – they owned a pharmacy and a drugstore. My grandfather was already the first registered black pharmacist in Atlanta. My brother Larry and I were always able to get pretty much anything we wanted, and my parents didn’t let us be any pissers. I went to a segregated high school in Atlanta. And the colleges around there— Atlanta University, Spelman, Morehouse— had wonderful people. I was completely surrounded with black intellectuals. I didn’t know I was a black artist until many years later. I became aware of being identified by race when I attended college in Ohio, because this was a mostly white college.

Tell us about your experience being the youngest and only female member of Spiral, a group of black artists that included Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Charles Alston.

Being a member of Spiral was great – it was a big political thing. They seemed to be very happy with me being there. They considered me to just be a part of them. They didn’t think like, “Let’s get another girl to join,” or anything like that. They were never disrespectful, and that was really nice. I was just like a part of them, and they were all much older than me. I’m not sure they invited other people by looking at their work, but they wanted to make sure I was a real artist and not a dilettante or something.

Installation of "Emma Amos: True Colors," 2016. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

Installation of “Emma Amos: True Colors,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

So many good things have happened – I had a good chance of following my dreams, and nobody tried to knock me out. That was a good deal. Going to the Central School of Art in London was unbelievably wonderful – I got to meet so many people, and we got to hang out in the museums, and I learned so much. Then, being a part of Spiral. Later, I joined some other art groups, like Heresies and other women’s art groups. So many things. As I started teaching at Rutgers University in 1980, I had many colleagues who were wonderful artists, and my students always taught me so much.

Where do you find your inspiration today?

I love all kinds of art. I am still doing what I always wanted to do, and so that’s what keeps me at it.

There are lots of good things happening at the moment, including your work being shown in the Whitney Museum and the British Museum. What are your plans for the future?

Trying to make people understand the good things you can do, like art. Nothing is as interesting to me as making art, so I want to keep doing it. I am always thinking about art and cannot imagine living without making something. It has always been a pleasant thing that my folks let me do that.

 

This profile is from a combination of archival material, previous interview, memories of what Emma told her studio manager of 10 years, sourced material, and paraphrased conversations with Emma Amos in the past few weeks about the subject of each question.

Meet: Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie Gittins studied BA (Hons) Fine Art & Critical Practice, graduating in 1988 from Central Saint Martins.  She has had a varied and successful career, writing poetry, short fiction and radio drama.  Her latest collection of short stories, ‘Between Here and Knitwear’, is being released in November. Read more about her journey so far…

 Chrissie Gittins

Were you always interested in art? What made you want to study at St Martins?
I enjoyed art very much at school, but because of the exam system then – which wasn’t continuous assessment, and which I took against – I decided not to take it for A level. I had the distinction of coming top in the mock O Level drawing exam, and bottom in the painting exam, because I changed my mind half way through about what to paint and painted over my original subject; they both merged. I didn’t understand why a whole year’s work didn’t count. It was a very academic school and the arts weren’t encouraged. Also my father said he wouldn’t pay my fees if I went to Art School. I was the first person in my family to qualify to go to university and that’s what he wanted me to do. So I did an academic degree at Newcastle University and then trained to teach so that I could always earn a living.  Then I moved to London. The part-time 5-year BA Fine Art and Critical Studies course was just beginning at St Martins. I applied to join the first year and I was accepted. This time round my father offered to pay the fees.

Did you enjoy your time there? Favourite memories?
I enjoyed my time there very much, especially working in the communal studio on Charing Cross Road, sometimes late into the evening. Sadly Paul Eachus, who was one of our tutors, has just died. I learnt that it is very valuable to develop a body of work, and be able to see oneself as an artist. In the fourth year we undertook placements in the community. I fundraised to be Artist-in-Residence in Oxleas Wood in Greenwich – an area of ancient woodland which was under threat.

Stars in Jars

Have you stayed in touch with colleagues from the course?
I met one of my greatest friends on the first day of the course. She had a flask of coffee and I had a pile of sandwiches. We joined forces. Simon Pugh, who was also one of our tutors, will be coming to the launch of my new book, along with another couple of my fellow students from St Martins.

What have you been doing since graduating?
I was always torn at school between wanting to be an artist, and wanting to be a writer. After graduating from St Martins I went on several short creative writing courses, and attended classes at City Lit. I now write poetry, poetry for children, short fiction and radio drama. I’ve published two adult poetry collections and three adult pamphlet collections, four children’s poetry collections and a collection of short stories. Four of my plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio Four; they have starred Patricia Routledge, Sorcha Cusack and Jan Ravens. The actors Anne Reid, Stephanie Cole and Penelope Wilton have read my stories on BBC Radio Four, and I’ve read one too. I still do the occasional drawing, and several of my poems are inspired by art works.

Tell us more about the short story collection you are working on…
‘Between Here and Knitwear’ is my second short story collection and will be published by Unthank Books on 1 November. It’s going to be stocked by Foyles, which means it will live in the very building where I was an art student. This is the blurb on the back cover:

‘These twenty-two cleverly linked stories, written over two decades, trace a life from childhood to middle age. Beginning in Lancashire in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they follow a young girl as she becomes aware of what it means to be a daughter, a sister, a lover and a woman in a family where the relationships are constantly changing. From a disappeared clutch of curlew’s eggs to the last piece of furniture left standing in a home, these bleak and funny stories bolster what is lost into poignant narratives; told with lyricism, economy and wit, they are observed with the unflinching eye of an incisive witness.’

The drawing of a sun spot on the cover was done by my niece Esther Cooper-Gittins who has just graduated in Fine Art from Falmouth.

Between Here and Knitwear

What advice do you have for UAL alumni who hope to get recognised and published?
First of all the work has to be good. More than good. Celebrate small achievements; they will accumulate into a reputation. Take criticism seriously from those you admire. Read your work publicly at every opportunity. Be pro-active – for the most part you will need to do the asking.

www.chrissiegittins.co.uk