21st June 2017

You may well recognise the intricately decorative drawings of illustrator Josie Shenoy: she is the talented pen behind a raft of popular ranges designed for Anthropologie, Crabtree & Evelyn, the British Museum and the Royal Gardens at Highgrove, to name but a few. It’s been a rapid rise to success for this talented illustrator. In just four years, her fledging business has grown and she now sells her own collections of greeting cards and giclée art prints online and to trade, as well as to commission. She has been stocked in Foyles, Harrods and many other well-known shops and museums across London and is currently illustrating her first non-fiction children’s book, due for publication in 2018.

Josie arrived at Cockpit Arts’ Deptford incubator in 2013 not long after graduating with a BA in Illustration from the University of Westminster. In her final year at university, she had started to lean towards craft and had been producing illustrative ceramics, lampshades, wallpaper and prints, so Cockpit seemed like a natural fit. She applied for a Setting-up Bursary, which in those days was awarded to promising start-ups, and moved into the Deptford incubator.

“Cockpit was incredibly welcoming,” Josie recalls. “It’s an amazing community. As soon as I moved into my space, I started making friends and connections; everybody was so lovely.”

“But it wasn’t just the physical space,” she continues. “There is also an unbelievable amount of support from the Cockpit community. You don’t learn any of the business side of things at university, so the practical business support that Cockpit offers is so helpful.”

Josie says her one-to-one sessions with Madeleine Furness and David Crump from the Business Incubation team were particularly beneficial. “They have helped me to find systems that are really time effective, and when you’re working for yourself that’s invaluable,” she explains. “Madeleine and David helped me to build a profit and loss template that I still use today.”

In 2014, Josie signed up to Cockpit Arts’ New Creative Markets (NCM) programme, an ERDF-funded professional development programme that was run jointly with SPACE, Four Corners and PhotoFusion as part of New Creative Markets. “At the time, there were several illustrators based at Cockpit who were also producing illustrative interior products, but looking at diversifying their businesses so as part of the NCM programme I suggested bringing in portfolio consultant Fig Taylor from the Association of Illustrators,” says Josie. “The Cockpit team were really open to the idea.” Fig Taylor was subsequently booked to run a series of workshops specifically aimed at illustrators. “She was great,” enthuses Josie. “She looked at my portfolio and saw a lot of potential for working with brands, museums and boutique shops. I love bespoke illustration so I felt it was a good path to progress down. It really helped solidify my plans.”

With her sights set on growing the commission side of her business, Josie signed up to an illustration agency in 2016. It proved to be a smart move and she has since had numerous commissions from high-profile clients.

At around the same time Josie joined the illustration agency, she was also moving home. “I’d found a place in Balham with a loft space that was perfect to convert into a studio,” she explains. “It was a lot bigger than my studio space at Cockpit.” She says it was with a heavy heart that she left Cockpit Arts in 2016. “It was a bitter-sweet decision. I wasn’t planning on leaving. My business was growing and I had the most wonderful studio. But it seemed like a natural progression for the business at a time when things were really beginning to take off.”

Despite moving out of her Deptford studio, Josie has continued to stay in contact with the Cockpit community. “As an alumna, I am still invited back to take part in Open Studios, so I still very much feel like I am part of the Cockpit community.”

In September 2016, when Cockpit invited makers to sign up for the next round of business development training with London Creative Network, Josie jumped at the chance. “You don’t have to be a studio holder to be able to apply,” she explains. “It’s a great resource for makers outside the Cockpit community. As your business grows you encounter all sorts of difficulties and it can be quite lonely working by yourself. So if you are a creative, why not tap into as many support resources as possible?”

With the business expanding, Josie is now planning to hire an assistant who can devote more time to her product ranges, leaving Josie free to take on more of the art and illustration commissions.

Josie attended a Cockpit Arts’ LCN workshop that addressed the issue of hiring staff. “It was so useful!” Josie says. “A lot of us attending the workshop were worried about the risks involved in taking on staff. We are so used to doing everything ourselves. It was great to realise you were investing your time wisely in bringing someone else in to help. By the end of the workshop we all felt we were in a much better position to involve someone else in the business.”

Josie feels that opportunities like the Cockpit LCN programme that tailors for makers outside Cockpit Arts’ centres continue to be invaluable to her business. “I’m at a different stage now – I’m no longer an emerging business but you never stop learning!” she asserts. “Without all this support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”