As part of our promise to support local businesses and celebrate the great things that are happening in Exeter, we are beginning a series of interviews with people who use our space here at Offices at Number 1. In our first edition, we interview Paper Flower Artist Bee Watson, Founder of the company Wild Hive. Bee has been using Offices at Number 1 as a Resident with Arts company Kaleider, also based here in Exeter. Kaleider have been here for the past three months whilst their space on Preston Street is refurbished.
In this interview Bee tells us a little more about both organisations, what brought her to set up a company in Exeter, what projects she has been working on, and how you can get involved.
Hi Bee! Thanks for agreeing to share your story with us – could you tell us a little more about Wild Hive?
Bee: Wild Hive has been running for two years and is a paper flower company. The business is made up of three components: an online shop, commission work, and teaching the craft in workshops. Corporate workshops make up about 60% of my business. I help companies with team building, entertaining clients or putting on a staff day just to brighten the day.
This is a very unusual craft - how did you get in to making paper flowers?
Bee: Through Instagram. It’s a massive craft in America and I saw there were people making a full-time living doing it. People love it there, and I thought it should be bigger in the UK too.
I taught myself and sourced all the materials from scratch. I tried a YouTube tutorial and never went back - it was the worst paper flower you have ever seen. So, I just started to go off and source proper materials, like high-quality crepe-paper. Now I work using flowers and foliage. I take the real flowers apart and make my templates, then I put it back together in paper form. I work as true to form as possible.
And then you use those templates that you've created in your workshops?
Bee: Yeah, but I am also starting to teach people how to create their own templates, because it’s such a lovely way to connect with nature and a different way to engage with flowers. It’s also a different way to get people to connect. You find that people come into the space with all the energy and stress from their day and then, by the end of the session, all they're worried about is what their flower looks like. That's why corporates invest in it; not just because it's a nice thing to do but it's good for staff wellbeing and a bit of team time and downtime together.
What is so different about your flowers in comparison with other makers?
Bee: The paper that I use was initially used to wrap real flowers in, Florists were using it to wrap up their bouquets. At some point, someone must have decided they would try to make really life like-looking flowers out of it. The paper itself has a 30% stretch and you can get really life-like looking petal shapes and different textures. It has different qualities to, say, card-stock - that is another form of paper flower making and a lot of people use card-stock and make these big flowers or tissue paper but I just really like this material because you can also dye it. So, you can kind of get the gradations of colour that you see in real petals and you can paint each individual petal. It's 180gsm, which is how we measure paper weight, it's a high weight paper and it also means that it holds its structure and it doesn’t droop or anything.
Were you always arty?
Bee: I was as a kid and then I went down a totally academic route, so I gave up art when I was 14 and didn’t do anything creative until I was at uni.
And then, this was just an epiphany?
Bee: This came after I went in to finance for a bit - I really wanted to learn how to run a business properly. However, I found it really stifling to be in an office, it didn't suit me at all. My Partner at the time pushed me to think about what I really wanted to do and that’s how I ended up doing this with Kaleider.
Can you explain how Kaleider works?
Bee: So, Kaleider is a production studio which makes the work of Artistic Director, Seth Honnor, almost always in collaboration with other artists, technologists, scientists, producers or researchers. The work plays at the edges of installation, live performance and digital
Kaleider Studios also has residents, a diverse and creative community of individuals and companies who come from many different sectors. Basically, the residents can use the studios to work from and drop into the network. By having that many different people in the space, there's a potential for unique collaboration. I've ended up working with loads of different people that I would never have necessarily worked with before.
That’s pretty awesome. What kind of projects have you done with Kaleider through people you've met?
Bee: I met a lady called Amy Shelton who runs Honeyscribe, she is a botanical artist as well who works a lot with pressed flowers to increase the awareness and understanding of the ecological importance of bees. This year Princesshay were celebrating the honey harvest from the bee garden. Amy commissioned me to create a piece of artwork to hang in the space that would invite people up to the bee garden and another resident, Hugh, built the structure of the installations. There’s a pool of people that we can share with and learn from. It's pretty magic, it’s a real family dynamic.
What other companies have you been working with this year?
Bee: Wild Hive have been with some big clients this year, like Molton Brown, we have one in Exeter, but they are a global company. I made two and a half thousand tiny paper flowers for an event on Regents Street in London and then the flower cart went on tour. I worked on that for over three months.
My first workshop was with Facebook, they got in touch and asked if I taught flower making workshops. They wanted me to go up the next day, so of course I said ‘yes’ and ran out and bought all the materials. I've been back since - Facebook invited us to teach at a 'Bring your parents to work day' - it was so nice; the parents had travelled from all over to see Facebook HQ.
We also worked for one of the RHS flower shows. Doing the work with Botanical Gardens and the RHS is my favourite because it attracts real flower lovers that have an appreciation of flora and foliage and always have ideas of things you could try or do next.
Why did you decide Exeter was the place to launch this business?
Bee: I love Devon, I moved away for a year but I just had such an amazing community based down here and my work was still bringing me back here. I love Exeter, it’s got a real energy about it. It's such a beautiful location being so close to the sea and so close to the moors and I just really love having that connection with the countryside. You can get to London in a couple of hours on the train and I can work from anywhere if I've got my suitcase.
Agreed, it’s a great place to be! What are you working on for Christmas?
Bee: At the moment we're working on a pop-up shop in the Guildhall, it’s a contemporary craft shop and make-a-space is how we are branding it. We've partnered with a company called Made by Hand Online. They are going to stock the shop with their beautiful crafts from a range of makers from around the country. People are spending money, it's Christmas, there are amazing, talented people running their own businesses that wouldn't necessarily want to, or be able to afford to, be right in the centre of town. So, we wanted to just drop their work there. The makerspace is my side of it, which is a series of workshops, we've got guest makers in. In the afternoon, we are going to have drop-in workshops that are a bit more family friendly and people can just turn up and have a go.
Nice, and these boxes you're putting together now, can you explain to me what they are?
Bee: So, paper flowers is a relatively new craft here, it can be hard to source the materials if you are just a hobbyist, it gets expensive. I just wanted to make it really accessible for people to try the craft because it's so beautiful, so I designed paper flower making kits. Basically, it’s everything you need to make six paper peonies out of one box.
Is that a good beginner flower?
Bee: Yeah, it's great because you get an introduction to a few different techniques but it repeats quite a lot, so once you've learned the basics, you can build the flower. Once you get more confident you can actually have a go at making the flower and I have done step-by-step instructions and a template. The box has everything you need to start the craft - you get your glue gun, your scissors and then you get a range of different coloured paper. They are £35. Next year I'll release different flower templates and seasonal packs of paper.
What do you make of Offices at Number 1?
Bee: It's a really beautiful space - I really love the high ceilings and features. It's nice having clean kitchens and bathroom space, I often work out before I come to work, so it's great to be able to come in and have a shower and not have to go home - it saves an hour in the day. For my business it's super-handy being close to the post office because I literally run there all the time. I can make it to the post office even if I leave the office at 5:25, and it closes at 5:30.