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Interview: Rebecca and Michael from May Wild Studio

I came across May Wild Studio when I saw a picture of the Coo Pu on Instagram - I love a bit of gold, no matter what shape it is in! Rebecca May and Michael Wild are a team of Designer-Makers based in Manchester and Saddleworth and the more I read about them the more I wanted to know. So it was a thrill when they agreed to be interviewed for the Rama Journal. I think you will agree that their answers are so thought-provoking and I can't wait to see what they do next.


I love your simple but elegant logo, what is the story behind it?

Our May Wild Studio logo is simply an M & W for May and Wild, both our names. The story behind the design is a reference to the importance of forming ideas through the making process, the M & W symbols are a graphic representation of folded paper, folded to form an M and W. Our logo was created by Graphic Designer Artomattic


How do the core values of May Wild Studio (Ideas, Storytelling, and Collaboration & Handcraft) influence your work?

The ideas are the starting point, for us the initial seed of the idea runs parallel to research and these two components almost always tell a story and form the narrative for our work.

Collaboration can take different forms; firstly May Wild Studio are a collaboration, our ideas, inspirations and experience as individual artists can materialize from very different places, we think these differences are an advantage in realising original and innovative creative outcomes. Collaboration is key to the projects we develop, whether it’s working with mould-makers and ceramic production companies, with a graphic designer to visualise our artwork creations for different mediums and partnerships with other organisations; for example on new exhibitions we liaise with researchers, galleries, charities, and local councils. Our work as Artists/Designer-Makers means collaboration is key in creating and sustaining a varied and fresh portfolio.

Handcraft is central to our practice, our background is ceramics both fine art and design, between us we have an extensive set of handcraft skills and experience in ceramic making techniques. These making skills translate to all materials, whether we handcraft a design from beginning to end, or make a prototype to be manufactured, the hand-making element to our practice is paramount. 


What was the inspiration behind the Coo bird design?

Our Coo bird is a design with its narrative originating from Manchester city centre, an ode to the city pigeon. The challenge was to create an object of beauty from a creature considered ugly and a pest. Themes of light and dark, creating beauty and humour from the obscure and mundane run through our work, you could say that these themes are connected to and inspired by the city we live in.


Coo story - A design inspired by the common urban pigeon.

‘Often downtrodden and little respected this humble bird can be seen around the city on the building ledges and rooftops, flying around the squares and open places, scavenging, defecating and surviving. The leg design of the birds, a chicken bone cast, is inspired by observing city pigeons eating fried chicken out of a fast food box. As for the pigeon droppings (the Golden Coo Pu), this may not reflect our favourite pigeon trait, but it's good luck if one lands on you! So the droppings are inspired by two themes: first the elevation via this golden gift of the bird itself from its often vilified status, and of course the theme of good luck, in the form of a little piece of gold. The beak design also reflects the pigeon's urban environment: the form is not unlike a party hat, a metaphor for the city weekend party lifestyle, and a night out on the town. Coo is a celebration of our cities, representing two sides of them: sometimes run down but sometimes glorious, a pest but also a creature of value. They are a story of finding beauty and humour in the everyday, in the forgotten, in our common urban pigeon and its good-luck golden droppings.’


You began working with ceramics but have now expanded into other materials. What is the inspiration behind the materials you choose?

For our creative practice expanding and making with other materials is all about opening up to new ideas, processes, experimenting and research. Our training in clay has had a profound effect on us as makers; clay is an extremely versatile and expressive material and has provided us with an incredible foundation, not just to continue working in ceramics but to explore other materials using these transferable skills. We are very drawn to many materials, often materials considered unconventional really excite us, we like the challenge of discovering what you can achieve with something new. We connect materials with a narrative; it’s our starting point, allowing the properties of the material to guide us towards a finished outcome, often beginning a project with no definitive end point. Our work strives to engage people through its tactile qualities and its narrative theme, therefore the material choices we make are very important and this is becoming more apparent as our practice evolves.


What has been the biggest obstacle May Wild Studio has encountered and how did you overcome it?

Defining what our creative identity is by recognising the core values of our practice has been key, the Crafts Council Hothouse Programme we were selected for in 2017 really helped us identify these values and understand were our work lies within the creative industries, giving us a clear direction of where our practice needs to go in the future.


What would you say to someone who is craving to start a new career but has convinced themselves that they couldn’t do it? Do you have any tips as people who have started their own business?

We started our collaboration three years ago, we are second careerists and have a mortgage and a daughter so taking this career change leap is not to be taken lightly, it requires focus, determination and a detailed plan, especially financially. We stayed in part-time work and this has been essential in surviving the first few years. Be realistic about how you will earn consistently, get advice and speak to people who have done something similar. We are building a portfolio practice, this translates as various creative projects all under the umbrella of May Wild Studio. They include our handmade designs made by us in our studio, objects we design that are made by small batch production, May Wild Studio workshops and talks, Commission, Exhibition and Collaborative Projects. This is a very diverse approach but each project has our vision and stamp on it if you like. We enjoy this way of working, it’s stimulating and exciting to have different projects on the go, and it’s a realistic perspective to keeping your creative business alive.

There is something sacred in the process of making. Do you have a ritual or process you follow before starting a project?

For us the notion of play is key, every project we start we always clear the table and just experiment with materials and ideas. This activity is about making and creating, whether it’s through models, photography, drawing, collage, software design programmes, it’s still a making process and it’s a playful process, the fun bit. We then get down to the nitty gritty of the brief, connect all the pieces together and commence developing the final outcome.


How do you manage your working relationship? Do you have any tips for business owners who work with friends or partners?

We have managed to maintain a healthy approach by ensuring a clear separation from our work and living environments, recognising the importance both of these spaces have. Being part of a creative collaboration is an amazing privilege but as a new business there are also huge demands on your energy and time, so remember to take time out as indivuals and together. We are lucky enough to live in a rich rural and cultural landscape so connecting with these spaces regularly helps to reinvigorate you and regain focus. 


What is one of your favourite books and why?

Rebecca – We read/research a lot of art and design books/journals so I’m going to instead mention two favourite modern fiction reads. By far my favourite modern day novel is ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt, the characters, the story, the reference material, in my opinion it’s an intelligent and flawless read. Another is ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K Dick, my favourite post-apocalyptic novel. It astounds me this was first published in 1968, the futuristic vision is so compelling and realistic and ahead of its time, it could have been written today.

Michael – ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ by George Orwell is a memoir based on poverty, it’s so moving and atmospheric and is a startlingly honest account of his experiences of the two cities. Also ‘Snowdon: The Story of a Welsh Mountain’ by Jim Perrin, is a beautifully written homage about a place that’s very special to me. 


What are the plans for May Wild Studio for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

We have a few new projects we are working on for 2019; however some of these won’t come to fruition until 2020. We have two environmental themed projects we are currently working on, one a new large scale exhibition work, a few collaborative projects, new designs, a studio move underway and we are delivering our first May Wild Studio workshops this year.


Thank you Rebecca and Michael for sharing such amazing insights into the story behind May Wild Studio. I particularly loved hearing about the inspiration behind the Coo bird – I’ll never look at a pigeon the same way again! You can stay up to date with the latest from May Wild Studio on their website and Instagram.