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All At Sea / Stories

All at Sea is a premium lifestyle brand based in England. It is carefully curated, bringing together the best independent designers from around the world.

Designer Stories / Alice Gabb

Charlotte Squire

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This month our featured designer is the lovely Alice Gabb. A self-taught modern calligrapher, she creates everything from beautiful handwritten signage to intricate wedding invitations and stationery. I have admired Alice and her work for a while so was keen to learn more about her and her work.

Can you tell us a bit about your background, have you always been a designer? When did you start learning calligraphy?

I did a foundation degree at Wimbledon School of Art where I learnt what Graphic Arts were. I then went to do a degree at Bath School of Art in Visual Communication (Graphic design and illustration to you and me). I did a lot of work experience for any and all companies/designer makers that inspired me, anyone that would have me, from Lazy Oaf to Jessie Chorley, while I was at uni. As soon as I graduated, I applied to Broadway Market to have a stall to sell my hand printed stationery and within a year of graduating I had saved up enough to move to London and take up the stall offer, which I kept for 5 years. My work naturally seemed to lend itself to weddings and I taught myself modern calligraphy in early 2014. So yes, I have always been a designer.

What was the inspiration behind creating your business? How long has the business been running? 

I find it really hard to explain myself here, it may sound strange, but there was never any other option....I remember telling my tutors in a crit one day, 'the thing is, I just want to make nice things' and them nearly stabbing pencils up their nose in frustration. But I'm a simple creature and designing and making stationery, doing what I do now, is all I ever planned to do.

Where are you based? Do you run your business full time?

This story is probably not what you expect: To save up to move to London when I graduated, I accidentally became a Matron in a boarding school in Hampshire!!! I worked an obscene amount of hours and worked my way up the training ladder....so now I'm really good at first aid haha. When I told them I was leaving for London they let me keep a lot of my hours, but squeezed them into a very busy 2 days a week to persuade me to stay on.  So for 5 years I commuted to Hampshire and slept in the boarding house and looked after the children for 2 nights a week!  But now I'm full time in my studio in Dalston in East London and savouring every second of it. I actually can't believe I used to do that, it was the most bizarre split life I led, you couldn't make up some of the stories I have, one day I shall write my memoirs!

Can you describe a typical day in your studio? I cycle to work through Hackney Downs, pick up Tetsuo the Italian Greyhound from opposite my studio (I look after him every day while his owner is at work) get to my studio for about 10am. I pack orders and reply to emails, and then I start designing whatever it is I should be designing. Sometimes I have meetings...sometimes I'll be on site making things look nice for weddings or signpainting. Every few Saturdays I teach a beginners workshop at Hatch in Homerton which I love doing. It's a pretty lovely working week! I normally work until 7pm but occasionally I may be working all night if I'm busy.

What does the future look like for you and your business? What are you working on at the moment?

Oh, this is a scary question! I'm soon to be launching a range of keepsake boxes with Kitty Farrow on Not on the High Street, but apart from that, I'm just busy designing and writing nicely for clients!

Why do you think it is important to shop independent?

Where do I start.... I truly believe that every pound we spend is a political vote, and that we should 'Be the change you wish to see in the world' (Ghandi). Support the little guys, it makes sense to me. I have a genuine fear that we are getting closer and closer to living hovering chairs in that spaceship in Wall E, so I try to spend my money on supporting the weird and wonderful. I want a world full of skilled craftspeople who serve their local customers, not air conditioned shopping malls full of bored salespeople selling things made by machines that are actually designed to break after the warranty runs out. That may sound ridiculously idealistic, (my father literally sighs when we talk about the future of our society because he thinks my head is in the clouds) but I wont be told otherwise; support independent. Yes, it may be more expensive, but the 'true cost' is lower than that of all the mass produced tat we are pedalled. That's my two cents on the matter!

Have you got any advice for aspiring designers who have an idea for a business but have no idea where to start?

Oh god...I don't feel qualified to give advice! Are you ready to work all the hours of the day and have no money for a while? Because the beginning is not glamorous. It's very easy to look at instagram and think, 'I'm handing in my notice tomorrow!' but the reality can be lonely and relentless. I knew what I was getting into and I have never looked back, but how many of my illustration course are full time creatives making a living out of their art? Out of 30 ish, I think it's less than a handful...

If Alice's work has inspired you to have a go yourself you can find details about her upcoming workshops here. We also stock Alice's calligraphy starter kit and inks in our shopWhy not give it a try?