The Next Step: How to Set Up Your Own Design Studio (Interview with Jonzo)

So you want to set up your own studio?  Who better to ask about such a thing than an on-the-up graduate studio, who have gotten through that first difficult year and are still going strong!

Meet Jonzo, Liverpool’s coolest up-and-coming studio, with commissions under their belt for clients such as The Tate, Abake, and Liverpool Sound City, a road trip to Germany for ‘Designeri’, features in various doper-than-Delevigne mags and their very own launch party/exhibition in the heart of local creative and cultural hotspot Baltic Triangle, complete with party bags!

Jonzo party bags, filled with sexy riso prints from the exhibition and sherbet

Jonzo party bags, filled with sexy riso prints from the exhibition and sherbet

Mo' party bagz mo' sherbetz

Mo’ party bagz mo’ sherbetz

I talked with designer Lottie Brzozowski and illustrator Rachel Davey, founders of the Risograph specialist print and design studio, about their first year of business and what advice they would give to other students looking to go down the self-run studio route.

Why did you decide to set up a studio rather than join an existing studio or go freelance individually?

We realised that having Jonathan, our Risograph printer, actually wasn’t just a great way to produce our own work but was an opportunity to bring an exciting, niche style of printing to Liverpool. The city is full of creative talent – freelancers, studios, independent businesses etc and we want to celebrate that.

Setting up Jonzo has been a great way for us to get talking to people, make contacts and get involved in the thriving design and illustration scene that otherwise might have been hard to tap into on our own. Jonzo has acted as a bit of a safety blanket. Working together under this guise has definitely helped us when approaching and making new contacts. Having two of us gives us support and stability and keeps us learning from one another and motivating each other which would have been harder to achieve freelancing individually.

Also, the fact theres someone to show work to and get feedback from, means you’re not constantly in your own little bubble.

Jonathan makes love to the camera. Slut.

Jonathan makes love to the camera. Slut.

I wish my expulsions looked this well designed

I wish my expulsions looked this well designed

Did you have any idea how to go about setting up your own studio? 

Our tutors have always encouraged us to do what we felt was right, and once they knew our plans they pointed us in the direction of people who would be able to help us with the next steps. Even after graduating they’re always there if we need any advice/encouragement – they’re babes. Then in January we found ourselves on LJMU’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship Programme, we weren’t even back living in Liverpool at that point and spent the week living the hotel high life like Alan Partridge. This course gave us an deeper insight into the business side of things, and made us aware of elements we may have overlooked. The business development advisors at Basecamp are also really helpful if we have any questions and they are helping us out with our business plan! They are very knowledgeable chaps.

Do you think having a really clear USP (unique selling point) ie the risograph has helped you? And has it also helped from a financial side  that you offer a dual service of niche printing aswell as design?

Definitely, it gives us a clearer definition. Jonathan is the part of our business and how we work, he’s not just an add on. And yes, it’s always good to have a few strings to your bow!

Tell us a bit about your journey developing Jonzo…

Whilst at uni we were able to learn the ins and outs of the machine through lots of experimentation. Then during the summer after finishing uni we printed a publication designed by Abake for the Tate Collective which featured in Tate Liverpool’s the ‘Art Turning Left’ exhibition. We also went on a print road trip to Germany with our pals at Inprint and participated in the ‘Designeri’, a print fair at the Bauhaus.

More recently we had our launch exhibition at the Baltic Creative, we asked 20 designers and illustrators to produce a print which explored the quirks of the riso, taking from their own experiences. It was a great night and we were really happy that people showed up! We also had to find a flat, move back to Liverpool and find part time jobs, so it’s been a busy couple of months!

Lovely riso prints at Jonzo launch party exhibition

Lovely riso prints at Jonzo launch party exhibition

Launch party funtimes

Launch party funtimes

What challenges have you faced?

There’s always something new being thrown at you, be it technical and mechanical issues to reawakening mathematic skills!

You have secured a free studio space – how did you manage that?

Once again through an LJMU (university) scheme called Hunting in Packs. We’ve been in shared studio ‘Basecamp’ for a couple of months and its been incredible, we’re very lucky! We have two bulky machines to house so its nice to find a home for them. Basecamp have been super supportive of our endeavours so far and are always there to help out. Ideally we would love to stay here after our free time expires.

Rachel with the Double Negative poster and a photobombing from Jonathan

Rachel with the Double Negative poster and a photobombing from Jonathan

Would you recommend a shared studio environment over working from home?

Absolutely. We firmly believe in a thriving studio environment. Silly conversations, experiences, discussions about work etc are invaluable and generally don’t happen without leaving the house. Discussing ideas and working alongside other likeminded beings is what can really progress a project. Also, you can’t play ping pong on your own.

How do you go about getting commissions?

Mainly  through meeting new people and just chatting! We’ve met lots of people via Inprint fairs and social media, twitter being the main player , and we always keep a look out on social media for fun events/commissions we think we can get involved with. Having shared studio space with Tusk Journal and getting to know them meant we were asked to produce a run of posters for their successful Kick Starter campaign. We’ve also got jobs through internships and our own personal work.

Lottie's "Baba Marta" publication

Lottie’s “Baba Marta” publication

Have you had to do much free work along the way?

We’ve done lots of self initiated projects which obviously don’t end with a big fat cheque! But it does generate interest and shows what we can do and what we’re all about. Which helps get the right kind of jobs when they come along! Self initiated projects are also super fun.

Do you ever have to supplement the money made from studio commmissions in other ways?

We’ve both got part time jobs, Lottie sold her car (R.I.P Ringo), internships, placements and freelance work.

Who have you gone to for advice on setting up your business and has the process been easy or hard?

Entrepreneurial Fellowship Programme advisors, Basecamp (a creative business development enterprise and studio), tutors, family, friends and strangers. It’s been a pretty hard process but what’s life without a good challenge.

What do you do/plan on doing to promote yourselves?

Hold more of our own exhibitions, attend lots of events/exhibitions, more self-initiated work, getting our face in Liverpool’s cultural scene!

Abake publication for The Tate

Abake publication for The Tate

How important do you think personal projects and exhibitions are for a business or freelancer?

Very important, it informs people on who you are and what you do. Plus, it’s always nice to give away a few free drinks!

Any other advice/tips would you give to students/grads wanting to set up their own studio?

If you want to do it, just do it.  LIVE YO LIFE GURL.

What are your plans to develop your business in the next year and beyond?

Keep on keeping on, more exhibitions, equipment, bigger and better projects, get all up in Liverpool’s FACE.