Studio 1850

Maverick Meets Elaine Michell from Studio 1850

Photography by Louise Robinson and Lydia Harper

Led by brand consultant Elaine Michell, Studio 1850 is a creative consultancy and design agency based in Morgans, Falmouth. Their game-changing services cover everything from art direction and business strategy, to brand identity and mindful design. With a portfolio of wonderful clients under their belt – including Caro Somerset, New Yard Restaurant, and Travel & The Girls – Maverick was keen to learn more about the studio’s ethos and hear about Elaine’s creative journey…

Hello! Can introduce yourself and Studio 1850 to our readers?

I’m Elaine, the founder of Studio 1850. Historically a graphic design studio, we’re now better known for our creative consultations. We assist artists, designers and brand owners in growing and developing their practices and/or businesses.

I grew up in Cornwall and studied Graphic Design at Falmouth. I worked for London agencies, both large and small, before heading back home around 7 years ago, after which Studio 1850 was born. I’m now incredibly lucky to have a tenancy overlooking the River Fal, within the beautiful Morgans building.

Studio 1850
Studio 1850

What’s your professional background and when did you realise there was a gap in the market for the sort of consultancy you offer?

My training and initial career is within graphic design, and it was through working with my clients in that capacity that I realised how valuable my approach was. Traditionally, brand consultancy focuses on things like business growth, systems and revenue. This can alienate a lot of people and conflict with how they work. While I still utilise many of these methods, I work to find out exactly what the client wants first, and what their blocks may be. I believe a level of sensitivity and openness is required for creative brands and makers to thrive.

Only when I’ve truly listened to my client can I suggest actions to move them forward. I find my clients come away from our sessions feeling lighter and more energised, or ready to drop what was dragging on them. They feel safe enough to play, test, and step away from their burdens.

Studio 1850

When brands or individuals approach Studio 1850, what sort of obstacles or challenges are they usually facing?

Most clients are creative practitioners themselves (artists, ceramicists, illustrators, clothing and jewellery designers, drinks makers, etc) and they often have a business attached to their artistic practice. However, most of them did not go down this road because they dreamed of studying business skills. Creatives tend to think deeply, strive for perfection, and often undervalue what they have to offer.

I regularly work with people facing heavy challenges, such as feeling overworked or burned out. Other common obstacles include fear of rejection, a difficulty in creating and setting boundaries, strategic overwhelm, unworkably low profit margins, and a feeling of failure. I’m most certainly not immune to these areas myself, and from my own experience, I know how truly detrimental these can be for both personal and business health.

Studio 1850
Studio 1850

What should someone expect from their first meeting with Studio 1850?

Everyone we work with can expect true support and industry advice in a considered and non-judgemental space. Full sessions are just over an hour long and can be held in the studio itself or via Zoom.

I always start by checking in with who I am talking to and ensuring they feel comfortable with the process. Some clients also like to start with a short meditation. To understand the pattern of my client’s issues – what life challenges they may be currently facing and where they want to move towards – all bookings are emailed a series of questions to answer beforehand. In the first few moments of the session we talk through their answers. Physically watching and hearing their responses gives me a deeper insight into their current mindset. It allows me to suggest actions that can be tailored for what they truly want and need, not solely based on what they have stated. This process takes the fear-led ‘wants’ and ‘shoulds’ out of the equation.

During the second half of the session, we look at these suggested actions in more detail and continue to tweak them until a sudden release and clarity breaks through. Actions might be centred on personal trials – such as lack of time and self-marketing – or they might be based on areas of industry advice, such as brand understanding, sustainable practices and printed goods. Typically, we’ll look at around 3 areas in our first session, and then ideally to continue to re-cover and expand with a session every 4-6 months.

Following every hour’s consultation, clients receive a report with findings and their action list, a recording of the session (if consented by the client), and a notebook created by the studio to continue to document their movements.

What sort of impact has Covid-19 / national lockdown had on your industry?

Within the (brand) design industry, it has encouraged two things:

1. New businesses are being conceived and existing businesses have had to pivot their offerings. More often than not, they also give more time to making long, considered changes to their practices.

2. Clients are much more wary of spending large amounts of money, due to potential unforeseen challenges around the corner. Various lockdowns meant a loss of revenue for some businesses and their own customers became wary of spending.

As a side note, at the start of the pandemic, a number of my creative clients saw a huge boost in their sales due to an increase in their customer’s inadvertent savings. But as time has gone on and we are again spending on petrol and entertainment, their revenues have once more decreased. We’re now looking to find balance and ways forward in our sessions.

What are some small steps that creative businesses can implement today to be more sustainable in the future? 

Be open. It’s really hard to admit when we could be doing better, or when our profits come from less than sustainable practices. But we can only move forward if we accept we need to make changes. Our sessions are a great place to unpack without judgement, and to evaluate where best to start.

What was it about the Morgans’ residency that appealed to you?

So many factors: the history of the building, the light, the raw plaster walls, the Fal River views… You get to be with other multiple-disciplined, creative tenants, above a world class art gallery. It is truly a dream. You feel physically connected to, and supported by, a very special industry down here.

Can you describe what your studio setup currently looks like?

There’s a large, simple wooden desk in the middle of the room which is there for creative testing. When I’m working, you’ll find it covered with spreads of paper and colour swatches, supporting consultations and notes about upcoming events. It’s starting to reach the point where a larger table would be helpful!

I require a peaceful work space, so the table is returned to its minimal state every day. There’s usually a coffee cup from Argilo on the table and a Jackson’s sketchbook in front of me. I’m thankful for the large and secretive walk-in cupboard, and I’m incredibly lucky to have artwork on the walls from those in the community, including Martha Holmes, Will Calver, and Olivia Bush.

Do you have a dream project that you would love to realize someday?

I’d love to work with a considered creative or brand on a printed piece. Ideally, with no holds barred on production techniques. It would be great to partner with makers and produce a highly treasured item.

Studio 1850
Studio 1850

What exciting things are in the pipeline for you now?

After spending over a decade fully focussed on brand design, it’s such a joy to move onto the studio’s consultation work. Studio 1850 has allowed me to expand my industry knowledge and form new connections. It has also allowed for client projects to become lighter and more experimental. I feel a welcome sense of freedom and it’s translating so beautifully into positive results for my clients. 

Where can our readers find more information about Studio 1850?

You can sign up to the newsletter on studio1850.com; then visit us on Instagram at @studio_1850