Andy Poplar – Vinegar and Brown Paper


Describe the world you work in?

This September saw the second anniversary of [vinegar & brown paper] and I look at things around me and marvel at how much my world has changed over the last couple of years.

This week my daughter starts school full-time – so I am officially no longer doing this as a stay-at-home dad. I’m having to move house because I desperately need more studio space and I’m looking at employing some one to help to cope with upcoming Christmas orders.

It’s a pretty strange place to find myself in, but I genuinely love where I’m at at the moment.
How do you define your work now? From working for someone else – to working for yourself? What was the transition you went from to be were you are now?

Put simply – For the first time in my life I feel creatively fulfilled.

After over a decade of working as an advertising creative in a job that could at times be incredibly rewarding, but most of the time felt like having your soul slowly crushed – to now find myself creating things that people actually want to own is simply quite an idyllic state to be in.

How I got from there to here I’m not entirely sure – what I do remember though is hiding in a store cupboard at work, vowing to myself that if this was what being ‘Creative’ meant, then I was never going to do anything creative ever again in my whole life as it wasn’t worth feeling like this.

The next day I quit. Not with some grand heroic notion of writing a novel or setting up my own company, I quit simply to stop doing something that was making me feel the way I did.

It took me about a year to recover. Part of this was down to becoming a father and part of it was a a dawning realization that it’s the simple act of creating new ideas and new things for no other reason than the joy of doing it, that makes me who I am.

Who taught you how to etch? And what was the first thing you made?

I worked out how to glass etch by myself. I’d had this idea (whilst pushing my daughter around in her push chair one afternoon) about putting coffee related quotes onto cafetieres and wondered why nobody had done it before. It took me a while, but after a bit of research and a few false starts (which led to me shelving the idea for several months to work on something else) I finally discovered a technique that would allow me to etch tempered glass such as Pyrex. This led to etching laboratory glass and it progressed from there.

The actual first proper piece I made was a large cylindrical glass vase that was home to our two goldfish at the time.

In large letters on the side I etched: ‘HAVE YOU FED THE FISH TODAY?’

I still have it in loft somewhere. (Unfortunately both Nigel & Nora have since passed away).

How do you keep your ideas flowing? What inspires you and excites you about your journey ahead?

For me, coming up with ideas is just what I do and I can’t stop doing it (which I discovered after leaving work). I find inspiration in anything and everything. It’s a case of looking at the world sideways, with one eye half closed and then you just start noticing the myriads of little hidden connections that crackle and spark off new ideas.

I’m very fortunate that it’s the generation of ideas that I enjoy the most, as it keeps me perpetually wanting to move on to the next piece. Couple this with my burgeoning obsession with vintage glassware and it becomes this huge, brilliant game of finding the next beautiful piece of glass and the perfectly fitting idea to execute upon it.

Are there more men taking the leap and going for their dreams?

As I mentioned before – it was never some heroic leap towards my dream that led me here – I was a mess and needed to stop doing what I was doing before it was too late. Having said that, since starting [vinegar & brown paper] I’ve met a reassuringly large number of other makers and artists who have had very similar stories of feeling unsatisfied with their careers. Are more men feeling this way? Possibly so, there is a female bias in the maker community but I know lots of men there too.

I think everyone has a dream of quitting their jobs and doing something that they’ve always wanted to do – it’s just the rules of the regular income, responsibility and the inertia you find yourself prey too, that stops most people from doing it. In the end it either takes a heck of a lot of courage, or a heck of a lot of shit to make it happen.

How would you describe the community you live and work in?

Fascinating. The people I meet constantly amaze me with how talented they are and there is this genuine warmth that exists between artists & makers. It’s also a community that is now global thanks to Twitter & Facebook and I’m honoured to be part of it all. I mean – I used to work in advertising – everybody hates advertising.

Where would you like to take your creative business in the new few years, how do you see it developing?

There’s never really been a proper plan, but I’ve always had an over-arching feel of how I’d like to develop [vinegar & brown paper]. I’m very excited about a couple of projects I have in mind for next year, including working on a book of my work. The vital thing for me though is to keep on enjoying it, keep on having fun with it and keep on being me, because at the age of 39 I finally feel as if I’m doing exactly what I should be doing with my life and if all this stops abruptly tomorrow, at least I know I somehow managed to achieve the one thing I always wanted, but never thought I’d ever get.

What is a blissful life to you?

This comes back to the bit of an epiphany I had after I left work.

For me, bliss is the sensation I get when I’ve just created something new. It’s a beautiful, overwhelming sensation that I can best describe as a wide beaming smile inside my mind.

If you could change anything, what would it be?

I’ve always thought of myself as a cynic, a pessimist – I’ve been a bookish indie kid from the age of 13 (you know the type) – but these days I’m becoming more of the mind that you have to go through certain things just to get to somewhere else, and every thing you do wrong, is just a way to get things right. (Obviously, if you’d asked me the same question when I was hiding in that store cupboard a few years back I would have given you an entire list of things).

What are your favourite products at the moment?

I go through obsessions like I go through pistachio nuts. I’m currently obsessing over Ercol day beds, 3D printers, Adana gold letterpress ink, the ‘S’ Coffee table by Qubis, Smiths bakelite barometers…

*fades out…fades back in*….

…Denham menswear, Skive footwear, the Headlamp No.1 by GreyMoose designs, 1960s school maps…(and that’s just in the last hour or so).

Whose work are you loving at the moment? Please share…
There are certain artists and makers that I just get an immediate feeling of ‘wow, that is just perfect.’ about. There’s loads, here’s three that immediately spring to mind:

Textile artist Mister Finch – whose sense of beauty and level of detail leaves me full of wonder:

Beth Made This – whose kinetic jewellery has to be seen to be believed:

Butterscotch & Beesting whose work makes me contemplate running away to the circus:

Amazing aren’t they?

Andy Poplar

[vinegar & brown paper]
follow @mendyourhead


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