Something to crow about

Designer Victoria Hall working at home at Offton, Ipswich.

Designer Victoria Hall working at home at Offton, Ipswich. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Artist Victoria Hall has turned her life-long love of chickens into a business. Sheena Grant went to meet her

Victoria Hall with some of her chicke- inspired designs

Victoria Hall with some of her chicke- inspired designs - Credit: Andrew Partridge

FRIENDS of artist Victoria Hall are used to her fascination with their chickens. She keeps a camera in her car so she’s always ready to photograph any character she finds particularly appealing and her sketch pad is never far away either.

Victoria with one of her chickens

Victoria with one of her chickens - Credit: Andrew Partridge

She’s also been known to snaffle a few feathers that may have fallen from the odd bird – that’s if the bird’s owner hasn’t passed them on to her already.

But Victoria’s interest in chickens isn’t some kind of English eccentricity her family will come to find embarrassing. It’s very much professional – and her camera and sketch pad are the tools of her trade.

Since moving back to her native Suffolk with her husband and two young children in 2010 Victoria has set up her own business.

Cluck Cluck has its base in the attic room of her spacious home at Offton. Here, at a small desk in front of a wide window, she perfects the black line drawings with a touch of bright red that she uses on her range of prints, cards and homewares, including tea towels, mugs and oven gloves.

Strings of feathers hang from the ceiling (bought from a market in Shepherd’s Bush) and others from birds closer to home lie in little piles on her desk, ready for sticking onto her pictures and cards.

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A splash of colour is added by Victoria to each bird on every card and print. She also makes up and posts off the orders placed through her website.

She’s currently preparing for one of her fledgling business’s busiest times of the year – Easter – and has recently launched a new line of products, featuring pheasants.

Although she has also dabbled in pictures of flamingos and is interested in moorhens and other avian subjects, chickens remain her favourites, and the reason she launched her very own cottage industry in the first place.

“I’ve always drawn chickens,” she says. “They are just so comical – real characters in the way they stand and walk.”

It is this essence of the birds she is trying to capture with her drawings: done in ink, usually with one clean, continuous line.

“Pigs are really popular these days but for me they are just too large. I love the dimensions and compactness of chickens. It is the sculptural element of drawing them that I like, with very few lines,” she says.

Victoria studied painting at the University of Northumbria, followed by an MA at Chelsea College of Art & Design in London. She set up Cluck Cluck in 2010 after returning to her Suffolk roots from London and a career in publishing.

“I grew up on a farm in Suffolk, with a collection of hens, geese and several fine cockerels,” she says. “These animals were very much part of the family and I started drawing them for fun when I left art college.”

The pictures proved popular and, when the family moved back to Suffolk, the idea for Cluck Cluck was born, or perhaps hatched.

“I’d been toying with the idea a bit while we were still in London,” she says. “I thought, I just must be able to attempt to make a living from this.” She smiles at the idea that anyone using her website probably imagines their order is being processed in a warehouse somewhere, rather than in an attic room at the top of her stairs by the artist herself.

“I think there’s lots of women, especially, like me, running businesses at home between looking after their children,” she says. “I’m often up in the attic getting the orders together when the children have gone to bed. It just makes sense – and helps keep the overheads low.”

Victoria sees her designs primarily as being affordable, original works of art, offering a new spin on how chickens and other birds are interpreted artistically.

“They are not cartoons,” she says. “I work by drawing a chicken from life and taking photos. Then from the sketches and photos together I do the final drawings at home that I use in the end products. I use ink, which gives a nice feel, and you can’t really do that outside.”

No one particular bird is her muse, despite the fact that she has some of her own hens in the back garden. “I still keep chickens myself but I draw lots of other people’s chickens too,” she says. “The camera is always in my car.”

She particularly likes birds that are used to crowds and not fazed by having people around.

“Melford Hall has great big cockerels and they are used to people being there,” she says. “Some of them are really good to draw.”

As well as her range of designs she also takes commissions to draw individual chickens, and sometimes people will send her a handful of their own bird’s feathers to incorporate into a design.

“The colours are always hand-painted on each print as well,” she says. “The idea is that I can ensure they are the colours I want. I stick the feathers on by hand as well. I really like the idea of having something that is a proper work of art at a reasonable price.”

She believes her designs tap into a trend in interior styling.

“I get beautiful feathers from lots of friends and they often have beautiful, subtle colours that will work in someones’s interior without taking over,” she says. “I suppose what I do is a little bit ‘city meets country’. It’s not a typical chicken image; I do more of a contemporary take on it. I try to give them a bit more style and lift their characters off the page.”

Her tea towels and oven gloves are printed in Hadleigh and the mugs made in Debenham. Making sure everything is produced in Suffolk is important to her.

“The first Christmas I started to sell things after moving back to Suffolk I sold enough to make me think it was worthwhile continuing. That was when I decided that I wanted everything to be made locally, so I could oversee the production of it,” she says.

As well as the website, her designs are also available at several shops in Suffolk and a few further afield. She also sells them at fairs.

“I did a fair in London last year, which was a big thing for me, but I decided I needed to be really brave. After that I think I started to be taken a little bit more seriously. This coming summer I’ll be going to Harrogate to do a trade fair for the first time.”

Despite all that, Victoria still sees herself predominantly as an artist rather than a businesswoman, and it is perfecting her drawings that still gives her the greatest buzz. “I’ve started to experiment with a few things other than chickens,” she says. “I did some flamingos, which were very popular this Christmas, and, having spent much time passing pheasants wandering the hedgerows on the school run, they’ve now become part of the range.

“I like to watch the birds for some time before drawing them, so I can get a feel for how they move. It can be complicated and takes a long time to get it right.

“A lot of drawings go in the bin before I arrive at something I’m happy with.

“I quite like moorhens too. There were a family of them up the road from here and one got separated from the rest. We used to see it around quite a lot.

“I think it’s the comical movements of birds I like and the fact that they have a sculptural quality – and good, sharp claws.

“It’s all been a learning curve but I’m really enjoying the production side of things, from drawing the bird onwards to sending the orders off. I’m so glad I decided to give it a go.”

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