Even in the depths of winter, Harriet de Winton has only to glance out of the window of her cosy home studio, or go for a walk in the nearby forest, to glean inspiration for her festive watercolour designs.
Her barn conversion nestles in the idyllic location of Haldon Forest Park in Devon, with far-reaching views over the Teign valley and Dartmoor. ‘It’s a beautiful part of the world. When I’m out for a stroll with my husband, Anthony, and our dog, Crumble, I’ll often collect something, such as holly with ruby-red berries, to weave into festive designs for my online shop where I sell my Christmas cards, wrapping paper, wedding stationery and party invitations,’ Harriet explains. ‘I may take my finds along to one of my seasonal watercolour workshops, or they might inspire one of my painting commissions.’
Harriet’s career path as an artist hasn’t followed the traditional route. With an English Literature degree and post-graduate diploma in set and costume design, she worked as a freelance set and costume designer and illustrator for many years, before her creative career took a surprise twist. ‘My step-sister asked if I would design her wedding invitations, and I relished every step of the process,’ Harriet says.
Spurred on by the response, Harriet decided to hone her watercolour skills and, after a conversation with a wedding stylist friend in 2015, the first seeds of the de Winton Paper co were sown. ‘I discovered that there were only a couple of other businesses producing hand-painted watercolour wedding stationery,’ she explains. ‘There was a gap in the market, and I knew how much people appreciate the time, skill and care involved.’
Harriet’s first official clients were a New York-based couple who commissioned everything from wedding invitations to thank-you cards. ‘I had to learn on the job quickly, but it was exciting and made me realise that I’d finally found my true creative niche,’ says Harriet. ‘I enjoyed chatting to the clients and producing beautiful designs to reflect their personalities and interests.’
With word-of-mouth recommendations, the de Winton Paper co’s reputation spread quickly. As the business flourished, Harriet asked the person who had designed her previous website to create another for her new company. ‘At £2,000, this was a big investment but worth every penny,’ she says. ‘As well as my bespoke service, I started to produce hand-printed stationery to sell online: my House Collection.’
In January 2016, Harriet and freelance photographer Anthony relocated to Devon, where the next chapter of her country business began to unfold. ‘Having been asked to run a watercolour workshop in a local interiors store, I found teaching extremely rewarding,’ she says. As she is self-taught herself, Harriet could easily relate to students’ concerns. ‘After every class I feel euphoric,’ she confides. ‘I’ve had such wonderful feedback over the years and I love the fact that people find watercolour painting so relaxing and therapeutic.’
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