Building a life in art and film. A chat with Craftwork Projects, Brighton.

One of the real pleasures of doing this blog is hearing about real gems of creativity that take place in this wonderful city. When Craftwork Projects got in touch about 3 months ago, I have to say that I had never heard of this brilliant company, but had seen their work in Clash of the Titans and Skyfall, all built by residents of the city [the opening scene at the top of this post had sets and effects mastered by Ian Zawadzki, just one member of Craftwork Projects].

Established in 2009, Craftwork Projects is the brainchild of Keziah Barton-White and Ian Zawadzki, a couple originally from Windsor and Wimbledon respectively, but living in Brighton for the past 7 years.

As Keziah said: “It’s a long schlep to go back and forward to the studios [in Shepperton] all the time, and there are lots of creative and artistic people in Brighton. We wanted to bring some of the processes down here.”

Craftwork Projects' art space, as seen from above. Aroe is pictured in the background.

Craftwork Projects' art space, as seen from above. Aroe is pictured in the background.

They moved into their impressive space in New England Street, just off London Road (or, “The Shoreditch of Brighton” as Ian calls it), 2 years ago. Here, Ian and Keziah have found a huge creative space that they can create their work from that will also tap into the amount of creative talent present in Brighton.

Asking about how they found the space, Ian said: “I was driving down the road and noticed the space and thought it was perfect. It was just next to a paint shop, opposite a brewers [“Hooray! Paint and beer!” we both exclaim] but also just down the road from New England House, and all of the creative companies based in there.”

Though it represents a large capital investment, the thing that impressed me the most about this was the love and creativity you can feel in the space. Their psychology of simply enjoying the moment and their work is something tangible that other artists can certainly learn from. These are working artists that make a living out of doing what they do, and as they joked, hopefully leave some time to make their own.

Ian and Keziah have both worked in the film industry for 20 years, with Ian’s first creative opportunity on Fifth Element, and Keziah doing work experience for a studio at the age of 14. They met through the film industry, now they live and work together, as well as having a child together. Together they have formed Craftwork Projects utilising each other’s skills perfectly. Keziah’s skills as a producer, also working for musical companies organising tours, and Ian’s as a maker is noticeable even in the makeup of the building, from the quiet office upstairs to the huge making space downstairs.

Beyond their work on films, Craftwork Projects have branched out in the past few years creating pieces of furniture, bespoke and specialised interiors and now their own artwork. In the studio at the moment they have some tables which they are creating with Aroe and Will Blood, and they are always open to artists or makers to collaborate with.

Ian said: “The film industry is a very closed shop, generally people don’t really get access to the inner workings of how you build high end film sets. We use these skills in different settings for example in clubs and restaurants, where they have been ‘scenically treated’, to create environments.”

He then showed me some of the brickwork on MDF that they do and the feature wall work - all incredibly detailed and convincing. On a practical level it represents a quicker turnaround time for businesses, being able to get that “brickwork look” without costly making times, and the inevitable problems of working with a material like brick. Instead you can have a MDF board made to look uncannily like brick and then simply pin it up. Their experience of working on films like Skyfall, where they had to make a rubber roof of a train look like steel is applied for more conventional spaces.

Moving forward through 2016 their plan is to reach out more to the community. They are very open to ideas for collaborations with artists, with their tables simply being one example.

As Ian said: “Anyone who is interested in doing an idea, please just come over!”

They also give back to the community, with opportunities open to anyone looking to gain a bit of experience (though obviously time is limited so only can do so much!), inviting groups of students in for Q & A sessions, and one of their new ideas is to create “brick art” using their fake brick facades and collaborating with artists to create originals. A potentially exciting project that artists can test themselves with professionals in specialised materials not accessible to many people in the world.

Finally, they had lots of advice for anyone going into the film/artistic industry which can be applied anywhere:

As Keziah said: “Go in and have your eyes open. To survive in the film industry you have to be a dynamic, thick-skinned person because you will be stabbed in the back. Don’t be squeamish and just muscle your way in. You have to go and do it and just push. If one director/producer says no, move onto the next one.

If someone turns you down it’s not a negative thing, they could just be too full, too crewed. You just have to approach and keep on doing it.”

Ian recalled a couple of examples from his own varied career: “I’ve been doing it 15 years. I can remember 5 years ago waiting for a phone call to tell me whether or not I’m going to Morocco for 4 months or not. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, it always feels like a first day as you don’t know what you’re doing next. It doesn’t get much easier as it is life of a freelance. For Skyfall I was having a glass of wine on the weekend, got a phone call and then Monday, I was on a plane to Turkey.”

Craftwork Projects are based at 5a New England Street, just off London Road. So if you have any ideas, please contact them on their email info@craftworkprojects.com or call 01273 386924, you can find out more about them at http://www.craftworkprojects.com/.