Bon Volks introduces its harboured creative community by the sea in Margate

Ross Walker and Rachel Boot are co-founders and Directors of Bon Volks. Rachel is a voice-over artist and Ross is a visual artist and carpenter. Ottilie Walker is 3 months old and has yet to be given an official role in the organisation.

When co-founders of Bon Volks, Ross Walker and Rachel Boot, invited us to tour their creative co-working space in Margate, we jumped at the chance to discover more about the ever-developing, thriving creative community down by the sea.

With varied backgrounds – Rachel is a voice-over artist and Ross is a visual artist and carpenter – we were intrigued to find out more about how Bon Volks came about, and what it offers to the local cultural scene.

Having a connection to American musician and artist, Jeffrey Lewis – he designed the rather awesome Bon Volks merchandise, and providing a creative home to wordsmiths, artists, woodworkers and filmmakers alike, we caught up with Ross and Rachel to offer Creative Boom readers an exclusive peek into the world of Bon Volks.

Tell us a bit about the space

Bon Volks is a non-profit arts organisation, started in Margate in August 2015. The ethos of our organisation is to provide high quality, affordable creative space for artists, who, as members of the organisation, are given the responsibility for the building.

We wanted to challenge the idea that creative spaces were the last resort in terms of a building's use. Historically, there have been too many buildings that were beyond use for any other industry, but felt apparently perfectly acceptable for creative practitioners. We spent too much time with wobbly plasterboard walls in terrible, freezing conditions and wanted to create the antitheses of this.

Here at Bon Volks, we have a tiny budget, but we are proud to have light, well-constructed spaces, with central heating and an alarm system.

We want people to feel safe and warm and provided for. We also strive to keep rent as cheap as humanly possible. It is always the assumption that cheap studio space has to be terrible, we wanted to disprove this.

At Bon Volks, all studio holders become members of the organisation and take on a small role in the building; whether it be cleaning the corridor or taking out the bins. We want these roles to play a part in giving people a stake in the care of the space, and so create an active community.

By fundraising, we help to maintain and safeguard these rents for the future. For our one-year anniversary a few months ago, we asked American musician and artist Jeffrey Lewis to design us a special image that we could use for merchandise. That way, people who believed in our project could support it from afar. We chose Jeffrey, because he embodied the sort of DIY, collaborative atmosphere that we also share. You can see the collaboration here.

Rufus Dayglo is an artist working in Comic Books, illustration and storyboards, and has worked extensively for 2000ad, Image Comics, IDW Comics and DC Vertigo. He relaunched and drew six series of Tank Girl with Alan Martin, and recently released the new series Counterfeit Girl and also the series Bad Company for 2000ad with Peter Milligan. He is currently working for 2000ad, and on his own projects Solid Gold Death Mask and Big Time Charlie in a robot filled studio at Bon Volks.

Rufus Dayglo is an artist working in Comic Books, illustration and storyboards, and has worked extensively for 2000ad, Image Comics, IDW Comics and DC Vertigo. He relaunched and drew six series of Tank Girl with Alan Martin, and recently released the new series Counterfeit Girl and also the series Bad Company for 2000ad with Peter Milligan. He is currently working for 2000ad, and on his own projects Solid Gold Death Mask and Big Time Charlie in a robot filled studio at Bon Volks.

Claire de Lune is an artist working in ceramics, painting and video to create an immersive world of characters and symbols, little talismanic islands of love and hope for the viewer. She has exhibited throughout the UK and Europe including the Gallery of Modern Art (Glasgow), Mexico Project Space (Leeds), HB55 (Berlin), Fishfactory Arts (Falmouth), and SWG3 (Glasgow).  She continues a historic family narrative in clay, from the W Adams Potteries in Staffordshire, building and painting in her studio at Bon Volks for upcoming exhibitions.

Claire de Lune is an artist working in ceramics, painting and video to create an immersive world of characters and symbols, little talismanic islands of love and hope for the viewer. She has exhibited throughout the UK and Europe including the Gallery of Modern Art (Glasgow), Mexico Project Space (Leeds), HB55 (Berlin), Fishfactory Arts (Falmouth), and SWG3 (Glasgow). She continues a historic family narrative in clay, from the W Adams Potteries in Staffordshire, building and painting in her studio at Bon Volks for upcoming exhibitions.

Claire & Rufus

Claire & Rufus

Who works there?

We have an incredible variety of practitioners; visual artists, photographers, metalsmiths, carpenters, writers, voice-over artists....! The absolute best spaces I have worked in are the ones that have had a large mix of disciplines. There is nothing more boring than a studio full of painters! Any creative practice cannot work in a bubble, so if we can provide a building where a metalsmith can talk to a novelist or a journalist, then something great might happen.

How does Bon Volks seek to encourage a creative community?

The design of the space seeks to encourage community and a cross-pollination of disciplines. Each space is either in a large shared room or if it is an individual studio, it is purposefully open - we don't have closed doors. We want a member to walk in and see people and see their work, not to be faced by rows of closed doors. The community has grown organically, as we have grown. We select members based on what we feel they can add to our growth.

A really important facet of our community is our Residency programme. A huge part of our plan was to provide studio space for visiting artists, free of charge, and accommodation in Margate. We believe that a constant influx of visiting artists and writers, positively affect the dynamic of the space. This residency programme is paid for by our fundraising, such as the Jeffrey Lewis Merchandise.

Talk us through the inspiration behind the interior design? Is there a story behind any of the pieces?

We are very interested in how the design of a space expresses the regard of the organisation for the individual. If you are given a crap studio that is unsafe and unsound, you will feel as if the organisation has no regard for you.

All our spaces are designed to the highest quality we could possibly afford. They are designed to be open and promote conversation, thus progressing the strength of the community.

The building itself used to be a printing press. Arranged over two floors, the ground floor was a large open space where the presses were kept - this now houses our five large studios. The first floor housed the offices, which is now our desk space, photography studio, sound booth and residency studios. When we moved in there were a lot of old printing blocks and paraphernalia left behind as well as the seventies wood panelling and a couple of big old safes.

We wanted to keep some of these architectural features to provide some visually interesting points and it helps us not to stumble too far into the typical white walls/grey floor of the usual gallery and studio spaces.

Anna Hart is a globally focused writer and travel author, who contributes to Conde Nast Traveller, The Guardian, Suitcase, Stylist, The Telegraph, The Guardian and Vogue. Upstairs at Bon Volks, she's working on her first book, Departures, a travel memoir about her adventures as a solo female traveller, to be published in January 2018 by Little Brown.

Anna Hart is a globally focused writer and travel author, who contributes to Conde Nast Traveller, The Guardian, Suitcase, Stylist, The Telegraph, The Guardian and Vogue. Upstairs at Bon Volks, she's working on her first book, Departures, a travel memoir about her adventures as a solo female traveller, to be published in January 2018 by Little Brown.

Annie Nichols originally trained and worked as a chef in hotels and restaurants in the UK, Switzerland and Australia. She subsequently became a food stylist, authored five cookbooks, and taught cookery in the UK and Sicily. More recently she studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, specialising in photography, video and conceptual art. With her history of working in food, her work as an artist investigates the themes of food, seduction, desire and decay, and the passing of time.

Annie Nichols originally trained and worked as a chef in hotels and restaurants in the UK, Switzerland and Australia. She subsequently became a food stylist, authored five cookbooks, and taught cookery in the UK and Sicily. More recently she studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, specialising in photography, video and conceptual art. With her history of working in food, her work as an artist investigates the themes of food, seduction, desire and decay, and the passing of time.

Billie M Vigne’s work is an ongoing study of traditional decorative and structural metalsmithing techniques found in ethnic and tribal jewellery. She works in silver, brass, copper, aluminium and bronze. Hand fabrication is imperative to her process, with an emphasis on hollow forms, she makes one-off or small scale series’ of pieces to commission and in collaboration with other artists.

Billie M Vigne’s work is an ongoing study of traditional decorative and structural metalsmithing techniques found in ethnic and tribal jewellery. She works in silver, brass, copper, aluminium and bronze. Hand fabrication is imperative to her process, with an emphasis on hollow forms, she makes one-off or small scale series’ of pieces to commission and in collaboration with other artists.

Are there any particular standout features?

We love how people have designed their own spaces. My background is in building gallery and studio spaces, so all I did was build large, light, blank spaces and then we just watched as people filled them with incredible things. It still gives me an amazing thrill to walk around the studios and see how people inhabit space. One of my personal favourites is Billie Vigne's metalsmith space, which is like a curiosity shop. And also Rufus Dayglo and Clare de Lune, who moved in and it looked like an incredible cartoon bomb had slowly exploded over the weekend.

Describe the local creative scene.

Margate has undergone swift changes in the last couple of years, our organisation is one of them. Now there are eight studio buildings of various sizes in Margate, which is utterly remarkable for the size of the town.

The Turner Contemporary was a huge signifier for the town and persuaded a lot of projects such as ours that the creative network existed. However, this town has a long history of associations with counter-culture, so maybe there was something in the air.

It will be interesting to see how all these organisations grow and influence the local young people. Open School East has recently relocated to Margate and there has long been talk of art schools here, so it is interesting that the focus could soon move from creation and exhibiting to education.

Ian Hall, founder of Massive Face, is a retoucher with 15 years professional experience in the fashion, advertising and editorial fields. Past and present clients include Burberry, Clinique, Desperados, Panadol, and Hush Puppies. His work has been published in magazines such as Vogue, Interview, Wonderland, The Sunday Times and many more.

Ian Hall, founder of Massive Face, is a retoucher with 15 years professional experience in the fashion, advertising and editorial fields. Past and present clients include Burberry, Clinique, Desperados, Panadol, and Hush Puppies. His work has been published in magazines such as Vogue, Interview, Wonderland, The Sunday Times and many more.

Ross Fisher-Smith of Truetone Bass first started playing bass guitar when there were no local repairers (luthiers) to carry out the work. Having a metal and woodworking background led him to use those skills to repair and customise all his guitars over the years. This led to repairing all kinds of guitars and eventually specialising in acoustic bass guitars. He’s now designing and building a custom solid body bass guitar, a total one-of-a-kind design to showcase his skills.

Ross Fisher-Smith of Truetone Bass first started playing bass guitar when there were no local repairers (luthiers) to carry out the work. Having a metal and woodworking background led him to use those skills to repair and customise all his guitars over the years. This led to repairing all kinds of guitars and eventually specialising in acoustic bass guitars. He’s now designing and building a custom solid body bass guitar, a total one-of-a-kind design to showcase his skills.

Tom Shrapnel is an award-winning director from Suffolk, East Anglia. His short films have screened at over 60 International Film Festivals from Norwich to Nashville. His work includes the Edmonton International Film Festival Best Short Documentary, Simply Rob, the cartoon, D’or Nominated live action/animation, This Is J03, and the Raindance Best UK Short nominated drama, Strange Weather. His most recent film, The Knackerman, will be screening at festivals throughout 2017.

Tom Shrapnel is an award-winning director from Suffolk, East Anglia. His short films have screened at over 60 International Film Festivals from Norwich to Nashville. His work includes the Edmonton International Film Festival Best Short Documentary, Simply Rob, the cartoon, D’or Nominated live action/animation, This Is J03, and the Raindance Best UK Short nominated drama, Strange Weather. His most recent film, The Knackerman, will be screening at festivals throughout 2017.

If you would like to support Bon Volks, please give the shop a visit.

All photography copyright Gabrielle Hall

Have you got an inspiring workspace?

Our popular Studio Tours give our audience a sneak peek inside creative workspaces across the globe. From tiny home studios and co-working spaces to some of the world's leading agencies and creative brands – we love to find out what your office looks like.

Think you've got something great to show us? Email the details and a few sample photographs of your workspace to [email protected].