Small Fry founder Maisy Summer on how the collective empowers emerging creatives

The creative industry can be a difficult place to survive and thrive in, but breaking into it is even more tricky. To help aspiring and up-and-coming creators find their way and make their mark, the Small Fry collective hosts a range of events, workshops, and talks to assist and develop the community.

Based in Manchester, the Small Fry collective was founded in 2018 by illustrator and animator Maisy Summer. Assisted by creative project managers Isobel Platt and Sarah Wilson, along with a small team of workshop facilitators, Small Fry originally started as a year-end print, music and interactive drawing event for graduates. But having gone online in the wake of the pandemic, it's now able to reach an international audience.

Having worked with a host of big-name clients - including Elephant Academy, University of Manchester, Winsor & Newton, Pankhurst Centre, Women in Print, and Manchester School of Art - Small Fry isn't just keeping to momentum going in the face of the pandemic, it's positively flourishing.

As well as attracting the attention of animator Dan Woodger, illustration duo YUK FUN and YouTuber Fran Meneses, Small Fry also plays host to the AOI Manchester meet-up for illustrators. It also puts on event workshops such as 'What is your Brand Story', plus blended practice talks that explore design vs illustration topics.

Its runaway success has taken founder Maisy somewhat by surprise. Having never imagined herself hosting workshops and talks when she finished her degree, she is now able to network and engage with the creative community beyond what she ever thought was possible. And having recently partnered with the Elephant Academy to host various illustration courses, Small Fry doesn't show signs of slowing down any time soon.

To get a better insight into what Small Fry is, how it works and how it can help you, we caught up with Maisy to find out more.

In your own words, what is Small Fry Collective?

Small Fry Collective is a creative network hosting a range of events, from chat and draw sessions to workshops and inviting local to international speakers to delve into their process and journey.

Under the umbrella of Small Fry, we play host to the AOI Illustrator meet-ups for Manchester and run a series of illustration and animation workshops and courses in collaboration with Elephant Academy. We also take on creative projects and commissions, which can be anything from branding content for our workshop hosts to working on a British Council funded project with a publishing team in Indonesia. Small Fry is always adapting and evolving and taking on new exciting creative challenges.

How did the idea come about?

The idea stemmed from wanting to hold an end of year event before we graduated back in 2018. This resulted in a print pop-up, live music and drawing event with a mix of our peers who were also graduating from Manchester School of Art.

The Small Fry name came from a fry-up menu item. It was fun and playful yet pinpointed the stage we were all at: small fry's in a big ol' pond about to venture into the daunting world of freelance work and employment.

Small Fry has evolved organically since this first event, directed by myself alongside various other creatives along the way, each one leaving its special mark on the collective. Most recently, designer and illustrator Isobel Platt joined, with us both working as associate lecturers in illustration, design and education at Manchester School of Art. Creative learning and communities are always at the forefront of what we do, bringing together creatives from Manchester and beyond. Sarah Wilson has recently joined the team, and we've got some pretty exciting Illustration and Animation workshops and courses lined up together in 2022 with Elephant Academy.

Although it's evolved, the ethos is still the same: trying to help ourselves and others navigate the creative industries!

You obviously run it to give back, but has it also helped you?

Lots! It's allowed me to work with international partners and brands, develop and direct projects with artists and teams in different countries, and mainly it's been a great excuse to network and connect with my favourite illustrators, designers, animators both locally and internationally.

We've had some great insightful chats with creatives such as Dan Woodger, Fran Meneses, Caroline Dowsett, Jane Bowyer, Thomas Harnett O'mera, Raissa Pardini.. to name but a few!

Running these interactive events and workshops is also great research into new and fresh teaching methods and creative processes, which I can then use within my role at Manchester School of Art and my creative practice as a freelance Illustrator and Animator. It's a great excuse to try out new materials, topics and themes.

What's been the feedback from the community?

We've had some amazing feedback from the community, most recently from our 6-week Illustration course:

"This course was so fun, challenging and inspiring! I looked forward to it each week. I loved learning about the different areas of illustration, and I was inspired by all the examples Maisy and Sarah shared. The exercises and tasks pushed me to draw things I would never have on my own, like maps, and to use techniques like collage in a new way. I learned a lot, but best of all I left each class feeling excited to do more illustration" Melissa Lakey

We've tried to make the online events as welcoming and interactive as possible. I think illustrator and animator Dan Woodger, who hosted one of our events, sums this up nicely:

"It was such an enjoyable evening and perhaps the most natural, warm, relaxed atmosphere I've had on any Zoom call during the pandemic. It almost felt like we were down the pub! The stories and drawings people shared made my day and remind me what is so special about the illustration community" Dan Woodger

These things always evolve. What are you doing now compared to when you started that you never thought you'd do?

I could never have imagined it evolving in this way and partnering with the most amazing brands, and collaborating with our favourite artists. This transition we had to make (like many others) into online events during the pandemic helped us grow as a collective/brand and reach new audiences that we could never have done before.

I've also always wanted to commission the artists I like and promote their fabulous work, which we can now do via workshops, speaker events, limited edition print runs, or a creative commission like a book spread. And that feels amazing!

You've worked with some incredible brands?

Indeed, which makes us feel very lucky! We are currently working with the UK's leading Illustration body, the Association of Illustrators, to put on events in Manchester and online; Small Fry is their Manchester meet-up group for Illustrators.

We're also collaborating with Elephant Academy, sponsored by Winsor and Newton (an illustrator's dream!) on creative workshops. We also work with Universities such as; Cardiff University, Manchester School of Art, University of Manchester. We put on events from illustration degree-shows, to drawing events for non-creative PhD students. These get the participants to think through a different lens with drawing.

Side projects are a good thing, then?

Definitely! If you start with something you enjoy, you can never go far wrong.

It's also a very enjoyable distraction from my freelance work and helps in keeping every day different.

What have you learnt about yourself since starting this project?

I have learnt that I like working and collaborating in a small team. You can achieve so much more and push and elevate each other forward. Something I feel freelancers miss out on a lot. It's nice to have the best of both worlds.

Interested in what Small Fry has to offer? Then be sure to check out this list of upcoming events, workshops and courses via Smallfry online.


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