Long before the pandemic gave us a new understanding of the value, and challenges, of remote working, filmmaker Jessica Pearson was ahead of the curve. Her online platform, The Maker Series, was already established and offering a curated collection of films profiling North Devon’s independent ‘artisan makers, movers and shapers’.

The series aims to share the skill and passion of the region’s creative talent and to inspire rising artists, whilst demystifying rural self-employment.

‘I think North Devon ultimately attracts makers,’ says Jess, ‘people who want to make things happen, who are determined and resourceful. Instead of seeing what is not happening here as a negative, they see it as an opportunity to make it happen themselves.’

Jess herself is exactly this type of person, an entrepreneur making a real difference to the Devon arts economy by connecting a community of people who typically work alone, and by raising awareness of their unique and exceptional work.

‘I was fortunate to grow up with creative parents,’ says Jess, who was born in Barnstaple and raised in Clovelly. ‘My dad is a potter and my mum taught dance, and they encouraged me to pursue my creative passions.’

Having planned a career as an actor, Jess fell ill aged 15 with the autoimmune illness Myasthenia Gravis, which affected her speech and made acting difficult. Instead, she turned to filmmaking, putting herself behind the camera rather than of in front of it.

Great British Life: Jessica Pearson wants to show how people can make a living through their creativity in North Devon. Photo: Hettie Pearson PhotographyJessica Pearson wants to show how people can make a living through their creativity in North Devon. Photo: Hettie Pearson Photography

‘I started out filming musicians and documenting local community projects,’ says Jess. ‘Then my friend, maker Louise Middleton, suggested I film her working with leather, and that’s how The Maker Series started. I filmed Louise’s hands at work, which gave me the chance to see through her eyes as a maker and really show her working methods. We decided there should be no words in the film, just images and music, to allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the making process. I loved making the film and so I began to make others.’

Before filming each artist, Jess asks about their work and how they make a living from their passion right here in North Devon.

‘I take time to capture the unique qualities of each maker, so that every film has a different pace and feel,’ she says. ‘I find it fascinating that every artist has developed their skill, and makes their living, very differently. Building a creative business in North Devon, as in any rural area, poses its difficulties, including going against the myth that a creative life is not viable.

‘Through my film work I meet young people who aspire to be creatives, and parents who say that they have encouraged their children to leave North Devon in order to succeed, but the truth is that there are many working artists here who make a very good living from their skills.

Great British Life: Rosie Anderson of Felted Sheepskins, making 'vegetarian sheepskin rugs' was filmed by Jessica for the seriesRosie Anderson of Felted Sheepskins, making 'vegetarian sheepskin rugs' was filmed by Jessica for the series

‘For that reason, I want to build an inspirational resource showing the different ways people make a living here through their creativity. If young creatives decide to stay in North Devon they have a part to play in continuing the creative economy, but it’s not all on their shoulders. Established artists have an important role in encouraging and welcoming new talent and sharing knowledge so organisations, like mine and many others, that create opportunities for those connections are crucial.’

The Maker Series has grown to become a unique collection of seven films so far, with more to come. In 2019 it became a Community Interest Company, and in lockdown Jess received Arts Council Funding to record 24 podcast interviews and 12 live masterclasses with artists, makers and industry professionals.

The films and podcasts are open source, while access to the masterclasses comes with series membership, which is open to anyone interested in the talents, skills and working lifestyles of North Devon artisans.

‘Members are either creatives themselves, people who are open to learning, or who want to connect with other people who make,’ says Jess.

Great British Life: Another Maker in the series is surfboard maker Ellie Miller. Photo: Little Silver PhotographyAnother Maker in the series is surfboard maker Ellie Miller. Photo: Little Silver Photography

‘Many artists live an isolated life, but platforms like The Maker Series are trying to change that. I hope that by hearing working artists’ points of view, members will feel empowered to be their true selves, rather than what they think they need to be to succeed.

‘The podcasts give insight into the lives of working makers, and the masterclasses give more in-depth support around specific subjects, whilst the maker films capture beautiful snapshots of the creative process.’

Jess also works alongside her husband, the artist Edward Crumpton, on projects that highlight endangered and heritage crafts by teaching these skills to contemporary craftspeople and artists. ‘We are hoping to receive funding for a new project next year,’ says Jess.

So, what’s next for The Maker Series? ‘I have so many exciting things planned,’ says Jess. ‘I am recording a podcast series that look at aspects of creativity that are not often talked about, such as failure, imposter syndrome and how the artistic mind works. I have also been filming Edward Wild, an award-winning furniture designer and maker, for my next Maker film. And for a while now I have been writing a book which looks at how different aspects of North Devon inspire artists and craftspeople.

‘Whatever I am doing, I hope the talent, skill and passion of each maker I film or record or write about will be a powerful advocate for the importance of our creative economy, and for the value of handmade work.’