My Talented Friends : Toni Hawkes

As well as sharing her name with a pro-skater, Toni Hawkes is a talented illustrator, a fellow baking fanatic, a display artist, and all round geek. We met almost six years ago through a couple of ex-boyfriends, banding together over mutual interests, our sense of humour, and eventually, our broken hearts. Toni has worked in creative retail display for ten years and has recently been busy creating her own company with friend and prop artist, Katie Forman. I managed to grab a few minutes with them both to talk about their new venture, Hawkes & Forman.

Toni Hawkes, Hawkes and Forman

Hey ladies! Are you working on anything exciting today?
Hi Amy! Actually today we’re creating neon animal heads… [laughs] I can’t say too much about it, but all will be revealed at the beginning of January. If you keep an eye on the website, it’ll pop up on there soon!

Tell me about Hawkes & Forman…
Hawkes and Forman is basically a combination of creativity provided by me, Toni Hawkes, and Katie Forman. We’re prop makers and display artists, and we pride ourselves on the high standard to which we work. As a company we’ve only been going for four months, but we’ve already created displays for Harvey Nichols, Sweaty Betty, and Topshop. We specialise in hand-made bespoke pieces, so everything we make for our clients is unique!

Toni, how did you become a display artist?
I did a degree in Illustration at London College of printing (now London College of Communication) and it was during that time that I started working for the Topshop creative team. I’ve always enjoyed being creative, and it was amazing to be able to combine paid work with my degree. After six years with Topshop I moved on to work for a display company, where I got to meet a variety of clients and generate a lot of contacts – which have definitely become useful now I have my own business!

How does it feel working with Topshop again?
The team at Topshop were like a family to me, so working there again is like going home! It’s different coming in with my own company, but it’s a positive difference – it’s great to have more control and creative input.

Were you nervous about branching out and starting your own company?
It was more excitement than nerves I think! Katie and I were both freelancing and we are used to the inconsistency that comes with this kind of work. With my contact book and Katie’s model making background, we realised that we had a rare combination that could really benefit us. We were actually pretty confident [laughs] and to have achieved so much in a short space of time has been surprised and amazed us.

Hawkes and Forman display

Topshop mannequins by Hawkes and Forman

How did the collaboration between Katie and yourself come about?
We met working at Pinewood Studios – we were both making props for Clash of the Titans. Katie had been working in film since she graduated from her model making degree and we quickly became friends, realising that we shared a common interest. I was looking at branching out into new creative industry alongside my retail background, and Katie was looking to break out on her own and make props for other industries. after we finished working on the film, we put together a portfolio and branded ourselves Hawkes & Forman!

You both have a lot of experience under your belts – what’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on to date?
Definitely the mannequins we created for Topshop’s Oxford Circus! They came to us with a concept from the Creative Director, and through samples we developed the idea. It was great for us to be able to have a hand in the design aspect as well as creating them. Each mannequin stands around 7 feet and is covered in hundreds of hand made paper cones, so it was a very labour intensive job, but the result was worth it, and they’ve received some amazing feedback.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a display artist?
Oh god, you have to be prepared to hassle people! [laughs] Not just for work, but to sign off jobs and pay you. It’s an aspect we didn’t really think about at the start, but when you have no one else working for you then you have to do the dirty work and chase companies to pay you on time. Other than that, you have to learn to be good with numbers and estimating, as there’s a lot of quoting and back quoting involved. For us, working together has been beneficial in more ways than one. We’ve found it helps to team up with another person as you can support each other, balance each other out and bounce ideas off each other. Creatively, having original ideas and an ability to visualise someone else’s concept are important. Be aware of your competition, and try to come up with a unique selling point. Most of all, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

If you can imagine it, they can make it…
If you need a window display, an installation, props for a photo shoot or props for a film, I cannot recommend these ladies highly enough. They’re both extremely talented and hard working, with passion and creativity by the bucket load. You can contact Toni and Katie directly via their website, or if you’d like to keep up to date with their inspiring work, you can follow them on Twitter, and on Facebook. If you live in London you can catch Hawkes & Forman’s mannequins in Topshop Oxford Circus up until Christmas.

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