Creative Business Catch Up with Mary Thorp of Raw Mixture

This month I have been joined by the lovely Mary Thorp of Raw Mixture - she has an amazing way with words, a super talented family (I've interviewed her daughter Ruth here)  and you will love her honest and insightful answers on being a creative business.

Tell us a bit about your business - what do you do? What's your background. Why did you decide to set up your creative business? How long as it been going?

Raw Mixture is a small creative business that is one half indie publisher, printing short runs of our own books – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, meditations, illustrated kids’ books – and one half original graphic art, prints, cards and paper items handmade by me.

The business is run from our home on the north coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales and has finally settled into a cohesive brand. Both sides of the business are represented by a little crucible that sits above the logos - a melting pot of raw ideas, mixed together with love, soul and humour to produce work that people engage with.


The business is just me really, although with lots of creative collaboration from different family members, especially around the books: shout out to daughters @ruththorpstudio and @mahfoudhsarah and husband @stevethorp54  Eldest daughter Jen (a super-hero) cheers us all on. 


I have always been creative from childhood, making, sewing, sticking and gluing, but my education background isn’t arty at all. I studied economics at Uni, taught through my twenties, when our three girls were small, and went on to have a career in commercial interior design. I have always been obsessed with buildings, renovations and interiors and have learned a lot of handy skills along the way. Our lovely renovation of derelict stone barns here in Pembrokeshire fulfilled an ambition I’ve had since I was five!


My creative business began in 2004 as a way of earning extra money to achieve that goal, and in the early years Steve and I did a lot of big shows, selling prints and cards every weekend. Looking back, life was surreal and hilarious, two week-day professionals packing up the car each weekend to stand on stalls at shows and trade fairs. But I loved it – being my own boss, with no corporate stress and a wonderful, welcoming crowd of other makers. 


And it was successful because the items were really nicely designed and packaged. I decided to produce Steve’s poetry in small pamphlets, in the days before self-publishing was a thing really. We had seven pamphlets that we sold in galleries; I figured people who liked browsing art and ceramics and craft would be interested in writing and poetry too, and this proved to be the case.


There is a long back story but by 2010 we were in the middle of our epic build project, I was covered in dirt for two years and Steve juggled his professional life and the finances. Phew! 


I lost a bit of purpose after the build, and life took over with family visits and the excitement of becoming besotted grandparents. But we had so much thoughtful writing and illustration locked up in computers that by 2013 I just wanted to get it out there again. I started afresh with a new name – Raw Mixture Publishing – and we combined all our skills as writers, editors, designers, and illustrators using digital packages to become a small publisher. We have complete autonomy over the look and feel of our books and the papers we use, and just print in small runs to sell through.


So, in essence, my stuff came first, then stopped, then started again with two brands which was a muddle, and then I realised I could use the same brand, just differently, and now we have lots of ‘Mixes’!


What is your typical work day like? 


Always different! But it starts with proper strong coffee and a browse of Instagram, the news, emails etc. then a list of goals for the day which invariably changes…and ends with me beating myself up for not achieving more!


I’ve worked for myself for such a long time that I don’t have a sense of work and off days or 9-5. I’m very self-motivated, but I love the way we run our days - a bit of work, bit of downtime, thinking time, some exercise, going off on wild tangents with a new idea, lying on the heated concrete floor designing in my head, beach time, meal in the evening, no visitors now, but lots of silly phone calls, video chats and zoom meetings.


If I have online orders or shop orders there is a lot of printing and wrapping of parcels, that is frankly chaotic while in progress!


I never miss a deadline, which is a source of life long anxiety I think – always afraid to fail. But it has given me the habit of finishing things and editing work until it is right.


I am a quiet, concentrated worker and have always worked across analogue and digital. My pieces begin with doodles, marks, collages, inky printing, and photos which I scan. Then I spend hours and hours absorbed in the laptop, using my technical brain as much as my creative brain, collaging the images.


Digital design and print requires a lot of patience but once the files are ready I can print all the work and from then on it is hours of hands-on cutting, folding, gluing and packing. Creating is a way of life and the passion you put into the work means long hours to get it right. It is job satisfaction and pride in a beautiful product that matters.

I love making work with a deeper message too, an eye catching image in the first instance, but then more thought provoking. I love great design that strips everything back to a sparse image that somehow captures the emotion and energy you want it to.


Creating work for a giveaway or Instagram challenge or print exchange has been good for me, inspiring a lot of new work I had no idea I could come up with, and making me think differently. A deadline can actually be good for creativity, pushing you to finish work that might otherwise not progress. Without a bit of stress in life we’d never get anything done!


And I guess I’m drawn to printmaking because of its historical roots in democracy and the dissemination of ideas. You can replicate a print multiple times in an affordable format. I like that and many people just buy my cards to frame.



How do you market your business and what works best for you?  Do you use any good apps to help you?


I think the short answer to the first part is ‘badly’!! Better marketing is definitely a life goal. But I recognise this and am trying hard.


I resisted having an online presence for so long (I’m a bit of a hermit really) but I was hugely surprised to find I loved Instagram once I got going. It is such a visual platform and I enjoy writing the posts too –sometimes little thoughtful pieces that people engage with. I feel like I have found a lovely set of friends to connect with, just with a quick message or a silly comment or some encouragement.


I joined because everyone said it was the way to gain online sales but I’m not very sales-ey! And I have nil engagement with Facebook which I truly don’t understand. So, “could work harder”, is the verdict on marketing….


I am not an app person either! Although I love the Instagram app and definitely found PayPal useful the few times we’ve been at a fair in the last couple of years.



If you were starting your business again is there anything you would have done differently?


No, I don’t think so. I’ve always just got on with stuff in my own way. I’m not a planner, but I am a doer. Once I decide on something I just start immediately. I can make things happen very quickly and I always finish things. It can be annoying for others around me, but nothing beats just starting. You pretty much have to get on with sorting out the mess if you start making one!


I guess I got a bit muddled up in the middle years before I realised my initial creative business could be included in the Raw Mixture brand, and that has really worked. It has given me an awful lot more confidence about getting my stuff out there. I’m prouder of it somehow, instead of being a bit squeamish!!


I made a decision from the start to stay small and manageable without putting any pressure on finances. I do wish I had an accounting system in place though. I am an absolute nightmare and very juvenile about this, to the point of being an ostrich. So yes, I would definitely have tackled this differently.


What's the best thing about being a creative business owner?


Apart from being creative, just being your own boss. I have always been so resolute about living life to my own agenda, and I won’t compromise on that. I value time, health and peace of mind over money.


The choices I make are my own and I control how work goes out into the world, to a quality I’m happy with. The most unhappy period of my life was working in a supposed partnership where that didn’t happen: result – epic meltdown…


The other best thing is being part of this amazing, creative, welcoming, supportive, flaky, joyous, intelligent, groundbreaking and aware community. I have found my tribe and I love them!


What's the toughest thing about being a creative business owner?


Making enough money to contribute to the household income. That is a reality for most creatives and is why many creative businesses are often side hustles, and that’s ok. When we had kids to bring up, I always had a job, but I still worked towards being my own boss.


The other tough thing is mind set. I still beat myself up because I’m not good enough, talented enough, don’t market myself, don’t plan things, don’t work hard enough, and am rubbish about documenting anything (spreadsheets again!).


I have no problem with showing up each day and working hard, but I’m not sure I apply myself in the most productive way! Hmmmm….



What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?


“Work hard” is always right up there with good advice. Along with “just start” and “don’t marry someone who doesn’t make you laugh!” – which isn’t technically business advice, but is certainly very wise.


Sharing a sense of the ridiculous with someone makes any relationship easier – friendship, marriage, business – so I guess work with people you value and can be yourself with.


Business wise, the advice that really resonated with me is, start your idea as a side hustle. Just begin, make some extra income, and grow as much as you want to or have the time to. It takes the pressure off and keeps it exciting and something you cant wait to get back to doing each day, or weekend. It also stops you ever having time to be bored!


What advice would you give other creative businesses starting out?


Always have your heart in what you make – customers notice.


If you don’t want to do something, join something, be part of something, or take on a job or client, say NO - sooner rather than later. This is important advice. A bit of stress is productive but making the wrong decision can paralyse you mentally, emotionally and creatively and impacts other parts of your life. Peace of mind is priceless.


Don’t overthink it. Choose one product and make it really, really well. It will become your signature product that customers recognise you for and you can build a brand on it. My small boxes of nine blank cards were designed and sold in 2004; I have made many different collections of them, all printed to the same format on the same beautiful GF Smith paper in the same sized box. They are still my best seller.


You can do an awful lot with what you have. A metal ruler, scalpel and cutting board will do the job – it will just take longer. Someone with a great eye for graphic design can make an iconic poster that sells for years using black ink and a potato cut with a knife.


If you don’t like managing people, then stay small and don’t take money risks. A side business is a great idea until you find your feet – I probably still work like this and it makes for an interesting life. A mix of paid work, bit of freelancing or teaching and a creative side business is a nice way to live


Always make time for learning or taking course just for fun. The most unexpected things happen.

Do you have any exciting plans for your business in the future?


This is a hard question to answer right now with everything that’s happened over the past twelve months – honestly, I don’t know. I feel quieter and more withdrawn from the world at the moment and my burning ambition is to be with my family. We miss each other very much and it is taking up a lot of headspace.


Having said that, lock-down has given me a lot of quiet, concentrated creative time and I’m really pleased with the art work and prints that have come out of it. I could not have expected that and the sheer volume of new work I’ve come up with has taken me by surprise. It would be very exciting to build on it, make something of it, market it….!


I would love the book side of our business to grow, and there seems to be no easy way to do this. They are fabulous books, we have wonderful reviews, we have a couple of new ones waiting to publish, but we are not industry experts and we just do stuff because we can’t see why not! It is harder than ever with trade shows cancelled, but I am not giving up.


I think I would really like to investigate licensing some of my work – it has been a plan in the background for a while and I am always up for learning and new courses.


We are also the publishers of Unpsychology - the online magazine that Steve set up and edits. He is currently working on edition 7, themed around Climate Complexity Change, with a growing audience and submissions from all over the world. It’s a project we are all proud of and it may grow.


The website needs thinking about since it is run on a rather old platform. It’s a mission to think about starting it all over again, but it would be exciting if we did.

Where can people find out more about you?  Do you have any selling events coming up that you want to tell people about?


I think following the Instagram account @rawmixture is the best place to start and the link tree in the bio takes you to the shop and waist too - but you can also click on the links here to take you direct to the shop and the website

I know we have a Facebook account but I have absolutely no idea what happens on there - literally.


I will be part of various online selling shows again this year - notably with @pedddleuk - but nothing real planned as yet.


I would love to apply myself to collecting emails and maybe commit to a newsletter this year. Can you believe I haven’t done this? I annoy myself by being so resistant and stubborn about stuff that would actually make a positive difference to the business. I am a lost cause! Just start!!


Mary Thorp @rawmixture