Day in the life of Art Director, Toni Hawkes

Each week we are talking to inspiring business women from around the world, and it seems like there's one common thread between us all: there is no limit to what we can do, so why make one? This weeks example is Toni Hawkes, the set designer, art director, maker, stylist and over all beautifier.

From creating inspiring windows for our favourite high street stores to dreaming up commercial campaigns, if there was such a thing as an average day in the life of an art director, then this would be it.

Hey Toni! Tell us a little bit about what you do?

Where to start…I am a freelance prop maker and set designer, prop stylist, interior stylist, creative consultant and art director!

I create props for windows displays for clients like Topshop, Marks and spencer, H&M etc. Props can range from a giant watermellon made from preserved roses, to mannequins covered in hundreds of hand made paper spikes!

When I’m not prop making, I’m usually working as a prop stylist or interior stylist for brands like Rimmel, Sally Hansen and The Sunday Times. This work can be fairly diverse depending on the client, for instance if I’m prop styling for beauty brands, this will usually entail me making or sourcing props, and setting up flat lays or little animated GIFS for the brand, which will then go on to be used on their social media channels. When I’m Interior styling, I’ll start by getting to grips with the brief, and then creating a moodboad, pulling together items of furniture, textures, colours and surfaces that I feel capture the essence of the brief.

Once I’ve had this signed off, it’s the fun part where I get to go out buying key pieces! I’ll then work on set, styling with the pieces I’ve collected, and bringing the room to life.

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How did you get into this business?

I had a part time sales assistant job at Topshop whilst I was studying Illustration at uni. During my time working at Topshop the in store and window displays caught me eye, they had a wall in store where resident artist could paint their own murals and be credited for them too!

I loved that a job existed where I could potentially promote my illustrative style, so I applied for a job on the display team and to my amazement, I got it! I stayed on the display team at Topshop for five years before moving on to various other retail display jobs. I worked in the retail display industry for a good few years before finally plucking up the courage to go freelance.

I am huge creature of habit and I was terrified, but so many people told me I was holding myself back by working for these big companies, when I could so easily go it alone and offer my services directly. I had always wanted to work in the film industry as a prop maker, and since I was freelance, this was the perfect opportunity to try to break into a different industry.

So with all the determination I could muster, and the use of some very handy contacts, I managed to land myself a job working as a prop and model maker at Pinewood studios, working on films such as Wrath Of The Titans, Jack The Giant Killer and 47 Ronin. The hours were crazy, I was working with horrible chemicals every day, and lived and breathed in a very un glamourous paper suit and respirator mask, but I loved it and thrived off the buzzing atmosphere.

During my time working in film I learnt more than I think I have ever learnt from the amazing people I was surrounded with every day and it was here that I met Katie who would soon become my business partner. Katie was a model maker but had always wanted to get into retail display, we got on instantly and I offered to give her some pointers and tips about how to get into the retail display world, we decided to work together as free lancers on a job, so that I could introduce her to some of my contacts.

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I managed to set up a few meetings with some old collegues, and before we knew it, we had our first job making animal heads for mannequins in Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge! Almost overnight our prop making business Hawkes and Forman was born, which not too long after became a LTD company. We were working with huge clients such as Topshop, Selfridges, Ugg, The White Company and Marks and Spencer, designing their window schemes and bringing them to life. My personal highlight was creating and installing all of the Christmas windows for Liberty in 2014, it was a dream come true!

There were only two of us in the company, but we did everything, from the accounts and marketing, to the designing, sourcing and making. One minute I’d be filing our VAT returns, and then next I’d be cutting wood on a circular saw or hand stitching the most intricate detail….. there was never a dull moment! Hawkes and Forman LTD ran successfully for six years. At the beginning of this year Katie decided that she was destined for the countryside and a life of self sufficiency and growing, so with heavy hearts we closed the business.

I have since been offering my services on a free lance basis, I am sad to have had to let go of H&F, but going it alone again has given me the freedom to pursue other avenues that I have always wanted to push, the world is my oyster and my day to day work life is so diverse I feel truly liberated! I never know what each week will bring, and for such a creature of habit that totally pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I know that I’m right where I want and need to be.

Take us through a typical day. What time do you get up at?

On a typical working day I will wake up between 7 and 7.30

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

I usually get up, stick the radio on and feed our cats Tyga and Toulouse, then make myself a cup of tea. I’ll shower, do my make up, and pick out something to wear – my job can be very diverse, and it’s very important that I’m comfortable.

One day I can be prop styling for a brand like Rimmel, so I may need to be at the flower market for the crack of dawn buying plants and flowers, then I’ll need to run around town buying props for the shoot before getting back to the studio to set up and style flat lays and videos. The next day I can be designing and building a set or window for a client, so will spend most of the day emailing and speaking to suppliers, ordering materials and project managing to ensure the install goes smoothly.

Most days I’ll wear jeans and a T shirt, with converse and a light jacket, or if I’m on a shoot I try and look a little more stylish, favouring a jumpsuit over jeans or trading in my converse for a bright coloured pair of mules! Most days I’ll aim to leave the house by 8/8.30am, (that is if I don’t need to visit the flower market!)

What do you have for breakfast?

Most days I’ll have porridge with almond milk, chia seeds, berries and honey. Or if I have slightly more time, I’ll have avocado on toast with a poached egg. I have to start my day with a cup of tea or else my morning just doesn’t feel right!

How do you keep yourself organised?

I suffer with OCD so I’m unusually organised and possibly not in the most healthy of ways! I was given the most amazing diary by one of my best friends at the beginning of the year, it comes with plenty of space to make notes and some very important stickers! So I keep this in my bag at all times, In one week I can be working on three or sometimes four different jobs so it’s super important to keep on top of each.

My diary has details of all my up coming jobs and the names and contact numbers for my point of contact at each job. It’s my life in a book and I’d be lost without it. I also keep an excel spreadsheet of all the jobs I invoice for so that I can keep track of all my incomings.

This might sound a bit crazy, but having my own business taught me some very important lessons where invoicing is concerned, and it can never hurt to have all your invoice numbers, PO numbers, dates invoiced and job contacts all in one place. When you’re freelance it can be hard to keep track of everything otherwise, so this is a super important document for me!

Tell us how you structure your day

Once I’ve got ready and have had my breakfast I always check my emails. I’ll go through and new emails that have come through, replying where necessary and make sure I get back to anyone I hadn’t already.

I make a list of things that need to get done that day, and work my way through them as best I can. I’ll try and grab lunch if I’m out or on the move prop sourcing, usually something veggie from somewhere like Pret or Leon, or if I’m working from home I’ll make sure I make myself something healthy like a salad with lots of roast veg and feta. Often I’ll be working on location or on a shoot in a studio in which case it can be hard to break for lunch when I’m supposed to, as I’m a perfectionist and find it hard to stop working, but the studios always provide the nicest catering!

I’ll try and catch up on emails as often as I can throughout the day, it can be hard juggling and overseeing other jobs when you’re on a shoot and required to be on set all day, but when you’re your own boss you get used to this way of working an soon find a flow.

What time do you finish work?

Weather I’m on a shoot, working from home or working on an install I’ll aim to finish up between 6 and 6.30pm.

How do you wind down?

Usually I’ll get home, and prepare dinner for my fiancé Jonny and I. I’ll spend a bit of time on our terrace watering the plants and playing with the cats! Jonny will sometimes run me a bath and we’ll watch a documentary on TV, followed by something we can both watch without having to think too much, like TOWIE or made in Chelsea!

What's your bed time?

I try to be in bed by 10/11pm. Usually I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but on the rare occasion I don’t, I’ll read Elle Decoration or do a little bit of wedding planning for our up coming wedding in September!

Any advice for someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t ever give in to your fear…and never be afraid to go it alone! One of my mottos ‘it’s a little bit of what you know and a lot of who you know!’

Contacts are everything, and don’t be afraid to use them if you have them. I think a lot of people are embarrassed to admit that they had a bit of help from a friend or family member getting their foot in the door, there is absolutely no shame in accepting help from friends, friends of friends, or family! Be kind and be humble, help others out and accept that you’re always learning no matter how long you’ve been in the job. I’ve learnt some great tips and techniques from junior freelancers and we can all learn something from one another.

Above all even when you’re having an off day, believe in yourself and the rest will come naturally!

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Sheri Scott, also known as the orange hair and glasses behind leading Scottish based fashion and lifestyle blog, Forever Yours Betty.
Glasgow Website