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Meet the Maker Alison Gardiner, Artist and Designer

In our latest retail blog we meet UK illustrator Alison Gardiner, who has created several bespoke designs for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s shops, most recently a range featuring Shakespeare’s Characters. We discover what inspires her and why UK production is so important.

Alison Gardiner with her sketch books for her new Shakespeare Character range
Alison Gardiner, Artist and Designer in her studio. Southsea, UK.

About Alison

Alison trained in printed textiles and began her career designing greetings cards, which developed into illustrating children’s books and magazines. Her move into ceramics evolved from a collaboration with the National Trust, designing mugs for over fifty of their properties. Alison became well known for her architectural illustrations and has since worked with a number of heritage organisations developing gift ranges and advent calendars. She previously designed an advent calendar for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, as well as two exclusive ranges inspired by Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

Alison Gardiner SBT products

Given the success of these, we were keen to continue the collaboration and were very excited to add Alison’s Shakespeare’s Characters to our retail offer. We are delighted that the range will also be for sale in other shops as part of a licensing agreement, with a percentage of the profits from every sale helping to support the Trust.

Alison Gardiner new Shakespeare Character tea towel

Shakespeare's Characters tea towel and tote bag featuring popular characters, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Bottom, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet.

Alison Gardiner Shakespeare Characters Tote Bag
Alison Gardiner sketch books for her new Shakespeare Character range
Alison's Sketchbook

Working on the new design, Alison said it was a refreshing change to illustrate figures from Shakespeare’s plays rather than architecture. There was only space to fit six of her distinctive figures on a mug, so she had to choose the most popular: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Julius Caesar and Bottom. Bottom was her favourite to draw!

When it comes to inspiration, so much of Alison’s work is for bespoke designs, so there is usually a fairly tight brief. However, she is often inspired to find a quirky take on a particular property or character. She says that colour is really important too, as she sees her work as a surface pattern design. This is certainly evident in her choice of colourful costumes for her Shakespeare characters.

Alison Gardiner Shakespeare Characters Mug

Shakespeare's Characters mugs, made in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, UK.

Proudly made in the UK

Alison’s company designs and manufactures all her products in the UK. Alison feels this is very important, given they are to sell in tourist destinations where the customers want things made in this country.

Her English fine bone china mugs are made entirely in Stoke-on-Trent and are far better quality than mugs produced overseas. Famously home to Wedgwood, Spode and Minton, this area, known as ‘The Potteries’, has been home to the world’s finest bone china for more than 200 years. Alison’s mugs are still made in a Victorian pottery, in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, where the pottery is still very much part of the community and where the skills are passed down through the generations. The clay mix for the bone china is also produced in Stoke-on-Trent, so you can’t get any more ‘made in the UK’ than this.

All Alison’s mugs are made using traditional methods, many of which have remained unchanged for generations and each mug takes 7 days to make. The mugs start off in a mould, the handles are cast separately, attached by hand and dipped in glaze. They are decorated using high quality transfers and fired three times after every stage of the process, at more than 280° Celsius, for a total of 28 hours. The mugs are hand checked throughout the process to ensure that every item meets the highest standard. As an added bonus, every Shakespeare’s Characters mug has a secret mark on the bottom so you can see the initials of who decorated your mug. Hold the base in the light and see who made yours!

Alison Gardiner new Shakespeare Character range

The Shakespeare’s Characters mug and the rest of the collection, including a matching coaster, tea towel and tote bag, are available now in our online shop .