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Meet: Anna Döhner-Tjan

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Published date 14 May 2015

Anna Döhner-Tjan studied Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Camberwell College of Arts, and then BA (Hons) Fine Art at Central Saint Martins.  She went on to launch Oaksmith Studio, a Fine Art Picture Framers with her colleague Mauro Saccardo. They generously give a studio prize every year to a current UAL student. Here Anna talks about how she got into the business, and gives tips for young creative entrepreneurs. 

What made you want to come to London to study art?
I remember opening my acceptance letter to the foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts, and bursting into tears when I read I’d got a place. I grew up in Hanover, Germany, which is a small city. I’d wanted to leave since I was 14 and move somewhere more accepting.

So less than a month after graduating from high school I packed my bags and moved to London. I knew I was leaving for good.  I loved my time at Camberwell. I lived in a shared house in Peckham, which really was a baptism by fire, as Peckham was very different back then.

How was your time at Camberwell? And what did you do after?
I really enjoyed the course, I loved the variation and the different pathways – I always knew I wanted to do Fine Art, but the course opened up so many different options for me, and allowed me to explore different creative areas: Graphic design, sculpture, textiles…

I went on to study Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in the old Charing Cross building. I relished being in the centre of London, surrounded by Covent Garden, Soho, the British Museum etc.  I always had new places to explore.
What I found great about the course at CSM was that the course director and other staff made changes to the course and its structure every year, improving it and also keeping up-to-date with what was happening in the art world.  Again, I got to try out a range of disciplines – video installation, photography, performance – and I feel I made full use of these at CSM.

Anna & Mauro in their Bethnal Green studio

Anna & Mauro in their Bethnal Green studio

Did you always plan to get involved in framing?
In my final year I went to see a movie about a quadriplegic blues singer, Vic Chesnutt – it blew me away. I decided I wanted to be involved in the creation of music, but I wasn’t a musician. It took me about a year to pluck up the courage to try something else, but eventually I went on to study Sound Engineering.  I managed to get a job at Eastcote Studios in West London, working with artists such as the Arctic Monkeys and KT Tunstall.

However, after three years of working 120-hour weeks, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do this forever; it wasn’t sustainable. I rang up my old friend, Mauro Saccardo, who I had always admired for his positive attitude and go-getting outlook on life. He was working at a frame makers in Islington.  I went to meet him for a drink and picked him up from the frame makers on the way – I was drawn to the creative maker’s atmosphere, and I thought I could try that. I had never framed anything before, but Mauro put in a good word for me, and I ended up getting a Saturday job.  I very quickly gained more days, and ended up working full time.

After a couple of years Mauro decided to leave to study interior design. We still met up regularly, and started to talk about setting up on our own – we both wanted the opportunity to shape and emphasize what aspects of the business were important to us. We both had similar ideas about what we wanted from a business, and both had some savings, so took the leap to go it alone.

A friend had mentioned there was studio space in the Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey, where we managed to secure some space with five metre ceilings on the ground floor – we have never looked back!

We work mostly by appointment so we can be extremely dedicated to each client.  Both coming from an art background, we both have a deep understanding of art, and the problems that artists face – we know what kind of frames are suitable for galleries etc.

Oaksmith Studio

Oaksmith Studio

Where do you see your business going in the future?
We hope to increase our visibility, and to one day have our own high street shop.

Tell us about the Oaksmith Studio Prize…
Each year we contribute to the framing of one piece of work in a student’s degree show. Last year, the course was MA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts, and the winner was Isabelle Woodhouse.

Both Mauro and I studied art, so we appreciate what it can be like financially.  We are both also really interested in young art. The art students of today will be our clients of tomorrow. We also thought that by giving this gift, we could be more closely involved with young artists and their work.

Do you have any tips for our alumni thinking about going it alone in the creative industry?
You need to have passion and belief that you can make it work.  When we started we weren’t aware of all the hardships we would face, both physically and financially.  For example, the Biscuit Factory closed down and gave us only one month’s notice.  We had to uproot our entire business in such a short time frame – but we got through it. And when you look back you are spurred on by your achievements, and you think ‘if we can get through that, we can get through anything…’

Oaksmith Studio are very kindly offering a 10% alumni discount to all UAL graduates. For more information get in touch on +44 (0)20 3489 8700 or at info@oaksmithstudio.co.uk

Find out more about the courses UAL offer