We had the good fortune of connecting with Phaedon Zacharoudes and Jeff West and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Phaedon & Jeff, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Phaedon: “If my choice is between being unhappy bringing someone else’s dreams to life and being unhappy bringing my own dreams to life, then I’d rather give myself a chance.” This was the thought process that led me to forge a path where art and entrepreneurship walk hand in hand and help each other out. I grew up in a context where my options as a flamboyantly creative individual were limited. People would tell me “There’s no bread in art,” meaning that if I became an artist (i.e. a painter; that being the only definition of an artist) I would starve. Who wants to starve? I wasn’t born into money. I knew what wanting meant. I went abroad to study Fine Arts, but quickly became disillusioned with the limited practical applications of what I was being taught and ended up switching to Film Studies, or Audiovisual Communications. I spent a long time trying to find a plausible job description that could feed me, as well as accommodate all these buckets of creativity I carry within my wee body. I didn’t seem to fit anywhere, faced unemployment a few times too. My emotions starved far longer than my bank account, though. I needed to take the responsibility for any chance of fulfilment into my own hands. That’s when I started connecting with the joy and imagination of kids’ literature and art that had been bubbling under the surface inside me since childhood. I started studying up on it, creating my own characters and stories. Soon after my luck began to change. I managed to fill a niche as a Media and Communications professional for non-profit organisations. It allowed me to stretch as a creative and I could see my work was making a real difference in the life of our customers, another important element I had been missing. I worked hard and financed my migration to a country that offered more creative opportunities. Shortly after I got there, I crossed paths with another business-minded creative with whom I set up the FayJay creationship. Now I am able to bring my brand of happiness into the world on a daily basis and, as tough as it’s got sometimes, living out my purpose has provided me with the strength to overcome every obstacle. I have never felt happier or more employed. Jeff: The creativity justified the risk at a certain point. How did I get here? I grew up drawing cars. It led to a Masters degree in automotive design and a career actually designing cars, programming AI into CAD systems and eventually being a consultant in technical design software applications. I had a comfortable life, but the dissatisfaction on a personal level kept building up. Not being able to be unique, not being able to express myself and make a joyful mark on the world led me to a re-think of my career choices. I re-trained as a web designer and animator, became a technical author and SEO content producer, which kept me earning and put me in a more creative industry – marketing. In my private time, I put more emphasis on my personal creativity, writing songs, lyrics and designing greetings cards featuring dinosaurs; another great childhood passion of mine. As other people saw art as a non-profitable enterprise, I too wasn’t sure how to go about turning it from hobby to career. I needed to take a risk, though I didn’t know it then. That changed when I met the right person with whom to partner up. Our creationship has led to intense and heartening growth, both personal and artistic. Having a creative partner has meant pairing the uncertainty of creating a business, doubling the effort for success, having a sounding board and someone who is always on my side, cheering me on. Today, I am more creative, confident and closer to the realisation of my aspirations than ever before; I have earned a digital illustration diploma and am creating art that appeals to artistic kids, just like me, every day! Time has enabled the technology to realise my art in a way that gels with my previous career skills and also the confidence to be true to my own style. It was the right risk to take.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We are two talented outsiders with our own unique perspectives and styles, which our creationship brings together creating sparks for our young and young-at-heart customers. We want to belong to a world where every imagination is heard and valued. From this point of view, we do our best to become a bridge where imaginations become tangible realities. Our services include Bespoke and Ready-made Art and Design as well as Book Design. There’s a lot we are excited about. We are at a crucial milestone now, where we are truly defining ourselves as a creative brand and making an impact. FayJay was created about seven years ago when the two of us first started working together. That’s all it was back then, an idea, an ambition. Since then we have been steadily growing as artists, developing our portfolio and gaining a foothold as professionals. It’s been fun, but not easy. Phaedon says, “I have had to learn how to put myself 100% in the service of our collaboration. I was used to being a maverick, so to speak, I never expected to find a business partner, let alone a creative one. But it was obvious Jeff and I were so much stronger as a creationship, rather than as our individual parts, and I was committed to honouring our potential. Playing off each other’s strengths and being of one mind is integral to the success we are building. It all boils down to communication and that’s especially tricky in a creative domain where everything is about personal interpretation. I have had to work harder at active listening, paying attention to another’s point of view and using my words to express myself better than ever before FayJay came to be. I am a more competent professional and a better person because of it.” Jeff says, “I have had to work up the confidence to put across my own creative point of view and to put my art out there. My art stems from a love of animals (both living and extinct) and a fascination with children’s book illustrations. As a child, I would draw the creatures I saw in encyclopedias in the style of the characterful images in picture books. As I got older I particularly enjoyed artwork that rewarded repeated viewing, exploring details that might escape the viewer the first time around. The humour and simple, elegant artwork of comic strips led to an integration of humour into my own work, and now I aim to create exactly the kind of art that would have appealed to me in my earlier life. I am always creating for the child who may themselves become an artist and the parent who may enjoy reading that picture book to their child, over and over again.” So here we are now, excited about this next period of productivity, highlighted by the upcoming opening of our online shop, making something that we have imagined for so long a tangible reality.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The Atlantic on one side for surfing, the Downs on the other for hiking and a series of festivals and festivities that run throughout the spring and summer, Brighton is a feast of a town, always known as a place of fun and culture! The orientalist fantasy of the Pavillion is an indelible symbol of the town’s history of permissiveness and a favourite hangout for the beauty of its gardens and the two museums found in the same enclave. Brighton is also a vegan’s paradise with a multitude of options from fancy-but-arty glamorous dining to vegan pizza to on-the-go seaside favourites (but watch out for the swooping seagulls!). There is a maze of bespoke shopping streets, called North Laine, full of individual retailers you won’t find on the usual high street. The beach isn’t sandy but is a popular haunt, featuring a traditional pier with a funfair and games arcade, and miles of seafront space packed with cafes, shops and local artist outlets. The UK’s LGBTQ+ capital, Brighton’s gay bars and pubs also overlook the sea and are super-welcoming to everyone, just like the town itself. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Phaedon: From my part, I want to give a shoutout to the fabulous Sara Azzi, founder of “Romance In Italy” Boutique Wedding Planning and Wedding Design agency. As a dear friend and fellow small business owner, Sara has made a valuable contribution for us as FayJay, providing guidance and support at a crucial moment of intense growth. Check out her marvellous work at https://www.romanceinitaly.it. Jeff: My ShoutOut goes out to Petra Northmore and her Give It A Twist Designs business. Just like me, Petra is someone who has had the bravery to create a business later in life, and she has been truly supportive of my journey – and my creations! This hand-made art, hand made by Petra and her daughter, Katie, is original and characterful. This really is a family (and family-inspired) business. As Petra says “I started this business during UK Lockdown, to show my children how you can adapt to situations, and how past skills can be useful.” https://www.giveitatwistdesigns.co.uk/