What do a furniture designer, a Devon-born tattooist, a shoe maker and a grime rapper have in common? Well, back in October, they were among the 700-plus entrants for the first Creative 30 award, which involved an eight-week campaign masterminded by Vice magazine, Volvo, Yahoo and The Independent to find the next generation of Britain's leading creative minds.
The brief was simple: any innovative UK-based resident could apply to make up half of the 30-strong shortlist, and the other 15 entrants were picked by industry gurus such as designer Vivienne Westwood, culture commentator Stephen Bayley and fashion artist Daisy de Villeneuve. A judging panel would choose the winner of £10,000 while the public would vote for the runner-up, who would receive a brand new Volvo C30 R-Design (creative 30, geddit?).
The final shortlist featured a bunch of bright young talents, some traditional, others more adventurous, like 24-year-old contender Simon Davenport. The multi-medium artist from Norwich had shown his work around Europe and his summer exhibition included a surreal installation featuring a naked man, which he said he used "to arouse thought". Other shortlisted talents included the photographer Harley Weir, the illustrator Sophie Kern and the knitwear designer Liria Pristine.
But the winners have now been revealed as Glaswegians Katie Paterson, a 27-year-old artist, and the people's choice winner, 29-year-old milliner Will Chambers. Paterson's ability to create works both obscure and fascinating was considered by the judging panel to be in a league of its own. As Vice editor and judging panellist Andy Capper put it: "Katie's art was genuinely intriguing to everyone – it was unlike anything we had seen in any of other entrants."
Creative 30 musical shortlisters Micachu, Scorcher, Joan Robertson and Markland Starkie, for instance, produced the kind of tunes that paled in comparison to Paterson's highly conceptual Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull – the three recordings of glaciers in Iceland cast using the actual water and played on turntables until they melted. Then there's Earth-Moon-Earth, a hauntingly fragmented recording of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata after being transmitted to the moon and back. But what marks Paterson's art is neither its typicality for melody, nor anything definable within the traditional confines of modern art. It is not contrived either, although one might wonder if her works, often inspired by landscapes, technology and science, should be classed as mere experiments rather than art.
Growing up, Paterson explains she used to draw obsessively at a tiny desk, and remembers her earliest art project at school was a kettle made with two spouts. "My mum found it amazing, like it had some kind of conceptual meaning behind it," she laughs. In 2004, she enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art where she graduated with a degree in tapestry (now known as intermedia), followed by a year of "horrendous jobs" before heading to Iceland for seven months. She decided to do a Masters at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2006 and, since then, she has enjoyed the freedom of leaving her student days behind her.
At her graduate show, she presented Earth-Moon-Earth and Vatnajökull, a live phone line to an Icelandic glacier which the public could call to hear the melting ice caps, funded by Virgin Mobile. Yet she admits it was much harder then to carry out such projects. "Since I've graduated, it's got easier, I've had a bigger support network," she says. "Just having people enjoy the work has given me more drive and enthusiasm to keep going with work that actually demands quite a bit."
She explains her "moonbulb", which she worked on with scientists to recreate moonlight, took a year to make. For Vatnajökull, she camped out in the Icelandic cold and rain for days to ensure it was correctly installed. "At so many points you feel like giving up because there's a health and safety problem or something," she says. "There always seems to be things that you come up against but it is worth it in the end, when I get the results, and then when the public like it." At the moment, she's trying to track down someone to help her produce her map charting all the dead stars ever recorded, of which she's found 27,000, and counting.
Understandably, the prize money has come as a relief for an artist who has found it "a struggle to make a living". She's thinking about moving to Berlin for a year and the extra wealth means she can concentrate on her art, which will be featured as part of the Altermodern exhibition at the Tate next year. Her works will also be on show at the New York site of the Albion gallery in 2009. Now she's trying to figure out how to create a second tide by submerging a wave machine in the sea. "I'm also working on a black firework to be set off under dark skies," she says.
Meanwhile, Will Chambers is just content making hats. Still, they're hardly your average headgear when you take in his flamboyant style, which has seen him include inspirations such as birds and architecture, as well as using plastic flowers "the size of dinner plates". The 29-year-old says he's shocked but pleased that he's won a new car. "I've got a car already so this will give me an opportunity to leave my full-time job," he says. "Whether I keep the Volvo or sell it, it's going to give me an opportunity to be financially secure."
For the past year, Chambers has been causing a stir in the hat game, earning a nomination at the Scottish Fashion Awards for accessory designer of the year, working on Olanic's spring/summer collection at London Fashion Week and designing a hat for singer Roisin Murphy that she wore on her last tour of Europe.
The Creative 30 competition, Chambers says, highlights the wide range of talent in the UK, but he's comfortable of his place within the wider spectrum, even if, unlike Paterson, it's not the most obscure niche. "I think we've all got our different talents and when I look at what I do, it is more craft-led and more hands on," he says. "It's going back to basics but taking a huge step forward."
Chambers now plans to pack in his job, build up the "William Chambers" brand and hopes he can create a headpiece for Grace Jones one day. "She's just so stylish," he says.
The Creative 30 winners and nominees will be celebrated at Maverik Showroom, London E2 ( www.creative30.net ). Works by Katie Paterson will be featured in Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009, Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888), from 3 February to 26 April. For more information on the winners, visit www.katiepaterson.org and visit www.williamchambers.co.uk