I have taught hundreds of people how to make books. Folded, stitched, and even stuck books have been made under my guidance in school rooms, art college studios, village halls, hospital rehab. suites, commercial company meeting rooms, and at dining room tables, at the very least. Every time I teach a bookbinding workshop there is a sense of wonderment from the participants, a proud moment when they hold the completed book for the first time, and realise what they have made. It’s a good feeling being the facilitator of that experience. Books are one of those objects that carries so much potential; an object that can contain private thoughts, or public rule, but is portable and very cheap to make using very few tools. We bond with books.

I was first taught about Book Art by Les Bicknell of ‘bookness’ fame. He made a studio full of Norfolk kids studying textiles question our preconceived ideas of what a book can be, and I was unique in that group – I saw a future of work that I wanted to make. On my degree course I was taught more practical bookbinding skills, and eventually wrote a 12000 word dissertation on the subject, researching in key collections at the V&A and Manchester Met. as well as interviewing some leading figures of the genre. Books for me at that time fulfilled learning requirements on my design degree while becoming vessels to explore my ‘fine art’ ideas, and this eventually led me to study for the MA in Book Art at Camberwell College of Arts, London. I spent the year investigating a ‘sense of place’ of south London, driven to create a more personal map of my London in contrast to the A-Z map, exploring cinematic flip books, and architecturally inspired structures.

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There are tools and skills that are beneficial to know; I was taught by the old boys at London College of Printing, as it was then, how to stitch with curved needles, cover the boards, and press the blocks. More useful to me though was the challenging of how we ‘read’ the book form, how one can be directed by the designer to progress through both visual and structural narratives across pages and along folds. I’ve explored these ideas in many of my limited editions of books I made and exhibited between 1998 and 2008. I’m very proud of this body of work, and I know many people appreciated the pieces. I have work in the Tate collection, the British Library, Manchester Met. to name a few, as well as overseas in collection in America, France and Ireland and within the small world of artists books I became known for the structural book forms I created. Many of my books were inspired by journeys and places I experienced, or events and mindsets I found myself in. A broken elbow falling off a bicycle really did inspire ‘Bloom’ which I describe as the ‘measure of my healing’, as I challenged myself each week to cope with the physical tasks required of printing the book. I have always taken on and enjoyed the challenge of transforming a two-dimensional sheet of paper in to a three-dimensional book structure appropriate for its narrative.

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Sadly not many people make a living selling artists books. It frustrated me that I could sell a print for £80 but once I had folded and stitched it in to a complex structure I couldn’t sell it for £20. So strong is our association with art, that if it can be framed and put on a wall it had greater value. I also got fed up with the ‘I can see how she’s made it’ statements as visitors to shows photographed my work without the courtesy to ask, as if I was a learning resource centre, having paid for the pleasure myself. I see now an increase in awareness of book art and hope things have changed in these regards.

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I have continued to use the practical and conceptual skills in my public art commissions, with large-scale visual narratives explored as if pages held in my hand. The sequence of toilet doors in a central Colchester public convenience was just that, a story of passing time. My current design practice benefits from my bookbinding skills and visual communication knowledge, as well as my book art thinking in the design of my marketing material, and sample books. I also continue to produce hand printed and stitched notebooks featuring my patterns – Parterre is the latest.

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As I pack up my box of tricks ready to teach another fifty students the basics of books let’s hope some of that joy and creative potential is passed on to the next generation, for whatever context they want to think about books in.

Useful links:

http://www.tate.org.uk/research/library/artists-books
http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/about.htm
http://www.specialcollections.mmu.ac.uk/artists.php
http://www.katefarley.co.uk/gallery/bookworks2.htm

If you haven’t seen the new IKEA video about the book book, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOXQo7nURs0

 

 

What a week! Several trips to London, lots of bubble-wrap, the wearing of a particular dress and stamina, all in the name of Tent London as part of London Design Festival 2014.

The preparation has taken months, alongside the development of patterns and printing I have worked on marketing & promotion, stand design, costings and sales. I’m delighted that my first commercially available wallpaper called ‘Hanbury’ (see previous blog post) has been really well received by interior designers, the public and the press and I look forward to working with really great people who have shown support.

The fabrics have been fairly consistently described as ‘restful’ and ‘calming’ with the muted colour palette being appreciated and described as ‘mid-century’ and ‘modernist’. Its difficult to know sometimes how much people want to know about the generation of pattern designs, but when I described the inspiration and showed the drawings and limited editions of prints of allotments that helped to generate the motifs there was a sense of pleasure and understanding, especially amongst the gardeners! The linens have been popular, especially the Plot to Plate VVV stripe design. I look forward to seeing these fabrics on chairs and hung as curtains in due course.

After months working away in the studio it’s been a great opportunity to have conversations and feedback, meeting like minded people and making the first steps to some fabulous opportunities and working relationships. Thanks to all who came by to meet me, I really value the feedback and support!

A huge thanks go to all of my sisters who played their significant part in keeping me upright, getting me and my work to where we needed to be, and keeping the children going. Thanks to Gavin, as well as Helen for living in the right place, and huge thanks to Stuart for being a great ‘intern’ – above and beyond!

If you didn’t get a chance to visit my stand here’s what it looked like…

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The process of designing my first commercially available wallpaper has been a long & highly considered journey and one I thought would be interesting to share.

Research: I first made drawings in my sketchbook last summer when I visited the National Trust property Hanbury Hall & Gardens in Worcestershire. I really liked the formal parterre and saw a really close link between garden design and textile design – I wrote about this in a previous blog post: http://katefarley.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/pattern-design-outdoors-and-in/

Composition: Sketches became drawings that became more detailed designs, that were then tested in repeat by scanning them in to the computer and using Photoshop. Edge details, scale of motifs, pattern and textural rhythm all needed to be considered.

Cutting the block: I measured and cut the lino block before taking a really clean print in order to scan the print in to work digitally with the repeat tile.

Editing: Further refinements, several print outs and more alterations took place over several weeks as I got used to seeing and living with the design. Additional lino blocks were cut in order to add different motifs to the design. Additional variations across the larger repeat file create visual interests and a play on the traditional repeat expectations. Some tweaks were so minimal that people unfamiliar to the design wouldn’t be able to spot the changes without having them pointed out, but it’s so important that every dot, dash and space has been considered before the production process is underway, saving time and lots of money.

Production: The digital artwork was sent off to the manufacturers of the roller in order for the design to be printed, and a technical proof was sent back for my approval – exciting and scary times!

Colours: Much thought, research, trying and testing went in to the colour combinations and I painted lots of colour chips using gouache in order to communicate the choice to the printer.

Printing: After signing off the colour proof provided by the printer, the wallpaper went in to production, labels were designed and printed, rolls created.

Results: I’m delighted with the results, the efforts by all those involved with the production process, and look forward to launching this at TENT London very soon.

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I remember my father turning our bathroom in to a photographic darkroom, not really understanding what was happening, and not being allowed in. A few years later it was my turn to stand in the dark bathroom to transfer the film from the camera to the spool ready for developing the images, eyes wide open – as if that would help! At art college the group of us headed to the beach with the college stock of Pentax K1000s to photograph the fairground, and then returned to fumble our way through the same process. I loved the wet developing; watching the first signs of imagery appear, and then head to the corridor, blinking to the light, to check the exposure required for the ‘portfolio’ piece. I also enjoyed the more experimental side of printing. Photograms, multiple exposures and liquid emulsion kept me captivated during my college days and holidays back home-home meant the use of that bathroom darkroom.

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Years later at the turn of this century I became Print and Photomedia Technician at Central Saint Martins, and then Lecturer in Visual Communication, with the territory of a darkroom. I lost count of how many students I introduced the idea of experimental photography too but one of my tricks was the Pin-hole camera. The students and I turned empty hot-chocolate tins from sweet smelling rubbish to state of the art cameras, and captured the sites of the Back Hill campus. The wonderment experienced by the students, mixed with the realisation that they had made a photograph without using a ‘camera’ was priceless. But why was the photograph upside-down? Why was it a negative?…. Some students took this far further than I had and became rather good at controlling the timings and light readings.

I spent hours leaning out of the window of my flat in Camberwell clutching my hot chocolate tins, photographing the street. It became clear I had attracted attention of the guy opposite who wondered what on earth I was doing! I had to save the exposed papers to develop in the middle of the night so as not to disturb my flatmate, and so the house was dark. At this time I was also experimenting with photograms, and I made a book titled ‘Totality’ about the solar and lunar eclipse that had occurred, and realising that by using light, and obstructing light to make the book, the very concept I was exploring was creating the book. Apart from ‘sun prints’ in the garden with my own children I haven’t had time to use a darkroom, ready-made or not, for a number of years. pinhole_SE5img022web

I was reminded of the joy and simple elements of photography a few days ago. I was in bed, on holiday and happened to look up to find we had our very own camera obscura! Through the smallest gap in the blind was sufficient light to project the curve of distortion and the negative image of the view of the houses, window frames and all, at the end of the garden, on to the ceiling above us, in colour. The magic and the science of seeing was right there. Trying then to capture that image using a digital camera felt rather wrong. Where did I put that collection of drinking chocolate tins?

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I’ve created more designs than I can remember since I began ‘formal’ pattern making back in 1992. Some aren’t worth worrying about, some I’m still extremely proud of and some are still waiting for the right time to make their debut… (I can’t wait to show you some very special ones next year but I’m sworn to secrecy.)

Some designs work themselves out for themselves; I vividly remember shutting my eyes to get some sleep right in the middle of my final major project on my degree, when suddenly my mind spun in to action, and there in my mind was a design, colour separated and waiting to be drawn out for screen the very next day. Other designs I battle for days on, and eventually win through demonstrating more stubbornness than the design itself.  I don’t give up easily.

In all my designing, however hard or easy it was in the making, I aim for them to appear strikingly straightforward, as if they did just happen on their own. I was accused by a tutor for being lazy – he didn’t understand minimalism – when in actual fact, it’s far harder to let the negative space be as important as the motifs we can sometimes throw at a design like pennies to a pond. Space can be beautiful.

I’ve taken a slightly different direction to making the most recent patterns; some would argue they are more traditional, more formal, more fussy even. I’ve certainly battled with the minutiae. I thought it nice to share the journey a little, but do bear in mind, every dot, line AND space have been considered, reconfigured, tested, discussed and revised more times than I’m counting (and that’s before I even think about colour). I hope you like the results. The design will feature in my new work to launch at TentLondon in September, so watch this space.

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The image shows: initial sketch / proportions of the motif, repeat / rhythm testing of the drawing before the lino block is cut, the lino block being printed, and the final digital artwork. The inspiration is a mix of kitchen gardens and formal gardens of the National Trust.

 

The job of a freelance designer involves so many different tasks that many people with a variety of skills could be employed to keep the components of that designer’s working life going. Juggling what is needed to be done with what would be preferable to do is a tough call on some days. What is it that really makes that difference, to move the company vision forward? I could spend many hours a day sat in front of a screen communicating with manufacturers and stockists, preparing marketing and sales literature, and keeping the ever-growing consideration of social media alive.

There are times when it is so valuable to stop all of that and get back to what makes us creatives tick. There are personal risks involved with making; what if it’s rubbish? The fabulous ideas that roll round the head in the early hours, once realised, are open to harsh criticism in the light of the day – the danger of expressing ideas and developing new work. But for all of that it is so important to keep going back to the beginning, to test new ideas, stare at the blank white sheet of paper, take a deep breath and play – for my creative self!

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If you are a regular reader of this blog you will already know that for the last few years my personal design practice has been inspired by garden design, and most specifically allotments and kitchen gardens in my ‘Plot to Plate‘ collection, launched in 2012. I have spent many hours walking, almost patrolling, up and down rows of National Trust cabbages and onions, armed with my sketchbook, annotating the patterns, translating them to motifs, documenting the small irregularities, the planting plans, the labeling – fruit and vegetables up and down the country, as well as our allotment, plot 8 in Birmingham. Upton, Packwood, Baddesley Clinton, Blickling, Felbrigg, to name a few National Trust gardens I have surveyed and taken inspiration from. Hanbury is my current favourite garden and I have been working on a number of patterns inspired by this property that will one day be complete, to launch at Tent London this September.

It is with this in mind that I write my thoughts. There are so many similarities between garden design and textile design they seem perfect companions in my practice. Long before Mr W. Morris picked up a pencil the natural world of flora has been a dominant subject of inspiration for pattern in the home. Rather than the bouquets and sprigs, posies and trellis it is the formal gardens, the parterres and kitchen gardens that hold the structure and compositional language that we textile designers and design educators regularly refer to…

Stripes, spot repeats, all-overs and multi-directionals, geometric grids and diamonds, checks and plaids are all to see. And so it is, that it makes sense that I really have brought two things that I do enjoy together in my creative practice. It’s too early to share artwork for my new ‘Hanbury’ designs but I will share some garden pattern from Hanbury, and my ‘new’ fabrics by the metre, available very soon, in anticipation…

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