I’m sure I’ve written about it before, but I’m often intrigued how an idea can rattle about in my head for years, exist as drawings or collages, but not quite feel right… then manifest in a way that makes those years of waiting make sense. I’ve recently created a sequence of three drawings that appear to have done just that.
Drawing is a key creative process for me. I don’t always find as much time as I’d like but I draw to capture the beauty of a flower, or the shape of a field, and often have no planned use for the image; the drawing exists for itself. Over the years I can see drawings are linked by a longer-term inquiry, and these single elements collectively define the aesthetic of my practice.
I’ve been working on some new landscape-inspired drawings, bringing together some colour mixing and the monochrome marks, rhythms and textures relating to the Norfolk landscape. I began with a journey through the drawers of my plan chest to pull together a dictionary of visual language to guide me, and following a cycle ride in the landscape I took pencil in hand, and began to draw. Painting features very little in my practice, really only for colour-mixing but this time it felt right to capture the colour in gouache and apply directly with brushes on to the paper, layered up with the graphite of the drawing.
These drawings are part of the ongoing journey, but I do think it’s important to stop and notice when something feels right, like a good fitting piece of jigsaw in the puzzle.
I’ve already shared the news via my other social media channels, but I’m delighted to announce here too I have been confirmed Associate Professor in Design at Norwich University of the Arts. This makes me extremely proud and at the same time reflective about the career I’ve had so far.
At eighteen years old I had very little idea what I wanted to do as a job or career, and considered widely contrasting options of occupational therapy, sports psychology, the army, teaching … something creative …. having grown out of the idea of being a bagpipe player, aged 4, and archeologist, aged 8. There are skills involved in roles across some of these that are required in my current post in academia but equally some a disastrous fit, at least to the me I am now.
Going through art school and university, even the post grad. masters course, I was petrified of the ‘real world’ of work, despite having Saturday and holiday jobs from a young age. I can clearly remember the months I earned nothing as a freelance designer, the humiliation of the job centre line and housing benefit application process, the years of no holidays unless they were working holidays to get free board, and watching peers become adults in an adult world, as I tried to work out what I wanted to do while keeping expenses low and resourcefulness high. The turning point was my first role as Print and Photomedia technician at Central Saint Martins, London, where I met people like me, dividing their weeks with practice and educational roles – this could be my real world too!
Today I can look back over a twenty-plus year academic career and so much makes sense; the joy of hindsight. Since school I have taught at play schemes, Sure Start projects, NHS trust projects, community projects, adult education workshops, school outreach, FE & HE courses. Every project taught me something that informs the educator I am today, and clarified my preferred environment for teaching and learning. For over twenty five years I’ve led a creative practice that has evolved substantially from the one I led in my studio / bedroom in south London, making books at a tiny desk, using the bathroom as a darkroom in the middle of the night, and the print room at CSM when the students had left. Artwork on the London underground network, designs on a huge hospital roof, in an airport, selling products to Japan and America … Projects happen but it’s easy to forget they were all unimaginable to the eighteen year old self. At art school I learned the value of drawing, of playing with the design process, of dedication to make something the best it could be and commitment to colour mixing. Those tutors shaped my rigorous approach to my practice today. Incidentally, my minimalist aesthetic was defined lazy by one visiting tutor I had the displeasure to be taught by – he missed the point I remember thinking, I knew he had got me wrong.
As an academic I’ve learned to continue to learn, continually … One instance: I was thrown in to the deep end to deliver design history lectures to undergraduates many years ago, with no GCSE in basic history, and only faint memories of my own design history education for support – that was a particularly low point. Hundreds of hours investment, much reading and learning, and a fair amount adrenaline got me through those early years. Some students have told me since then, that those lectures were among their highlights, and I feel pleased – retrospectively I can’t help feel grateful to my then boss for not giving me the get-out option. This skill and knowledge is now something I hugely enjoy and benefit from. I love to share my passion for design history – who would have thought? Not the eighteen year old me!
In running my design practice in parallel with my academic career I am busy. It would be easier if I was content to focus on one rather than juggling my headspace and waking hours. I’m not alone in wondering why I maintain both, but it is simple – they need each other, and I need each of them. My teaching is filled with current industry experience, my design practice feeds the lectures, workshops and tutorials I deliver. The design experience feeds my research and my practice validates my teaching. My own creative struggles and insecurities support my understanding and empathy for the students I teach and nurture to be brave soles, out in the real world, like I had to be and continue to be. I love to learn, and if I can share what I learn and understand, I can help others to enjoy the design industry too.
I’ve stood at trade shows, on my stand for 12-hour days, promoting my new collections while checking my uni emails on my phone, to make sure things are running okay in my absence. I’ve spoken to industry partners interested in my work, while at the same time my head is working out how I can link the students to the opportunities they may hold too. I’ve formed relationships with wonderful industry friends who now form a network of support for the graduates I’ve taught. The important thing to learn is that we are all in this, learning together, helping others and together making the world a better place to be. The response to me achieving this recognition has been overwhelming. Colleagues past and present, students and graduates, manufacturers and past collaborators, and so many more people have got in touch – reminding me of many precious moments along the way.
I’m grateful to have this recognition from the university. The contribution I’ve made to both the design industry and academia is acknowledged as valuable to others, and united in potential – and that’s a good starting point for the next twenty years!
One of the aspects of drawing for pattern design that fascinates me is the stylising process; how we see something and process it as an interpretation of the thing we initially saw. I’ve written about this several times on this blog over the last few years. When I start to draw something new I make quick studies to get to know the subject matter, and work out what the key information might be, and how I retain the qualities that make the subject remain visible in some small way – depending on how much I want to hold on to the recognisable elements.
While washing up the other day I saw two of our plates side by side in a way that got me thinking: I saw connections I’d not spotted before despite the visual languages of the plates appearing to be very different.
Both plates are decades old, both have seen better days. One is a simple graphic motif, one is a rather nostalgic painted flower posy.
Both plates appear to have floral-inspired printed surface designs. Both designs could be described as featuring yellow flower heads (although one includes other flowers too while the other contains multiple prints of the same motif elements).
One design is pared right back to stylise the flower by only recording a stem and flower head. The style is almost diagrammatic in the simplicity of the motif consisting of black stem and V-shaped lines crossing the stem to suggest leaves. The flower head is a straightforward circle with a dotted outline. Not all stem motifs have heads, there is a randomness in the composition across the plate.
The other plate design features painterly and drawn details, a generous sprig of flowers utilising more colours to express the tones and textures of the flower and leaf details and certainly more expressive in its rendering. The flowers are placed on one side of the plate, as if allowing space for the cake to be placed alongside. The yellow flower head is certainly the attention grabber.
Now I’ve spent a bit more time thinking about these designs I actually believe they make a great pairing, two designs that complement each other in what they offer. I’m not so keen on matching crockery and enjoy using our mix and match plates collected over the years from car boot sales, charity shops, family hand-me-downs and gifts – they all offer reference points and bring something to the collection, and this week I’ve been grateful to appreciate this duo in a new light.
As a keen lover of patterns I’m always on the look out for interesting examples to add to my consciousness. I do like a good geometric as well as micro (small scale) repeating patterns so despite being immensely annoyed to find myself back in hospital on a ward for a week I did spot the odd pattern of interest…
I’m interested in small details that make patterns work, and I spend time in my teaching analysing successes and failures of patterns in relation to motifs, pattern structures and repeats to teach the students how to improve their own designs. These NHS designs, printed on fabric for hospital nighties (left), pyjamas (middle) and the surgical gown (right) do demonstrate merit.
Small details on the pyjamas / nighties, such as the spot actually being a hexagon, the less obvious choice, and the squares making up the bigger square block including smaller squares in the darker colour, means they contrast with the larger mid green colour bring visual interest. If the darker squares were the same size they may well appear too dominant. Interestingly, the pyjamas had the green colourway as vertical stripes, and yet the same design in red was placed as horizonal stripes on the nightie. I wonder why this was. Let’s not talk of the fit of these garments! The surgical gown is more simple, but I appreciate the fact that the cross is made up of broken lines, with a small dot in the middle – so much more interesting that if it had been two lines crossing.
These are tiny details that most people will overlook, I know I was probably not the most typical of inpatients, but if you spend any length of time on a ward, nil by mouth for several days your mind wonders. I found there to be a significant challenge in retaining something of myself as a person beyond the sick patient, with all the focus and attention on your health, or lack of. The pattern spotting was a way of still being me.
As I said at the top, I like micro patterns and have shared my collection of envelope insides on the blog before. I like the smaller scale patterns that provide visual rhythms and noise, that get on with doing their job, in a simple utilitarian manner. These patterns on hospital garments also got me thinking about moquette, the hard-wearing fabrics on transport upholstery, and how those patterns signs are there to conceal dirt and wear, whereas these hospital ones with the white background were doing the opposite.
I hope you don’t find yourselves in hospital to have the chance to analyse patterns on your gown, but if you do, I hope you like the ones you’ve got!
Twenty years ago, in January 2001 two friends established a creative challenge as a way of sharing their days, while living in different British cities, through daily production of artwork. The idea of mail art had already been of interest to them both, and this project formalised the process of sending pieces of artwork through the postal system. It was highly likely that the outcomes would also find themselves featuring in an artists’ book in some shape or form, as so many of our individual creative ideas did at that time.
Rules: Every day in the month of February 2001 we (Kate Farley and Imi Maufe) would make a postcard inspired by the sky that particular day. In fact two identical postcards were made each day by each friend – in case one got lost in the post. The size of each card was agreed to be 11cm square, and it would need to be in the postal system that day.
February 2001. SKY BLUE PINK
Each day, between Bristol and London, and sometimes Norwich, these postcards crossed the country representing the experiences of lives being lived under the skies of winter. Postcards were made using a combination of image and text, suggesting downpours or sunshine, colours and times of the day. The artwork includes a mix of drawing, paint, printing, photography including a pinhole camera photograph, and collage. Each participant’s creative journey and personal style shines through.
Alongside references to the sky and weather there are details of exhibitions, bicycle rides, parties, shopping, college and work. At one point cards were delivered by hand as they shared a weekend in Bristol. Only one postcard was lost in the system – a post-it note breaks the news.
MARCH: TO AND FRO
Having enjoyed the task of finding a few creative minutes, however busy we were each day, to keep the project on track it was decided to try another month on a different theme. To & fro represents the journeys of the month of March 2001, keeping to the same rules apart from the theme, and the interpretation of what a journey could be was up to the individual. Postcards recalling more cycling, mapping around buildings, postcodes passed through, my birthday, journeys by bus, emotional journeys, creative processes and even a Spanish holiday gets a mention. The artwork is varied throughout the month, and between the two participants as with the previous month.
I was working part time as Print and Photomedia Technician at Central Saint Martins in London, alongside design and making artists books, hence the access to the darkroom to make the photogram. I taught pin-hole photography and the view from the 4th floor window at Back Hill across Clerkenwell features. I had bought my Turkish Green Brompton (folding bike) and it gets a mention a few times. Imi was studying in Bristol, and continues her interest in journeys in her practice today.
In April there was an exciting day when the postcards were gathered and shared. The next stage of the project was to design and construct the book showcasing the original collection of postcards between two friends in order for us to create editions. The book structure needed to show each of the postcards sent on the same day, and reveal the front and back of each. As there were two of each postcard the pages of the book could be designed by sticking each pair of cards on a single page and fold the sheet to indicate the back and front of each card – and also allowing the book to be made and editioned by printing single-sided. My grandma used to say the term Sky Blue Pink and so the phrase became our book title for the weather, and To and Fro was an obvious choice for March.
There was a stressful afternoon of hunting around Bristol-based printers to carry out the colour copying and bind the book. One chap managed to shuffle the pages out of order almost by simply looking at them – we couldn’t entrust the postcards to him – but eventually we found someone who understand the peculiarities of the project and how the two editions needed to be constructed. Wire-binding held the two sets of postcards in individual books, united by the wide and folded cover, nestling the books in to one. They were in editions of 10, published under the IKUS press, formed for this purpose.
We exhibited these books at artists book fairs, launching them at the International Contemporary Artists Book Fair in Yorkshire and received a really positive response. We sold the majority of the first edition of the books in the first year, including to significant collections such as the British Library, and produced a second limited edition soon after.
This was a time before social media, and today, thinking back over the design process of the book, it’s worth remembering we didn’t have access to scanners and computers, so it really was a rather handmade effort, but I think the outcome is better for it and I can’t believe we are looking at these, twenty years on. Having made those postcards and revisited them again now, it has surprised me how much I remember from those specific days I lived, that I could easily have forgotten entirely if it was not for the act of making time to be creative.
I also take from this, the value of making time to be creative, and to be aware of the world around me. I was busy rushing about but always in my mind I had to notice something and work out how to create the two postcards to visually communicate that day. Maybe I should start this up again, although Covid lockdown makes my life considerably less interesting!
I’ve not had much time for colour mixing with gouache recently but I’ve really enjoyed noticing the contrasts of seasonal colours on our walks so I thought I’d celebrate that here. Some colours are exaggerated by bright sun, while the recent frosty mornings provide a muted coating.
Taking time to notice these small delights are ever more important as we spend few hours outside. I noticed today there was daylight in the sky at 5pm, so that and the first sights of snow drops and daffodils are putting me in the mood for springtime.
In my line of work CMF is an area of the design / manufacturing industry developing colour, material and finishes in relation to sectors such as automotive design, interiors, products & accessories etc. It involves innovation, design and development of surface and material solutions and is an exciting area of design, including trend research, consumer behaviour, material innovation and sustainability.
Spending more time sitting in my home celebrating Christmas got me thinking of the specific colours, materials and finishes I relate to Christmas. Home-made fudge, mince pies and Christmas cake, the walnut and chocolate coin in the stockings, obligatory sprout, some holly and fir greenery and a bauble that has been handed down to me, and that has somehow survived decades of Christmases. With the end of the year here, we have another sort of ‘finish’, so I’ve created a CMF board for today – I hope you like it!
I’m not the biggest fan of Autumn, mainly as I hate to accept the end of summer, but every year the colours of the new season are beautiful so it is difficult to stay disappointed for long. Having spent a week in hospital recently I really missed seeing nature so once out again I noticed a heightened awareness; my senses really enjoyed connecting with the outdoors again.
Over the last few months I’ve been paying more attention to colours of nature, gathering plants, feathers, shells etc and mixing the colours using gouache – see previous posts – I find it a wonderfully meditative process and one that brings great results too. The process really makes me look at the colours of the artefact and work out the nuances of hues, tints and shades. I’ve taken some slow recuperative walks in the countryside to rebuild my strength, allowing me to gather colour and appreciate Autumn. The colour chips here were made from the leaves from one tree, arranged in colour order. I wanted the colour to be the main thing to identify rather than them being leaves, so by trimming the edges of the leaves I’ve made them more like swatches.
I’ve had an interruption to normal services as a result of some general surgery, added complications and time to heal. I’m not one to sit idle so it’s been a challenge to be patient, giving myself time to recover and gain strength. The time in hospital – a week – was an ordeal despite wonderful ward staff, and it gave me time to think about how important our surrounding environments can be, for our wellbeing and sanity.
I got to know the walls and particularly the ceiling of the room very well. In my hazy mind I toyed with the grid of ceiling panels being a response to the Dutch De Stijl design by Theo van Doesburg, or a drawing by Agnes Martin. The four holes in the ceiling were also a stark reminder of the surgeon’s cuts. The prints on the curtains were so poor I refused to capture them, but they were insipid, uninspiring, and frankly poor design – I remember analysing their weakness with one of the staff late one night – I think she said I was crazy!
I vividly remember the power of the textiles surrounding me – I had a scarf which was a huge comfort to me – a familiar texture and smell of home. The fresh sheet and hospital blanket were also providing a strange comfort in the utilitarian room.
Twenty years ago I attended Arts in Health lectures including discussions on the subject of hospital environments aiding recovery and wellbeing, and I remember seeing incredibly exciting and positive schemes across the world where designers were embracing colour, nature, pattern and material to drive rehabilitation. I had hoped things had moved on from the institutional walls of hospitals. We now have the interior design buzz word biophilia, using nature for our wellbeing as an integral component in the design solutions, linking humans to other life forms, but it has yet to arrive here. The space in which I coped was bland, institutional and bleak. Such a missed opportunity – and particularly when the hospital ‘art’ is so often shoved out front in the public foyer, and not where the patients spend hours on end, day after day – don’t get me started on public art commissions at hospitals!
The relief to be home, surrounded by colour and pattern – and my family – was intense. Those first breaths of fresh air, the sight of a bright autumn day was incredibly uplifting. I still hold a heightened sense of this awareness of nature, even now a week on, as I recover and appreciate my health returning to business as usual.
I’ve been continuing my colour mixing series, this time taking inspiration from the beach and the artefacts I gathered. The gouache works wonderfully to capture the colour, responding to small specks of added colour as I take the starting colour on a journey to and past the colours of the item I am studying.
Some new drawings are taking shape that use these colour chips and I am excited about where they are going – one day I’ll share them. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the colour of the beach of north Norfolk.