Summer gold

As the weather turns I always feel a sense of sadness for the summer that is over. The start of term arrives and soon it is coat weather, and lights on to read in the evening.

I have taken many photos over the summer, some for projects that are taking shape and some for my archive, waiting for their turn. These two photographs go rather well together to remind me of the warmth of summer and the beauty that is East Anglia.

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Top image is from inside the light house at Southwold, Suffolk, and the second one is a view across the marshes at Stiffkey in Norfolk. Each a special place in my heart.

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Pattern appreciation at the Whitworth

The Barbara Brown exhibition at the Whitworth in Manchester is really worth catching, especially if you like patterns.
The layout of the gallery enables an overview; the broad visual statement of the textiles designed by Barbara Brown during the 1960s and 1970s, to be seen straight away and makes for a striking sight. Large-scale pattern in different colour-ways jostle for attention and yet the small gatherings of textile designs within the gallery also create more local dialogue for consideration. The repeats are large, not in the Marimekko sense but larger than we often see, taking the full width of the fabric to do the talking. Seeing the textile lengths on exhibition really shows off the bold rhythms of each pattern.

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The designs on show demonstrate a variety of motif units across the fabric, some halved, some quartered, others full width. The corner of the gallery most impressive in my opinion was the monochrome series that really pushed her design prowess forward. Although strong graphic statements, these are far from flat patterns. The curves in Ikebana (below left) and Automation (below, third from right), both from 1970, differ in how they control and divide the space, toying with depth and dimensions. There is a sense of sci-fi and computer generated environments across this mono-chrome series. Escher should also get a mention as the optical illusions on the architectural scale appear to pay homage to him too.

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I have my favourites, but I really want to highlight the breadth of pattern compositions here. The design statements include many geometrics with cubes, columns and dots. There are stripes, spots, architectural themes and florals. I see more than a hint of Op Art, Psychedelia and modernism across the printed fabrics, some more than others, but the designs appear experts at communicating the populist aesthetic of those years.

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As a teaching aid for textile design, this exhibition does rather well. Design students can understand the potential to grow large repeats rather than stop at small ‘plonk – plonk’ designs we see far too much of – maybe a result of designing on computer screens. Designers need to understand that even domestic interiors can cope with so much more than a motif 10cm in diameter. Brown’s shapes are also not always contained by outlines, and this presents bold, solid shapes that hold their own. Colour statements include monochrome and full-on colour including oranges and blues. There is a sense of the colour palette dating the patterns but the combinations communicate bravery. The monochrome designs have a very formal spirit, and although different in style do remind me of some of the black and white, large classical columns Timney Fowler print designs of the 1980s.

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Barbara Brown was working in a very different time, and artwork was not created in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Hand drawing full-scale repeats gives you a very different relationship with pattern compositions. Some designs appear not to show signs of drawing, but others do, almost standing out for doing so – particularly Sweet Briar, 1959 (above left).

The exhibition was dominated by the printed fabric lengths but a couple of later knitted pieces offered an insight in to the designer’s creative career progression, and reminded me of the direction Lucienne Day took with her silk mosaics, making a clear distinction away from the commercial print designs. The juxtaposition of some small ceramic pieces next to fabric lengths offered an interesting pause for thought too. Would you have matching china and curtains? Maybe not, but the patterns held their own at both scales and on the different surfaces.

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This is one of those examples of why you need to see exhibitions in the flesh, and not rely on the computer or phone screen to do the job. Seeing Barbara Browns patterns are eye-catching on a small screen, but they are far more impressive in this setting.

The exhibition is on show until January 2018 (and they always have several interesting things on at the same time – and I can recommend the cafe!)

http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/currentexhibitions/barbarabrown/

comings and goings

As it is the season for comings and goings I made this image of photographs recording swallows learning to feed and fend for themselves, with some demonstrations from their parents, taken this week in the Lake District. We stood for over five minutes watching them as they swooped over our heads, paying us no attention. It was fabulous to watch, but it did remind me that Autumn is around the corner and soon these birds will be flying south…

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Plot to Plate season

Apparently it’s National Allotment Week, but having an allotment is an all year round commitment. It is however this time of year when the winter trips to dig the heavy clay soil ready for the Easter planting pays off, and all the trips returning home with only muddy boots to show are forgotten.

We are having to visit the plot at least twice a week to stay on track with harvesting. The currants and gooseberries are picked, eaten or frozen. Strawberries are only a memory along with Wimbledon, but potatoes continue to be dug. We’ve had too many courgettes for what feels like months, but probably only weeks, we’re coming to the end of French beans, but have the runner beans in full flow.  Raspberries have given us the summer stint, and now, along with the blackberries show us signs we are in late summer, heading for Autumn. I’ve already cooked too batches of blackberry jam, and cream teas are regular occurrences at home!

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It’s not all going smoothly! We are having no luck with getting parsnips growing; I fear winter roasts without them! The brassicas are being harvested by slugs and butternut squash had better get a move on if they are to deliver ahead of the frosts. Domination of certain weeds make it difficult but I’m determined not to be beaten – we garden organically but there are times I dream of chemicals! We’ve also realised that although growing purple potatoes (Blue Danube) is rather novel, it’s very odd eating purple mash potato and we are not so sure we like it.

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Five years ago I launched my Plot to Plate collection which is a celebration of home-grown food. It is a collection that shares my interests of gardening and pattern design, with products on interior and gift products. Limited edition prints initially investigated the motifs used in the repeat designs. You can read more about the Plot to Plate collection development here.

Having an allotment is a great way of being in touch with the seasons and being in tune with nature. I once heard the chap on the next plot to ours exasperated as weeds covered his once tidy plot that he had left alone for a few weeks. He said he was not going to be bossed about by nature… he quit within the season! I sometimes feel that it’s an extra burden in my busy schedule, but once I’m there, digging or harvesting, those thoughts are put aside. The community of the allotment holders is also great. Today I was discussing our successes and failures, and soon the offer of spare brassicas was made and sweetcorn varieties were being recommended. I’ve written before about the good feeling of sharing allotment produce excess before.

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My Plot to Plate collection has grown since 2012, far beyond my original intentions, but I’m really pleased with the evolution. I’ve made drawings of many kitchen gardens over the years – National Trust’s Upton House & Gardens remains one of my favourites, along with Hanbury Hall. My tea towels that celebrate the journey from plot to plate with drawings of the tools involved has inspired lots of my design work since then too, so they make me proud.

So here we are celebrating the allotment, but it won’t be just for this week, it’s a collaboration with nature after all and I’m in for the long haul… happy harvesting!

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patterns: printed or not

My go-to process is print, therefore the majority of my commercial projects have included print outcomes, whether that is a commissioned limited edition print, wallpaper or my patterns available on Formica’s laminate. I design as a printer; thinking of layers of colour / texture / pattern, that build in stages.

I knew early on that paint brushes are not really my friends, not unless they have to be, not compared to a print roller. When I was introduced to printing I vividly remember learning mono-printing in particular. I fell in love with the excitement of the hidden surface. I love the detachment, the indirect nature of printmaking, whether it be a lino block or litho plate, they offer a space away from the actual mark making that creates the image.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks writing lots of words with my academic hat on about my design practice in relation to my teaching practice, and this has made me think about how I learn, as well as how I teach. My design practice experience is so integrated in my teaching practice, they work so well together. I can be in a business meeting learning about an industrial print consideration I didn’t know about for a specific product and immediately I’m thinking of how I can feed that knowledge in to a module on the BA programme I lead. In my mind it makes perfect sense for academics to be practitioners too, albeit with lots of juggling!

I love to learn, whether a process, a way to see in order to draw, or a new context to place work, I am excited about finding things out. It was this mindset that got me making rugs, to challenge my skills, and to test myself with another process that works with pattern, but with very different thinking. There has been much written about the need to play, but as designers it is so important that we take time to explore, to develop our thinking. This keeps ideas moving, and the sense of creativity at the forefront. I’m also fascinated how my patterns work across surfaces / materials, requiring consideration of colour matching, scale of motifs, line weight etc. and this expertise is learned as I work with manufacturers of different materials and products, and visit trade shows across the design sectors. Don’t get me started on brands that just print their patterns on every surface that sits still for long enough… my students hear this rant often enough!

I shall continue to explore, learn, design and teach… just after I’ve finished writing this next batch of academic words…

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Images from my ‘Threads’ collection (L-R:) Latch-hook rug, original lino print: Twill, and the same design on window film from The Window Film Company.

contexts build connections

Over the last twenty years the contexts for which I have made work has varied considerably. The intimate space of a page in a book, a sequence of doors in public conveniences, a gallery wall, patterns made in gravel on three large roof-scapes of a hospital or the humble tea towel; they all require different considerations. The client, the audience, the buyer and the customer, each has different agendas, budget requirements, aesthetics and expectations – I enjoy each challenge and added dimension that brings. The opportunity to consider my practice in these differing environments creates a chance to reflect and develop a greater understanding of possibility and relationship with the context of known work while developing an understanding of those different people and their agenda and perspectives.

More recently I’ve been working on design projects away from gallery walls, but I was delighted to be asked to be involved with Ambiguous Implements, a touring show featuring 17 practitioners across a wide range of creative disciplines, exploring domestic and familiar objects in alternative ways.

The contact came from a journal my ‘construct’ design work was reviewed in called Feast. I had been pleased with the care Laura Mansfield and the team had taken with understanding my work for the article in Feast, and for this new invitation I was delighted to include both some original drawings from my ‘Construct’ project, as well as metres of Construct: twist, in a bespoke colourway, as the nod to domestic interiors for the gallery settings. I was also asked if they could use my words, spoken casually during a conversation over the phone, but seemingly capturing the essence of the exhibition.

“a familiar object provides an unfamiliar forum for thinking” — Kate Farley

It’s funny how little conversations, and apparent one-off opportunities build networks to develop, support and enable both parties in different ways. I’ve been grateful to Laura and her team to be so considerate and inclusive, and to allow my work to sit in a very different context, thereby enabling me to consider the work further, evolving and existing in new ways. The other practitioners make very different work but the conceptual connections and mutual respect for others practices can also grow further understanding beyond the single opportunity. I’m pleased to be involved, for the development of my practice and the context of ‘construct’.

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Information:

Ambiguous Implements has been curated by Laura Mansfield in collaboration with Rachael Colley and Nuala Clooney. Funded by Arts Council England, supported by Dust and Simon Taylor Designs.”  https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about

Ambiguous Implements is at The Bl_nk Space Gallery, Roco Cooperative Sheffield  until Saturday 15th July opening Tuesday to Saturday 11am- 6pm. Other venues

“Bringing together 17 practitioners from the fields of design, jewellery, ceramics, metalwork and sculpture Ambiguous Implements presents a collection of contemporary works that playfully reconsider the familiar objects of our day to day domestic life. Re-thinking the tools we use for eating, grooming, cooking and cleaning, the exhibiting artists have employed and subverted traditional craft techniques, reframed existing tools in new sculptural assemblages, or given seemingly banal objects new functions and effects. The collection of works present a twist on the familiar, bringing new perspectives to bare on the objects that populate contemporary domestic life.

Rob Anderson, Aimee Bollu, Caroline Broadhead, David Clarke, Nuala Clooney, Rachael Colley, Rosie Deegan, Kate Farley, Daniel Fogarty, Kate Haywood, Jasleen Kaur, Julie Mellor, Maria Militsi, Rebecca Ounstead, Matt Rowe, Jonathan Trayte and Abbie Williams each present new and existing works.”

text from https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about

 

time and sketchbook time

At the moment I’m juggling lots of different projects; one has been years (really!) in the making, another much quicker, straightforward and some more ‘surprise’ projects. They all have different requirements of my time, and in each week there may be a telephone call to a manufacturer to discuss things with, an email exchange between a client and myself to clarify details of a brief, or a call to a stylist / marketing team to plan a scheme for the future with, and the usual trade show sales team call! This all takes time, and different skills to manage.

A different skill altogether is to maintain a practice that, at the heart of it, seeks to challenge, engage and inspire the creative self that was the reason I set off in this direction at the start, twenty years ago. The sketchbook is the place I go back to, the safe place I can explore those ideas in, old and new, that keeps the journey going, the continuum that is my creative practice. Ideas do evolve over time, and the sketchbooks are testaments to the ongoing inquiry that may lend itself to something commercial in due course, but is not the reason I do the drawing in the first place.

In my role of design lecturer I regularly explain the uses of a sketchbook, the hows and whys a designer may approach the mental and physical task of working in a sketchbook. Retro-filling the pages that have post-its in saying ‘research’ needing to be completed the day before a hand-in lacks rigour and purpose, a scrap-book mentality is not necessarily the best use of printer credits unless you really do look and reflect on the relationship between your work and someone else’s. Dare I say it, I enjoy the task of working on a new white page, and see the potential, not the fear. I don’t often share pages of my sketchbooks, but here’s one page from this week in the studio, having gathered new ‘material’ at the weekend, furthering my ideas for my Grasslines print series…

I say let’s celebrate the sketchbook, the real one with paper pages that doesn’t require likes, favourites of retweets to be justified, the one you do for you. Why / how do you use your sketchbook?

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