As a student at art college I was taught the principles and beliefs of great artists, designers and theorists such as William Morris and John Ruskin, and mantras of the founders of De Stijl and the Bauhaus. As a designer myself I haven’t set out to follow any particular philosophy or approach but have developed my ethos over the last two decades as I experience diverse design contexts, clients, markets, technology and changing industry. Also, in my role as an academic at Birmingham City University delivering lectures on wide ranging art and design contexts in relation to textile design, social change and global influences I have learned considerably more and this has led to me further considering my own approach and philosophy as a designer.

My ‘construct‘ collection was developed as a response to my loathing of ‘fake’ surfaces, and the ever-growing interiors market of printed patterns of wood, stone and other natural materials, copied at ever-higher resolutions on a vast array of substrates. Is it possible to have printed stone effect on wood yet? Why would I want a copy, an imitation rather than the real thing, and would it be right to desire marble in an Edwardian semi in the Midlands of England? In my new ‘construct’ collection I’ve played with this idea by making printed pattern inspired by constructed cloth, not copying directly from the woven threads but evoking a sense of them.

As a pattern designer I spend time considering potential surfaces and contexts that pattern may exist and this leads me to the conclusion that if we stopped using copies of materials as pattern on surfaces we could find space for far more inventive, creative and exciting patterns in our world. I believe that if the material you have is not wood, why don’t you consider alternative patterns, entirely suitable, without relying on copying natural materials. I can’t decide who is providing for who here. Do consumers want fake, or do they have to buy fake because there is little else out there? (btw: If you need laminate with beautiful patterns don’t forget to consider my ‘construct’ range in collaboration with Formica!)

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The approach to honesty and truth to materials was one of many key philosophies for Augustus Pugin, known for his commitment to the Gothic revival in the 19th century and his design work on the Palace of Westminster as well as St.Chads Cathedral in Birmingham. He considered the neoclassical fashion for painting any surface to look like marble as deceitful, and wholly incorrect. He favoured flat, stylised pattern too, so as not to deceive the viewer,  designing many patterns for tiles, wallpapers and textiles for the buildings he also designed.

This week I was up in the Potteries for a meeting, and as with hourly trains, I’d just missed one so I spent 50+ minutes waiting in very low temperatures at Longport station near Stoke on Trent. Noticing my surroundings I was tickled to identify the ‘mock’ nature of the station building. All the doors and windows on the platform side have been boarded up and painted to look like… doors and windows. I assume this is some sort of security measure. As the paint has started to peel it revealed the deceit below. This sight is the cause of this blog post. I wonder what Pugin would have thought?

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Printed interpretations of landscape have been a challenge in my practice from the beginning, and really formed the backbone of my practice during my degree course in Printed Textiles at Leeds College of Art and Design in the 1990s. I explored various ways to represent the world around me, and although it might seem odd for those aware of my drawing, as there is little similarity now, I was really inspired by the Norwich School and painters such as Cotman and Crome. I saw the way they formed shapes of colours as elements in the landscape and I set about creating contemporary versions of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds in term-time, and rural Norfolk in the holidays.

Over the years my focus has shifted from rural to urban, resulting in more geometric, grid-like patterns, fighting the urge to be illustrative. As Print Technician at Central Saint Martins I used to create mono-prints including embossed features, representing the Farringdon skyline and dominant buildings. I also explored experimental processes, such as liquid emulsion and photograms of drawings on acetate in the photographic darkroom. I had a fantastic year on a part-time printmaking course at the London College of Printing (now Communication) at Elephant & Castle, and despite a broken elbow I produced many prints including lithographs, screen prints, collagraphs, etchings and lino prints. The expertise of the staff, and the discipline of the day a week of technical experimentation was a brilliant thing.

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The images above include some of the many ways I have printed the landscapes I’ve experienced, and show some of the ways that I play with line, shape, texture and colour. Those of you who have seen my drawing evolve will probably recognise a preferred line quality, or mark I favour, the economy of mark, and visual rhythms. I am also interested in perspective, elevations and mapping interpretations. I continue to explore landscape in my ongoing sketchbooks, as part of commissions, but also because I simply want to draw and capture the flat fields, the lines of fence posts, and sweeping hills interrupted by a barn.

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I’ve also created many editions of bookworks over the years, and although I’ve written about them here before, I thought I’d include the ones predominantly featuring printed journeys. I love the way the sequence of pages, and folds of paper creates narratives through a landscape. Again there is maybe a familiarity of line quality, and drawn shape, as drawings, prints and books are often developed together, as part of the same creative process. Working summers in France, familiar territory in London and train journeys are regular inspiration for the books shown here. It is a challenge to design the book to work with a particular sized printing plate or sheet size of paper, considering grain direction and readability, but I enjoy the problem solving. Drawing and image has to work with structural content.

Often what is occupying my time in terms of design collections actually grow from ideas explored in those pages many years before. I like to see my relationship with landscape as the constant in the variety of what I do. Having spent some days in the country during the recent holiday I have refuelled that desire to draw horizons again.In hearing of the death of Ellsworth Kelly I am reminded of how instrumental he was at showing me how to see pattern in the environment we live in. I owe the excitement of the journey to many artists who themselves have worked hard to capture the places they know… Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson, Eduardo Chillida, Eric Ravilious, to name a few.

Since creating these works on paper I show here (some over fifteen years old) I’ve launched ‘Plot to Plate’ and ‘Construct’, but they wouldn’t be here without the many sheets of paper before them. Who knows what else is in store in the next few years…

I was brought up in a very keen cycling family, as a useful form of transport from a-b as well as for touring holidays and adventures. Growing up in Norfolk meant ignorant bliss when it came to real hills, and yet we did know that it can feel as if you have a headwind on four sides of a flat field!

With the Design Museum’s bicycle focused ‘Cycle Revolution‘ exhibition now on, the theme of their Twitter #FontSunday recently was bicycle brands. This got me thinking. I own many bikes, and each one for different reasons and I have many happy memories of times on two wheels. I took a few photos and started to remember…

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My early school photos show evidence of me learning to ride. Scars, bumps and bruises across my face, the result of falling in to the ditch of the edge of the disused airbase runway in rural Norfolk. I’ve fallen off with full panniers on, in fords deep enough with water to soften the landing, and I’ve broken my elbow as a result of hitting a pothole that was so small it could hardly be photographed for evidence! I’ve cycled Boxing day charity CTC runs, made others fall in love with touring on wheels, and ran round the park being brave enough to let my own children pedal away from me.

I inherited the silver ‘Falcon’ after my dad died, and once I’d grown old enough to fit an adult frame. With huge sentimental value, I love the bike I’ve covered miles and miles on. Youth hosteling with friends in Norfolk, and further afield: Scotland, Wales, France and Denmark. Loaded high and wide, on the open road, enjoying the same freedoms my father had experienced on the same steel frame.

My ‘Rudge Whitworth’, a heavy gent’s black butchers bike with rod breaks and wicker basket was purchased for a tenner from a fellow student at the art school in Great Yarmouth. I loved riding along, with my art box in the basket, seated so high up that I could peer over fences and be nosy. It takes hard work to pick up real speed, and yet once going, it’s impressive. The stopping is more interesting / less easy!

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My life changed colour with the purchase of my ‘Turkish Green’ Brompton, from BikeFix in London. I ordered it before I’d seen the true colour but as the staff pointed at many products in the shop, saying, nearly this, bluer that that, brighter than those, I chose my new bike. On the day it arrived I excitedly arrived at the shop to discover the true colour, and to receive ‘training’ of how to fold and unfold the bike before I was allowed out on the streets. When I lived in London I headed off with the bike, all over the place, leading bookbinding workshops, before packing it all up, and heading off to the train home again, some miles cycled, others on tracks. Now this bike is my regular commuter bike to the train and I’ve covered so many miles in over ten years. I transport my children on it when they are too tired to walk, I load up the rack with runner beans in trays ready for the allotment, and I carry the harvest back from the plot, strapped up in front and behind. I fold it without a second thought now.

There are other bikes too. The borrowed, hand-built racing bike I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats on back in 1994, all 1144 miles of it. Then the Dawes Galaxy with ‘modern’ gears, that made me embrace cleats on the pedals instead of the rat traps. The red Falcon that I had before I was tall enough for my Dad’s old bike, I still have that one too.

Each bike I own was made with a different rationale to the next one, in different times, in different workshops and factories, with different ambitions. Each one I own has been part of a different story too.

 

 

As a young student in the 1990s I became aware of the amazing Asafo flags of the Fante, from Ghana. I’d seen an article in a magazine in the college library about an exhibition on at the time, and unable to afford the trip to London I telephoned Peter Adler, curator of the exhibition, as his number was listed in the article, to share my enthusiasm. I’m not sure what I thought I’d achieve but we did have a conversation and I was inspired to find out more about the colourful appliqued flags.

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What struck me about the flags was the bold shapes of animals and people that were communicating warnings to other units of warriors of the Fante people. Proverbs such as ‘The crab is feared for its claws’, or ‘Fish grow fat for the benefit of the crocodile’ attempt to ridicule the rival warrior groups and set a tone of fear, as if toying with opponents. With influence from the European flags they had seen as adventurers explored West African coastlines and from international trading ships the flags also featured elements of geometric borders and the Union Jack. I like the stylised imagery, but particularly the visual communication of a story in one textile image. I remember I wrote an essay on the subject for a Contextual Studies assignment and I went to great lengths to dye fabric and create my own textile illustrations and book cover – I still have it somewhere.

I’ve shared images of the flags with many groups of students over the years, but as I write a research paper on the subject of visual communication in pattern I am once again reminded of these beauties, and back I go, to the wonderful book: Asafo! African Flags of the Fante, written by Peter Adler and Nicholas Barnard in 1992, published by Thames and Hudson. I recommend this really informative book.

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When walking from Cheltenham railway station to the town the other week along the off-road path I came across some graffiti in an underpass that reminded me of the flags, and particularly in the way the animals were used to goad. The images felt as if they were provoking and taunting rival groups by showing off their prowess in the way the artwork of the Asafo flags did. I could imagine the jibes represented in the images of the cats, and in the way the badger is attempting to deflect the attention away from his kind, to the lizards, maybe another urban tribe. I’ll share the images here.

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Asafo flags, scans of the pages from the book by Peter Adler & Nicholas Barnard, referenced in the text

Cheltenham graffiti, photograph by Kate Farley

We’ve been treated to some clear blue sky days over the last few weeks and this makes the transition from summer to autumn a bit more tolerable. I always hate having to acknowledge that the summer warmth has gone for another year, and that the plot has given us most of the harvest for the year. We will wait for the frosts before we dig the parsnips, but I’ve gathered the squash and picked the final runner beans we will eat. The last of the sweet peas still offer their scent, but their strength of colour has passed. It’s a constructive time at the plot as we take down the netting, pull up the spent corns and clear ground for new anticipation.

Poppies, marigolds and nasturtiums still bloom such strong summer colours, daring the frost not to strike for a few more nights… I have my fingers crossed too…

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After months of planning, designing, making, printing, promoting and talking about the show… the time finally came… TENT LONDON! With very heavy bags, a display diagram, carefully planned tool kits, shelves, fabrics rolled, and so much more we set off to Brick Lane, London to put the show up. Our lives with small children are full of logistics, and this day tested us! Trains, tardy paint, luggage & childcare kept us busy and in relay between London and Birmingham so the show could take shape. By the end of the first day the majority of display items were on the right walls, fixed securely, and I headed home to the midlands.

The next day…. I set off again with ANOTHER heavy bag (these things don’t always get mentioned in trade show prep talks!) and completed the stand dressing, including the mood board for ‘construct’. It always takes longer than you think… I attached the vinyl, tidied up and left for a good nights sleep before the LONG first day of 10am – 11pm!

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The first day of a launch / show is always exiting and scary. Will people understand the new work, and will they like it? This particular morning was not helped by being stuck in a lift across town with my dear sister and only what sounded like a fax machine to talk to. Eventually after 20 minutes we were told the lift engineer couldn’t get the door open, “you are in a precarious position”!!! I’m not sure what customer care training he had received about talking to distressed people stuck in a lift. For anyone in this job, do not use the word ‘precarious’! We got out after nearly half an hour…

For the rest of the day I felt half an hour behind, but I launched my new collection with free limited edition screen prints which appeared to be gladly received by visitors. The collaboration with Formica Group was a really popular element to my new collection, and the mood board featuring my drawing tools as preliminary artwork inspired lots of really interesting conversations. Being a solo designer can be a very lonely, self-reflective existence so it’s great to get feedback from those you design the work for. Architects, interior designers, specifiers, stylists, press, retailers and many more visitors invested time to talk about all elements of my work, and for that I’m grateful. ‘Plot to Plate’ was launched in 2012 and has evolved over time to be a ready to buy interior and gift collection but ‘construct’ works differently. Only the cushions are available for immediate sale, and the rest is printed to order to allow for the distinctive element of the collection, the bespoke production. By working with Formica Group and Surface View my designs have been printed on a range of surfaces for the residential and contract markets.

When designing the stand I had to consider what I wanted to communicate and who I wanted to relate to. Over the years I’ve refined the ideas of what I want to do and the contexts in which I thrive creatively and this design show gave me the opportunity to put that understanding across. It was important to explain that I have lots of experience of creating bespoke pattern for clients and having just designed a new pattern for David Mellor celebrating the ‘Pride’ cutlery this was a great thing to show. It was really well received and orders have already been dispatched!

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It is very hard work minding a stand of your own, by yourself for several days. Every show I’ve done has been helped by the wonderful community of fellow stand holders nearby and this year at Tent London was no different. I met kind and sharing exhibitors I hope to stay in touch with, and I will certainly watch and support their practices on social media with interest. Thanks to you!

I’ve written this previously too, but as ever, I was visited by past students of mine from both my CSM teaching days as well as BCU Textile Design graduates, some visiting to inform their practices, others in their roles in industry. It makes me proud! I am also pretty good at spotting students and as long as they don’t just grab the postcards I support their efforts and questions as they are being proactive and engaging with the industry. London Design Festival offers something for any creative so it’s good to support the next generation.

Last year I made a dress using one of my new prints, and I did the same this year, much to the delight of the Tent London ladies! It was a great way to demonstrate the flexibility of my print designs, and a good way to make conversations; it became my uniform.

I also won a design competition for tote bags at the show to be printed with a ‘construct’ placement print, so some lucky people have a very limited edition screen printed bag!

The end of the show has mixed blessings. After a long few days and months of preparation it’s great to have achieved a strong show – many kind people commented on how good my stand looked, but it also means the adventure is over, and it’s sad taking the show down, packing it up and saying farewells. Even in a few days routines are created. We struggled back on the trains with what we measured later as being 59Kgs of exhibition and assorted support luggage between two of us, ready to follow up the contacts made…. and to sit down!

So what have I learned?

  • I learned that I really am making the work that I want to make, and did manage to communicate that with the right people.
  • I’m really proud of both collections, and am delighted at the reception that ‘construct’ received
  • and latch hook rug making! I learned how to make a rug and now know why they cost so much… but really enjoyed making it… with British wool!
  • I learned how important it is to take risks, to put work out there to be judged… to keep learning

Thanks to all those involved: family helpers, the Tent team, Formica Group, Surface View, fellow exhibitors and for everyone who came to visit.

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I’ve always started designing by picking up some sort of drawing tool, and exploring ideas that will have been developing in my head for some time. Concepts of pattern and purpose as well as communicating an idea using pattern is what really inspires me, this is no different for ‘construct’. A stunning image of lace in a book I was looking at while researching for one of my textile lectures on historical design caught my eye and an idea joined with other ideas of print looking like weave, as many people commented that my Plot to Plate VVV design did (left hand side of first image), when I was at Tent London in 2014. The seeds were sown.

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I’ve never hidden my loathing for faux surface / material effect pattern such as printed wood effect flooring. Why do we have to lie, why can’t there be another stunning and suitable design alternative?! With this is mind I’ve played with the idea of taking textiles as a starting point for this collection with the intention of subversively adding textile-derived pattern to other surfaces but in an evocative statement rather than a digital print of textiles. This is not a collection that copies textiles, rather that textiles suggests a way to draw; provides a set of rules to begin playing with. The title ‘construct’ is a reference to constructed textiles such as weave, knit and lace but also refers to the putting together of a new way of thinking about pattern for surface, building a collection that has been designed to cross material specifications and provide bespoke solutions.

Having been working on my Plot to Plate collection and related prints for the last five years it was a big challenge to start from scratch and move away from the safety of a kitchen garden, but I was also excited about the challenge. I’d been working on some other pattern commissions and revisited drawing processes that had got me thinking. I didn’t rush to get somewhere; I designated studio days to play with thread, ink and paper. I created a sketchbook of so many ideas and directions but eventually I began to formalise ideas and work out which direction felt right for the collection. Some of the other directions have already been moved on to commercial projects, and the others I’ll revisit over the years as and when.

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I usually sample patterns in black and white so I’m not swayed by colour rather than the success of the pattern. Having said that I was really adamant that blue was going to feature. Right from the beginning I was thinking of the strong Mediterranean blue of Greek churches, and the Blue Nude series by Matisse. Strong colour has been making a presence in interiors for a while, influenced by key exhibitions and trends. I knew I wanted to stay well away from Memphis colour palette and the reworking of 1980s colours. Sonia Delaunay has also inspired many designers and retailers thanks to the striking show at Tate Modern. I’m aware of trends, I have to be as an academic who teaches textile design, but I’ve never been inspired to follow them. I have my own creative path I’m on and I also would like my patterns to exist well beyond a season or two. Having said that one has to be aware of what drives buyers in retail to spend their money and for some it is likely to be informed by trends.

As those of you who have read more than this post might know, I like cutlery, and I can’t help laugh that the drawing tool that I’ve come to love is a sort of handmade fork! I’ve made many for this collection and they are so simple and inexpensive but all made by me to create exactly the right sized marks and the right sort of line. I’ve definitely got better at them. Weeks of testing many design structures and resulting rhythms left me with pages of patterns and the need to edit. Further weeks and I decided to test some screen printing on to fabric. Although I knew this collection was going to explore alternative surfaces I wanted it to work on fabric too. The weave of some of the fabrics was too dominant, and the scale of some of the patterns was less successful. Really valuable sampling!

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I’d contacted and discussed collaborations with choice companies relating to my ambitions for the collection and it was very exciting to sample on a range of substrates. I really wanted to embrace the ‘bespoke’ capacity that several manufacturers in Britain offer as a way to provide interior designers and architects for example, a choice for their clients. Choosing from off-the-shelf surfaces is not always exciting – there are exceptions! I wanted this to be a collection of pattern in anticipation of the product. Ten years ago I was a winner in the Formica ‘design a laminate’ competition and it felt good to be in discussions with a company with such a strong heritage for pattern. Surface View also demonstrate a contemporary approach to wallcoverings and surface pattern, enabling me to discuss my intentions for the collection and the concept of bespoke production and it being met by expertise and clarity. Having carried out several public art commissions over the years I’ve become used to discussing colour systems and file types, tweaking of production elements to manage the different industry requirements. It’s good to have that experience behind me.

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So here I am as Tent London is underway and I am extremely proud of the patterns that have made it to the final collection. There are repeat designs, small and larger scaled rhythms and placement patterns featured across the collection including a particular Tent London tote bag competition…. There are hand printed cushions ready for shop shelves or customers’ sofas and contemporary bespoke pattern for those wanting a graphic pattern rather than printed granite in their lives. The patterns can be licensed and collaborations can be discussed. Alongside all of this in order to fully convey the concept of the collection I’ve learned the skill of latch-hook rug making and committed many hours to mastering the skill of constructing pattern in yarn – not natural for me as a printer! I’ve sampled laser cutting and etching to varying degrees of success, I’ve made a dress for the show featuring ‘flow’ AND I’ve screen printed two limited editions of prints for launch day.

I’m interested to find out how it is received after so many solo months of nurturing, worrying and wondering. It’s time to let the pattern do the communicating…. do let me know what you think!

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