The season of textile design portfolios

As a student traveling up and down the country for interviews for a place on a degree course back in the mid 1990s I had little idea of what I would do on the degree course, let alone beyond the eternity of three years studying. My A1 black portfolio demonstrated my love of drawing, printmaking, pattern and ‘potential’. Now, in my role of lecturer at Birmingham City University each year I participate in the rounds of interviews to select the new members of our textile community and each year as I help them open the black A1 folio it reminds me of the journey I started all those year ago. The industry has changed, the world has changed, technology is utterly different and yet those nerves belonging to those individuals are as real as ever, and I remember that feeling so clearly. The unknown, the untrodden path I stumbled along; the Norfolk girl living in Leeds to turn drawings in to designs.

I’ve questioned most decisions I’ve made along the way, worrying about whether I should study art or design, printmaking or illustration, book art or textiles and yet somehow I seem to have all of those elements in my everyday practice, and that suits me fine. I remember the challenging task of confirming a description of myself and practice for my graduation show and degree postcard. (I opted for Artist / Designer, in case you wonder.) I couldn’t get the wording right, and really thought it mattered.

KF_degree_blog(images from degree study)

Having spent last Saturday interviewing students, on introduction I described myself to the visitors as a Printed Textile Designer, which in so many ways completely fails to describe what I do, but somehow seemed right to say at the time. Now I ask myself why it doesn’t fit and maybe I conclude that the term feels too predictable, so tidy, so comprehensive, and yet the thing I am most proud of in my career to date is the breadth of art and design experience I have gained, the materials I’ve designed for, the clients I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned, despite as a student, no idea that all that was possible on graduation.

Many times through the day I spoke with interviewees about their art and design experiences and came to realise that their own understanding of art and design had more to do with the educational delivery they were currently receiving and far less about how they defined themselves. An interesting conundrum, and after all that, does it really matter? What made me most excited about being part of the interview process was that all the students were starting out on their own journeys, some of which I hope I shall be involved in, and with the potential of a great course to guide them through, inspiring staff and great facilities they really can do all they understand they want, and so much more than that. Daunting, and exhilarating, and I wish them all good luck!

I didn’t know it at the time but the work I was creating all those years ago as a student still holds such relevance to me now, and it doesn’t matter what label I give myself, it’s all about the creative process, and I don’t worry about boundaries there…

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