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.
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 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.
Several weeks ago I started, with no other intention other than to pass the time, making drawings of the trees across the fields I could see as we waited our turn at the farm shop. This was simply about making time for me to clear my head of all the other stuff and pressures of this new routine we find ourselves in. Drawing is such a key part of what makes me tick, whether it’s for rest or work.
Week 2 came so I took my sketchbook and made new drawings that naturally evolved from the first week’s observations. In the second week I also took scissors to capture the shapes as paper cutouts in contrast to the lines I had focussed on in pencil. Each week I’ve made these drawings and over time I’ve noticed the growth of leaves, making it harder to focus on the tree structures, but I’ve also moved the drawing on as a familiarity of my subject is developing. I wrote a blog post on those first weeks here.
I’ve spent the last quarter century drawing landscapes with trees and remember a significant moment as a student of design, when I discovered the water colours by Crome and Cotman in the gallery in Leeds – particularly strange given they were from the Norwich School and I’d left Norwich to study in Yorkshire, but maybe that was the initial pull. I studied the way they divided the landscape with brushed areas of paint and they helped me to see that I too could explore ways to stylise the way I saw the landscape.
The drawings included in this post are all from week 5. I’ve added hints of fields containing the trees and those lines of containment are the edges holding the paths of trees. I’ve used the horizons from both a vertical and horizontal viewpoint and continued to stylise the tree forms throughout the five weeks. It’s getting harder as the trees flesh out their forms and we lost the details of the branches. I’m also suggesting depth of field with the scale of the trees near and far although I’m pulling the composition down to stretch out and extend the foreshortened landscape.
Throughout my career I’ve toyed with ways to map the perspective of landscape and use diagrammatic language, perspective and distorted elevations to represent viewpoints of 3D in 2D. The intention of the arcs was to suggest the sweeping viewpoint but in fact I think it hints at hillsides, and that really isn’t the case here in Norfolk. An undulating landscape maybe, but certainly not rolling hills – still, we can’t get it all right!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this drawing exercise so far and look forward to week 6 and what the drawings will discover next time. I’m also, rather naturally I suppose thinking about pattern evolution and how these may become design work. I have lots of ideas to mull over and be excited by … but there’s no rush.
Having posted some of the drawings on instagram over the weeks I’ve received lovely comments and messages from people enjoying the drawings and I’m so grateful for the votes of confidence in what I am doing, I really appreciate that. Many thanks, I hope you continue to enjoy the drawing! ….
Drawing has always been a great leveller for me and now is no exception. I make drawings to capture something I like the look of even if I haven’t got a clue how it might be useful at that time. Picked grasses, a homegrown tulip or a fragment of fabric all provide challenges that relax me but also creatively inspire my lifetime of looking to draw – it’s not a coincidence there’s a play on words with drawing in my blog name.
Having some time spare while sat in the car at the local farm shop car park three weeks ago I took a good look around me at the view and with the luxury of time I took out my sketchbook and drew a line. This was a landscape already familiar, but in drawing a subject it is with a closer examination that one can see more.
Firstly I noticed the skyline meeting with the trees in the distance but as I drew that line it was being interrupted by the nearer trees cutting over the fluidity of the horizon. The trees contained strong shapes but not as the summer masses they will hold in full leaf in due course. The branches were clearly defined, but the added haze of smaller branches suggested the fuller form.
I made reasonably quick sketches of the same view several times, each time starting with a different area as a focus. Sometimes it was the gap between two trees, or a distant field and as I became more familiar with the shapes in front of me I engaged with details of branches to define the structures of the trees. I focused on three clusters of trees that provided different visual qualities but were united by the view.
The process of drawing and re-drawing the same thing is something I love to do – just as Monet would have painted the same cathedral or hay stacks. Where Monet was fascinated with the changing light and what that did to the colour and shadows, for me it is a process of understanding and familiarising in order to stylise and to interpret, usually in line and shape. As I get to know my subject I can edit in and out the information to simplify what I am seeing in working out how to record it.
This blog post shows the same landscape being drawn on three different trips to the farm and I think you can see the familiarity allows for more freedom of the information I saw and captured. In week 2 I also took to scissors to cut out the shapes in pieces of white paper, asking myself to identify the positive and negative shapes within the landscape – see the image below. I cut out the same trio of trees several times and they work well layered, as the interpretations of the same subject matter is similar but evolves too.
This notion of repetition in order to get to know something is a really key part of my practice as a pattern designer and I’ve evolved this relationship in my drawing over the years. As far back as art school I drew and printed in series of works on paper, with the evolution of seeing in order to pare back being the really important part of my process. I teach drawing as a ‘getting to know you’ strategy too. I suggest a student does not spend the first hour asking the really personal questions of the subject sat in front of them, but to make small talk, get to know the subject superficially first of all, then you can be more up close and personal over time. I think I’ve written about this somewhere on the blog before.
I’m really pleased that within a very short time of drawing I have looked, learned and recorded the view, and once again taken away my way of seeing that landscape overlooked by so many of us in our day to day routines. I’ve returned to this task and now have about twenty drawings from three consecutive visits. The trees are hinting at holding more green but the summer fullness is a while away for now. The buzzard circles and the tractor gets to work, I shall be back again, see below for the drawings in week 3.
A walk in the Spring sunshine gave impetus to a very simple and mindful exercise back in the studio; to make the colour of the landscape. A sprig of willow contains so many different colours. Those colour qualities will alter as the clouds skud across the sky casting shadows, and as the sun ripens the buds.
With paints at the ready I knew it wasn’t about making the one colour, but the narrative of generating colour as my process of journeying from one to the next. I wanted to paint each of the swatches of colour I mixed as I evolved the paint story, observing and recording the subtleties of the change in hues. Selecting a limited number of tubes of gouache to begin made it more interesting. To start I selected the dominant colour I was aiming for, and had a little piece of nature with me as reference. I developed the swatches of colour, selecting one, and then another hue to achieve, step by step, slowly and patiently filling the page.
Gouache is a beautiful paint and this exercise reminded me of a wonderful morning teaching colour mixing to BA1 Textile Design students earlier this year. Getting the right amount of water, ensuring the colours are cleanly mixed, and then making that one painted line flat and even – it all takes practice.
I was lucky enough to have excellent colour teaching during my time at art school and consider myself strong at seeing and achieving the right colour mix. At uni I remembering saying to the print technician “it’s nearly right, I’m happy with it”, and she’d say, “Kate, it’s not what you set out to make, keep going until you get there!” I thank her for teaching me that persistence and these days my students know I’m particular (a preferred word to fussy!) when it comes to colour. Getting the colour right is so important and you may as well enjoy the journey to get it right. Textile products sit alongside fashion and interior items made from other materials, and the colours need to match / coordinate, so quitting before you get the right colour may be a sales / employment disaster too!
Interestingly, some of my current students were discussing my approach to colour recently and one shared that I’m not keen on black outlines around shapes in print designs. Another one commented that they hadn’t heard that, but would keep it in mind. I jumped in to defend the comment I’d originally made – a black outline is too obvious, unquestioning, the default, rather like Times New Roman black typeface when you open Microsoft Word. Too easy. I ask students and designers to think about whether the black line is the best for the design. If you think of all the other colours you can use, I think you may find another and better alternative!
At the end of this colour mixing time I am left with souvenirs of the process, memories of the walk and beautiful colour. This is real colour away from the back lit screen I too often see colour from. I shall do this again.
It all began in an email with the subject line, ‘Hello from Tokyo’ I received in November 2017, letting me know how much my tea towels for David Mellor were admired in a Japanese design company. The email went on to ask if we could discuss a potential collaboration for a capsule fashion collection featuring a print designed by me. Firstly I was excited to think my patterns had made their way to Japan, but secondly, that sounded a great idea, tell me more! A few email exchanges later, and we agreed to meet the next time the company director of Stamps Inc. was in London so I could show him my portfolio to discuss the idea for the new pattern they would like to commission for their fashion collection.
The meeting with Shu and his colleague Yoko in a central London hotel was exciting; I showed my work and it was met with positive discussion. I was also reintroduced to the tea towels that had made it to Japan all the way from my studio, via a David Mellor Design shop! We sat at a large table and I showed them my portfolio, spreading the many sheets out covering the whole surface. Having shown all the other work and following some discussion in Japanese between colleagues, the director chose the very first page he had seen – the cover page! The choice was not what I was expecting but we shared and developed ideas for me to sample: colours, time-lines and garments. We then took some photographs to record the start of the project together, for when we would be able to share our story – and even asked the hotel doorman to take a pictures of the three of us with a London bus behind us.
The selected design was a graphite pattern of pencil scribbles of varying tones and rhythms, later to become the title of the collection: Scribble. There are lots of variables such as scale, rhythm, tone and overall order in the pattern we had to make decisions before I set about creating the final artwork. I emailed across some small sketches to explain the repeat process for production to check we were understanding each other as we had to ensure we understood the terminology that each of us used in our different languages.
I shared several images of new drawings to provide the variations / considerations over email before committing to the final design. The final fabrics were to be screen printed so I planned to draw out the whole design in full repeat by hand (approximately 60 x 90cm), scan it in and transfer it to Japan for screen print production. I started the large final drawing twice as I wasn’t happy with the first one. Initially the marks I drew appeared tense, but I also had to work out how to create the different qualities with the pencils across a vast piece of paper, and how not to smudge the areas I had drawn. I drew the design at 80% scale to make scanning it in possible, meaning I had to take in to account the slight increase in the size of the marks in the final result. I also had to ensure the top of the design matched the bottom, as the edges were to act as a cut-through for the screen printing process of repeating the pattern, fitting like a jigsaw, top to bottom. The design was edge to edge, left to right, fitting the width of the fabric so there was no horizontal pattern-repeat.
The final artwork took almost ten hours to draw, and I did that mainly over two long evenings. I had it scanned in at a very high resolution, adapted the size of artwork to 100% and sent the digital file to Japan – with my fingers crossed that the printer could work their magic, including colour separating the graphite tones for the two screens each colourway would require!
There was a wholesale launch in Tokyo so I sent some of my original drawing samples over to feature as framed artwork in the exhibition and I was sent photographs of the lengths of fabric on show. Very exciting! Orders were placed and there was a good response. A further email request came from Japan, to meet again in London to see the fabric. Another exciting moment – also scary – what if I didn’t like the results!? In the stylish interior of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel lounge there was no need to worry. Great care had been taken to translate my drawing to screen printed cotton lawn fabric, in two colours – referencing the two colours of my David Mellor patterns Chelsea, in grey, and Pride in blue. The fabric felt beautiful and the printing fabulous. It was a special meeting.
I was able to see the marketing material including my name alongside Japanese text I couldn’t decipher, describing our meeting and the collaboration. I have had to be patient while the wholesale launch orders were being produced before we can promote the project I’ve had to keep under wraps for well over a year … until now!
It has been an absolute pleasure working with Shu and Yoko, learning about the company and their pride in who they work with including the products they develop. It has been a highly successful collaboration from my perspective in that we have discussed all the aspects of the process and trusted each other to do the best for it, each learning about the other and having good communication throughout. We have shared news of the differing seasons and national events over the course of the project, and they’ve watched via instagram as I’ve moved homes and jobs. I’ve loved having this connection with people in another corner of our world, created as a result of some tea towels I designed over five years ago!