prints on plates

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.

I spy hospital patterns

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!

passion for passi flora pattern

Many years ago my flatmate was given a passion flower plant and when the flowers came we were both in awe of their splendid form; a thing of beauty in our otherwise less than beautiful flat in Camberwell, south London. I made drawings of the flowers and sometime later developed some patterns from it, screen printing it as repeating designs and placement prints. I created the motifs by deconstructing the elements that constitute the flower head.

More years passed and sometime around 2012 I revisited those screen printed patterns, this time interpreting them as lino cuts as part of my Plot to Plate series of editioned lino prints. Last year I planted two passion flower plants in our new garden and last week we had the first bloom. It took me right back to that first flower in the flat in Camberwell, and was reminded of the pattern again.

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Whenever I look back at old work I’m likely to want to make changes, and this is the case here too, but each design also holds a moment, defines a time, and sometimes that makes it what it is. I’d not imagined I’d connect that flower to my practice almost twenty years later…

This pattern remains available as a set of patterned Plot to Plate greetings cards.

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printing pattern progress

My mind tends to want to be busy and I often develop several ideas in parallel. Pattern making and pattern evolution ideas are shaping up so I went back to the lino block and started to cut – I find it best to make the idea come to life so I can work through the potential and pit falls. Watch this space …

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drawing to see, drawing to notice.

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.

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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.

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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.

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international pattern collaboration

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.

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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.

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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!

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pattern print process

Today has been about writing on the topic of pattern making – lots to think about on that subject!

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Here’s my Construct : Twist pattern on Formica laminate

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Tomorrow I shall be presenting a keynote paper at a symposium about Motifs at Nottingham Trent University. I’m looking forward to lots of discussions and sharing my own practice-based research including projects with David Mellor Design and Barbican.

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pattern informs the piece: Zandra Rhodes exhibition review

Finding a couple of hours to spare in London last month I took the decision to head across the river to the Fashion and Textile Museum, and specifically, the Zandra Rhodes: 50 years of Fabulous exhibition. It proved to be a perfect visit for where my head was at; juggling fashion and textile design in both a design commission and my academic life.

Zandra Rhodes is first and foremost a textile designer although it is her fashion designs that carry the printed and embroidered pattern she is famous for. The silhouettes of the garments, constructed often from multi layered draping fabrics are guided in their execution, in fact dictated by, the pattern design of Zandra’s strong handwriting or pattern, and executed using print processes and surface manipulation.

I’ve included plenty of images of these outfits in university design lectures over the years, discussing how the designer maintains the focused design style and aesthetic but also manages to evolve the work through the decades.

As ever it is very different when you get the chance to see the fabrics in real life. The white printed pigment on chiffon from the ‘Lovely Lilies’ collection (below right) and the quilting over screen printing of her signature swirling motifs as borders and placement prints provides the evidence that Zandra Rhodes is first and foremost exploring fabrics to lead garment design.

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The variety of fabric manipulation and surface embellishments was fascinating to see, some rather crude and some pieces held their own more than others. The ease in which the textiles worked as one with the garment design is certainly demonstrated throughout the exhibition, and it was useful to see the screens for printing to see the composition of the designs later on in the exhibition.

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The theatricality of Zandra Rhodes’ work was a perfect match for opera costumes, and upstairs in the gallery a number of interesting examples were showcased. I also enjoyed seeing original sketchbooks alongside a film of the designer talking about how important drawing is to her. I hope many textile design students visit the show and take her advice.

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There is a significant body of work on exhibition here and it is important to view it as a considerable output of a single designer with a thirst for carnival. Her practice spans fifty years, hence the exhibition title and although her style is not for everyone, her contribution of bravery, exuberance and fabric play should inspire others to take creative risks and find a way to make the work they want to make.

I would also recommend the small showcase of company overview and embroidery work by Norman Hartnell as you enter the gallery – stunning pieces from a different era.

The show is on until the 26th January, 2020.

Creative downtime in Devon

The summer is over and I reflect on one special week away last month that gave me lots of time to think and be creative.

My family and I were invited to participate in a creative field school at Ashridge in Devon, and despite not knowing much about what was in store, we took the very long and scenic route to Devon, down some scary narrow and steep lanes, the car full to the brim, and arrived many hours later, at the most beautiful hidden-away gem of a farm where we settled in for what became a week to remember (Devon via Stonehenge is a long way from Norfolk).

Over the first few hours we met the other intrepid creatives joining us for the time. We were all tasked with delivering one workshop during the week that everyone else, no matter what age, could attend. There were to be some communal meals, talks and evening events including a cabaret – less said about our contribution the better! There was even a printed book we all received ahead of the holiday with a schedule and other useful information in it but once in Ashridge the blackboard outside the studio became our go-to schedule, with times slipping as we relaxed in to the pace of the place. The one clear day from workshops saw us all explore in different directions, and rather unscheduled but special all the same was how we all chose to reconnect with the group when we returned home, back to the studio that evening to share our findings and keep creating.

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We learned different skills: from making natural rope using brambles and nettles, we made constructions to share with the group, we made zoopraxinoscopes (animations), boodie-ware picassiettes (mosaic plates), monoprints, ceramic pictographs with rubber stamps, printed aquariums, masks and sashes …

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My workshop was called Patterns of Ashridge and I started off by discussing how to draw and stylise natural forms to create patterns, inspired by illustrator Gwen White’s book, A World of Pattern, (left-hand image below) first published in 1957. Everyone committed to the exercise of drawing trees to illustrate a point about stylising through drawing, and then set about gathering things to study for their individual pattern ideas. There were some really successful outcomes completed as folded books, and lots of interesting conversations about what else could be done next.

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What felt so special was the shared time; the learning through the workshops and the time available for informal social gatherings. Coffee time at 11am, or afternoon tea was spent clutching the sewing project or nettle cordage as we embraced the new craft skills and helped each other remember what our workshop leader had told us. Having only met a few of the other people before this week, we all took the time to share the experience. We found common grounds; the shared networks including academics in common.

We all appreciated the lack of internet connection and took pleasure in the secluded and peaceful environment of Ashridge. We swam in the sea, explored in the river, picked blackberries and generally appreciated the natural world around us, including newts and owls – it all felt many worlds away from the everyday routines we find ourselves launching back in to as the Autumn comes.

We send a huge thanks to Des and family for such a wonderful and generous experience!

I shall be talking about Gwen White and her books at the Women in Print symposium at the House of Illustration on the 16th September.

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The church kneeler above was from Modbury Church, Devon – there’ll be another post about those in due course!

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