signs and signals

According to the Design Council‘s report produced in this 70th anniversary year, our design industry generates 72billion, yes billion, pounds a year within the UK economy – a remarkable achievement.

It certainly makes me wonder why the government is cutting funding to art schools, slashing further education, art in schools, grants to the design council, grants to arts institutions while purporting to support their brilliant output and claiming that art and design education has never been healthier; forked tongues, shallow hypocrisy and double-speak, it seems to me. Progress? Development? The greater good? As Bob Dylan put it “money doesn’t talk, it swears.”


Margeret_Calvert_Self_PortraitI had the very good fortune at a House of Commons reception last week to meet one of my design heroines – Margaret Calvert. She and Jock Kinnier were responsible for, among many other things, the look and safety of our roads – the signage we’re all so used to relying upon. In ’57 they were commissioned to re-design the look of the country’s road signage, and her famous pictograms and the new ‘Transport’ font have kept us on the right paths ever since. As a typographer she has invented many other commercial fonts, and as a teacher at the RCA she has influenced many new graphic designers.181A0355 We had one of those funny coincidence conversations where we discovered that not only did we go to the same art school, but we studied with the same art teacher too, Miss Pasmore (Victor’s sister), at the same secondary school, with a ten-year interval between us! My homeward trek was then shared, to the very same bus stop, with another new acquaintance of the evening, which reminded me of that earlier coincidental journey I wrote about a couple of years ago.

DSC02764Like Margaret, the artist William Kentridge was born in South Africa; I have to thank three different friends for recommending his extraordinary work on show at the Marion Goodman Gallery. The exhibition has now ended and I’m so pleased I saw it.DSC02761

From the massive ink drawings of flowers, blooming on many sheets of collaged printed texts, to the adapted political propaganda slogans, to the bronze heads meticulously painted as their wood and cardboard maquettes, his forceful vision is clear. The graphic ink drawings – portraits, skeletons, typewriters – are translated into huge 3D insignia to be displayed and carried like roman legion standards. The two films were completely engrossing; images from the haunting processive dance of death ‘More Sweetly Play the Dance’ march and twirl and haul their burdens before my eyes still.

Another mind’s eye journey I often make is when I listen to the Shipping forecast on Radio4. Round these islands we go, sometimes reaching to Scandinavia and Iceland, and I picture the coastline as I listen to the rippling names, the familiar rhythm of the words.


I’m echoing Joe when I say that birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions seem increasingly important to celebrate; there have been several dates of this sort lately – what would have been Susan’s 78th included. We enjoyed a favourite home-made coffee and walnut cake in her honour, and, licking the crumbs, I have to hope that she would have been more than happy with our contribution to the Liberty in Fashion show currently at The Fashion and Textile Museum.

glascoe dressI’ve had the chance now to add in some mannequins dressed in the fashions of the time; when we were putting up the show one of the museum staff excitedly showed me a picture on her phone of a Colin Glascoe dress she’d just seen at Portobello. ‘Was it yours?’ ‘Yes – I have the painting right here!’ came my reply. Well, the very dress is now on display in The Art of Pattern – come and see it – and I’ll be talking about the work in the show, and bringing that painting, on the evening of the 5thNovember from 6.00pm, tickets here. I know – it’s Guy Fawkes night – perhaps we can all have some indoor sparklers as a reminder of his attempt!New-liberty-dolls 2
I also hope to have some of the Special Edition fabric-bound books available on the evening, and a gang of our new little Liberty dolls too….

The Fabric of India show at the V&A is really too big and important for the rather rushed visit made with the teenage students of last Saturday’s fabric-painting workshop. We somehow had to consider and absorb enough, with our reference drawings, to be able to paint an inspired response, an interpretation, on our calico pieces – bearing in mind the possibility of further developing them with stitching, embroidery, appliqué. I was impressed by the 17 young women and their quick and hard work. I look forward to returning to the exhibition for a lengthier visit myself. I loved many things, from the spectacular tents down to this tiny little muslin blouse with its narrow narrow red stitched seams and hems.

v&a sketch

Edges and borders – they’re important – and I’m pleased to say that our new Cote d’Azure silk satin scarf is now printed and available at an introductory price, smart new border and all.

cote scarfWe’re busy re-stocking the online shop and the sold-out Calico Bird cushions, Hoopoe and Ladybirds, are just returning. Alongside these we’re producing the 2016 calendar – there have been several enquiries – which will be available during the second week of November. More dolls, both Liberty and Melodies, are here too, both in the FTM shop and all, very soon, online as well.

viva tea pot

And I’m now very happy to reveal Viva – the result of a new collaboration with Magpie, available in the new year – cups, bowls, plates, mugs, and even a tea/coffee/hot-choc pot – followed by tea-towels, printed bamboo trays…. and we think you’ll love the packaging too!

And we’re included in Katie Greenwood’s fascinating new book 100 Years of Colour; it explores the changing use and emphasis of colour in design over the century – we’re 1983!


We made some great calico lamp-shades during the second fabric-painting course at
Bradness gallery – we’ve got the hang of the sticky-back paper now!

bradness workshop

This time several participants were creating textiles with the idea of adding later embroideries and other enhancements – I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

bradness workshop 2

There are more courses coming next year, along with one at WestDean in January. But before this year’s out why not come and join me in some silk-painting adventures at Morley college – I think there are still a couple of places left on the course that runs on December 2nd and 9th


Here’s a very quick look at the first of our tees for the new ethically-sourced-made-in-London label 16/SEVEN – coming soon with a little taster collection, from paintings to print…

16sevenThat’s all folks – I need to be painting some more hankies for the shop!

silk hankie

Thanks to Molly, Steve, friends and family.

And here’s how to take an elephant out for a walk… just in case you’re wondering!

14 thoughts on “signs and signals

  1. Pingback: scarlet and grey | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. Pingback: what designers talk about | Sarah Campbell Designs

  3. Loved the Liberty exhibition Sarah, it brought back so many memories of you and Susan and my years at Pollyanna! Juliet Mann xx

  4. Completely agree about the craziness of cutting funding for the arts. Everyone I know spends all their time either making art, studying art or visiting art shows and galleries. It’s a way of life for so many of us, and, as you say it generates billions in revenue. The group of us to whom you taught calico painting in Streatham all went to the Fabric of India together Sarah. We had about an hour and a half, but every one of us felt the need to go back again. Love the Cote d’Azur scarf. I can feel a Christmas present request coming on!

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