My flat, as anyone who has visited will agree, is stuffed with stuff – papers, paintings, patterns, fabrics new and old, samples, a fair few tables and chairs, sofas somewhere under the piles, cups and plates, books, books, books – and boxes. This ocean of items ebbs and flows: the tide is high at present. Sometimes the plethora is breathtaking – visitors have been heard to gasp as they’ve come through the door. Very recently three new boxes made themselves known to me – knocked at the door and gained entry – three huge boxes, three heavy boxes – and a series of smaller incomers followed fast on their heels. What is in these three boxes? I could say my past, my present, and my future.
Here is box number one, containing the past – a sturdy plastic crate which took two people to carry – thank goodness the lift was working that day. It was brought by a printer whose father Susan and I used to work with in the ’80s, in Cheshire. He had disposed of his printworks, Phoenix Calico, and in clearing out came across a stash of samples, headerboards and paperwork pertaining to our company. Would I like them? Yes, said I.
Of course Ian didn’t just bring the crate – he brought stories.We had a good exchange about ‘the old days’, and mulled over the many changes that have happened in the printing industry. The crate was packed to the gunwales, and let forth a strong whiff of the past as I opened it. I won’t dwell on all the contents here – but in fact the bundles of old headerboards with designs and colourways couldn’t have been more timely for my work the very next day at Morley College – teaching about mixing gouache paint, colouring and designing fabric collections! What a bit of luck to have them land in my lap like that.
There are several strands to my working life: manufacturers to whom I license patterns; design customers to whom I sell my time; colleges, institutions, museums and private clients for whom I give talks, run courses and workshops; private commissions for painted and printed cloth and my own company for whom I produce and sell goods. At the heart of it, apart from the very real need to make a living, is my never-ending – so far – interest in colour, pattern and design.
Every autumn I produce the calendar for the next year – something my brother kindly first commissioned from me for 2012. I try to give it a theme, which often reflects the work of the past year; this year it’s broadly about ceramics – hence the title On the Shelf.
I paint many designs for WestElm including for their china-ware; because of their confidentiality requirements I can’t show you the most recent work, which is always aimed a year to eighteen months in advance. But here, appearing on next February’s calendar page, are three vases which I painted in 2017 in response to a brief about faces and figures on ceramics – you may have noticed quite a few hand-painted ‘character’ pieces in the shops. These three persons were not chosen for production, but I like them nonetheless.
Another of my US customers – Michael Miller Fabrics – produces printed cotton fabric by the yard for home sewing and quilting. I’ve done several collections for them and the latest, Kashmir Gardens, is on sale now; the designs feature here in a very nice three-page spread in issue 55 of Quilt Now magazine.
And in the calendar is a glimpse of the next, the very latest, group, Table Talk. The Breton plates design was inspired by my annual late summer visit to Quimper; there are a couple of new cards associated with it too, on my website now.
Here’s one showing Breton Birdie – a detail taken from the design. By the way, the calendar and my giclee prints are all printed and made locally by John and Glen, round the corner from me at Words and Pictures, and so are my printed greetings cards.
Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh is currently showing the Liberty in Fashion exhibition, which has travelled north from the Fashion Textile Museum. It’s on until Jan 12th. I’m supplying the shop there with some of our handmade archive cards – each one a unique little collage of fabrics from the archive of designs we did for Liberty in the 60s and 70s.
People have birthdays, and I usually make cards for my family and friends, often reflecting the season, their interests or simply what’s on my desk at the time.
This nice foldy number was made for someone who loves fuchsia and purple. There’s an echo of the workshops I run at the FTM – making sketchbooks and collages. That’s where my abundance of scraps and ephemera comes in very handy – in fact we’re frequently complimented on the quantity and the quality of the materials! Here’s some collaged and cut work made at one of the workshops.
Those 2-hour courses are mostly aimed at young people during half-terms and hols; but on December 15 we’re having a festive collage-making day open to all. Do book a place here and join me in the museum’s new studio workroom for a chance to make a special something for Christmas – all your cards perhaps. Have a day out in Bermondsey plus guidance, help and larks with the cutting and sticking. I’ve got a great new stash of old mags, papers and maps to hand…!
What has all this to do with that second box – a modest brown cardboard affair? Well, it came from one of my favourite suppliers World of Envelopes. Inside were all the envelopes and cellophane bags I need to package and despatch the cards and new calendars.
I’m a late-comer to teaching, hardly ever having done any until about 4 years ago, and in turn it’s teaching me such a lot! It has become an increasingly important part of my working life – a chance to give words to my work and encourage others to experiment a little with the pleasures of making – and the surprises of it too. I welcome students of all abilities and experience, and often the mix is pronounced – some people are accomplished painters, some absolute newcomers. We often begin simply, using a variety of brushes and sponges to investigate the rhythms and sensations of making and accumulating pattern. All future courses and workshops are listed here – new events are added as we go, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the page if you’re interested.
This summer I spent a beautiful week at Chateau Dumas in France running a fabric painting workshop. One student, a chef, hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since she was a youngster – a story I often hear. She had tremendous enthusiasm and a very sporting attitude; here is the apron she made – woad-dyed and then merrily painted. It’s due to her that I received the third box – the future. This third box was a big white affair from a factory in Dubai, taped all round like a travelling fortress.
Opening it up I gazed on an arctic scene of white polystyrene – sensible really as the box contained a couple of dozen heavy white china plates and dishes; very exciting. A week or two earlier that student had called me up “I’m opening a new restaurant” says she “and I’d love for you to design the dinnerware for it.” Well, I couldn’t say no could I? So we talked through the atmosphere she was wanting – in colour and design terms – a rustic, charming look… decorated simply with my hand-painted brushmarks… welcoming and Italian…. “Send me a set of the plates,” said I, “so I can get the hang of them.” They were the contents of that vast box. That night I put some dishes out in the studio and began to paint on them to get the feel of it all. I sent the pictures, she was happy, we now have to see whether everyone agrees the proposed designs pass muster – and what is realistic for the factory to produce in the rather short time we have; there’s a call scheduled for tomorrow afternoon…. a piece of the future contained in that box.
Strangely enough she’s the second person in Florida to give me a special commission. Last year I was contacted about printing yardage of our Cote d’Azure fabric for an apartment in Miami – which I was happy to undertake. This year that customer contacted me again: she has a home in New York too, overlooking the park. Being perspicacious, she’d cunningly spotted a photo in our book of my studio wall in Clapham in the ’80s; pinned there was a pattern called Central Park!
Could I print that for her as a special commission? Of course I said yes – and set about looking for my references. This design, although painted in repeat, was never produced at the time. I found paintings at the archive, from the first tiny sketch, below left, to the large photocopy she’d seen folded on the wall – there’s both the past and the future to be dealt with here and now.
I was asked, in September, to contribute to a day’s seminar on the subject of Creative Minds at the Middlesex University psychology department. At one point I referred to this Central Park sequence of paintings. Here am I, somewhere behind the unfolded photocopy of the design that was spotted in the book. People have been commenting on my prolonged absence from blogdom – this may explain it – I’ve disappeared into the park!
Quite a lot of intense making is going on at the moment – in Nepal, in Yorkshire and in South London sewing machines are whirring, needles flashing, brushes painting: the Selvedge Winter Fair will be held on Saturday December 1st at Mary Ward House in central London, and we’ll be there! We’ll have some new products in our range ‘make time for…’ and of course some old favourites too.
Tickets can be bought in advance here; I also have three to give away. To win one just ‘like’ this blog post – I’ll put your name in my hat and pick the 3 winners…I’ll contact the winning names by email during thursday 29th. Keep the 1st December free…
Thanks to Joe and Rohan, Ian Bradbury, Laura Q, Sarah Y, Smilte D, Juana L T