The Story Behind The Design

After having a conversation with a customer today it dawned on me that there is often a reason behind a design – unless of course you are like one of my all time favourite artists Agnes Martin who claims her head was like an empty vessel which captured external artistic messages which she then applied to canvas – she doesn’t seem to take much credit for her beautiful paintings as she claimed she was just a receiver and her hand automatically carried out the work. Wow.

pencil sharpens

You may well find yourself connecting with a piece of art or design but be totally unaware of the inspiration behind it. That’s great but I find if I am able to speak to the artist and hear their story, the art takes on a new depth or an extra layer.

I was lucky enough to meet artist Sandra Robinson at the Waterside Arts Centre, in Sale, close to Manchester last month and I made an instant connection with her ‘21:00 From London Euston’ train window series. I found them immensely atmospheric as each painting depicted dramatic and ever changing natural lighting conditions on a journey. She explained she was on a train from London to Manchester and she made written notes of what she saw from the window. She took these notes back to her studio and painted from her written instructions and the result is a very intense series of beautiful paintings full of movement.

A series of ten paintings by Sandra Robinson

A series of ten paintings by Sandra Robinson

The designs I have on my mugs also have a story attached. I was working in Iceland last January and as you can imagine there was very little light and it was brutally cold. I was watching the birds at the central lake, ‘Tjornin’, in central Reykjavik when I spotted some tiny low lying flowers growing on the banks of the lake. They made me smile that despite the very harsh conditions they were still determined and gutsy enough to grow! I knew straight away that I wanted to use these brave flowers in a design. The finished design is screen printed onto bone china mugs because I liked the idea of a hot steaming drink (obviously there are lots of steaming hot geothermal pools in Iceland) being enclosed by these tough little Icelandic flowers. The sky changes very quickly in Iceland and within a few hours I witnessed a stunning pink sunrise, intense clear blue skies, grey, snow laden skies and was hoping for a green Northern Lights sky – hence the colours of the mugs…

Tjornin Mugs

I also found the town and the Icelandic people very colourful so the two tone set of mugs represent the brightly coloured houses of Reykjavik, the black one the dark winter sky – nobody would know this but I thought you may like the reasoning behind the design!

Two Tone Tjornin mugs

T

house facades Reykjavic

The powerful, strong and elegant birds I was watching are depicted on these mugs.

Flying High Mugs

My ‘urban’ series of linen tea towels were inspired by the huge brightly coloured cranes and loading machinery at Leith Docks, Edinburgh. It’s a gritty, industrial and efficient place where tonnes of cargo start and finish their massive journeys across the sea. A magical place actually, full of intrigue. I really wanted to convey the bold, brash, powerful bright shapes and screen print the designs onto linen.

urban linen tea towels DSC_0019

And lastly, my Botanical DNA scarf was inspired by my Dad who was both a geneticist and a gardener. When I placed the plants in long rows, they reminded me of DNA helixes! The design is printed on a semi- sheer, floaty silk cotton blend.

Botanical DNA Scarf

Well I think that’s probably enough about my own designs for now (!) but you can see more (like my Sol LeWitt inspired cushions) on my shop

What are the stories behind your creations? 

New Textile Range, ‘Pear Drops’ and ‘Falling Apples’

Isn’t it funny how you can be carrying out a fairly mind numbing chore around the house when, ✳ping, you see something at a certain angle and it sets off the beginnings of a new design?

Well, it was a little group of asymmetric pears that caught my eye this time – I hope you like the end product, soon to be made into scarfs, cushions or any other suggestions you may have!

Pear group

Pear Drops on Silk

‘Pear Drops’ printed on 100% Silk

Big Pear Drop on Poplin

“Big Pear Drops’ on 100% Cotton Poplin

'Falling Apples' printed on 100% Silk

‘Falling Apples’ printed on 100% Silk

I would love to hear what you are working on or what has recently inspired you.

I was thinking of making the silk into scarfs but if you have any other ideas, suggestions welcome!

Have a great weekend.

Hunt, Gather, Design

Design shows are important events in the calendar and the big ones are very often held in London. When attending these shows I am often asked how designers keep current and in touch while living and working four hundred miles north of The Big Smoke. 

Well, walk this way…

We have a collection of secret weapons up here in Scotland. Weapons that fuse together and do the majority of the work for us; our landscape, our light and our space. Without exception, every single design I have produced has stemmed from a walk outdoors. Not necessarily a traverse across rugged moor or a walk on one of our many wild beaches, even the most mundane of walks will produce results. It’s simply a case of looking rather than just seeing. I hunt for shapes, gather what I see and turn them into designs.

Shapes in the city

I shall demonstrate the power of the landscape with the help of the bute fabrics collection. A quick flick through the binder and I come across several fabrics that appear to be a direct abstraction from nature. Intentional or subliminal, the designers are clearly demonstrating a raw and visceral connection to the environment.

Pitted sand and ‘Iona’, fine worsted marl

The fabric of our landscape is literally weaving itself into the very heart of designs emerging from Scotland.

Protruding rock veins and ‘Kilmory’ cloth

Natural materials but a man made wall – look how its structure emerges as an architectural weave.

Stone wall and ‘Braemar’ cloth

Busy docks have long been one of my richest sources of inspiration. I can’t help but notice a similarity of colour and form in my dockland montage with that of bute’s special yarn effect cloth, ‘Skye’. A clean, contemporary cloth that I am keen to specify.

Docklands montage and ‘Skye’ cloth

Blue panels of Hebridean water are reproduced in the interior of this room – the positioning of the ‘Turnberry’ throw on the sandy coloured  felt wool chair looks pleasing because it is a direct translation of a natural landscape. In other words, it  gains an instant authenticity.

Panels of blue sea and Bute’s ‘Turnberry’ throw

Look at the dark Lewisian Gneiss sharply contrasting with the adjacent white sand – a powerful combination. The organic form of the white DSR Eames Chair  is heightened by the dark grey back drop. Our design instincts are influenced by the natural world yet again.

A colour combination in nature emerges in an interior

A detail from an artist’s oil painting and a set of colours and shapes I see at the harbour.

Colours from a harbour and detail from an unrelated oil painting.

So no matter where we live, I am certain we are all deeply affected by the space around us. I am quite sure a primal force exists within us that connects us to the land and appears consciously and unconsciously time after time in the products we are designing.  Nature is the touchstone for truthful design and is one of the many good reasons designers continue to live and work  successfully in Scotland.

And it’s not just the landscape that inspires us, don’t forget about the local flora and fauna. After curing this locally caught salmon in beetroot and vodka, I was spell bound by the colour palette that lay on my kitchen work top.

But I will leave you with a montage of textures and patterns I collected from a recent walk. Textures I plan to work on to produce some new work – not a difficult task when surround by this…

natural textures and patterns

Connected, Globally, Locally and by the World’s Favourite Colour, Blue

I’ve been unplugged. Computer off, no blogging, no commenting, no texting. Effectively, I have been back in time. I’ve even tried to use cash rather than cards and it has been interesting. It was a conscious decision, a choice I made.

Why, you may well ask?

Unison pastel, hand rolled in Northumberland National Park

I was worried about the number of small shops closing down, shops who can’t compete with the internet. So I set myself a challenge of buying all my Christmas presents from a shop/fair/market/gallery rather than on line and only buying presents which are made in Britain. And guess what? Its easy and extremely enjoyable.

I love the internet, but its ease of use can sometimes let me forget what’s on my doorstep. I have some fantastic cyber friends – a journalist, Caitlin Broadside blog, Sandra, an artist  The Colour of Ideas, Elizabeth, a colour consultant EB Color Consultants, Betsy a jeweller betsy bensen jewellery , Claire, a poet and seamstress Make Me a Frock  all unbelievably talented people who genuinely inspire me whom I would never have met without the internet. However, I don’t want to forget about my friends around the block, none of which are bloggers – apart from Kellie at Food to Glow who writes a staggeringly informative and delicious food blog.

The internet also brings me work. I’ve just finished some photographic work for AGI magazine to illustrate an article on ultramarine written by art historian Alexandra Loske, an interesting academic who I connected with in cyberspace. I think I just want to make sure both worlds, cyber and tangible and more equally weighted.

And now to colour. I guess you know that the worlds favourite colour is blue?

It’s hardly a surprise considering three quarters of our planet is covered in sea and we look up to a seemingly endless blue sky (occasionally). From this perhaps we can deduce that we like familiarity. But familiarity is not what you get on the internet. For me, its the constantly new, unseen, unfamiliar images and snips of pristine information that draw my attention. That’s all good and I am quite sure we are all super- informed beings but I just want to make sure I don’t loose track of familiar things, local places, local friends, my micro world that needs supported more than the web machine which seems to generate its own immense energy. I needed to spend more time in the familiar world and its been a nice coincidence that I have been working with that wonderfully familiar colour blue.
I have also decided to take part in my first ever Craft Fair. I will have a stand at Market Tree Events Fair this Saturday 10th November in Cafe Camino just next to John Lewis. I am really looking forward to meeting the people who buy my designs as I never normally get the chance to meet them in person.
So here’s to staying connected in our parallel worlds, local and global both working successfully and all connected by the worlds favourite colour, blue.

How Do You Define Good Art?

How do you define good art? For me it’s quite simple. Occasionally I will look at a piece of art and I get a physical reaction. My heart speeds up, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I get a flutter deep in the pit of my stomach. It’s not a learned response to something,  it’s an instant reaction to something that moves me.

I was lucky enough to have this experience today. Inverleith House within the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh has an exhibition of work by  Irish born artist William McKeown (1962-2011). McKeown had been living in Edinburgh until his death last year. The Royal Botanic Gardens was a place he frequented and Inverleith House he saw as an ideal place to show art due to the beautiful proportions of the Georgian building and the quality of natural light that floods into the gallery space.

William McKeown said “there are two types of art – open and closed. All closed art is negative and anti life. Art which is open accepts without judgement, is expanding, positive and life enhancing”. McKeown 2002

This exhibition is certainly “open art” and definitely “life enhancing”. I was quite literally rooted to the floor as my gaze fell into his canvases. Blocks of colour dreamily fuse across the canvases but at the same time pulsate with positive, joyful energy.

I was interested to note he has painted a dark border around each work. The borders are dark and executed in a single confident brush stroke. They seem to halt any leakage of colour from the canvases and act as a boundary or fence to hold the intensity of colour inside the painting itself. The effect concentrates the image and allows each painting to become a portal to a stunning landscape. The borders surprised me though because McKeown is renowned for looking closely at  air and light and open infinite spaces. The borders define the painting but also strangely lead you into the infinite space contained within the painting itself. So important are the borders that they act as a way of taking the viewer on a private and personal journey into the painting rather than a shared experience with the rest of the gallery. I have however, no idea if that’s what he intended.

Agnes Martin paintings have a very similar effect on me, a sensation I wrote about here.  Strangely enough, Inverleith House are also showing a rare film by Agnes Martin alongside the McKeown exhibition.

I think the other ‘requirement’ of good art is that it should inspire creation. On return from the exhibition, I looked at some photographs I had taken which I had stored in an ‘unsuccessful’ folder. They were unsuccessful because there was little focal interest. However, thinking more about air and space, I looked at them again and saw them in a completely different light. I started looking at the air and space in the image rather than the objects. I have now turned my unsuccessful photos into new images of fused colours.

I only discovered William McKeown’s work today and I really wish I had been aware of it before. I would have really liked to have met the artist and as he lived here in Edinburgh, I probably could have. However, he has left us with a collection of open and positive paintings to dream over – it’s a not to be missed exhibition.

The show is on until 8th July 2012 at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.

Seven Coats of Paint Later…..

If you regularly read my blog, and thank you if you do, you will know that colour is of great interest to me. When you immerse yourself in a topic like colour, you can go quite far along many fascinating and often quite complex paths but something very simple occurred to me this week.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 1136

There are an endless number of books and magazine articles available instructing us  how to ‘be happy’ but this week I witnessed numerous people entering a room looking pretty serious, glum even, and emerging from the other side transformed into carefree smiling happy looking people.

This remarkable room they entered is in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art,  Edinburgh which currently has a Sol LeWitt installation, Wall Drawing 1136, painted directly onto the gallery walls. Wouldn’t it be great if the gallery filmed visitors as they entered the room and showed the footage as a separate installation? The transformations were really quite marked.

Wall Drawing 1136 contains the seven colours of the rainbow and it literally dances around the room. Sweeping through the bold vertical bands of colour is a wide, playful curve. Complementary colours red and green are the only two colours which are repeated in the curve boosting the energy levels of the curve even further. Interesting that such a colourful, dynamic, powerful and happy work should be designed by Sol LeWitt in 2004 when he was 76, which was close to the end of his life in 2007.

Considering part of my job is to specify paint, I was intrigued by the process of translating Sol LeWitt’s detailed instructions into the physical artwork that appears in the gallery. It took a team of eight one month to complete. The gallery walls were re- plastered, then washed with a fine adhesive paste making the walls smooth and hard. Eight coats of white paint were then applied before the process of masking (150 rolls of tape were used!) out the bands could take place. Each band of colour then had seven coats of paint applied! The process can be seen on the gallery’s flickr stream – looks like they had some fun too.

The  water based acrylic paint they have used is Lascaux, a Swiss paint company – the first European company to produce acrylic paint for artists. An interesting company who pride themselves in their water based production methods. All the water that leaves the factory is cleaned in their own purification plant.

But back to my initial point. Colour, especially the colours we associate with childhood (we all loved our packs of crayola‘s after all) can create intensely powerful emotions. Couple this with the imaginative and detailed instructions from Sol LeWitt which are then perfectly executed by a dedicated team of craftsmen  and you create a heady installation of pure joy.

Colour makes you smile.

London: a Riot of Colour

I have to admit to not quite knowing where to start with today’s post. I spent last week in London, a city that never fails to blow my mind, and last week was no exception. It was of course in the throws of London Fashion Week and the The Brit Awards which meant that the shop windows were groomed and styled to perfection.

Strong colour trends were clearly visible throughout London. Blocks of coral crashing into great chunks of Klein blue and 70′s purples anchored by spicy tans and cinnamon hues – tribal colours without the pattern, instead emerging in great blocky geometric shapes.

As if I needed any more colour stimulus, I made a trip to the David Hockney exhibition ‘A Bigger Picture’. Suddenly you find yourself looking at the English countryside though a new set of eyes. To say the exhibition is vibrant, energetic, zesty would somehow be an understatement. This huge exhibition positively bursts off the walls of the Royal Academy with a ramped up sense of optimism and freshness. I would strongly recommend you to watch Andrew Marr’s interview with David Hockney on last nights The Culture Show - so much can be learnt from the mind of this artistic genius. As Hockney says, ‘everything becomes interesting if you really look’, I couldn’t agree more.

looking at patterns and exaggerating colour in Fife

Space is something David Hockney often talks of, particularly where one thing stops and another thing starts. Where two colours meet is something I am intensely interested in as the energy created at the boundaries of adjoining colours is the perfect fusion of art and science. But infinite space is one of  Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s enduring obsessions.  Her show at Tate Modern is one of the most fascinating exhibitions I have ever seen.

It shows her work constantly changing over the decades which probably mirrors her life which includes living in rural Japan, New York, Tokyo and for the last thirty years living voluntarily in a  psychiatric institution where she has created work hoping to show the psychological trauma she so often feels and wants to escape from. Leaving the exhibition you must navigate through a darkened room covered in mirrors and tiny coloured lights which completely disorientate you and seem to stretch out to infinity. It really is something you should experience if you are in London.

Apologies for the lack of photographs on this post but I couldn’t take my camera into the exhibitions. I’ve also been very busy creating some new products – I’m still at the messy stage but I am really pleased with the pieces that I started in Iceland last month.  I hope to have images up soon!

Your Personal Paint Palette from a Photo

It’s the fun part of decorating that many people find rather mind boggling – choosing a paint colour. If you regularly read my blog, you will know it’s a subject I frequently write about but today, I have found another way to kick start the inspiration required when selecting colours. Of course there are many things to take into account when choosing colours which I have discussed in detail previously but if it’s a starting point you are looking for, why not try this.

People tend to be naturally attracted to “colour groups”. The groups may be seasonal colours ( see previous post Finding your Dominant Colour Personality), or environments such as woodland, beaches or urban colours. However, why not flick through your photo collection and find an image with appealing colours. It may be tricky picking out individual hues so why not pixelate your image and discover a palette looking right back at you?

I very definitely fall into the “beach” category so this photo of a Isle of Syke beach throws back a palette which is ideal for me.

As nature is an expert in combining colours, you may find this wild flower meadow a good starting point.

Looking for some natural grays? What about this group of Parisian pigeons

Or your favourite piece of contemporary art?

You may find a palette in a surprising place. This serene palette is a photo of graffiti I saw in New York City.

As you can see there are infinite possibilities so have some fun with your own photo album. Why not have your pixelated image enlarged and printed onto a canvas, a unique artwork for your room – the colours will be perfect!

On Target

If you are feeling a bit flat or bogged down, can I suggest you have a browse through French company  Domestic wall stickers.

From Finnish artists depicting magical Moominish landscapes to graphic designers such as Ich & Kar with their vivid use of colour in “Target 1″ you will discover your problem suddenly becomes which one to choose!

Wouldn’t mind the George Nelson bench in the foreground too…