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

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Inside the Mill at Bute Fabrics

Do you find that every once in a while a day comes along that blows your mind?

I am glad to say this happened to me last week when Bute Fabrics kindly invited me to see their mill on the Isle of Bute. It has to be said that arriving at the beautiful Victorian railway station at Wemyss Bay and walking onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to sail over to Bute is a pretty good way to start to the day.

As I mentioned in my last post, production is something I find completely intriguing and walking into the mill at Bute fabrics was no exception. The mill has a similar feel to a whisky distillery in that it is made up of a series of long low buildings and the tour involves dashing outside from one building to another between wind, rain and the odd deer. However, there is no disguising the fact that this mill is making miles and miles of crafted fabric because the constant clack clack of the looms emanates around the site.

A quick glance around and you ask the question, how on earth does this complex set of odd looking machinery mean anything to anyone? How on earth does a single piece of yarn fed in at one end become a bale of highly prized designer cloth at the other? But cloth woven in this very room on this small Scottish island is being shipped off to customers such as Bank of America, Chap Lek Hok airport Hong Kong, the Sheraton Hotel in Moscow and Royal Festival Hall, London. Well the process can happen because the mill employs passionate people who have real skills. There was a tangible feeling of pride and heritage amongst the people I spoke to. Quite simply, they know they are producing something very good indeed and they are proud of it.

For me, discovering that Bute not only have their own range of cloth but can weave bespoke cloth in virtually any Pantone colour was the icing on the cake (I hope to visit the dyers in the Scottish Borders next). Can you imagine the possibilities this can open up? I firmly believe that designing home wares with a high quality raw material one needs to add very little embellishment at all. A simple form in the perfect colour in a natural material is hard beat.  Finding the perfect ingredients and then setting out to design something with it, in my mind is a pretty exciting way to start a project. Good raw materials speak for themselves.

This mill is only two hours away from where I work, which is quite far in Scottish terms but in reality is ridiculously close. The point I would like to make in this post is to encourage anyone reading this to find out what is being produced in their own area (and sometimes its not always very obvious) and just think of the opportunities it could offer. Embracing what we do well locally I am quite sure will help restore national pride. I for one am very proud to be from a country with mills such as Bute fabrics. What does your country or area produce that makes you feel proud?

How a 1960’s Children’s TV Show Shaped My Life

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with factories and more specifically, production. Oddly enough this stems from a 1960’s children’s television programme.

More than forty years on, I can vividly recall scene by scene the Mary, Mungo and Midge series. At the risk of  sounding over dramatic, I would categorically say that one episode alone, The Crane (it’s on u tube) has shaped my life. The episode involves the characters watching a crane on a building site construct a new tower. Very simple but watching something being  made, produced,  built felt incredibly exciting, exotic and full of infinite possibilities.

Couple that with images of the Bunglebung Bridge in the crazy landscapes of Dr.Seuss books, countless children’s documentaries showing the inside of factories with production lines and conveyor belts… (flash back to a moving belt full of glass milk bottles having their foil caps attached by a machine), followed by the arrival in 1971, of the film, Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory and you have a very powerful set of reasons to want to produce something in a factory.

Fast forward to 2009 and I was being shown around the Tikkurila paint factory in Helsinki. Pure heaven. A place where colour is made. Pigments are blown from machines which could be straight from the pages of Seussville. It’s a building filled with conveyor belts carrying empty cans queueing up for their fill of paint. Ingredients in one end and a finished product at the other. Fantastic.

So, 2011, I take the decision to produce something. Instead of designing something and then looking for a manufacturer, I decided to go about the task the way I cook. I decide what I’m going to cook after I’ve looked to see what ingredients look tasty in the shops. In other words, I buy ingredients then decide what to cook (unless I am lured by a delicious recipe from Food To Glow which uses seasonal ingredients).

What I discovered well and truly opened my eyes. Unknown to me (and bear in mind I have spent 20 years in the interiors industry) we have mills on our doorsteps producing world class products. I really didn’t know this and I think if you ask fifty random people in the street to name a Scottish textile mill I doubt if they could name one either. But we do have them and the worlds top designers know this. Just like our best shell fish which is swifty taken abroad, it seems that products from our world class cashmere and textile mills are being snapped up designers in New York, Tokyo and Milan.

Recently events such as Scotland re designed have been showcasing these mills and Scottish designers such as Timorous Beasties and Belinda Robertson are using them to great effect with their high quality contemporary designs. I think if you ask the same question in ten years time, many people will be able to name these mills.

You only need to watch the short film on the MYB Textiles site (please do watch, it’s incredible) to see the deep rooted passion, skill and heritage that exists in these places.

If you want the softest cashmere, look what Begg Scotland can make for you. I have samples from them and the quality is staggering. This is why I want to design and make. It might be a ‘back to front’ way of designing but going out to see what’s possible and then designing something is intoxicatingly exciting.

I haven’t added cashmere or woven products to my range yet (although my designs are well under way) as I am starting with small products which I shall  slowly build upon. However,  I did receive my brand new range of botanical linen yesterday which I will be showing you on my next post .

I am also having a tour of Bute Fabrics, a mill on the Isle of Bute, next week so I hope to have some images from that too.

If anyone reading this shares my love of cranes,(?!) you will be interested to know that sound artist Bill Fontana is currently recording of the sounds of the Finneston Crane which he will showcase along with images in 2013 – I for one cannot wait!

….and one last thing, my favourite book which contains stunning illustrations must get a mention here, surprise, surprise it’s called The Crane which is about a man who loves his job.

Have you been influence by any childhood TV programmes or books? I would love to know what has shaped your career.