drawn ideas of pattern

My ongoing research practice of drawing and design regularly explores pattern structures within the family of geometrics. I enjoy testing motifs and rhythms that belong to traditional compositions, and deconstruct the scaffolding to look for new iterations.

In this recent work I am looking to the concept of themes and variations in music to drive the visual investigation. Repeat doesn’t feature, but it’s certainly a consideration for the future.

layers of tracing paper with graphite drawing

With a short break between academic years, and the book in production I hope to find some time to take this project forward over the coming few weeks.

colour around the garden

When my children were very young I remember having to occupy them in a park near a hospital and as the time dragged on they were clearly finding the wait too long and boring. I came up with the task of finding colour to entertain them, so they dashed here and there with specs of colour. Sometime later we had little piles of different colour from leaves, petals, grass etc. and we were surprised by how colourful the park was when we first thought it was all green.

Many years on this week I found them doing it again, for fun… as the garden was so full of colour. It was wonderful to see them noticing the extent of some colours such as reds, and difficulties with blue, but with lots of rushing around again they made an impressive rainbow. Me being me I stepped in to organise the colour a little bit more, order some specifics … and then got told off for styling it for social media… oops!

The garden in June

REPEAT news

I’m delighted to share the news that after nearly five years in development, we are at the stage of announcing the book I’ve been writing on repeat printed pattern for interiors, with Bloomsbury Publishing is now available for pre-publication order.

The book is a culmination of my design and teaching practice experience over the last two decades and features some historic and contemporary designs and interviews with some leaders in the field including Sarah Campbell, Neisha Crosland, Deborah Bowness and Orla Kiely. It is for anyone who is interested in printed pattern design, including design students. You can read more here.

I’m delighted to be able to feature this beautiful pattern by Timorous Beasties on the cover too.

nature: holiday inspiration for the sketchbook

This holiday time has provided an opportunity to go to new places, see new things and return to the sketchbook just for fun. A week at Ilkley Moor enabled lots of time for walking and seeking out inspiration from the natural world, with distinct differences to the landscape I’m used to day to day. Up hill and down dale saw me amongst mosses and lichens, pebbles and boulders, grouse, larch trees, heathers and bogs … and even a fragment of pottery.

Rucksack pockets were filled with samples of treasure ready to investigate later. The process of drawing enables me to get to know an object, and by making several studies of each item I enjoy developing a stylised representation. I hope never to tire of the getting-to-know-you drawing process I have practised for thirty years.

By looking closely and seeing through drawing I can work out the essential elements of surface, form and texture to record, but also I love to play with the appearance of elevation and structure of three dimensional objects, such as the pebbles, to explore their new form as they appear on the page, as flat motifs.

The textures and colours of the items I gathered provide macro evidence of the vast landscape I walked through and connected with. As this was springtime there were pockets of fresh green bursting through winter foliage, demonstrating the natural cycle awakes again. The geology of Yorkshire provided variety in coloured greys and texture under hand and foot as we bouldered, scrambled and hiked, notable in contrast to the soft wet bogs and spongy moss beds amongst the heather.

Without going all John Ruskin about it, the natural world really is amazing, and full of inspiration for anyone inclined to notice. Anyway, back to the rather flatter fields of Norfolk …

Inspired by and inspiring the textile design discipline

Thirty years ago I began my art school experience studying a diploma in Surface Pattern, a little unsure of what was meant by the course title, but keen to find out more as it involved drawing, printmaking, pattern and textiles. I thrived at art school, building practical skills and theoretical knowledge, growing in confidence in my ability, encouraged to experiment and play with ideas and processes. When I think back to what I understood of careers in textile design at this time, I have little memory of career planning, or job role research. This was the era of the Yellow Pages; I couldn’t Google it! I made decisions about my degree course based on the fact my tutors suggested I was more of a printer than a knitter or weaver. 

The art school student and the first screen printed pattern

During my degree I undertook a floral print project in the first year and hated it so much I nearly threw it in for fine art printmaking, but then I gave myself a talking to, and realised I wanted to frame my practice in design, to apply my thinking to scenarios, and to problem solve. This has stood me in good stead, both as a designer and academic. I believe the context in which we work is as important as the role we undertake.

I think back to those days and see a very different textile industry to the one we are experiencing now. I graduated at the dawn of digital design, without the range of composite surface materials for interior applications, or bespoke digital production that enabled me to collaborate with Formica when launching my collections in the mid 20-teens. As a freelance designer in the late 1990s I was posting hand painted textile designs in large cardboard tubes across the country to my agent and sending my portfolio out as slides (transparencies) for exhibition applications, hoping they would be returned to save me money and hassle – they rarely were! Thank goodness for the digital cloud of today, allowing files to be accessed around the globe in an instant. Laser cutting and 3D printing have become the norm (even in schools) since then, and expertise in digital software is a basic requirement in graduate jobs. It is easy to take these developments for granted – but our line of work is transformed.

Over the years since that time, I’ve built a career embracing many different opportunities as a designer, artist and designer maker: launching my own brand collections, undertaking illustration or pattern commissions, exhibiting, designing public art (including three large gravel roofscapes and three public toilets!) as well as leading residencies in healthcare settings. I have enjoyed the variety of projects I have completed, building my understanding of several sectors of the industry. Ensuring I remain up to date with industry developments has been key to the relevance I maintain in my academic position. 

Birmingham Airport commission, fabricated by The Window Film Company

In the last twenty years we have seen the development of ‘smart’ textiles for medical applications, interactive electronic textiles for military and domestic use, bio-materials and colour developed from bacteria and new design opportunities in the digital realm within the simulated environment – the metaverse, an emerging international arena. At the same time, during a global pandemic we see a resurgence in low-tech craft with textile processes such as crochet and knit identified as beneficial activities for our wellbeing, and a fightback against the consumer culture. 

The breadth of opportunity available across the discipline of textile design today is exciting, and fast evolving. Revisiting craft practices for contemporary markets is not new. The Arts and Crafts movement spearheaded by William Morris, advocating for handicrafts and naturally dyed yarn and cloth, was an attempt to battle against technological innovation and the resulting cheap and poor-quality products flooding the market. The current growth of interest in craft practices again connects us to the heritage of making and the close relationship with material and process that nurtures us. Sustainable solutions compete with mass produced problems. Customers are easily overwhelmed by choice and price-points, single use versus something for life – future heirlooms, or landfill. Digital design provides solutions by reducing fabric waste in the fashion industry using 3D digital rendering to identify and fix issues, where previously each garment in each size or colourway would be produced and discarded as products were developed. Craft and technology are not mutually exclusive.

The creative industries we have today were unimaginable to me as a student, and now, I think about the relationship today’s students have with the industry and how far into the future they can imagine. As head of the discipline at my institution I am required to consider the future of textile design, to design an educational experience to not only equip the students and graduates for roles that we know about, but also provide them with the curiosity and creativity to shape the roles we can’t quite define. Ambitious ideas need to be partnered with strong realisation skills, traditional craft and making skills paired with digital competence. Let’s see where the next thirty years takes us!

Construct collection by Kate Farley, in collaboration with Formica

pattern processing

I’m often juggling lots of tasks in my head, but when my mind is busy I can find focus and space to think within and around the process of drawing. The time occupied by my hand drawing gives my head some freedom to work things through. Distraction, mindfulness, process-led, thinking time…

Drawing also creates time to explore rhythms that are playing out more formally in other sketchbooks for other projects. I find it interesting that certain motifs appear in the margins of my notebooks time and time again, made while my mind is occupied. Often those shapes are geometric, but sometimes the circle dominates, at other times, squares. Regularly they link to designs I’m working on and resolving somewhere else, subconsciously seeking solutions.

I enjoy the simplicity of paper and pencil in a world where so much of my time is spent in front of a screen. The physical process of drawing; the feel of the friction between graphite and paper, the sounds created by the rhythmic gestures, are vital to the experience. Satisfaction comes from a page of evolving rhythm and more pattern potential. We know there is seduction in the multiple; the repetition of tins on a supermarket shelf, for example.

pattern practice therapy

A year ago I was recovering from stomach surgery and had some time away from my academic role while I mended. Not one to be idle, when I was well enough to wield a lino cutting tool and had the energy to sit up I set myself some simple design challenges to focus my brain and help myself get better. This became my physiotherapy and creative distraction from what was a really hard period of time.

With pattern design as my go-to healer, I decided to explore formal pattern structures, including the ogee, diaper and check, featuring geometric elements. I created lino cut tiles with a small element of repeat pattern, usually but not always in two colours. The lino blocks were small, enabling me to feel as if I was making progress while able to retain focus in short bursts. The printing was another process that tested my physical strength and stamina!

I thought I’d share this one, the ogee structure – one of my favourite pattern structures – I love the play of the negative and positive S-curved forms. I think it is under-represented in contemporary design…

printing the first colour
adding the second colour, blue

I often test prints in different colour combinations, as I have done here, below.

alternative colourway

It is a natural desire for a pattern designer to want to test the repeat so you can see a digital outcome below too. I decided to test the two colours as two tones of green for some reason. It has a vague hint of avocado bathrooms of the 1970s now!

digital repeat of the lino printed tile

Unknown to me at that time, I had a further hospital stay and recovery a few months on, and so the collection of patterns grew once more, as my healing and self-prescribed occupational therapy – a career I had once considered!

I’ve had little time to revisit this collection since my recovery but I hope one day soon I will. I’m not sure where this design and its siblings will venture next … any suggestions?

pattern and textiles spotting

A weekend walk in the search of headspace following a busy week in academia led me to the Suffolk coast and a beautiful 13km walk, down and back, along the beach. Always with an eye on the hunt for pattern, colour and cloth I found all three, relating to the topics of my teaching. Of course I also had a handful of stones and other ‘precious’ detritus.

Having spent the week talking textiles, including pattern structures and repeating designs I was amused to connect the patterns on the beach made from the waves running back across the sand being echoed in the fishing nets on the boats higher up the beach.

I have also been discussing with the students the broad application of textiles in the everyday world around us beyond fashion and interior applications and our walk gave me good examples to illustrate my point. We use traditional textile techniques including knitting, crochet, printing or weaving, with the addition of a coating or finish to create materials for practical applications.

summer colour palettes

Colour inspires me. I love to work with colours; creating pairings and partnerships of colour to build reactions between them, evoking moods and setting a spirit through colour choices. I notice colour relationships every day, and enjoy considering why certain colours thrive alongside others. I love to wear colours too, and like to contrast materials as well as colour to create interesting relationships. I do worry if I find myself in brown trousers and a green top – I don’t want to look like a tree!

Over the last eighteen months I’ve spent time mixing colour using gouache paints, matching colours perfectly with items collected from walks. Little collections of seaweed, shells, catkins, feathers and leaves have sat patiently in the studio while I mix and match. I’m good at matching colours and would be perfectly happy spending hours a week doing just that.

I also enjoy creating colour palettes, sometimes for projects, or my teaching sessions, and sometimes just because what I see around me suggests a perfect palette to explore and create. Our garden has been a bit of a project over the last two years and this summer the new borders are filled with colour that bring such joy to me. My mood is lifted when I see colours working together well. Here are two results from a photograph taken in the garden earlier this month, just because the splashes of colour were pleasing enough to capture.

I like the dominant green that provides the backdrop for the brighter colour accents, and the shapes of the flowers are like splashes of colour dropped in to the soothing green. The pink, red and orange provide the warmth, while the blues are calming and restful. The depths of the border at the bottom of the flower stems are dark, no doubt cool away from the summer sun.

I decided to explore the role proportions of colour play in a palette in the second image. The width of each colour stripe is representative of the area it covers in the image. Back in 1994 this was one of the summer projects I was tasked with as I started my degree in textile design – and all these years on I still enjoy doing it! You can see how the colours perform when dominant, or work as accent colours in thin slithers. There are always main characters and supporting roles in a palette, but it takes all sorts to put on a performance!

When selecting the colours in the image for the palette I worked with the larger areas of colour first, then looked to see how the colours had natural partners to sit next to in the stripe. The accent colours grab the attention of my eyes. Both images reflect the same colour palette, but present themselves quite differently.

drawing on the landscape

I’m sure I’ve written about it before, but I’m often intrigued how an idea can rattle about in my head for years, exist as drawings or collages, but not quite feel right… then manifest in a way that makes those years of waiting make sense. I’ve recently created a sequence of three drawings that appear to have done just that.

Drawing is a key creative process for me. I don’t always find as much time as I’d like but I draw to capture the beauty of a flower, or the shape of a field, and often have no planned use for the image; the drawing exists for itself. Over the years I can see drawings are linked by a longer-term inquiry, and these single elements collectively define the aesthetic of my practice.

I’ve been working on some new landscape-inspired drawings, bringing together some colour mixing and the monochrome marks, rhythms and textures relating to the Norfolk landscape. I began with a journey through the drawers of my plan chest to pull together a dictionary of visual language to guide me, and following a cycle ride in the landscape I took pencil in hand, and began to draw. Painting features very little in my practice, really only for colour-mixing but this time it felt right to capture the colour in gouache and apply directly with brushes on to the paper, layered up with the graphite of the drawing.

These drawings are part of the ongoing journey, but I do think it’s important to stop and notice when something feels right, like a good fitting piece of jigsaw in the puzzle.