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.

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.

prints on plates

One of the aspects of drawing for pattern design that fascinates me is the stylising process; how we see something and process it as an interpretation of the thing we initially saw. I’ve written about this several times on this blog over the last few years. When I start to draw something new I make quick studies to get to know the subject matter, and work out what the key information might be, and how I retain the qualities that make the subject remain visible in some small way – depending on how much I want to hold on to the recognisable elements.

While washing up the other day I saw two of our plates side by side in a way that got me thinking: I saw connections I’d not spotted before despite the visual languages of the plates appearing to be very different.

Both plates are decades old, both have seen better days. One is a simple graphic motif, one is a rather nostalgic painted flower posy.

Both plates appear to have floral-inspired printed surface designs. Both designs could be described as featuring yellow flower heads (although one includes other flowers too while the other contains multiple prints of the same motif elements).

One design is pared right back to stylise the flower by only recording a stem and flower head. The style is almost diagrammatic in the simplicity of the motif consisting of black stem and V-shaped lines crossing the stem to suggest leaves. The flower head is a straightforward circle with a dotted outline. Not all stem motifs have heads, there is a randomness in the composition across the plate.

The other plate design features painterly and drawn details, a generous sprig of flowers utilising more colours to express the tones and textures of the flower and leaf details and certainly more expressive in its rendering. The flowers are placed on one side of the plate, as if allowing space for the cake to be placed alongside. The yellow flower head is certainly the attention grabber.

Now I’ve spent a bit more time thinking about these designs I actually believe they make a great pairing, two designs that complement each other in what they offer. I’m not so keen on matching crockery and enjoy using our mix and match plates collected over the years from car boot sales, charity shops, family hand-me-downs and gifts – they all offer reference points and bring something to the collection, and this week I’ve been grateful to appreciate this duo in a new light.

postcard project, 20 years on

Twenty years ago, in January 2001 two friends established a creative challenge as a way of sharing their days, while living in different British cities, through daily production of artwork. The idea of mail art had already been of interest to them both, and this project formalised the process of sending pieces of artwork through the postal system. It was highly likely that the outcomes would also find themselves featuring in an artists’ book in some shape or form, as so many of our individual creative ideas did at that time.

Rules: Every day in the month of February 2001 we (Kate Farley and Imi Maufe) would make a postcard inspired by the sky that particular day. In fact two identical postcards were made each day by each friend – in case one got lost in the post. The size of each card was agreed to be 11cm square, and it would need to be in the postal system that day.

postcards in Sky Blue Pink, from February 2001, by Kate Farley

February 2001. SKY BLUE PINK

Each day, between Bristol and London, and sometimes Norwich, these postcards crossed the country representing the experiences of lives being lived under the skies of winter. Postcards were made using a combination of image and text, suggesting downpours or sunshine, colours and times of the day. The artwork includes a mix of drawing, paint, printing, photography including a pinhole camera photograph, and collage. Each participant’s creative journey and personal style shines through.

Alongside references to the sky and weather there are details of exhibitions, bicycle rides, parties, shopping, college and work. At one point cards were delivered by hand as they shared a weekend in Bristol. Only one postcard was lost in the system – a post-it note breaks the news.

postcards in Sky Blue Pink, from February 2001, by Imi Maufe

MARCH: TO AND FRO

Having enjoyed the task of finding a few creative minutes, however busy we were each day, to keep the project on track it was decided to try another month on a different theme. To & fro represents the journeys of the month of March 2001, keeping to the same rules apart from the theme, and the interpretation of what a journey could be was up to the individual. Postcards recalling more cycling, mapping around buildings, postcodes passed through, my birthday, journeys by bus, emotional journeys, creative processes and even a Spanish holiday gets a mention. The artwork is varied throughout the month, and between the two participants as with the previous month.

postcards in To and Fro, from March 2001, by Kate Farley

I was working part time as Print and Photomedia Technician at Central Saint Martins in London, alongside design and making artists books, hence the access to the darkroom to make the photogram. I taught pin-hole photography and the view from the 4th floor window at Back Hill across Clerkenwell features. I had bought my Turkish Green Brompton (folding bike) and it gets a mention a few times. Imi was studying in Bristol, and continues her interest in journeys in her practice today.

postcards in To and Fro, from March 2001, by Imi Maufe

In April there was an exciting day when the postcards were gathered and shared. The next stage of the project was to design and construct the book showcasing the original collection of postcards between two friends in order for us to create editions. The book structure needed to show each of the postcards sent on the same day, and reveal the front and back of each. As there were two of each postcard the pages of the book could be designed by sticking each pair of cards on a single page and fold the sheet to indicate the back and front of each card – and also allowing the book to be made and editioned by printing single-sided. My grandma used to say the term Sky Blue Pink and so the phrase became our book title for the weather, and To and Fro was an obvious choice for March.

There was a stressful afternoon of hunting around Bristol-based printers to carry out the colour copying and bind the book. One chap managed to shuffle the pages out of order almost by simply looking at them – we couldn’t entrust the postcards to him – but eventually we found someone who understand the peculiarities of the project and how the two editions needed to be constructed. Wire-binding held the two sets of postcards in individual books, united by the wide and folded cover, nestling the books in to one. They were in editions of 10, published under the IKUS press, formed for this purpose.

both editions: Sky Blue Pink & To and Fro, published 2001

We exhibited these books at artists book fairs, launching them at the International Contemporary Artists Book Fair in Yorkshire and received a really positive response. We sold the majority of the first edition of the books in the first year, including to significant collections such as the British Library, and produced a second limited edition soon after.

This was a time before social media, and today, thinking back over the design process of the book, it’s worth remembering we didn’t have access to scanners and computers, so it really was a rather handmade effort, but I think the outcome is better for it and I can’t believe we are looking at these, twenty years on. Having made those postcards and revisited them again now, it has surprised me how much I remember from those specific days I lived, that I could easily have forgotten entirely if it was not for the act of making time to be creative.

I also take from this, the value of making time to be creative, and to be aware of the world around me. I was busy rushing about but always in my mind I had to notice something and work out how to create the two postcards to visually communicate that day. Maybe I should start this up again, although Covid lockdown makes my life considerably less interesting!

You can find out more about Imi’s practice here: http://www.imimaufe.com

winter palettes

I’ve not had much time for colour mixing with gouache recently but I’ve really enjoyed noticing the contrasts of seasonal colours on our walks so I thought I’d celebrate that here. Some colours are exaggerated by bright sun, while the recent frosty mornings provide a muted coating.

Taking time to notice these small delights are ever more important as we spend few hours outside. I noticed today there was daylight in the sky at 5pm, so that and the first sights of snow drops and daffodils are putting me in the mood for springtime.

Colour Material FINISH

In my line of work CMF is an area of the design / manufacturing industry developing colour, material and finishes in relation to sectors such as automotive design, interiors, products & accessories etc. It involves innovation, design and development of surface and material solutions and is an exciting area of design, including trend research, consumer behaviour, material innovation and sustainability.

Spending more time sitting in my home celebrating Christmas got me thinking of the specific colours, materials and finishes I relate to Christmas. Home-made fudge, mince pies and Christmas cake, the walnut and chocolate coin in the stockings, obligatory sprout, some holly and fir greenery and a bauble that has been handed down to me, and that has somehow survived decades of Christmases. With the end of the year here, we have another sort of ‘finish’, so I’ve created a CMF board for today – I hope you like it!

CMF of Christmas, 2020. Kate Farley

Autumn colour swatches

I’m not the biggest fan of Autumn, mainly as I hate to accept the end of summer, but every year the colours of the new season are beautiful so it is difficult to stay disappointed for long. Having spent a week in hospital recently I really missed seeing nature so once out again I noticed a heightened awareness; my senses really enjoyed connecting with the outdoors again.

Wheatfen Nature Reserve, Norfolk

Over the last few months I’ve been paying more attention to colours of nature, gathering plants, feathers, shells etc and mixing the colours using gouache – see previous posts – I find it a wonderfully meditative process and one that brings great results too. The process really makes me look at the colours of the artefact and work out the nuances of hues, tints and shades. I’ve taken some slow recuperative walks in the countryside to rebuild my strength, allowing me to gather colour and appreciate Autumn. The colour chips here were made from the leaves from one tree, arranged in colour order. I wanted the colour to be the main thing to identify rather than them being leaves, so by trimming the edges of the leaves I’ve made them more like swatches.

leaf colour chips

mixing and matching colour from the beach

I’ve been continuing my colour mixing series, this time taking inspiration from the beach and the artefacts I gathered. The gouache works wonderfully to capture the colour, responding to small specks of added colour as I take the starting colour on a journey to and past the colours of the item I am studying.

Some new drawings are taking shape that use these colour chips and I am excited about where they are going – one day I’ll share them. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the colour of the beach of north Norfolk.