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An interview with Janine Partington

To complement  ’20 Makers, 20 Objects’ showcase we are interviewing exhibitors to gain more insights into their work and practice. Here we talked to Janine Partington. Janine is a designer-maker based in Bristol with a practice that spans multiple materials. She’s been known for some time for her mastery of the traditional craft of enameling, and more recent has been working with leather. Janine’s work always has a fresh, clean, contemporary look, evidenced in ‘By the Sea’ which was selected for this showcase.

Design-Nation: Please tell us about ‘By the Sea’ and how it came into being?

Janine Partington: ‘By the Sea’ is a wall panel created through the carving and painting of leather. I use lino cut tools to create marks into the surface of the leather and then apply acrylic paint to those marks. This piece started out as a single pebble shape that I then added to in an organic way, each responding to the last in the same way that I created the marks.

D-N: Tell us more about your very multidisciplinary background – how do you hope your work will develop in the future? Will you work more or less in leather? Does drawing play a part in your practice?

J.P: My immediate background is in enamel where I create hand-cut stencils as part of my process of applying an image to my pieces. With the leather I use a lino cut tool to directly create the image. I like the immediacy of the process. I hope to create more wall panels and also explore more abstract forms, creating site and concept responsive work. I do not want to be limited to leather and have been experimenting with carving into other materials such as vinyl flooring and MDF. I very seldom have a fixed idea of what I am going to create when I start making, and only make a drawing for a stencil when there is something specific that I need to re-create, for example in an earlier piece I wanted a facsimile of the dimensions of my father’s childhood home and so I created a stencil to achieve that element of the image.

D-N: How has your own background and training informed the development of the piece?

J.P: As a child we used to make our own Christmas cards and I remember making lino cuts – my mother, my father and I. I found this process of carving and painting into leather by accident when I was using one of my mother’s old tools to create marks on a piece of scrap leather during my MA in Design at UWE, Bristol, when by accident some acrylic paint spilled on the mark. I wiped it off: the surface of the leather acted as a resist and the paint in the marks soaked in. Thinking about it, writing this now, I think it was maybe a bit serendipitous as my father was an artist who used acrylic paints as his medium in later years, so I was combining elements of my father and mother’s artistic practices in my new work. Over the years I have learnt ceramics, printmaking and bookbinding, and I think each of those have influenced the creation of these new works in leather.

D-N: How is the object made and where? How many do you think you have produced to date – or is it a one-off?

J.P: I create the leather panels at home. I have an off-site studio from which I still maintain my enameling practice. It is easy to create my panels in a domestic setting because all I need is a piece of leather, some lino cut tools, maybe some card and a scalpel for stencils, some paint and cloth to wipe away the paint. I have made panels in my hotel room when I am attending fairs – it’s a very portable way of working compared to my enameling which requires a kiln. All the pieces I create are unique, though this piece is similar to a larger panel that I created for my MA degree show in 2018.

D-N: What is the trickiest thing about the development and making process, and what is the most satisfying?

J.P: The only tricky thing about creating a piece is whether the lino cut tool will slip or if there is a wrinkle in the leather. What may be perceived as a mistake by me will be incorporated in the design because on the whole most of what I create forms organically. The act of creating the marks, one following the other, the rhythm of making, is very satisfying and quite addictive, a bit like when you knit and you keep thinking – I’ll just do another row, I’ll just do another row.

D-N: Tell us about your workspace – where is it, what are the pros and cons of working in it?

J.P: As I work from home when making my leather, I don’t have a set place to make my work. I do have a very small home studio where I can and do make smaller pieces and brooches, but if the piece is larger I work either on our coffee table in the lounge in front of the television, or at our dining table. My little home studio used to house my enameling kiln and I hadn’t worked at home for a number of years before I started making this new leather work a few years ago – I had missed working from home and relish the days when I can as I feel more connected to family life listening to the sounds and conversations around me.

D-N: Do you have a favourite tool or process, and is it used in the making of this object?

J.P: My favourite tool of all is my scalpel and I use it to cut stencils for both my leather and my enameling and to cut my leather into components – I love that it enables me to ‘draw’ a straight line and makes any drawing that I do that much better.

D-N: What ambitions do you have for the future of this product and work like this?

J.P: I would like to continue to create wall panels that find homes in domestic settings, but am also interested in creating larger pieces for more commercial and public spaces. Most of all I would like the opportunity to create collections of work that tells a story and explores ideas and concepts that speak to our shared experiences.

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Clare Edwards


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