Prestigious designer-maker portfolio Design-Nation is delighted to reveal this year’s showcase for London Craft Week 2018, developed and presented in partnership with Barbara Chandler and Helen Yardley Studio.
Barbara Chandler is a specialist writer on design, decoration and craft with a long track record, who has contributed to a wide range of media, including newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Currently she is design writer for Homes & Property at the London Evening Standard and writes a column for Homes & Gardens magazine. The theme of the Design-Nation show “Head, hand and heart” was her idea. She says:
Getting to know the designer-makers of Design-Nation has been a pleasure and a privilege. It’s happened over the years through my work as a specialist writer on design, and more recently though sitting on the Design-Nation selection panel and helping to curate last year’s show for London Craft Week, with 24 makers.
Each member is unique. Even within the same “discipline” – ceramics, say, or textiles – work and working methods vary dramatically. But what if we tried to link them by exploring three universal and very human elements of the making process: the coming together of head, hand and heart? I had this idea and then I found the concept had been first expressed in a lecture by the famous Victorian art critic and social thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900). It must have been in my sub-conscious from reading about Ruskin’s life.
As we chose the eleven members taking part this year we asked them more about the creative elements of their work – could they distinguish between head, hand and heart? For many, these qualities are fused, equally shaping their work at any one moment. Others have a more analytical approach. In all cases, the work is ambitious, beautiful and complex. We like to think Ruskin would be pleased.
For Angie Parker, weaving uber-bright textiles, often from recycled yarns, at the start of a rug she finds head, hand and heart all come into play at the outset: “I just gather my yarns and start experimenting – the patterns flow and each inspires the next.” Typically, inspiration happens at the loom. Suddenly something seems just right and now comes “a joyous feeling that’s central to the design.” After this heart-leap comes hours of intricate handwork, weaving and finishing.
Anna Gravelle also works in textiles, with a particular skill in tufting, making, for example tactile home furnishing. Sketches, photographs and objects are laid out for analysis (head). Then heart comes into play, seeking inspiration from the natural world – “perhaps the matt texture of a rock.” Recently Anna has been captivated by starling mumurations on the Somerset Levels. Then comes drawing, and patterns emerge for screen prints or tufted patterns on fabric. “My hands become a machine of making, guiding the fabric through the tufter or pulling the squeegee over the silk screen.” Tufting is worked on the back of a fabric and turning it over is a moment of pure joy – “magic and revelation.” Like many makers we talked to, words of praise especially make her heart sing. Making is solitary and introverted, so receiving recognition is all the more welcome.
Christine Meyer-Eaglestone does a lot of thinking before she starts a new piece of marquetry – “it could be at the back of my mind for weeks.” (This was common to many designers.) Christine likes to work without detailed drawings, surrounding herself with veneers, then hand-cutting them as part of the “thinking process.” Then, “relationships of form, colour and space” start to emerge”. She talks of the “intelligent hand” as an extension of her mind. Finally comes the happy heart – “when I have combined shape, line, edge, colour and texture with rhythm and balance”.
The satisfying mass of Clare L Wilson’s solid-seeming glass vessels often contrast with their delicate surface patterning. She has to think ahead, as glass-making requires carefully planning, which takes a few days of preparation, though larger pieces might to take months, from design drawing, to testing colours and sourcing tools and equipment. “Glass-making is process driven,” she explains. “Inspiration often comes when I am making. And it’s very exciting when the glass behaves in an unexpected way.”
Passion permeates the making process for Gizella K Warburton, whose delicate textile vessels balance improbably on chunks of timber. She sees no boundaries between head, hand and heart. “I never stop thinking,” she says. “Making is a continuous process, and inspiration flows from seeing, touching and imagining.” A multitude of skills infuse her work. She lists them poetically: “wrapping, weaving, binding, layering, piercing, knotting and stitching.” Then to finish comes “the burning, staining, abrading and shadowing.” Adds Gizella, “my relationship with making is visceral… I feel my work as much as I see it, and it brings me a peace that is close to happiness.”
Ceramicist Harriet Elkerton makes calm, sculptural vessels that are deliberately off-key. She uses paper on her models, which stretches and buckles from the moisture in the plaster, causing unpredictable shapes in the final mould. Then, once the porcelain is slip-cast, the kiln can play with the shape once again. “I think through my hands and I design through making,” she says. “The materials govern the final form – but it is a fine balancing act between letting them have their way or intervening.”
“I just love making things,” says Helen Yardley, who has created rugs since 1983, and is hosting the show in her atmospheric Bermondsey studio/workshop. Such heart-felt enthusiasm is typical of makers at the Design-Nation show. Helen adds: “However I am thinking pretty much all of the time, though good ideas come unexpectedly and never to order.” So don’t think too hard – “just turn the monkey brain off and play.” But sometimes it’s tricky to recognise the good ideas and action them – “always have a sketchbook handy.” Visiting somewhere new can spark inspiration – allow yourself to simply “be” and “see”. Turning drawings into textiles is demanding and fiddly – images must be refined to avoid overworking. “And for me, putting colours together is pure joy. As does making a significant shift in style.” This particular maker can be very self-critical when she looks at a piece that’s just finished. “But later, with the distance of time, you see it in a fresh way and it warms the heart like an old friend.”
Hugh Miller trained to be an architect before switching to furniture making, largely teaching himself. Working through a design, he does a lot of thinking and sketching followed by scaled and measured drawings, modelling and full-scale prototypes. “But It’s not linear, and I’ll go backwards and forwards between these processes.” Sometimes he has an idea, quickly drawn, which sits in his mind for a year or even two to emerge fully-formed ready for prototyping and making. For Hugh, like Harriet, making is designing. He made seven versions of his dining chair, for example, before it was right. Inspiration usually comes from materials. Two particular moments fill Hugh with joy. Firstly, planing up raw timber, a quarter of a millimetre at a time, gradually to reveal the beauty of the grain. Secondly, the delivery of work – “it’s so thrilling to see faces light up.”
“I’m a digital artisan,” says Jackie Puzey, who uses a large computer-controlled machine to create complex embroidery for furnishings and wall art, finishing perhaps with laser-cut motifs, feathers and/or hand-cut fur. “My machine is a third hand which I can fully control.” She adds, “But I think first through drawing and my sketch books, and my hands and head connect. New imagery emerges through research and reflection.” Inspiration could be an archive, or fashion illustration, greenery outside or graffiti, or simply getting lost in the V&A. Her digital machine needs controlling and adjusting by hand – setting up the fabric, checking out tensions, “and simply listening to how things are running”. It’s the fusion of hand and eye, drawing and fabric that makes her happy. “I love seeing the imagery develop from that first spark of a drawing, through to digitising and stitching.”
Well-practised potter Linda Bloomfield is famous for her perfectly executed shapes and innovative glazes. “I think a lot about form and surface texture before I begin,” she confides. She extensively researches her glazes – she is a scientist by training – and avoids commercial stains, making her own colours from raw materials such as nickel oxide and titanium dioxide. Nature continuously inspires – rocks, pebbles, seashells. A favourite colour combination comes from mustard yellow lichen on weathered grey slate roofs in St Ives in Cornwell. Also fruitful are visits to exhibitions to see art, ceramics and textiles. “The most intricate work I do is throwing on the wheel, when the hand touches the clay. It’s akin to meditation”. Happiness can be simply the down-to-earth satisfaction at the end of the day of regarding shelves full of freshly-thrown pots.
Textile artist Ruth Singer, author of three sewing books, is taking old tools and other objects, adding “thoughtful and subtle embellishments” – lace and pearl beads on the handles of a pair of old shears, for example. “Each tool has an old story and a new story to tell.” Her work, she says, often begins with research in museums – indeed she has degrees in Medieval Studies and Museum Studies, and worked previously in education and curating. Ideas develop as she applies her skills and adds “thoughtful narratives.” The aim is to create “intrigue, curiosity and a sense of history.” Embellishments are organic and experimental – “each piece is a new challenge.” Handwork is fundamental, says Ruth: “I enjoy creating very delicate work in textiles, metals and beading, adapting my ideas to fit the complex 3D surface of the tool.”