Interview with Calum Ross for Arts Thread: http://blog.artsthread.com/2011/11/qa-helen-stevens/
1. Talk us through your creative process.
I have just recently launched my debut wallpaper collection which is called Navajo. The collection currently holds five designs which I am working towards adding to. I took my inspiration from a native and earthy theme, researching and then creating visual studies of American birds types, feathers, geometric patterns found within rustic native jewellery and embellishment. These paintings and drawings were then worked into repeats for wallpaper designs, and placement prints for cushions and china ranges.
I am interested in pushing boundaries between many areas of design such as illustration, repeat pattern, traditional painting and drawing technique, and surface embellishment. I like to play on the unexpected, and introduce unusual combinations of imagery into my work and products. With my wallpaper designs I tried to bring as much innovation into flat print as possible, by playing with scale, heavy patterns, colour and overly complicated repeats.
Having always had an interest in fashion I also look there for inspiration, I am interested in concepts and themes rather than trends. This helps to style my work and think of new direction for interiors, almost like ‘couture for interiors’. I love the freedom that design has within fashion and I work towards creating whole new concepts based around imagery which has not been seen, or is expected to be seen within interiors, looking at embellishment, placement and fluidity of print, colours and textures.
2. What made you want to become a designer and more specifically what lead you to specialise in surface design?
As a child all I ever did was draw, paint and observe how things look, from flowers and birds to the fashions and interiors in films. I was lucky enough to travel the world at a young age due to my fathers job, I saw many interesting sights, colours and textures. I think things you absorb as a child form who you are as an adult, your creative ideas, and how you see the world.
Drawing was always my main driving force throughout school and college, I always knew it was the subject I wanted to be involved with. I have always been interested in both fashion and interiors, and couldn’t decide between the two subjects. Studying a drawing and pattern based course made sense and I found that the Textiles and Surface Design course at CCAD would enable me to be involved with both fields of design and also continue to expand my drawing skills.
3. What would you say was your first ‘big break’ after graduating?
When I graduated I moved to London and began designing prints for Red Or Dead. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot about working within industry and designing on a commercial level. Getting a break doesn’t necessarily come easy, with so many design degree’s and thousands of students leaving education each year, only the more determined and motivated will stand a chance of employment or becoming recognized as a standalone designer.
My biggest break has only been in recent months after the official launch of my surface design business, at London Design Festival. My work was picked up by Liberty London who are now wanting to represent my debut wallpaper collection in store. I also made contacts with international agents, interior designers and stylists who are interested in working with me. Again, this required a long period of hard graft, manufacturing issues, marketing, generally juggling of a lot of balls! It doesn’t come easy.
4. What do you wish you had been told in college/university about the real world of working?
Whilst in university you are concentrating on developing your style and being as innovative as you can be – whilst you can, before moving into industry. I would have benefitted from learning all about the ‘business’ side to design, such as finances and marketing. And being told about the realistic side to self employment, your earnings, out goings, the jobs you have to juggle in order to support your dream of designing. You sacrifice a lot – long working hours, putting any spare cash back into the business, the many roles you have to play within the business, but I definitely wouldn’t want it any other way!
5. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as a student?
Concentrate and commit to your studies from the first year. I lectured in Textiles and Surface for seven years and students always step it up in the final year, I did it aswell. Something just clicks (I think it might be called pressure!?) and you see some amazing results, even squeezed down to the last months. You always hear stories of regret after seeing what can be produced in such short periods of time. Many students feel they could do with an extra year afterwards to keep going at that standard and producing more incredible portfolio work.
6. You set up Designers Marketplace 3 years ago, what was the reasoning behind this idea?
Working as a lecturer for those years and also running my own design business (on a smaller level) I recognized the need for support and encouragement for designers after and outside of education. If you’re in certain areas of design and want to work within industry the likelihood is you will have to leave your area and move to London or abroad. Some people don’t have the opportunity of moving away due to other commitments or personal circumstances. Having left London to move back to the North East, I really felt isolation in what I did, even though I was lecturing and around creative people all day through work. It was taking the idea of a Portobello or Spitalfields and bringing it back north, using it to encourage people to continue using their skill sets, knowledge and talent after graduation.
You see craft fairs and markets everywhere but what I try to do with Designers Marketplace is offer a platform of promotion and sales to degree educated and/or professional artists and designers, both starting out and established. The standard of work at Designers Marketplace is quite high, many of my vendors now supply regional boutiques and galleries. For me the most important thing Designers Marketplace offers is encouragement, work deadlines, a friendly and supportive network, and the confidence for creative entrepreneurism.
7. How do you see the ‘SurfacePhilia’ brand expanding?
I have a lot of ideas for the future but I need to remember to take baby steps, learning to walk before running and making sure my standard of work remains high and my business remains loyal to what I want it to be about, rather than moving down every commercial route possible.
Right now I am launching my debut wallpaper collection and working on lifestyle products such as cushions and china ranges to sit as a collection. What I am really interested in, is working with large companies and organizations on a commission basis, working with interior designers, stylists, other design brands, hotels. Mural painting and collaborative projects with other designers is also what I want to focus on. I am still very keen on experimenting with techniques and applications within surface design including screen printing and hand embellishment. I want a strong conceptual and innovative approach behind my ideas for both the commercial and not so commercial side of the business.