If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now you may recall a very exciting post I wrote back in August 2013 all about the new magazine I was writing for. Devon Home magazine is a really great publication that provides inspiration and information for local residents who are interested in home interiors and design. I have really enjoyed writing for this magazine as it gives me an opportunity to take a step back from the international design scene and examine what is going on closer to home, quite literally. I have discovered some really talented people that are right on my doorstep and it has been great to see that despite what many people think, great design can survive and thrive outside of London. One of the talented people I discovered was textile designer Sam Pickard who lives and works in North Devon and specialises in design and print of bespoke interior fabrics and interior accessories. I wanted to share with you today an interview that I have done with Sam all about her career, her inspiration, her design and print process and her newly launched Masterclass workshops in screen-printing for textiles. I hope you enjoy reading!
What is your background and where did you study?
I studied printed textile design at Camberwell School of Art, finishing in 1985, gaining a BA (Hons) and winning the prestigious RSA Design in Industry Travel Award for my home furnishings collection. The bursary enabled me to go to India for a year to study wood block printing. After practicing as a freelance designer I went on to work as a print and dye technician at East London University. In 2006 I completed an MA in Textiles at Bath Spa University, in which I undertook to explore the advances in digital printing for textiles.
How did you first become interested in design and print?
My family have a history of working as artisans and I suppose that I am continuing that tradition. The textile course at Camberwell was very much about learning craft as well as design skills. Therefore, we learnt every aspect of dyeing and printing, from the absolute basics of how to stretch a silk screen, to block-printing, flocking, making indigo vats and of course how to design repeat patterns for block and screen. It was an inspirational course with fantastic facilities (sadly closed down by the Conservative government as a textile degree course in 1986).
Later, during my MA, Professor John Miles encouraged my drawing and design ability; he also was instrumental in his department sponsoring me to exhibit at 100% Design with my Digital Fabric Collection in 2006 and also my first design for digital fabric, Rosemary Russet, which was short-listed for the British Design Awards in 2007.
You originally set up your studio in London in 1996 with a Crafts Council Development Award. Can you tell us more about this?
I left East London University after five years to start my own business as a designer/maker with the assistance of a Crafts Council Development Award. At that time I was experimenting with natural dyes, which continued for several years before I moved onto cutting huge lino blocks for embossing velvet scarves and cushions. At this time I exhibited at Chelsea Crafts Fair, and in New York and San Francisco, selling to major shops and galleries in both Europe and America.
You now live and work in North Devon. What made you decide to set up your studio here in Devon?
I am from Bath originally and my parents were living in Somerset. I had always wanted my son to have the chance to grow up in the countryside and his cousins were living just outside South Molton so it seemed a good decision to move. As it turned out it was, he had a most wonderful childhood and I grew to love Exmoor and the North Devon coast.
Your work mostly features a lot of plants and wildlife. What is it about the countryside that inspires you?
During my MA at Bath Spa University, I became interested in combining traditional repeat with the scale that can be achieved from digital printing. I started exploring new ways to reference the patterns that are found in nature. When I am drawing in the Devon countryside I get inspired, simultaneously enjoying the random expression of ink on paper and weather on my face. I want to enhance people’s lives by bringing my interpretation of natural forms into the built environment, which today can often be so stressful and soulless. The scale of the imagery is designed to create impact and evoke emotion. The personality of the drawings (i.e. the blots, splashes, smudges etc.) is deliberately transferred to the fabric, keeping the spirit of the original moment. Since 2010 I have kept a blog, drawing plants from the North Devon coast and Exmoor, documenting their colours and matching them to CMYK. I am continually amazed by nature and am fascinated by the variety of colours found in plants. Each time I look closely at a plant I am drawing, I am impressed by the incredible intricacy of the structure and the range of colours. My blog is now influencing the choice of colours in my screen-printing.
Where do you go when looking for inspiration for new projects?
I have a store of ideas in my sketch-books and I keep a record of samples and materials and techniques that interest me. I also keep any design ideas and notes about drawings, however scrappy or fragmented, but which I do not have time to realise when I first feel inspired but make a note for a later date. Then I sit down in my studio and just make a start creating a design, because (as Picasso so aptly put it), “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”!
Can you talk us through your design and print process?
Most designs start with drawing. For some pattern repeats I will do many drawings so that I have plenty of material for the next stage, which is scanning and designing in the computer. I use Photoshop® for this and once I am satisfied with the design I then separate the colours and print acetates for the silk-screen exposure, every colour having a separate screen. Once I have the screens ready I then mix the print paste colours I want and print, which is when the real magic happens.
What is the most challenging part of screen printing?
The most challenging part is perhaps working with such large screens which are heavy to lift and easy to damage. It involves a high level of concentration in order not to make mistakes as you are working with fabric, a woven structure which inherently expands and moves as you print onto it. The upside of this is that every print is individual with its own slight registration and colour variations and the potential to produce something unforeseen but equally beautiful. It is endlessly exciting and I hope to convey this excitement to the people on my courses.
Talking of courses you are currently running a series of Masterclass workshops in screen-printing for textiles at your North Devon Studio. Can you tell us more about this?
I have always wanted to pass on my professional knowledge since I worked as a print and dye technician which I loved. I have just started doing these classes, and I am enjoying sharing my skills with people who are serious about learning how to screen print onto fabric. These classes give me an opportunity to give creative and enthusiastic people a chance to learn a new skill in depth, which may be life changing.
And finally do you have any exciting plans for the future?
This year I have found time to develop a range of large screen-printed fabric wall panels, which have been very successful, and I am planning to develop these further in 2015.
I am also intending to continue the workshops into my many other areas of expertise such as Photoshop® for Textile Design, natural dyes, indigo, design repeats etc.
The participants on my first screen–printing workshop enjoyed it so much they would like to continue! As a result from January 2015, I am starting a screen-printing ‘club’ so that after the introductory workshop, people may continue to come and print on a regular basis with continued tuition in my studio.