Amelia’s Magazine | Caitlin Hinshelwood’s natural history

Life on earth

Hawks, more about snakes, seek dinosaurs, discount sharks and bears – there isn’t a kitty in sight in Caitlin Hinshelwood’s excellent fauna. We fell in love with the work from the textile designer and artist when she, alongside partner Rose de Borman, put on the Field Work pop-up shop in Spitalfields last month. In gentle earth tones, patterns of vegetables, flowers and arrows are repeated in the fabric, sometimes interspersed with Caitlin’s scratchy handwriting. The result is ever so subtly brilliant, like a cake that’s not too sweet and gets better as you eat it. I don’t want just a cushion with Caitlin’s prints – I want wallpaper. Because as we all know, too much of a good thing is wonderful.

Ghost arguments

There is something quite playful about your work – like you’ve sat down with your pencils and doodled, almost effortlessly. Is that anything close to the reality of making your art?
In some respects yes; I definitely like to get all my books and photos, put on music and just start drawing or painting with it all out in front of me. But more often than not an image is already partially formed in my mind and it’s a case of putting it down on paper, getting it out of my head. Often it is words and colour that inspire the initial ideas and then the drawing comes, that’s especially true of my paintings. The playfulness is an aspect of my work I am happy to be recognised, I know I am making work I am going to be happy with when I laugh to myself whilst I am doing it.

There’s drawing, painting, etching, embroidery and printing, I think … what’s your preferred medium?
Initially, and most recently, I’d say drawing in pen or pencil. I have rediscovered how much I like using a simple pencil of late. However, I love mixing and using colour so then painting or printing always come in. I love the process of screen-printing regardless of how infuriating it can be, I enjoy the skill of it and building up the imagery. It’s like processing photographs yourself, it still feels like magic when the image appears on the screen.

Whale cushion

Your style seems perfect for textiles – like the fantastic ‘par avion’ swallow cushion. Is the choice to use textiles a commercial one, or is this just how you prefer to work?
I studied printed textiles at the University of Brighton so it was natural to continue using it as a medium for my work and, as mentioned before, I do love the technicality and physicality of screen-printing. Making your drawings translate to textiles gives them a new lease of life, a new context. The confines of designing in a square for a cushion or making things repeat can be part of the enjoyment. I like the variety of textiles; you can produce a print design that can be reproduced and used for fashion but you can also treat a cushion like an art piece in itself. Some of my textiles can mean as much as any painting that I do.

Giving up ghosts

I love the animal themes, and the fact that it’s not just the ‘cute’ animals but also whales, dinosaurs and so on – and the vegetables! What inspires these?
Natural history is something I often gravitate towards. It seems like an obvious thing to me as I have always liked this stuff since childhood; I wanted to be zoologist when I was little, my favourite toys were plastic dinosaurs and I have been brought up to love gardening. One of the places I am happiest is in my garden and growing vegetables. The recent animal drawings are part of a collection meant as a homage to David Attenborough and his ‘Life on Earth’ programmes. Hence my new ‘Attenborough Cushions’ which as well as featuring his portrait, complete with Soviet-esque beams, depicts a different series from ‘Life on Earth’. Whale imagery and all things maritime are a personal obsession of mine I find difficult to move away from and even if I do leave it alone for a while I always end up revisiting it.

Trio of Davids

You have an impressive list of designer names on your client list. How did you build up your customer base?
After university I won a place with Texprint, an organisation that selects 24 textile graduates from across the country and takes them to show at Indigo in Paris. I think this experience really showed me the reality of life after university and what you needed to do if you wanted to work for yourself. And that meant pestering people and slogging my portfolio around Paris, London and New York so people saw my work.

You collaborate a lot with Rose de Borman, both with the homeware range and the recent ‘Field Work’ pop-up shop. Could you tell us a little about how you two work together?
Rosie and I met at Brighton and apart from becoming great friends I think we recognised in each other shared tastes and admirations, and realised our work sits well together. Since we graduated we naturally started collaborating on certain projects, sometimes it’s more enjoyable to work on something with a friend, but we have always maintained working independently of each other. The homeware range is the only truly collaborative design project we have done together and this developed from a commission to go to India and work with a manufacturer in Jaipur to produce the range. Field Work was born in 2009 out of a desire to showcase our work, in all its different forms, in a setting that we could curate and in which we could also celebrate the work of other artists and designers we admire.

Vegetable plot dress

What are you working on these days – any new projects you can tell us about?
I am mainly going to be in the print workshop – I have a load of t-shirt commissions to finish and plenty of production to do. I am going to Mexico later in the year that will hopefully inspire a whole new range of work. It is in its very early stages at the moment but I am going to be doing some work for a Whale Festival in Vancouver, which is exciting and pretty perfect for someone that likes drawing whales. And then there is another Field Work to organise – hopefully before the year is out.


Then there’s your printed t-shirt business – will you draw anyone or is it just famous people? By the way I get why you don’t want to draw Paul McCartney, I do. The other three are cool though.
Yeah I don’t have anything against the Beatles; it’s purely McCartney I have reservations about! It doesn’t have to be famous faces; I just want it to be particular to the person that has requested a t-shirt. I’d draw anyone within reason. Obviously some choices are more populist than others and I do prefer the more obscure ones, the faces that people are less likely to recognise. I am slightly dismayed by the serious lack of women though!

Caitlin Hinshelwood

See more of Caitlin Hinshelwood’s work on her website. You can read her blog, visit her shop and look at her t-shirt site too.

Categories ,animals, ,art, ,Caitlin Hinshelwood, ,cushions, ,David Attenborough, ,drawing, ,Field Work, ,Hinshelwood de Borman, ,Life on Earth, ,natural history, ,painting, ,Paul McCartney, ,print, ,Rose de Borman, ,T-shirts, ,Texprint, ,textiles, ,the beatles, ,University of Brighton, ,Whale Festival

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