Amelia’s Magazine | Putting optical illusions on homeware: an interview with designer maker Dionne Sylvester

Dionne Sylvester plate designs
I first discovered the striking homeware of designer maker Dionne Sylvester at Spitalfields Market earlier this year, where they immediately caught my attention. Her colourful designs give traditional teacups, plates and upholstery a zingy modern update inspired by the play of light on the Caribbean sea and a fascination with optical illusions. I love them!

Dionne Sylvester portrait
Where do you find inspiration for the combinations of colours that you put together?
My inspiration first came from looking at different menswear books, which led to researching the phenomenon of British Dandies and the collections of Ozwald Boateng in particular. I like the smart appearance of the Dandies and the extravagant colour clashes so beloved of Boateng, who uses unexpected shades for the inner lining as his signature look. My shocking colour ways are also influenced by Caribbean culture. You can see these references running through my range because it is both fun and traditional.

Dionne Sylvester designs Meadow
How do you create the feel of optical illusions within your artwork?
I use a combination of simple techniques to create illusions. The main image is often created in a prominent colour so that your eye is led to it, even though it has been well hidden in the final design. Sometimes other colours further distract the eye from the original image. When your eye detects a form your mind will then create logic from the whole pattern. It’s really nice to hear what people see in my designs: birds, dancing people, faces and just about anything you can think of. Everyone sees something different in my work.

Dionne Sylvester bolster cushion
What was the best thing you learnt during your degree in fashion design in Falmouth?
The best thing I learnt was digital printing, I was really lucky that I had the best technicians and I was taught so much about the practical uses of the equipment because I was in the first year to do the fashion degree. This meant that the technicians had a bit more time to give us tips on using everything and it was all new. I completed the first year on a Contemporary Crafts degree before I changed over to Fashion, which is funny since I have now gone back full circle and my work could be included under the umbrella of ‘craft’. My studies enabled me to pick up a real fusion of different skills.

Dionne Sylvester teacup designs
Why did you decide to crossover into the production of homewares, and what has been the easiest and hardest things about the transition?
I’m still not sure how it happened! But, I knew I wanted to do something of my own and I love making and being creative. I bought the same equipment that I used at uni to do digital printing for fabric and it started from there when I began to experiment with the equipment boundaries. The first products I produced were sets of teacups which I got into a shop in Margate a week later, and the original prints on those are still being used on products which I sell.

Dionne Sylvester designs mugs
The easiest part of all of this is how creative I can be and I am basically making, designing, painting and producing pretty things on most days. But the hardest transition is that I’m learning as I go along. I didn’t know anything about homewares or the craft business. From production to location of selling and keeping accounts, I am constantly learning. But it is still fun and I have met lovely people on the journey.

Where and how are your products made?
I source all my products locally or from within the UK, and I produce all my products from my home studio in Kent. It’s a bit crazy and gets messy, but it works at the moment. I’m looking into getting the ceramics made by a specialist outsource as I want to expand my ceramic range.

White Horses Whitstable art sails
How did you get involved with the White Horses Whitstable project and what inspired the final design that appeared on a sail? (see Dionne’s sail on the far left)
I got involved with White Horses when I saw their advertisement for local artists and I wanted to be part of the project because it sounded very unusual and I have never been involved with producing public art before. The print that was featured on my sail is called A Water Dance and was inspired by my travels to the Caribbean – inspiration came from looking at how the sea reflects the different colours around it, changing the tone and creating movement and textures. I thought that would fit in well with the theme and it is also one of my favourite designs that is featured on my range of cushions.

White Horses Whitstable 2013
White Horses Whitstable 2013. Photo courtesy of Leo Mason.

Whom do you produce fashion prints for, and how do these complement your own range?
I have sold to Bally, Gap and straight to textiles houses. My designs for fashion are very different as they tend to feature hand drawn illustrations in pen and ink and use a lot less colour than in my own work. I make mini collections of prints around themes such as decaying nature, the human body and creepy animals.

Dionne Sylvester- a water dance
Dionne Sylvester – A Water Dance.

How has the Prince’s Trust enabled your business to grow?
The Prince’s Trust has been brilliant! I went to them when I was unsure of what I wanted to do, and my mentor made me think about the possibilities of my small idea. She made me realise how much I had learnt from my studies and what an enormous love of art, craft and design I have. Taking part gave me the confidence to use all the skills I have.

Dionne Sylvester designs cushions
Where can interested readers find you in the run up to Christmas?
With the run up to Christmas, I’m going to be selling in Style Market on Saturdays at Spitalfields Market, at Handmade Christmas in the O2 on 15th December and at the Of Cabbage of Kings Christmas Market in Stoke Newington on 15th December.

Lastly, I believe you now live in Chatham in Kent – can you share with us what is happening creatively in the area? I’d love to know…
I have always worked and socialised in London but it has been three years since I left uni and I’ve kind of settled in Chatham now. There is a really creative buzz going on in Medway with lots of artists and designers hosting interesting events. This is not just because of the different arts universities in the area – it feels as if the local people are coming together to make a creative community, which is growing very quickly. It will be interesting to see how Medway artists affect the local landscape in the coming years.

You can find Dionne Sylvester‘s etsy shop right here. Photography by Caroline Wenham.

Categories ,A Water Dance, ,Bally, ,Caribbean, ,Caroline Wenham, ,Chatham, ,colour, ,Contemporary Crafts, ,craft, ,Dandy, ,designer, ,Dionne Sylvester, ,Falmouth, ,fashion, ,Fashion Print, ,Gap, ,Handmade Christmas, ,Homeware, ,kent, ,Leo Mason, ,Maker, ,Margate, ,Medway, ,Medway Towns, ,O2, ,Of Cabbage of Kings, ,Optical Illusion, ,Ozwald Boateng, ,Sail, ,Spitalfields Market, ,Stoke Newington, ,Style Market, ,textile, ,The Prince’s Trust, ,White Horses Whitstable

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Amelia’s Magazine | Review: Designers Makers Market at Old Spitalfields Market

designers makers market flyer
Following a tip off from fellow mummy Helen of East End Prints, I went along to the first Designers Makers market to be held in Old Spitalfields on Saturday afternoon. It was a hideous day – cold and damp – so hardly ideal conditions to be manning a market stall and I really did feel for the designer makers in attendance, especially since this is a funny time of year to be selling gift wares. Designers Makers was sharing the main hall with a vintage market as well as various other mainstays, so it was hard to locate the right stalls, but I was glad I did find them as there was some wonderful new talent on display: I do however have one major gripe. Promotion! Or lack thereof… Business cards, especially ones with all the necessary information (website, etsy, twitter, facebook, pinterest, ANYTHING but an email) were in very short supply, and only one stall holder I talked to had a mailing list: others seemed befuddled when I asked to sign up for one. Designer makers would do well to read up on how to get the most out of a craft fair before going to so much effort – there are many great resources online, such as this blog from The Design Trust: How to prepare for a Craft Show or Design Trade Fair. It makes me so frustrated when talented artisans are not properly prepared to promote themselves at a market: many people are likely to be window shopping but they are all potential customers who may well buy something online at a later date. Or indeed at another fair, to which they have been alerted by social media (of course). Here were my top finds:

Dionne Sylvester digital print cushions
Psychedelic ink splot cushions were inspired by magic eye patterns and optical illusions. Designer Dionne Sylvester trained in fashion at Falmouth, and is now decorating homewards in imitable style.

lulu and luca cushions
Lulu and Luca: super pretty Art Deco inspired prints on organic & upcycled fabrics.

Jessie G Designs needlepoint cushions
Handmade needlepoint tapestry cushions by Jessie G came in a variety of eye popping colour ways: they represent the most unbelievable amount of work. An absolute steal.

Zinc White upcycled derwent pencils jewellery
Seriously genius: Zinc White husband and wife team had travelled down from Huddersfield to sell their innovative upcycled jewellery made out of waste Derwent pencil stubs, which are set into resin then carved into broaches, rings and cuff links.

Don Manolo jewellery Designers Makers
I couldn’t resist a few pairs of these incredibly well priced laser cut and painted Art Deco inspired jewellery by Don Manolo. Either I am very attracted to Art Deco or I sense a trend emerging.

i am acrylic volcano necklace
Fun volcano necklaces by i am acrylic came in neon brights.

Hazel Nicholls babushka print
Hazel Nicholls: cute slogans on kitchenwares and prints featuring graphic versions of the ever popular Babushka doll. I couldn’t agree more: It’s Whats Inside That Counts.

Categories ,Art Deco, ,Artisan, ,Babushka doll, ,Craft Fair, ,Derwent, ,Designer Makers, ,Designers Makers, ,Dionne Sylvester, ,Don Manolo, ,East End Prints, ,Ecofashion, ,Falmouth, ,Hazel Nicholls, ,How to prepare for a Craft Show or Design Trade Fair, ,Huddersfield, ,i am acrylic, ,It’s Whats Inside That Counts, ,Jessie G, ,Lulu and Luca, ,market, ,Old Spitalfields, ,Promotion, ,Social Media, ,sustainable, ,The Design Trust, ,Upcycled, ,Zinc White

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Amelia’s Magazine | Christmas Gift Ideas 2013: Homeware and Prints for the Wall

scout editions mistletoe in a bottle

Scout Editions: mistletoe in a bottle card.

When my new website launches you’ll be able to find unique hand made designer items to suit all aspects of your life. Homeware and prints for the wall offer the perfect places to apply surface design and illustration, so why not delve in and be inspired? Here’s my round up of gift ideas for Christmas from a selection of those who will be selling on my new market place in the New Year.

Louise Wilkinson trees churn Jug plant lifestyle

Since I belatedly discovered fine bone china by illustrator Louise Wilkinson at Tent London I have fallen in love. Her large fine bone china jug is £26, and comes decorated with lots of friendly little birds hiding amongst the trees. The jugs are hand decorated in Stoke on Trent and are the perfect size for filling up with festive mulled wine, iced water or a sweet posy of flowers.

Anu Samarüütel STRIPY ONES
Anu Samarüütel Couture Girl fashion painting

Artist and designer Anu Samarüütel works between East London and Tallinn in Estonia. Her fabulous acrylic paintings of bubble cheeked girls will be available soon on my website, but in the meantime grab her great Couture Girls painting in black acrylic, available on etsy for £84.


Beach London are currently hosting an exhibition of Malarkey artworks, Puppy Snatcher that is well worth a gander if you are wandering up Brick Lane. They also sell a range of unusual objects that should please the art lover in your life: I particularly like this Vaso Di Culo porcelain vase by Dutch Post-Pop artist Parra, an homage to the rounded bottom of the female figure, with black birds flying all over it. Available online for £175.

Dionne Sylvester Tropical Heat coffee cup set

I am a massive fan of abstract optical decorated tableware by Kent based Dionne Sylvester, also known as Paint Dee. For the coffee lover in your life I recommend this Tropical Heat bone china teacup, saucer and spoon set for just £15. You can read my recent interview with Dionne Sylvester here.

Tattoo Man by Eliza Fricker

Tattoos continue to be all the rage… perhaps that special someone in your life has got more than a few, or perhaps they aspire to a state of maximum body decoration. Either way they will probably love this colourful limited edition Tattoo Man screen print, yours for £50. It was produced by Eliza Fricker of the Baines and Fricker partnership done in collaboration with tattoo artist Adam Sage.

Melody Rose Kissing Couple Side Plate

Melody Rose offers a variety of super special items that would make the perfect gift. Is there someone you are romantically inclined towards? How about this lovely Kissing Couple Side Plate from the Modern SurRealist collection? It’s made out of fine bone china, and comes in three sizes, with a glorious gold edge, all gilded by hand. This side plate costs £30. Read my interview with designer Melanie Roseveare here.

Glow in the Dark Day of The Dead Skull by Typoretum

One of my favourite artworks on East End Prints is this Glow in the Dark Day of The Dead Skull by Typoretum. How cool would this look lighting up your living room at the end of a long day? At £60 this is a limited edition piece so grab a copy fast.

scout editions christmas in a bottle

Scout Editions were another find from the recent Renegade Craft Fair, where I was wowed by their eye catching risograph prints. These festive themed postcards make the perfect Christmas keepsake, at just £2.50 each.

Sian Elin cushions-yellow-grey

Sian Elin‘s colourful textile designs adorn cushions, wallpaper and more. Her Horseshoe Arch design is seen here on a grey and yellow cushion but comes in a limited edition red colour way especially for Christmas for £45.

Sit Furnishings Neon Nebula glassware

The duo behind Sit Furnishings create a range of unusual products to liven up the home, including this Neon Nebula blown glassware, a spectacular one off at £180.

Lastly, I will be sharing gift ideas for babies and young children. In the meantime catch up with my suggestions for fashionable gifts from emerging designers, and the best jewellery gift ideas to wow your loved one.

Categories ,2013, ,accessories, ,Adam Sage, ,Anu Samarüütel, ,Baines and Fricker, ,Beach London, ,Christmas, ,Couture Girls, ,Dionne Sylvester, ,East End Prints, ,Eliza Fricker, ,Fine bone china, ,Gift ideas, ,Glow in the Dark Day of The Dead Skull, ,Homeware, ,Horseshoe Arch, ,Kissing Couple Side Plate, ,Louise Wilkinson, ,Malarkey, ,Melanie Roseveare, ,Melody Rose, ,Modern SurRealist, ,Neon Nebula, ,Paint Dee, ,Parra, ,Prints for the Wall, ,Scout Editions, ,Sian Elin, ,Sit Furnishings, ,Stoke-on-Trent, ,Tableware, ,Tattoo Man, ,Tent London, ,Tropical Heat, ,Typoretum, ,Vaso Di Culo

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