I first encountered Louise Wilkinson’s inimitable ceramics designs at Tent London last September, and instantly fell in love. The likes of Liberty discovered her beautiful bone china early on, and she has more recently created bespoke illustrations for panelling in the shop at the V&A. I caught up with her to find out more about her career to date, where her inspiration comes from and how she set about putting her illustrations onto china.
I absolutely adore your debut Maple Collection, inspired by English gardens, Oriental china and a love of nature. How did you construct the designs and how long did the process take to apply them to so many different shapes?
I like to draw a few pencil sketches first on scraps of paper and then at a later stage I draw my artworks on the computer with a pen. I love to create intricate artworks with witty details, often with a narrative. The designs are then screen printed and hand decorated in Stoke on Trent. It took many months to consider the shapes and designs together and then to fit the artworks correctly.
How do you pick the colour ways for your designs?
For my Maple Collection, I chose to have navy blue as the main colour with bold, playful, pops of colours for highlights. I often kept to two colours per design, for instance I liked the combination of a citrus yellow accent with navy blue or a coral red with navy blue.
What was the best bit about growing up in Yorkshire?
I loved growing up in the counrtyside, being able to spend a lot of time outside. We lived opposite a large field with lots of trees, me and my sister would often play and run around! I have lived in London over 10 years now, so it is nice to have the balance of London life and also visiting my family up north!
You have already led a varied design career, studying illustration before moving into print and textiles for fashion. It sounds like the ideal career I never had! What was the highlight of those first years out of college?
I had always wanted to study Illustration so I took an Illustration degree at University. It was great to learn about the different aspects of image making, and after graduating my first job was working as an illustrator designing the prints, patterns and characters for children’s clothes, drawing everything by hand. I moved to London and worked in the fashion industry as a print and textiles designer, whilst also working on freelance book and magazine illustrations. I learnt a lot about working in different styles, techniques and applications to fabrics. It was great to get to know more about the commercial world and seasonal trends. Kids clothing is a fun area to work in!
Why did you decide to create your own range and how did you effect that move?
I have been an illustrator and print and pattern designer for over a decade but I had always wanted to create my own artworks – to have a little more creative freedom and work for myself, creating timeless, playful and beautiful pieces. I launched my first collection in Liberty after attending the Best of British open day and it went from there!
Like me you are an avid fan of the illustrations found in children’s books, an aesthetic which I think comes through in your designs. Any favourites that you keep returning to?
Yes I do love children’s book illustrations, I always admired the painted collage technique used in the classic tale of The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, which is a classic. I also love Alain Gree’s cute illustrations and Russian fairy tales. I’m influenced by the traditional decorative arts, nature, exotic dreamlike places and often by different exhibitions I may visit in London. I love art and illustration, including Japanese and Chinese paintings, Matisse, Henri Rousseau, George Lepape….
What are your favourite pieces of homeware to design and why, and what is the hardest thing to design?
I love designing all the pieces, especially the plates and the cups and saucers. I like the flat surface area on a plate, which is like a blank canvas for artwork… and I like the little details you can add to cups and saucers. I’d say teapots can be harder to design for, as they are slightly more spherical.
What could we expect to find if we visited your work studio, can you describe it for us?
I am based in South East London where I have a large wooden desk with a Mac monitor and a pen tablet – it’s nice to have lots of surface area. There are lots of things around such as notebooks and pencil sketches, china samples, boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap, brochures, postcards! I have a lot of research in draws and on the walls. I also have lots of magazines and art books because I love looking in books for research rather than always using the internet. Oh and there is always a cup of tea on my desk, I drink too much!
Why is it important for you to maintain strong relationships with UK suppliers?
I think its great to manufacture as much in the UK wherever possible to support the industry, and it is nice to meet the lovely team in Stoke on Trent who I work with.
When can we expect a new collection from you, and can you share any hints as to what that will be?
I will be selling my exclusive artworks which were created especially for my recent collaboration on the Christmas shop installation at the V&A. I’m also exhibiting at the Modern Show in Dulwich on March 16th 2014. I love this Mid Century design show, which it is local to where I live. I will also be exhibiting at Tent London again, during London Design Week in September.
Do you have any plans to expand into other areas of design and if so what?
I love creating artworks and illustration and this can be applied to many different surface areas. So hopefully new things soon, I have lots of ideas.
Finally, do you have any exciting plans for 2014 – in either business or life – that you can share with us?
Hopefully a few nice trips away, perhaps to Copenhagen or Finland. I may also be getting married this year, which is exciting!
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