Textile design students draw on expertise of industry professionals to design a bright future
Leading artists and designers have visited the north east’s specialist art school to share their experiences and provide insights for students about the importance of drawing in textile design.
They were appearing at a skills-focused symposium organised by The Northern School of Art’s textile design department for its undergraduate students.
The day-long event featured a range of high profile speakers including former students Maria Cooper, Senior Print Designer at homeware designer Orla Kiely, and artist and designer Claire Barrow, whose hand-painted leather jackets have featured in Vogue and been worn by Rhianna.
Maria, who graduated from the School in 2004 and progressed to the Royal College of Art to complete a Masters in Printed Textiles, has also worked for H&M and Zandra Rhodes.
In her talk for the School’s current textile design students, she described her career so far and how she creates the imagery she uses in the printed textiles she produces, as well as how she has adapted and changed as a designer along the way.
Maria said she enjoyed returning to her former university: “I like coming back as it’s good to encourage the new generation of textile designers and keep interest in the discipline going, it’s an important industry.
“I also remember how great it was when a guest from industry came in when I was a student, and how valuable hearing about their experience was. It’s nice to give something back to the university that helped me on my way.”
Maria’s advice to undergraduates was to get themselves out and about: “Work hard. Go the extra mile, to show you’re dedicated. Get out into the world and visit exhibitions and galleries and open up your horizons to find inspiration from other places other than the internet. It’s great to find see things digitally, but to stand in front of the real thing is a totally different experience.”
Illustrator and ceramicist Alex Sickling, (pictured on the right in the photo taken by one of the School’s Commercial Photography students Ashleigh Readman) whose work is sold by Anthropologie in the UK and the USA, the Conran Shop and in notable art gallery shops across the UK also shared the story of her career to date.
“After I graduated I moved home to live with my parents and worked out of my bedroom. I worked in cafés when I was starting out which helped me to raise the money to buy my own kiln. I also got a job in Baltic’s shop and ended up getting a commission from them.”
Alex, who is now based in her own house in Gateshead, also told students that they don’t necessarily have to move to London to succeed.
“I was very keen to stay in the north east so I started selling at markets in London and then returning home. I am also able to sell my work across the world from my website. I still work at Baltic, although I’ve cut my hours, as it’s good to meet and speak to people as I am otherwise working alone creating my ceramics.”
The event’s focus on image-generation in textile design also provided some inspiration for Alex: “I create images on the ceramics I design and I find it terrifying to draw on paper but after this event I’m going to make sure I do it more.”
Alex’s talk was a highlight for final year student Ali Wilkes (pictured), also from Gateshead: “Her honesty was brilliant as her story is so real. It was so inspiring as she made working as a designer and maker sound achievable.”
“I really enjoyed the event. It was so diverse and it opened up my mind to new ways of drawing and generating images.”
Ali, who has combined her studies with working and bringing up her family, said she is so proud of what’s she’s achieved. “The textile design course is fabulous and has given me lots of time to experiment and learn new skills. I’ve really grown in confidence in drawing and painting and I now can’t wait to get started on my career after I finish this summer.”
The symposium was organised and run by the BA (Hons) Textiles & Surface Design programme staff.
Programme leader Jayne Hemmins (pictured) said that it was the culmination of six months’ planning and hard work: “It forms part of the department’s scholarly activity and research and aims to generate debate around the question of ‘what is drawing’, especially the part it plays in the design process.”
The day culminated with a private viewing of an exhibition of work produced by students and staff since September 2018 using a wide range of media and techniques.
Jayne added: “The symposium and exhibition have provided a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diversity of image generation and explore the possibilities of what that can mean.”
The exhibition of work is now open for public viewing in the foyer of The Northern School of Art’s premises at Number 1 Church Street, Hartlepool, TS24 7DR. It is open from Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm until Thursday February 28 and entry is free. Some of the works are available for sale and a price list is available at the venue.