As we launch the BATD Blog Alumni series, which we are going to make a regular feature, we would like to thank Willow Sharp who graduated from the BA Textile Design degree in 2010 for being our inaugural guest posting.
Textile Design is a multi-faceted discipline and our graduates are equipped with a broad range of skills that allow them to enter a variety of design disciplines – not just Textile Design.
Willow’s experiences are a testament to this:
What is your current role?
Unexpectedly, as an assistant graphic designer for a New Zealand company called David Trubridge. I say unexpectedly as it never occurred to me at uni that this was an area I'd like to develop - I'm a naturally messy worker whose tendency to mix and match and experiment with materials would result in very process-driven work. However, saying never came to bite my bum and here I am, loving the fastidiousness of this whole new world.
|"I Dare You" - Willow Sharp|
What does a typical working day involve?
No day is the same. Our desk is a constantly evolving pile of books, notes and sketchbooks that help us through the day's tasks: anything from website work, marketing, copywriting, advertising, packaging and labeling, writing and illustrating instructions...the majority of the company's products are kitset, so getting these comprehensible across a broad range of languages is a big priority. We are lucky to have such an endlessly growing list of must-dos as it means we are constantly trying to improve on the last achievement. Needless to say, all of this is helped along by quite a few cups of tea (and coffee).
What are the rewards of your job/work?
Being an apprentice to such a fantastic side-kick, Ben Pearce, and learning all the ropes of how a big company works. It is hugely satisfying to tackle something you'd never seen yourself doing and having the light bulb switched on that typography is actually quite wonderful. Some days it still feels like foreign territory. I have so much to learn and it's exciting to think that I am finally developing the skill set that I'd sacrifice for experimentation at uni. (Rolling of eyes is acceptable here by in-the-know teachers.)
The construction and manufacture side of the business is something I still find fairly mind-blowing. My much more 2D background dictates a certain awe for anything that has a battery (within limits), so walking through the workshop every day where CNC machines, belt sanders and tools I don't even know the name of are being used by skilled craftsmen is something that tends to stop me in my tracks. Being a cog in a machine which is all in-house is really interesting; how a company works across all those areas of design, manufacture, sale and shipping is right there at your disposal, a ripe opportunity to learn.
Oh. And one more witter. It would be tardy not to mention people if we're talking about "rewards". Developing relationships with media, specifying companies and collaborators, of course all the people who you work with, is a considerable bonus. People are everything.
Tell me a little bit about your background – how did you come to textiles and where has it led you?
I bumble-stumbled through a pretty varied spectrum of experiences in my early twenties. Mainly based in the UK, one thing lead to the next and textile design emerged as an obvious choice. It combined my love for colour and pattern that had chased me since childhood and felt like a more constructive challenge than fine art. A stint at St Martins doing a short course in the discipline and learning that inks + bleach could lead to hours of fun cemented the decision. So that was that, and I found myself confronting a rather terrifying Patrick at an interview for RMIT's BA.
Even though I'm now working in graphic design, I still consider myself a textile designer. It's my natural stamping ground where things make sense. When we first arrived in New Zealand three years ago, I did a lot of work through schools teaching wee kids art and craft. Textiles were always an emphasis. I was shocked by these kids who didn't know what a slip knot was, or couldn't wind balls of wool, and who'd never had the miraculous experience that is paper mache. At the moment my own practice is limited to endless experiments with paints and paper and inks, very drawing and mark-making based-bits that are just gathering in a pile. Optimistically, I'm convinced they'll find a purpose.
|"Colour Story - Small Thoughts"- Willow Sharp|
What do you find most exciting about the industry today?
I think the urgency to return to a much more crafts-driven industry - or many smaller industries - is really interesting. How proud our forbears would be to see how cool knitting and the "artisan" approach towards hand skills have become. I also think they'd be pretty chuffed, but also a bit bemused by the utter essentialness of it all - and the aspiration behind it.
Our sense that we need to strip back design and our lives to simplicity, simplicity, simplicity is armed with the double edged sword of all this new knowledge: materials, technology and its manipulation, and an understanding of the sticky environmental and ethical issues that have traditionally clung to the textile industry like a bad smell. Educating consumers in the provenance of goods is an enormous concept but it's potential to impact where we spend within the industry is exciting. Expanding this resurgence of appreciation for the small, for the home-made, for the locally created is a challenge that somehow fascinates me; it could be argued that we're privileged to even have that choice. So, how do we educate to change that?
Weirdly, I think it starts, in many ways, with hand skills. With sharing them around in the community. If you learn how to knit, or to patch a pair of jeans, or to make your own carry bag (complete with potato prints), it gets you thinking about what else you can do. Sometimes, anyway. And while it's not going to solve the world's consumer complex, it might engender the emergence of questioning. Which leads to answers, or misgivings. Which leads to new choices. Which might just lead, potentially, to a new real love of crafts. Sending-it-back-into-the-hands-of-the-people might have an uncomfortably socialist tinge to it but it does seem like that's one of the strengths of the industry at the moment; encouraging people from all manners of backgrounds to jump on the beady bandwagon and have a go. Change the world through people learning to make things? Well, it's an industry which (along with food) has the potential to do just that...
Are there particular artists or designers you admire? What is it about them that you admire?
I have huge faith in design crushes. Jost Huchuli is one of my current ones - a Swiss typographer and graphic designer who writes with all the down to earth passion of a potato farmer, hugely knowledgeable and inspirational but somehow never getting didactic. Georg Lois is another one - and he is a bit didactic - but he's great, flamboyant, one of those brilliantly witty advertising guys who makes advertising seem like a noble thing. Joanna Fowles is a beautiful textile designer whose work makes me weak with love. Kate Banzai. Leah Fraser's mesmerizing, poignant paintings, Marimekko, for their gloriously robust sense of colour and pattern. Kvadrat for their balancing act of textiles in the fine art world. Ptolemy Mann for her tidy take-over of all things colour and chromatic related: architecture, product, and above all, weaving. I think that's probably enough for now...
Oh. And anyone of those enormously annoying but fantastically energetic people who manage to run their own endeavours and businesses and creative partnerships...and have a full time job...as well as keeping husbands and children happy! I won't name names. But, how I admire you!
|"Colour Story 1"- Willow Sharp|
|"Colour Story 2"- Willow Sharp|
What are you looking forward to?
Putting all the skills I am learning in this job towards my own business!! (And whipping my partner's into marketable shape.)
To learn more about Willow go to her link http://willowsharp.com/
To learn more about Willow go to her link http://willowsharp.com/