New Designers: Showcase Platform or Print Jungle?

Hello everyone, my name’s Ailish, I became part of the Mr X Stitch team recently and I will be posting a variety of articles regularly on here.  You can find out more about me and my work via my profile. I recently attended New Designers 2017 in London and wanted to share my thoughts…

The Goldsmiths Centre names this event as ‘the UK’s most important graduate design exhibition, full of innovation and fresh thinking’.  This is a statement I do agree with; having visited many other graduate shows in the past.  It is designed to be a visual advertisement and marketplace for those involved, enabling universities to showcase their students work to those observers who may want to use their designs and samples.

New Designers 2017
View of the New Designers from one of the many levels.

I walk through the door and am suddenly hit by colour, pattern and the swashing of fabric everywhere…

New Designers colour illustrated
“Swashing” of fabric, as seen in digitally printed form.
New Designers colour illustrated 2
Colour clash pattern examples.

As I walk around, I try to keep focus and differentiate one students work from another. Obviously all has its own inspiration stating point, its own personal context. However if I am finding it difficult to take all of this in, surely any future buyers will too?  I interviewed two students about this, to get their opinion and answers.  First, let’s take graduate Abigail Burden as an example, whose work consists of watercolour animal repeat patterns:

Abigail Burden
Abigail Burden’s work samples.

I admired her work and asked if she had found the event successful; “well, I thought it was just me who painted parrots and tigers, I thought I painted them well, until I saw everyone else” she admits. Did she have any enquiries from the event? “Yes and no, I have directed a lot of potentials to my website, so I guess we will see”. I did a little research on this student as I really loved her clean repeats, which merged so well. She graduated with a 2.1 degree.  I was surprised at this, surely with this standard, a higher mark would be granted? I think that this shows the standard we are all working towards is high and there is plenty of competition out there; maybe the way forward is to create work with risk, something to stand out?  This could be proven by reflecting back over an event such as this and asking ourselves what we remember, what stood out?  Was it the myriad of colour and pattern, or the more original pieces?  We may all have our individual answer.

a modern take on cross stitch. New Designers 2017
A modern take on cross stitch.

One piece which stood out to myself, has been illustrated above.  Materials can be used to make students work different, standing out could help to isolate areas within this “jungle”.

Going back to Burdens work, we can see the issue here.  As a designer myself, when working in your little studio by yourself, yes you get inspiration from what you see around you, you can gain confidence in your work, rightfully yes; but not in context with everyone else at your standard. Another student Hilary Macaulay from an Edinburgh university agreed with me “I thought I was the only one who printed my watercolour designs onto silk/cotton fabric, as I only saw what my fellow students did at uni, how wrong was I!”. Had you researched your competitors on Etsy and other selling websites? “Yes, however you become one of many out there, you have to sell yourself well”. I researched this student and sadly she is not to be found on the internet, which is worrying in this day and age of the computer literate.

Having paved my way through the whole show, I began to isolate the students who really had talent and those who were just lucky to be there, I am guessing potential customers will do the same. There were however a few students who branched out from the traditional printed textile as in the example illustrated earlier and those I will move onto now:

Cross play with carpets and clay at New Designers
This student has played with carpet and clay to form samples.

Above we see how one student used paint and carpet backing with clay to produce house old items and bags.  Below we see how hoops have been used to frame areas of one large piece, presumably to highlight the facial imagery.  Where could this lead?  Many of the designers here have used their initial sample pieces to develop fabric designs.  This is a way of creating a possible income from their work.  It is also a method of getting work more widely seen, as it can be reproduced over and over.

These initial sample pieces could also be used for more contemporary exciting purposes.  For example, the designer who made the clay and carpet outcomes above, could venture into producing more cross discipline based work, merging materials not always associated with textiles, as they have already begun to trial here. This could advance on to contacts with interior design links as well as fashion.

Hoop framing idea at New Designers
Hoops are used to highlight areas of interest on this designers fabric.
Childs play theme at New Designers
Childs play embroidery on a mix of fabric weights.
Floral 3D samples at New Designers
3D florals mixed with cut out shapes.

On a positive note, these students have been granted this showcase, this chance. But that’s what it comes down to, chance; to be lucky; that “Mr. John Lewis” or “Laura Ashley” will walk past and love your work. However I do view it as a great learning curve for students, to set up their own stall as it were and know how to lay out their work to beautify it and create an attractive atmosphere, this is surely a good educational outing for them at least.

This show is a brilliant day out for anyone interested in Textiles, Design and even Cross Discipline.  It is also an event which you feel overpowered by.  Thus why I would recommend taking lots of photographs, collecting leaflets, then spending time digesting it at home.  Much inspiration can be gleaned from looking back on visits such as this.  Don’t be put off by the exuberant blaze of colour and pattern which formulates and underpins this show; take one students work at a time, rather than looking at it as a “whole” exhibition.  This can lead to panic, especially if you begin to compare your own work to what you observe!

The graduate recipe? Bags of hope, a strong drive for success and an attractive portfolio. Instant success? Perhaps not, but it will happen for some: There will be a needle, in every haystack, a find in every jungle.

As a freelance artist, designer, lecturer and tutor (how do I narrow down that description?!) I have been contracted by numerous arts organizations to provide Talks, Workshops’ and Masterclasses’ in Textiles, Print Making and Fine Art subjects.  These include branches of the Embroiderers’ Guild, Textile Study Groups and The Women’s Institute.  Every year I teach at The Knitting and Stitching shows and exhibit with the Artist in Action stand. I had my first solo exhibition in March 2016 and have been part of numerous group exhibitions.  Currently I am columnist for textile art publication “Be Creative with Workbox”; having also written articles or had work illustrated in Stitch, Inspired, Embroidery, Selvedge, Daphne’s Diary, Prima (online), Cloth Paper Scissors and the Batsford book ‘Be Creative with Textile Art.'

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