By Laura Muncie
Cressida Bell is a British designer specialising in textiles and interiors.
Her work is known for its uncompromisingly decorative nature, exciting colour choices and its independence from mainstream fashion. There is an undoubted influence from her well known Bloomsbury Group forebears (Quentin Bell was her father and Vanessa Bell her grandmother); but it is not an all pervading one, and she has forged her own very individual style over the last 25 years. British Airways i360 Brighton, The Natural History Museum, Burford Garden Centre, Museums & Galleries, and The Royal Academy of Arts are just a few of her clients.
In an exclusive interview for The Orkney News, Cressida Bell talks about her first project in Scotland.
Can you tell me about the design brief for the Fife Arms hotel in Braemar ?
I was briefed by Jane Raven of Russell Sage Design. Each room was to be themed around a notable Scot, and my room was all about Nan Shepherd ( who adorns the Scottish £5 note ). There was not a lot to go on, but she loved landscape and walking, so that was my starting point.
Is this your first commission for a business based in Scotland?
I believe it is. I have designed rugs for a large private home, but not a business.
Do you usually start the design process in the same way – with your sketch book ‘doodling and taking a line for a walk’ as you’ve said in the past?
Yes, that’s very much how I work. The lampshade design started work as a series of marks and patterns in my sketchbook, before I transferred it to a large template in the correct shape and worked out the placement of each element.
What influences your design style?
All sort of things influence my style. I look at the designed world a lot – ceramics, architecture, painting, prints etc, more than I look at nature. Painters such as Howard Hodgkin, Eric Ravilious and Ben Nicholson all feed into my personal aesthetic.
How long can the process take from design to finished article, a lampshade for example?
If I am painting a lampshade as a one-off piece ( bespoke, and not printed first ) then it may take a couple of days once the design has been agreed. It takes longer if I am putting a design on screen first, but then I can produce more of one design and it becomes quicker in the long run.
How many people work for you in your studio and what do they do?
I have two assistants. Jaap works with me to do all the printing and painting. He does the hard graft, dyeing fabric, pinning it out, washing, ironing and sewing. Dru is in charge of accounts, IT, social media ( except Instagram – which I do myself ) and marketing. They both have input into the website and help me with design in an advisory capacity.
What is your least favourite part of making the pieces, and what is the most enjoyable part?
The best part is the design process – and then seeing/trying-on the final product. Converting the hand painted designs into a digital file is a bit of a chore and makes my back ache – but the physical act of painting and printing is always fun.
I think your colour choices are stunning. How do you decide on colourways?
I think I have an innate colour sense. I have no trouble with coming up with colours initially, but I am rubbish at thinking up new colourways ! I always like the one I thought of first best.
You have said that you don’t follow what others do but have your own ideas and stay true to yourself. What helps you form new design ideas?
It is always useful to have a commission to work to. I like some parameters to explore, rather than being given a ‘carte blanche’. I think that like many people I have a personal ‘handwriting’ – stripes,spots, cross-hatching etc; images that find their way in to so much that I do. I try not to be too repetitive though!
Art is a great way to socialise and you run lampshade painting workshops. Why did you decide to do those, and what happens at them?
A previous assistant had friends who held workshops ( the Meringue Girls ) and suggested it would be a good idea. They are very friendly events where I help the participants to create the design that they have in mind. Not everything is possible, but I try to show them techniques and ways of using colours that they may not have thought of before. We have lots of nice food and drink too, and they get to go home with a fabulous home-made shade all their own.
Art is an outward expression of inner feelings, what do your designs say about you?
I don’t really see it like that, as it is something I do every day as a job. In general I am trying to produce something other people will want – so maybe that makes me a people-pleaser !? I think and hope I have a joie-de-vivre which is reflected in my work.
Do you ever paint or draw just for fun?
I don’t do much at home, mainly because I don’t have the tools & materials. But what I do at work is very much for fun, even if it is also to make money. They can be one and the same !