I first met Emma when the four winners of the #LibertyOpenCall met up at Liberty HQ in London to work on our fabric designs with the Liberty design team. We had a great lunch together and a pint afterwards, and then went our separate ways.
We all met up again at Gatwick airport for an extended day trip to Milan, looking round the Liberty factory and getting a first glimpse at the test prints of our fabrics.
Our third meeting was for the launch of our fabrics, back in London’s Regent Street at the Liberty store. And then, later, at a Liberty book launch reception, where we hobnobbed with fashion glitterati, including Chatham girl, Dame Zandra Rhodes.
We’ve all kept in touch since then, and Emma Hill kindly submitted some of her art to an exhibition (remember those?) that I organised at The Hot Tin in Faversham, Kent.
Unlike me, Emma had her eye on Liberty for quite a while before her successful submission to the #LibertyOpenCall fabric design competition.
#LibertyOpenCall was the first Liberty Open Call to be conducted entirely online. Prior to that, aspiring artists/makers would queue up outside the store, sometimes for six hours or more, for the chance to make a four-minute pitch about their product to the Liberty buying team.
Emma had spent two years developing a scarf collection with Liberty Open Call firmly in mind. Her designs were inspired from her ‘Itchycoo’ painting series, featuring the enchanted garden from the stories that she told to her young children. Each scarf featured: a heart; a tiny motif of Mimi, a child in a red dress from the Itchycoo stories; and a daisy and an iris – the names of Emma’s daughters. But Emma and her scarves never made it to London.
‘The first year, they didn’t have an Open Call,’ Emma remembers. ‘And then they did have one, but I was abroad so I didn’t hear about it until after the event. And the last Open Call I missed as we were doing up our house. So I never got to pitch.’
In 2018, six years after Emma completed her scarf collection, a sponsored ad for #LibertyOpenCall popped up on her Instagram feed. There was no queuing for this fabric design competition. Aspiring designers posted their entries on Instagram and added the #LibertyOpenCall hashtag. There was a fantastic prize. Winning designs would be made into fabrics to be sold in Liberty’s flagship London store and online, and would enter Liberty’s historical fabric archives alongside the design greats, including William Morris.
Emma submitted her painting Graffiti Summer, which was inspired by a day spent in London with her daughter, visiting the Fashioned from Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and photographing graffiti in the East End. Her entry was chosen as one of the four winners.
‘I hadn’t really put any thought into which painting to hashtag,’ Emma reflects. ‘If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have chosen Graffiti Summer. That painting took me on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It had been a battle making it, so it wasn’t a favourite. I felt so relieved when it was finished. However, now I’m really pleased that it accidently became the one, because it’s so much richer because of all the layers. It has a good story behind it and now, with a bit of time, I’ve grown to love it. ‘
As part of her Liberty experience, Emma was chosen to feature in a BBC documentary called A Day That Changed My Life. The cameras followed her creative journey from submission through to the nail-biting moment when she heard that she was one of the winners.
‘It was fun to share my art journey and the background of the winning painting,’ Emma says. ‘It was also the first time I’d shown my fresh new style of painting after a three-year break, so it was amazing to get such a fantastic initial response.’
‘It wouldn’t have been the same if there was just one winner,’ she says. ‘What made it so valuable and amazing was the four of us being able to experience it together. And the opportunity to learn a bit about each others’ work and to get to know each other.’
Emma was brought up in the UK but is half English and half Norwegian. As a child she spent school holidays in Norway visiting family. There were summer camps in the mountains in summer, and skiing in the winter.
Although she really excelled at art at school, she didn’t get into art college. They said she ‘needed to be more free’. This was a massive blow for Emma. She became very insecure in her art and began to believe that she couldn’t paint.
She decided the best way to get her passion back and find her creativity again was to learn more about art. So, after a ‘mind-blowing’ year studying art and philosophy among the mountains and lakes in Lillehammer in Norway, Emma, aged 19, returned to the UK to pursue a joint honours degree in Art History and Scandinavian Studies.
‘I thought that through my studies, I could learn about art, discover what interested me and get into painting again,’ she reflects wryly. ‘In fact, studying art history had no influence on my art whatsoever!’
While she was studying at the university, Emma started attending life drawing classes at the art college across the road from where she lived. Eventually, she applied for a place there but was told she would have to choose between the degree she was taking which was nearly complete, or a completely new course in fine art. She decided to complete her degree and afterwards, spent the summer in Norway with her uncle, training to be a divemaster.
After the dive season in September 1996, she came back to the UK and started working as cabin crew with British Airways and, that Emma says, is where her real art education began.
Art Culture Vulture
‘I travelled extensively and made it my mission to search for art and culture everywhere I went,’ Emma recalls. ‘It was a real adventure. When I arrived in a county, I would visit whatever exhibitions were showing. I found amazing exhibitions from the largest retrospectives in New York to tiny local galleries in Calcutta, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and everything in between.
‘The days when the time frame just didn’t fit, or when galleries were closed were often the most fun as they were totally unpredictable. I’d often find myself in the most unusual of places.’
‘I documented everything,’ she continues. ‘I wrote it down and organised it according to time zones, starting with London at 0 degrees Longitude. It was a kind of response to three of Mathew Collings books – Blimey: From Bohemia to Britpop: London Art World from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst; It Hurts- New York Art from Warhol to Now and Art Crazy Nation. I thought of my writing as a commentary on art and culture at the turn of the century, from the point of view, of a 20-something-year-old girl.
‘I kept it all my writing on an old floppy disk, but luckily I had it printed up as a book, which, last year, came out of storage after eight years. In the New Year, 2020 I picked it up and had a read. After 20 years I realised that my thoughts about art and my purpose are exactly the same today.
‘What interested me back then was how art becomes like an international language, communicating cultural diversity and differences without the barriers of speech and geographical borders. Art uniting people while sharing new, rich perspectives. I’d be in Thailand and they’d be promoting art from Finland, or I’d be in Brazil looking at art about the arctic – completely different culture promoting each other, educating and sharing an insight to their world. It was like there was this network of people communicating and understanding each other’s cultures, and it was all through art.’
With the prospect of more time during the first lockdown, Emma prepped up, with canvas and paint and was looking forward to explore her creativity. But when lockdown came, she didn’t feel like painting. Instead she decided to write up her travel diaries as blogposts.
‘I thought it would be interesting to see if I could look back at where I’d been and continue the story, but on the internet,’ Emma says. I looked back at where my painting started off, in Australia, where I became hugely influenced by Aboriginal art and culture.
As I was revisiting my archives during lockdown ‘Black Lives Matter’ came to the forefront of my awareness and I thought that I would celebrate Black Art and the huge influence that it has had on my work. The previous week I had started painting heart’s for an exhibition in Vienna, All You Need is Love. All of a sudden I was continuing my story – painting Love HeArts, that were expressing unity, celebrating difference and visually expressing all the beliefs and thoughts from what I had written all those years ago’
You can see more of Emma’s Love HeArts here
So, six weeks into lockdown, Emma was painting again and exploring new ways of communicating her art through social media. You can watch Emma talking about influences on her work from Black art, in this IGTV broadcast.
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Well, what a day. Today I finally got to see the fabrics created from my winning #LibertyOpenCall design for sale on the shelves of Liberty! It was the first time seeing them for real. We only saw the strike offs when we visited the factory in Milan. The fabrics looks fantastic, brilliant quality and great colours. I have three colourway of one design ‘Duncan Grant’ on Tana Lawn and three of a second design ‘Small Town’ on silk.
To mark the launch, the store was decorated with panels of our fabrics and information about each of the four winners all the way up the stairs and around the Haberdashery Department.
We were treated to breakfast with the design and sales team and then signed copies of our original designs, which will go into the famous Liberty archive.
We each received 5metres of one of our fabrics – I chose the one closest to my original design in terms of colour, and then I couldn’t resist buying a metre of each of the others.
All six will make an appearance at my What a Liberty! exhibition at the Hot Tin from 18th May, if you want to see them and can’t make it to the store. https://duncangrantartist.com/event/exhibition-of-small-towns-to-coincide-with-liberty-london-open-call-launch/
As one part of the journey ends, another begins. We’ll be kept informed of how our fabrics are used. So if, say, a fashion house uses one of our designs of fabrics for a garment in their 2020 season collections, Liberty will tell us and will keep our names with the designs as far as they can.
Will let you know about any developments on here. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me, voted for me and supported me so far. One of you is getting a pair of designer boxers. You know who you are!
Here are the links to my fabrics on the Liberty website:
Originals of my Small Town Ink Drawings and digital prints are available in my Gallery:
After I came back from the Liberty factory in Milan in March I wrote in my blog, ‘I wondered where this journey will take me next’. Well one answer is possibly ‘Windsor’ and I certainly didn’t expect that!
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by award winning homeware designer, Lisa Todd, who is Director of this year’s Lions of Windsor project https://lionsofwindsor.org/, to ask if I would be interested in decorating a life-size resin and fibre glass lion to be displayed somewhere around Windsor this summer. The original lion was created by Bath sculptor Alan Dun https://alandunsculpture.weebly.com/ as a 3D canvas.
The project will involve a giant pride of over 60, individually decorated lion sculptures being positioned around the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead from 10th August until 27th October this year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. There will be an official public art ‘safari trail’ where visitors can see the bigger lions, decorated by artists and designers, plus a mini-pride of lion cubs decorated by schools and charities.
The project will culminate in a Lions Roar Goodbye festival (9th/10 November) and then a charity auction on 22nd November. All profits will be donated to local charities, including the new Thames Hospice in Maidenhead, Look Good Feel Better and the Lions Club of Windsor, for distributing to good causes across the region.
I haven’t really got much experience of 3D art or drawing (on) animals really. I did decorate this set of Russian Dolls in 2018 for ‘Art on a Postcard’ https://www.artonapostcard.com/ and I’ve done relief prints of a few cats, birds, water creatures and insects over the years (see below) but a 3-D lion is going to be a bit of a challenge. Not least because I have to get it home, paint it and then get it back to Windsor, without being eaten!
As you might be aware, over the last year I’ve been working on a series of Small Town ink drawings. You can see then all in my Gallery under ‘Original Artwork: Ink Drawings’. https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/original-artwork/drawing-ink/ They are all also available as digital prints. I submitted one of the Small Towns to the #LibertyOpenCall competition that I won and the two designs that Liberty have been produced are due to be launched next month as part of their Summer Collection. I’ve included elements of the Liberty Small Town design in my lion design because Liberty fabric designs were very popular in the Victorian era.
My lion design is called Night and Day and depicts Windsor in daylight (on the side of the lion with his eye open) and Windsor at night (on the side of the lion with his eye closed). Each side will reflect Windsor’s position on the Thames, and will feature prominent landmarks, such as the castle and the Great Park. You might even spot some Windsor collars and ties with Windsor knots on the final product. I haven’t really decided.
Anyway, that’s for the future. I have to have my design accepted first. The templates are really small so what you can see here is only an impression. If I’m successful, the design on the final lion will be much more intricate.
Here is what I have submitted:
And the other animals….. As mentioned above, here are some of my earlier encounters with animals. They’re all for sale via the Gallery on this website – just follow the links.
Liberty have just sent through these photos from our visit to the factory, near Milan. Great shots of the commercial print process on a massive scale…
And here we are – me and the other three winners – with the print samples (strike-offs) that the design team had prepared so the Liberty buyers could make their selection of colourways for production. Chosen designs will be revealed at the launch at the Liberty store on 8th May 2019.
In September 2018, Liberty London, the designer department store, invited artists and designers to upload images of their work to Instagram using #LibertyOpenCall to compete for the chance to have that design used in Liberty fabrics. There were over 5,000 entries and, amazingly, I was selected as one of the four winners. You can see my design and those of the other winners here
Earlier this month I was invited, along with the other winners to visit the iconic Liberty Store in London’s Regent Street to view the Liberty archive and work with Liberty designers to turn our images into fabric designs, to be featured in the Liberty summer collection 2019.
We had a great day. It was amazing how they can take bits of the design and make it work for different products. Liberty will print several test prints from each winner’s design and then their buyers will choose at least one from each artist to develop into Liberty fabric. Really exciting!
The next stage is a visit, later this month, to the Liberty fabric mill, near Milan, to watch our designs transformed into fabric.
HERE’S A SIMILAR PIECE FROM LIBERTY….with a little bit more information about what happens next.