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.
View this post on Instagram
A quick interim blog-ette to let you know that the Van Doodles Colouring Book is now ready to pre-order online. I expect to be able to start posting them out next week.
Just follow this link to my galley where all is explained, you can see some sample pages and order copies if you wish. Van Doodles Colouring Book information
Enormous thanks to Linda Cole who did the cover graphics and helped get the pages in A1 colouring condition.
Normal blogging will resume next weekend with the final part of the Stuckist ‘triptych’, a guest blog by the supremely talented, founder Stuckist Ella Guru.
If you missed them, you can catch up on parts 1 and 2 here.
Stuckism: The birth of an internation art ‘non-movement’
Joe Machine: From Marine Town to The Holy See
Time for a few more updates
Christmas is still coming. It’s November, so it is OK to start thinking about it. Are you ready? Have you got your Christmas cards yet? No. Well, I can help you with that.
These boxed sets of 42 beautiful charity Christmas cards and envelopes, each card designed by a different (mostly local) artist, have been on sale for a while now. They are raising money for Christmas dinner, this year, at No. 84 Tearoom and Eatery at Echo Square in Gravesend https://www.no84.co.uk/ Cafe owners Adrian and Andrea offer a free Christmas dinner to people in the local community who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.
I’m delighted to say that over half of the boxes I got printed have been sold now. In fact, I’ve only got 38 boxes left so don’t miss out. Boxes are available on this website https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/charity-christmas-cards/ and in various venues around Gravesend, including https://www.no84.co.uk/ or you can get them from me directly, if you know where to find me.
Each box costs £20 (£24 including postage and packing if you order them from the website) with all profits going to help those less fortunate than ourselves this Christmas. You can find out more about the 2019 Christmas card project here https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/04/07/only-261-more-days-until-christmas-time-to-think-about-lunch/ Apologies to anyone from overseas who tried to order online but found that they needed to take out a bank loan to pay the postage. That has now been put right. Postage to Europe is £10, elsewhere in the world £15.
Art on a postcard
Once again I was honoured to be invited to donate 4 postcard-sized artworks to the 6th Art on a Postcard charity auction to raise money for the Hepatitis C Trust. If you are interested, you can find out more about the charity in my blog from June this year https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/06/26/art-on-a-postcard-urban-contemporary-vs-street-photography/
As well as me, this year’s line up includes anonymous contributions from famous names from the artworld such as Norman Ackroyd RA, Jock McFadyen RA, Carolina Caycedo, Vanessa Jackson RA, Dan Baldwin, Louise Lawler, Florine Démosthène, Joan Snyder, Timothy Hyman RA, Jeremy Deller, Miya Ando, and Helen Beard. All cards start at £50 so if you think that you can spot a famous artist just from looking at their work, you could snap up a real bargain. I was really pleased to see that all mine have now had bids so I won’t be consigned to the box of shame and will be raising some money for this good cause. Off to the private view on Tuesday. The auction is online https://paddle8.com/auction/hep-c-trust and runs until 14th November, so there’s still time.
Last Wednesday, I met Nathalie Banaigs – Founder and Director of Kent Creative http://kentcreativearts.co.uk/ to record a podcast along with author, Frances Beaumont https://francesbeaumont.co.uk/. If you haven’t had enough of me already, you can listen in here https://soundcloud.com/user-365282206/2019-11-05-artist-duncan-grant-and-author-frances-beaumont You may need to install Soundcloud to listen. There you’ll find all kinds of interesting chats with local creatives from all branches of the Arts – well worth a browse.
Walking the walk.
In September, Faversham seamstress Jane Potter https://www.facebook.com/jane.a.potter.textiles posted this on Facebook. Those of you who have been following me this year will recognise the fabric as one of the colourways of a design taken from my 2018 winning #LibertyOpenCall entry. https://www.libertylondon.com/uk/duncan-grant-tana-lawn-cotton-000620140.html?listsrc=Search%20Recommendation If you don’t know what I’m talking about this blog from explains all. https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/01/30/liberty-open-call/
As part of my prize, I received five metres of green Tana Lawn Duncan Grant from Liberty – was going to post a link but looks like it has sold out – and Jane made this from it for me. Thank you, Jane.
I am going to pursue the fabric design thing. This week, I attended my first ever art-based since school, at the Fashion and Textile Museum, up in that there London, trying to get some Photoshop skills for my design stuff. https://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm_courses/photoshop-for-textile-designers-3/ Had to walk through the Zandra Rhodes 50 Years of Fabulous exhibition to get to my class., which was kind of ironic because it is one year since I met her in person at the Liberty fabric launch. It was a small group – just four of us – and I’ve learnt a lot, like changing colourways, cropping images, collaging bits of designs and making repeats. Also managed to reset my phone to factory settings and nearly lost my wallet. But more on all that another time maybe
When I entered the #LibertyOpenCall my mate Richard Marshall said, ‘If you win, I want a pair of pants made out of that’. Well, Jane can also make boxers, Richard – and here they are! Now just your part of the bargain to fulfil – looking forward to the photoshoot. watch this space, readers.
Last night Liberty launched their brand-new bi-annual publication The Liberty Book at their flagship store and I was invited with the other winners – we appear in the book – along with the great and the arty.
Meanwhile, this image turned up on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/absolutelyhomemag/
Our winning designs as fabrics!
The first strip is Catherine Rowe’s designs https://www.instagram.com/catherinerowedesigns/
The second strip is Emma Hill’s https://www.instagram.com/emma.hill_art/
The fourth strip is Natasha Coverdale’s https://www.instagram.com/studiocoverdale/
Official launch date 8th May 2019 at the Liberty Store.
Early on Tuesday last week, I flew out from Gatwick with my three fellow #Liberty Open Call winners to Gorla Minore, near Milan, to visit Olonia Stamperia, the factory where Liberty prints many of its fabrics. Things were about to get real. We were going to see our Open Call designs transformed into Liberty fabric!
We arrived just in time for an Espresso and Liberty biscuits with two of the designers that we’d met during our initial visit to Liberty London and some of the Italian design team.
They gave us a bit of background about the factory – it’s been there since 1969, and as well as printing Liberty designs on their famous Tana Lawn – a cotton fabric that behaves like silk – it produces materials for other high end companies, including Versace. The factory is committed to sustainability – it doesn’t use toxic dyes or heavy metals in the print process.
The factory tour that followed was fascinating. We saw how Liberty uses traditional screen printing and digital technology to make designs come to life and watched the whole process from colour mixing, though to printing. Once the fabrics have been printed, they are conditioned and washed, before being stored in giant rolls, ready for dispatch. Because of commercial sensitivities, unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs, although we are promised some from Liberty, which I’ll add here if I get them.
After a delicious lunch – a pizza washed down with a nice Sardinian beer – we got down to business with our own designs.
Liberty have made two designs from the image that I entered into the competition – one with chimneys and one without. They will be produced as separate Liberty fabrics for their 2019 summer collection. They are going to be called ‘Duncan Grant’ and ‘Small Town’. For our visit, the Liberty designers had prepared a series of ‘strike offs’ for each winning design. A strike off is a print sample that is made to check design and colours before bulk printing is done.
For each of my designs, the team had produced about ten different ‘colourways’ on Tana Lawn and silk, with two versions of each colourway in contrasting intensities. We discussed our own and each others’ designs with the team – which ones we preferred, which ones we weren’t so keen on. But the final choices about which colourways will make it to production and onto the shelves, is down to the Liberty buyers, who know their customers and the wider market, as well as what will be ‘on trend’ for 2020. They will produce fabric in at least one colourway from each of our designs – so at least two for me – more if they really like them and think they will sell. I haven’t heard yet which have been chosen but a camouflage treatment and a bright orange print seemed very popular on the day. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Left home at 3.30 a.m. back home at 10pm. A long but exciting day. I wonder where this journey will take me next. Watch this space!