Printed textile designer Caroline Cox graduated from the Royal College of Art in July, just last year. Two months later, we found her panel of decorative and graphic wooden tiles at London’s foremost design concept store Mint. The piece came from a bigger collection called Landscape. Like the rest of the series, which comprises a mixture of textiles and wooden panel work, it is inspired by the natural scenes of the west coast of Scotland. Somehow, whether Caroline has worked with pine wood or linen, used vibrant colours, graphic shapes or both, she has managed to capture within each piece that same magic ingredient that lends her chosen region of Scotland its breathtaking quality. Below Caroline answers some questions about Landscape alongside images of key pieces from her body of work with the photographs of the locations that inspired their creation.
Can you tell us how your research trips worked – how you chose the locations, how you recorded them anyhow the creative process unfolded?
“My creative process always begins with a place – anything from an incredible landscape, rich environment or weathered coastline. First hand research trips are pivotal in the development of these influences in my projects. With this particular project I took two trips to the Highlands and the west coast of Scotland. The first took me from Edinburgh to Inverness via Loch Lomond and Fort William and I had several days of sketching and photographing the different locations I stumbled upon en route. I was filled with inspiration from the colour and scenery of the mountains, lochs, forests and coastline. Visiting in the autumn, the landscape was starting to change and possessed rich, earthy colours – intensified by perfect clear skies. Someone recommended I visit the Isle of Skye for dramatic mountainous landscape, but I ran out of time so I returned there on a second trip in the January. The cooler weather meant a more powerful and harsh landscape. That trip informed my prints greatly, whilst the initial trip informed colour and material. In general my trips take me from destination to destination with a vague route. I don’t like to plan too much so that I can discover unexpected places. As much as possible I draw but primarily I take numerous photographs to capture different qualities. I am planning my next visits to the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands, and in the future I would love to travel more within the northern hemisphere to places such as the Rocky Mountains in Canada, Lofoten in Norway and Iceland.”
Are you from the area and if not what made you choose it?
“Several years ago I visited the Blue Mountains, a spectacular mountain range on the border of Sydney, Australia, and afterward I was keen to seek more powerful landscapes to inspire my work. For this project I was searching for somewhere that would have a similar influence but which was more personal to me. After a lot of recommendations, the Scottish Highlands became an obvious location as my father and his family are from Scotland. This meant it had a lot more integrity and had a greater impact on my work as I could relate to the location.”
What is it about the landscape you found inspirational, and was it about capturing its spirit or more about it feeding your imagination (or both)?
“It was about capturing the spirit of the landscape. I have a keen interest in environmental and sustainable issues – my concerns are that these places may disappear through global warming, urbanisation or other issues, which pushes me to want to highlight the rawness of these landscapes in my work. When travelling in the Highlands the landscape has an extremely empowering presence. It is an incredible setting holding unique, rich information. Moreover in this region the weather dramatically changes, it can be aggressive one minute and calm the next, adding to its powerful characteristic. Additionally I found these landscapes such an inspirational place to escape to when living in such an urbanised place such as London.”
How did you reach the colours you used?
“The colour palette matured throughout the project. It was a case of refining, reflecting back to original research, developing new swatches and pushing the combinations of colour to reach the final palette, which developed mostly from a series of my photographs that captured a sunset over Loch Eil, Fort William. The colours in the sky: pinks, purples and greys were incredibly rich and vibrant which juxtaposed the deep purple of the bold undulating landscape. Forest green was also used, drawn from the vast amount of woodland observed.”
What is your approach to colour generally, is it instinctive, influenced…?
“For me it’s important that the colours I use have a significant reference and come from original source. Whether it is colour captured from a specific research trip or the colour of an object I have found, I like to understand its origin. My approach is instinctive. To form colour palettes I begin by painting lots of swatches from a particular source, often my own photographs. Using dyes, acrylics, gouache and watercolours I paint the tones within these colours too, giving me a vast selection of colour. Then I form palettes intuitively, playing with swatches and forming collections through a process of experimentation and elimination – this sometimes can take a few days! I often work with materials at this point, adding texture and surface so that there is more of a mood and feeling to the colour story for each collection. I now have a large bank of colour swatches that I am continually adding to. Within this have individual colours I tend to be drawn to: pinks, blues and greys. However I try to deviate from these to create unusual and unexpected palettes for every project.”
What made you think to evolve a collection from the landscapes?
“The project began in my final year at the RCA and was greatly inspired by the research trips. I wanted to capture the beauty of this landscape through my textiles and surfaces. The project was relatively long, evolving over ten months, allowing me develop new processes. Initially I began by creating a mood board of material, texture, surface and colour. I explored wood as a material, etching, routing, cutting, printing and dyeing the substrate. Additionally I was sampling screen-printing methods and exploring uncontrolled mark making with graphic interruptions. I created almost a storyboard of techniques and ideas that I wanted to push forwards. I became influenced by the Bauhaus and it was Wassily Kadinsky’s taught method of reducing a still life to an abstract, geometric formation that inspired the development of the prints, surfaces and tile shapes. ”
When you are working with different surfaces like this, is it obvious when you want to work in fabric and when you want it to be a solid surface?
“Often it is through experimentation of material qualities that defines which surface I shall use. Progressively I am interested in the idea that the same print or pattern can run across a number of surfaces and textiles within a space – almost like creating an entire environment for one room. This may be playing with the scale of shape and pattern and adapting it through different surfaces. With this particular project it was heavily based upon natural landscapes and environments so it was an obvious choice to work with natural materials. Wood was a new medium for me and opened up the idea of wall surfaces. Textile qualities used included linens and cottons, With different applications the print, pattern and shape intended to relate across all the surfaces.”
What kind of applications did you envisage for the wood tiles – or is it more of a standalone piece?
“Landscape Composition is an interior, modular tile system. The playfulness of the work is extended through the formation of the tiles that can be arranged to create exciting and unexpected patterns. They have been presented as a standalone piece in the past but the intention is for them to grow within a space. They can be used to cover an entire wall surface or composed as a small wall covering. I have two more tile series that can be presented in the same way.”
Do you live with your own pieces and if so, how and where are they?
“I currently have some of my textile works neatly hanging from wood dowelling around my home. From this particular project I have small section of wall tiles composed on the wall. Also I am using some of the screen-printed wood tiles as matts on table surfaces to elevate a candle or object – not the initial intention but a potential idea for a product!”
Do you work to commission – how can people acquire your pieces and are your fabrics available to order?
“As my textiles and surfaces are hand produced and screen-printed they are available only through commission at this time. I am currently developing products that will be available to buy on my website in the near future.”
What are you working on now. Are you continuing this body of work or starting on something new?
“This body of work has several different avenues to explore. I developed print techniques and surfaces that I can use as the foundations for future projects. I also have a research trip lined up which will feed me with new information to evolve this body of work. In the meantime I am working with the textiles and wooden surfaces from this recent collection to create contemporary products and homewares available. I’m also working with a fellow print designer I met at the Royal College of Art. We share a similar print direction and interest in homewares, interior surfaces and textiles and are developing a collection to be launched this year.”