Image: Cressida Bell, Parasol Shawl, Cream Yellow Blue.
We were delighted to interview to textile designer Cressida Bell following our article Squaring the Circle in the current issue of Selvedge, 105 Checks & Stripes. Read on to explore more about Cressida's colourful life, including her design process, her thoughts on pattern, and where she draws influence.
Cressida, where did your interest in pattern and colour begin. Have they always been a big part of your life?
I think I have always been fascinated by colour and pattern. Growing up we were surrounded by pattern, both at home and at Charleston, my grandparents house. My father decorated my bedroom wall with sponge printed patterns (like potato prints) and made us beautiful hand painted cards. We went to Charleston for our holidays and loved all the painted pottery and furniture. All of this was bound to rub off I suppose! I painted my first piece of furniture aged about 7 – a chest-of-drawers, which my brother still has.
Image: Duncan Grant's Studio at Charleston Farmhouse
Does pattern have a place everywhere, or are there instances when you think it's not necessary? What are some of stranger patterned items you have created?
I am loathe to admit it, but yes, I wear a lot of plain coloured clothes. They are a good foil for patterned scarves, and for jewellery. In the same way I have a lot of rooms with plain coloured walls as they set off the paintings, rugs and curtains well. I do have patterned walls and clothes as well, but I don’t think pattern needs to be everywhere.
I have created so many different patterns for different things but possibly the stranger ones include a tattoo (for a thigh ), a fridge, and a sail (for a sailing boat).
What are your favourite things to design?
I really like to design everything. Whatever I am currently working on is usually my favourite thing at that point. I especially love to design rugs or other items where I have no involvement in their manufacture. The design is sent off and then many months later the finished item arrives. It’s so exciting to unwrap them and see them for the first time ! I have recently produced some designs for tiles for a company in the USA and it was great when the samples finally arrived after months in production.
Image: Cressida Bell, Tropical Spot shawl - Yellow, Blue, Red
Are you drawn to particular kinds of patterns?
I do have some favourites, yes. I love Turkish design, specially from the Ottoman period. There’s a simplicity and perfection to some of the patterns, like the cintamani design. It’s only 3 spots, but they have to be just the right size and perfectly balanced in relationship to each other. I also love Toiles de Jouy, specially the ‘odder’ ones – and African wax fabrics like those produced by Vlisco. I think it’s often about the pattern being a bit weird and unusual without being unpleasant - a bit like my Tropical Spot design.
From where do you draw influence for your designs?
As mentioned above, I love to look at other fabrics, but also I draw inspiration from paintings, pottery and architecture. Holidays abroad and other outings are often a source of inspiration too. I have done collections based on the baroque architecture on Noto in Sicily, the Navaho and cowboy designs of New Mexico and the Chelsea Flower Show.
It’s often not the obvious things that influence me though – I did one design based an the shirt of the man in front of me in a post office queue !
Image: A design from Cressida's sketchbook
Could you give us an insight into your design process?
All my designs begin in my sketch book. Sometimes I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve but at other times I draw and doodle just to see what comes out. Once I have a clearer idea I will paint the entire design in miniature in colour. Then I will enlarge it and paint it at the right scale. (I only do a part of it these days as this part can be very time consuming.) I then scan the hand painted design into my computer and work it up into the full size repeating design. This process allows me to preserve the hand-made nature of the design rather then it becoming too ‘perfect’.
Image: Cressida painting a Paisley Leaf Lampshade.
How did you find your style? Did it develop naturally or did you make a conscious decision to work in a particular way?
My style has developed over the years with no conscious effort to be anything in particular. I avoid trying to follow fashion or looking over my shoulder at what the next new thing will be. I very much follow my own path, setting myself challenges on occasion ( eg to design on a white ground, or to come up with a floral design, neither of which come naturally). I think whatever my style is, it is innate. My sense of colour is very much part of this and I think is quite distinctive and recognisable.
Are there any artists, designers or historical periods that particularly inspire you?
I find it hard to pinpoint any one person or period as an inspiration. I’m a big fan of Eric Ravilious (who is a big influence on my card designs) and his contemporaries like Edward Bawden. I think of Howard Hodgkin as a great colourist, and there is a little known Mississippi artist called Walter Anderson who I admire for the way he makes wonderful patterns from the natural world. As mentioned before the Ottoman period under Suleiman the Magnificent is a big favourite – specially the Sultan’s kaftan collection at the Topkapi. But really I am a magpie and will go for anything that attracts my eye!
Image: A selection of Cressida's lampshades
Find out more about Cressida Bell's work on her website, and delve into a world of colour on her Instagram account: @CressidaBell
We're delighted that Cressida has kindly offered one of her beautiful lamps for the Issue 105 Checks & Stripes prize draw. Find out more here: