Elinor Brass interviews Surface Pattern Designer Tanya Paget AKA Albaquirky, about her current projects, influences and how Sketchbook Circle has impacted on her practice.
How do you balance your design work alongside your teaching role?
I work part-time in a big FE Sixth Form College in Luton, currently heading up our Visual Arts A Levels. It is a challenge to juggle my various responsibilities alongside design deadlines; detailed time planning is key. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn't love a list, I use an app called Trello to make lists under lots of headings (called boards in Trello) and jot notes and ideas down as I have them on the move. Trello works for me, as I can restructure and prioritise if deadlines and timeframes change. I start the day and finish the day with a review of my Trello tasks to keep me on track.
If I'm working to a big deadline like a trade show, I will also draw up a large week by week calendar on big sheets of paper and pin it up on the studio wall. I use post-it notes and colour coding to manage the different elements of working to a big show, the creative work on collections, but also all the other aspects of the project like finance, social media, printer deadlines, marketing, etc. That very visual and physical representation of time, including movable tasks on post-its really works for me to manage a big project effectively.
The design work feeds into my teaching and vice versa in lots of ways and there is lots of cross-over in my thinking time. However, I’m very disciplined about when it comes to sit down and allocate time to either role, studio time and college/education time are kept completely separate. It think it helps that those things happen in different physical spaces; my studio and my desk at college. I have previously managed very big teams and had significant roles of responsibility, so to keep sane you need to develop ways of drawing boundaries, so this experience keeps helping me with balancing today!
What are you working on at the moment?
Wow, lots! I’ve just finished a set of new colour ways of my ‘Machair’ wallpaper design stocked by Feathr and signed the rights over fully to them, so they can take it forward to some international distribution deals. Feathr showed the design as part of the London Design Festival at Tent London back in September – it was so amazing to see the work on display beside such talent and it even got a little love from some bloggers and featured in the Evening Standard Homes and Property section. I have recently signed a contract with a really cool studio/agency called Collect Scotland. I will be showing with them at Premier Vision, Paris in February ’16. From November to now my work has been about putting together new collections and preparing older designs for the Paris show. I’m exhibiting 60 pieces it has been exciting to see them all together and nerve wracking to parcel them up and send them off! I am also part of a collective called Finch & Foxglove who are exhibiting at Surtex in New York in May ’16. So, I’m currently putting together collections for New York. Some of the focus for buyers at the May show is around designs for Christmas, I’m just finishing a collection with a festive focus. All a bit unseasonal, but at least it isn’t warm and sunny outside yet! I keep an eye on trends, but only design to them if they align with ideas I want to do. The ‘Naive Exotics’ trend is next on my list to do a bit more work around; the house plants are about to get a whole lot of focus, and I’ve been wanting to work some green Parakeets into a a design for a while. I used to live in South London and enjoyed the surreal juxtaposition of grey council estates and flocks of green parakeets with attitude, they have embedded themselves in my subconscious so I need to get them out onto paper.
What have you gained from the experience of being in Sketchbook Circle?
Being part of the sketchbook circle has been a significant catalyst for me to go on a journey towards a more balanced existence as both an educator and creative. The idea of collaborative working and the physical sketchbooks themselves have made their way into a number of educational projects with my students.
The concept of the sketchbook circle came for me as a way to start making work again. At the time we set it up I was working full time as a Head of Art. I was only very sporadically making work in the holidays, for the rare design job or at creative workshops (where Elinor and I met). The ‘trick' I wanted to play on myself was that by signing up and committing to a monthly creative task with two others, I could no longer keep putting that vital creative activity to the back of the to-do-list. I knew I couldn’t let my partners down. My trick worked, silly isn’t it, that I struggled to do it for myself, but rope some strangers in, give myself an additional complex project to co-coordinate and I’d do it!?
I started regularly drawing and making. I loved it. I realised it was a big problem for me to have let myself get to a stage where such an important thing for me had got shunted to the bottom of my list. I wanted more. In 2012 a friend asked me to design a limited edition wallpaper pattern under their brand (Werkhaus) to be sold in a London pop-up shop ‘House of Voltaire’. I loved the challenge of working in repeat and with rhythm, it ticked all my boxes and interestingly unified a pretty diverse set of experience and training as an artist and designer. Pattern was an area I’d not worked in before. The idea for albaquirky was born, I’d caught the surface pattern design bug and wanted more.
I went on to study surface pattern design through a number of online courses, this was a really interesting experience as an educator to study this way. I’d trained as a Fine Artist and then worked for six years as a designer in motion graphics and print, then moved into teaching, so felt I needed to up-skill around the art of pattern making. At this point I was a Head of Faculty and my college was supportive in my request to step down and move to a part-time post, so I could balance my study with education work. This journey has taken me to the stage of having two major international shows in the diary this year and I’m in discussions about a third in September. Take care, the sketchbook circle can take you to some exciting destinations!
What advice would you give to those who are new to the circle?
Relax and enjoy! Play! Think of drawing in it’s purest sense, the making of marks. Go with your instincts. There is no right or wrong. When we set it up, we focused on little steps at a time, make a mark, send it off, do what you can. Your collaborators get it, they are educators too, some months are easy and some hard. It is a game of call and response and no one is judging you. I feel quite excited for new comers to the circle! It is such a fantastic community of art educators to be a part of. The Facebook group is an exciting space to share and be involved in that community. White space can be daunting, but once you jump in, there will be no stopping you!