For this Designer Diaries interview, we spoke to Peter Thwaites, co-founder of Rapture & Wright.
What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric/wallpaper designer?
Ever since I can remember, I have been drawing or making things. As a young child growing up in Sri Lanka and East Africa, plain paper must have been in short supply. I remember my parents' exasperation on discovering that the blank endpapers in pretty much every book that they owned had my daubs across them.
I do remember visiting England and wondering why there was no colour. The first time I remember being moved by the power of an interior was when, aged eight or nine, I wandered into the Rothko Room at Tate Britain. I had never realised that a space could affect one so deeply.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?
After studying illustration at Art College I moved to Glasgow in the early 90s, and shared a studio with textile designers Timorous Beasties. I spent the following years painting film and theatre sets which led to commissions from designers to create innovative decorative finishes for interior schemes.
While researching the work of the Omega workshop, I wondered whether there could be a gap in the market for fabrics and wallpapers that had a provenance, something tangible, reflecting the hand of the maker, a counterbalance to the impersonal mass production that had taken over. At the time, “craft” was still an embarrassing word in design circles.
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. A phrase in a book, a scrap of antique fabric reworked, nature of course. I have to keep sketchbooks and scrapbooks of ideas, references, jottings and articles torn out of newspapers and magazines. Our designs tend to develop over time, the route is rarely straight forward. More often than not, the initial idea for a design has undergone several changes of direction, additions, and edits until it finally reaches the point where we are happy to take it to artwork.
Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?
I’m not sure about surprising. Our first collection was inspired by the surf trips we had taken along the Atlantic coast, from Scotland to Morocco. This also gave us first-hand experience of the crap (and much, much worse) that gets dumped into the rivers and sea.
The beginnings of our new design Moorish Maze can be traced back to artist Richard Long’s 1994 work “White River Line.” A small photo of this extraordinary piece has been pinned to the inspiration board in our studio for several years. I kept returning to it, but couldn’t get it to work, until this year, when I combined it with some other Lino prints I had developed.
Sofa in Moorish Maze
What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.
What’s the phrase? “There is nothing as frightening as a blank sheet of paper.” I can’t start from nothing, hence my need for sketchbooks and scrapbooks.
I used to set a theme of sorts… but it had always been ripped up and thrown in the bin after a week, followed by a small rant about the world not needing any more fabric designs.
Now, there are generally several ideas on the boil, which are pinned to the studio walls in various stages of development. As I come across other ideas I pin these up too, until they start to coalesce into something resembling the beginning of a design. Rebecca and I then work on each of the designs in parallel, developing different thoughts and experimenting with art working techniques, bouncing ideas around. We’ve worked together for so long, that now, we have a pretty good idea of how the other thinks.
Once we are both happy with the basic design, we create an art work and make up some test screens. If all goes to plan we might do about a hundred small colour strike offs onto different base cloths, and see how they work with our existing designs and on furniture etc. The design doesn’t really come alive until it’s printed onto the cloth. At any of the stages between initial sketch and final strike off, the design can fail. We probably start with about fifteen initial ideas. These get whittled down to about three. Creating everything in-house, allows us to go back and forth between drawing desk, computer and print table until we are happy with the final outcome.
What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?
In 2004, Rebecca and I started Rapture & Wright. Our dream was to create a small artisan workshop. Building on my experience gained in Glasgow, we experimented, adapting and developing age-old techniques to produce our own handprinted fabrics and wallpapers in house. Hand printing is hard physical work, but the quality and depth of colour, is unlike anything machine produced. It also allows us to offer bespoke colour options on all our designs.
Inspired by heroes such as the Arts & Crafts movement, our aim was two-fold.
To seek out the expertise of the remaining British suppliers to help create a high-quality British product, at a time when the industry in this country was being savaged by offshoring.
To put environmental sustainability at the heart of our manufacturing process:
Working closely with our weavers to develop a linen base cloth that can be softened mechanically, rather than chemically - which is the industry standard.
The creation of our new print studio and innovative ecological treatment system, designed specifically to break down print waste within the natural environment. The first of its kind in the world.
What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did?
I’m not sure whether people think about the complex process behind much textile design or production. We have all become more aware of the issues surrounding food production and fast fashion. I’m surprised that we aren’t thinking in the same way about the interiors industry.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to experiment with adding more colour and pattern to their interiors with fabric/wallpaper but is scared of making the wrong choice?
I always find it easier to have a starting point, a painting, piece of furniture or knockout fabric or wallpaper around which you can base the scheme. Start simple; initially plan with two or three blocks of colour and pattern. Don’t be afraid of a large or bold pattern as the hero but maybe only use one to begin with. Mixing patterns can be tricky. Use this in combination with a really good complementary or contrasting colour. Mixing patterns can be tricky. Don’t forget textural variation between elements. Rugs are useful to break up floors and give all-important texture. The best interiors develop over time and reflect you.
Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?
Difficult to say. I still love the Majolica. It has a Fortunyesque feel to it. The abstract shapes of the design, based on16th century European tin-glazed pottery, work equally well in traditional and contemporary interiors. We’ve recently printed it onto a different base cloth in a bespoke colour - completely knock out (we thought.)
How has the fabric and textile industry evolved since you became a part of it and what do you see and hope for the future of it?
Digital printing has revolutionised production, although I’m no fan of the quality of print. There are so many more small companies now than when we started (partly due to digital production) which makes for a much more exciting market. Sustainability is a big issue that isn’t being considered yet. Too often, the environment is seen as acceptable collateral damage in finding cheaper and cheaper manufacturing process and locations. This has got to change.