It’s a funny thing how sometimes one doesn’t realise one’s own influences. Just in the past week two people have told me that they can see African influences in my surface pattern design work. I hadn’t seen it, though it isn’t a surprise to me. The exception is the pattern featured in my blog title, which is inspired by the amazing colours of the Southern Carmine Bee-Eater, a little African bird.
I spent two and a half years living in the South African bush several years ago. I gave up my responsible job at an auction house in Edinburgh to move to Africa and trained for six months to become a safari guide. I then worked at an amazing riding safari lodge for over two years, before returning to the UK. Several years before that I had lived in the wilds of Namibia for six months, so I think it is fair to say I have the Africa “bug.” I still try to get back to southern Africa as often as I can and have explored lots of South Africa.
However, having spent so much time in the African bush, my abiding colour associations are with khaki and olive. In fact it took me a while, on my return to the UK, not to be drawn to the drab olives when I went clothes shopping. It is, perhaps, therefore, not surprising that my patterns are bright and cheerful, not muted and subtle.
My time in Africa was before I started on my surface pattern design journey so, while I was drawn to African textiles, I did not study them closely or, indeed, collect samples of them. In fact, I would love to do a “study trip” to look at them more closely. However, at the lodge where I worked, one of the owners was from Kenya, and the design influences in the lodges were definitely East African and added lots of colour to contrast with the natural stone and wood. I was also drawn to the beautiful beaded jewellery and crafts made throughout South Africa, which explains my attraction to jewel colours.
While most of my patterns are influenced by nature, particularly flowers, I also use abstract “doodle” patterns in some of my designs, and I think it may be in these that people see as being African in influence.
It makes me happy to think that my time in South Africa has, even unconsciously, influenced my design work. However, the main thing is that I create beautiful and appealing patterns to make my potential customers happy.