Q&A: India Johnson of Greengage Studios November 04, 2016 16:00

In the latest in our Q&A series with inspiring bloggers, makers and artists, we meet designer-maker India Johnson of Greengage Studios, who runs her own creative business while also studying Fine Art at Newcastle University.

Here she offers an insight into the creative process behind her designs and explains why she'd like to travel back to the 1890s.

How do you like to start your working day?
I start most days early - after a little encouragement to get out of bed - with a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea. Having a good breakfast always keeps me focused on the tasks ahead - whether it’s finishing a painting or printing a bolt of fabric.

Poppy screen printed fabric drying, Greengage Studios

I love the walk to university in the mornings, and getting in early keeps me productive. Every Friday morning my mum and I go out for an almond croissant before I head to the studio - it's become something of a tradition!

Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Pattern has always captivated me. I began with a few lino cuts and worked them into bold screen-printed designs. When setting up Greengage Studios, it was important that all my designs were hand printed, as I think it's always such a shame when a print you love is aesthetically beautiful, but lacks the tactile quality of the ink on the surface, which tells you so much about the print's story.

Screen-printed pouches featuring India Johnson's designs, Greengage Studios

Screen-printed pouches featuring India's bold prints, from £10

When I'm working with pattern, I start with a lot of sketches and translate these into working drawings. I’ll then test them on lino to see how they transfer onto paper or textiles.

My creative process varies enormously depending on what I'm doing, whether it's screen printing, block printing, painting or stone lithography. I’m inspired by all sorts of things, from photographs I’ve taken or found, to organic shapes that catch my eye.

What could you not do without in your studio?
My favourite thing at the moment is the hand-bound sketchbook that my boyfriend made for me. It's filled with really heavy watercolour paper and the cover is left blank for a lino print. Also, my brushes are brilliant; they're perfect for everything from tiny watercolour sketches to huge paintings.

What is your greatest inspiration?
I love hunting for beautiful patterned things in charity shops and at vintage fairs. Coffee pots, jugs and retro fabrics provide me which a constant source of inspiration. I’m mainly drawn to mid-20th century pottery and textiles for their use of rich and earthy colours: mustard hues and velvety reds that are used to create abstract motifs and playful patterns. I am also drawn to simple shapes in nature: heavy poppy heads or olives in a jar - things that can be exaggerated and simplified into a repeat pattern.

India Johnson of Greengage Studios

If you were cast away on a desert island what would you take with you?
I'd choose my sketchbook! I love to record what is around me, from landscapes to figures. A friend told me there is much more movement in drawing from life, which is something I’m trying to work on at the moment.

If you were prime minister for the day, what’s the first thing you’d do?
I would emphasise the importance of teaching the arts in schools and universities. If courses are cut or funding is reduced in these areas, we'll lose some really important skills.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
I'd go back to the 1890s. I’d love to get first-hand inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement and see their block printing in action! I'd also visit William Morris to learn about his traditional textile dyeing and printing processes.

What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting their own creative business?
The most important advice I would give, particularly to those still at university, would be to start doing what you love as soon as you can. Yes, starting a business while at university has been a challenge, but there are lots of facilities available that go unused by everyone else, and that's a huge advantage.

Poppy washbag by India Johnson, Greengage Studios

Hand screen-printed washbag in India's Poppy design, £22

Another good tip, and this one I picked up reading Orla Kiely's 'Pattern', is that no one is going to tell you exactly how to do things, so you've got to figure it out yourself. This involves a lot of trial and error - printing, sourcing materials and making patterns, for example - but it's entirely worth it. The skills you learn from putting in the time to understand a process or a material are invaluable.

After a day spent designing and printing, how do you wind down?
I am terrible at winding down and switching off from art or pattern-related endeavours, but when I do finally stop, I like to cook dinner, read or bake (my favourite recipes at the moment are Jamie Oliver’s banana bread and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s banana, chocolate and cardamom loaf).