Fiona Howard is a British designer who has been in the wallpaper and textiles industry for over 30 years. She is well known for creating such contemporary classics as Sanderson’s ‘Dandelion Clocks’, and works from her studio overlooking the sea in Brighton. Each one of her collections is created using traditional skills such as lino cut, monoprint and watercolour. And everything about her work is carefully considered, the papers meticulously coloured to exquisite palettes, and each design hand drawn in repeat from preparatory sketches before being carefully painted or cut into lino and printed by hand. Hoping to uncover more about the secrets behind the delicious designs, I asked Fiona a few questions.
WOODLAND wallpaper in Duckegg
You have an impressive portfolio of ‘A’ list clients – what made you decide to create your own company?
I am very lucky. I have worked with some amazing clients worldwide and on projects as diverse as wallpaper and home furnishing collections, beautiful rug collections to entire tabletop ceramic and textile ranges for Crate & Barrel in US. I have also had pretty much free rein to design what I like. However my wallpaper collection is my proudest moment. Putting my own name to my designs and seeing how happy they make my customers is a very satisfying achievement.
ROCKPOOLS wallpaper in Blue
I love that you use traditional skills – can you talk us through the creation of a new design?
Experience has taught me that drawing is the basis for any good design. So sketching is always the beginning. I have sketchbooks full of ideas, seeds of inspiration just waiting to be developed. My starting point is the size of the piece of lino I will use. I draw the repeating pattern to fit within this size. The design must repeat and flow seamlessly across the wallpaper, taking the eye on a gentle journey. The next step is to trace the finished design onto lino. For each colour I cut a separate piece of lino. These are then carved by hand using tools, ‘gouges’ which I have had for many years and fit, like old friends, into the palm of my hand. Then each lino ( colour ) is printed in turn. I roll out the ink on a clean piece of glass, transfer it across to the design and press the paper into the raised surface of the lino so that it takes up the tacky ink. I never get tired of peeling back the paper of a new print to see the design reveal itself to me. It’s magic !
IMOGEN wallpaper in Grass
How often do you introduce new collections?
As often as I can afford to ! I have a portfolio full of wonderful designs restless to be transformed into wallpapers and am always so excited to bring out the next collection.
Clockwise from top left: CORNFLOWERS wallpaper in Cobalt, WILD PODS wallpaper in Saffron, WOODLAND wallpaper in Tomato, WOODLAND wallpaper in Lichen
Nature is obviously your biggest inspiration – how do you manage to keep your work so fresh and current?
I suppose because there is so much to draw from in nature. I could design a new collection every week and still not run out of ideas ! I am very lucky to have a studio overlooking fields and within metres of the beach. Leaves, shells, seeds and seaweeds all feature in my patterns, but there is so much more. We have a family of foxes in a wild corner of the garden and we’ve even seen a weasel, although he didn’t sit still long enough for me to draw him !
WISTERIA wallpaper in Pine
I see you use moodboards – how important is this in the design process?
My pinboard is integral to my work. Here I collate all the random thoughts, colour swatches, sketches and ideas infront of me so that I can reference it throughout the creative process. When it is no longer filling me with ideas everything is stripped off it and I start again.
IMOGEN wallpaper in Charcoal
You’re known for textiles and wallpaper designs – do you design other homeware products?
I have designed for almost everything from mugs to rugs. At one point I had my own homewares and kitchen textiles collection with lovely bone china mugs and sweet birchwood trays made in Sweden. However wallpaper is where my heart is really happy. My wallpapers are printed in the UK on FSC papers. I feel glad to be keeping production closer to home and producing an eco-friendly product.
HARBOUR wallpaper in Sky
Can you talk us through a typical day in the life of Fiona Howard?
My husband, Simon and I are up at first light and off on our run across the fields, finishing on the beach to watch the sunrise. In the summer we swim in the cool water. It’s an incredible way to start the day and the ever-changing weather and seasons make each day different. After breakfast of an espresso, green smoothie and local ‘Donker Rye’ toast, it’s a couple of hours of emails and orders. Often people want to discuss their decorating projects which can be fun, matching wallpapers and paints for a specific room. By late morning my laptop is put to one side and I am wearing my paint splattered apron. I might be carving a lino or printing, but it’s usually pretty messy. I become so totally engrossed in what I’m doing that the rest of the day can go so quickly, before I know it it’s dark and Simon is home looking over my shoulder to see what I have created. Evenings by the fire are about to become chaotic with the arrival of ‘Brian’ our new kitten this week !
WILD WIGGLE wallpaper in Lemon
What do you do to switch off and relax?
I’m not sure that I can switch off ! Simon and I are continually discussing work, both his and mine. Even at weekends we are planning photoshoots and decorating projects. However we both love gardening and are planning our vegetable patch for the summer and the creation of a ‘wild’ area of the garden with fruit trees where this year’s fox cubs can play and eat the windfalls, which they love !
You can see more of Fiona’s wallpaper designs on the Fiona Howard website.