An interview with textiles designer Imogen Heath

The lovely people at Home Heart Magazine have asked me to write a series of posts for their blog; featuring a weekly interview with someone from the British interior design industry and beyond. In order to get as much insight as possible into what makes British design great, I'll interview everyone from bright young things to the established stars and try to ask questions that really get under the skin of how they think, what inspires them and what advice they might have to share. First up, textiles designer Imogen Heath... Dancing Birds wallpaper by Imogen Heath

What's the most important thing to know about you?

You tell me; I am very indecisive...

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Imogen Heath.

Good day – it's Friday, 6pm, the computer's off and I am on my way to meet my friends for a well earned glass of red wine.

Bad day - it's Friday, 7 pm, I've only got a few things crossed off my daily list, my phone's ringing impatiently, I answer and begin reeling off the same old excuses...

Allegro by Imogen Heath

What inspires your ideas?

What I find really enjoyable about designing textiles is that I can find inspiration in almost anything - my imagination just needs to be tuned in at the right moment when I am looking at something and an idea will pop into my head. The difficulty is often choosing the right ideas at the right time.

Having said that, I am drawn to the same things for inspiration again and again;

I love the modern design movements at the beginning and middle of the 20th century. I think this is because I studied these periods so closely at Art College, and again at university when I studied weave. They always come back to me in my work. This is probably most evident in my current collection.

My mother is also really influential to my work; a painter and an illustrator, her style switches from big, bold and abstract, to small, fine and delicate. I love her work, and I am very lucky to have had access to her vast library of art books, her studio, and her materials to have a good play about with. Newer designs I am working on for SS12 references this more, I think.

I always look to artists and designers who use colour really intelligently, as I often challenge myself with colour in my work. But at the same time, I tend not to look too much at what other designers are doing, as I can find it overwhelming, and quite distracting!

A selection of cushions by Imogen Heath

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

I will usually know before designing the textile or pattern which product I am designing for, however some designs just materialise and the decision on product suitability comes afterwards.

At the start of a collection, I make a mood board of cuttings. This sits pasted on my wall above my desk at all times.

I then begin sketching, and drafting out layouts in Photoshop. My approach is quite complex; I have lots of ideas, and I will often work on something only to abandon it. I find that I need to try ideas out first to see if they are going work.

Once I have around four or five ideas that I like, I will try them out in different colour palettes, then arrange the different designs and colourways into groups to see which group sits nicely together.

Once I am sure of the look of the design group I am working to, I then go back to the design bit, and carefully start working each idea into a finished design.

For colour I refer to a pantone chart that I my printer has printed for me, and once the art work is ready, the designs will go to my printer for the first round of sampling.

When the samples come back they are always quite scary, and many adjustments to the colour and design are needed. It's a long process, and there is a great deal of toing and froing but eventually we get it right.

What advice would you give to an aspiring textiles designer?

Beware – there are never enough hours in the day.

If you want to set up independently, you will need to become a master of all things. (I am learning how to build websites at the moment!)

Suppliers – good ones are like gold dust, and very hard to find; they are not often on the Internet.

When you find a good one, appreciation will work both ways. Build a good relationship with them so you can depend on them for many years to come.

Papillon by Imogen Heath

Which three items could you not live without?

It’s very boring but... my Wacom tablet, (and all the other computer stuff...), my beautiful teak 50s side board, and my Sky Plus box (which sits on my beautiful teak side board!).

What are you most proud of?

The fact that I am almost entirely self-taught, and I can look back on what I have achieved since graduating and be proud that the majority of the essential skills I have, I have taught myself through a great deal of hard work.

What's next for you?

My full attention is on beautiful fabrics for the next year.

I have an exclusive collection going into Heals from February 2012 which is very different to my current collection...

and a new website to accommodate a new look collection.

Minuet Wallpaper by Imogen Heath

And, finally, what's your favourite colour?!

I love all colours, bright ones especially... but if I had to say today, it would be green, because there is such a range! From the palest to the brightest limey yellows, to chalky greeny greys, to the bluey turquoise of the sea through to grassy olives and emeralds, green is a beautiful and affective colour. I also like to wear it.