A Day in the Life – artist and designer Gabi Bolton on textiles, wallpaper, upcycling and starry skies

I wake early at around six o’clock most mornings and start the day with a coffee and some Muesli, with some berries I have stored up in the freezer from last year’s sweet and abundant harvest, wild strawberries, gooseberries and blackberries. I don’t think I’ve tasted more perfumed and plump fraises du bois since I lived in Provence. Having moved to my new home in the Norfolk countryside last year, I have been surprised by  just how generous nature can be. After breakfast I start work at my desk in the studio, checking my emails and making a to-do list which invariably includes leftovers from the day before. I may then have to send out some samples of fabrics and wallpapers, which is quite challenging at the moment as many of my prints are wrapped up carefully in order to protect them from the renovations about to start on the house.

With those more mundane chores out of the way, I am free to get on with the work I love,  designing new patterns for textiles or walls. For each collection, I collect and curate an array of different kinds of inspiration, including photographs and sketches and old printed ephemera, which become my digital and analogue scrapbooks. There is a lot of looking and thinking involved in creating a new design. Most of my prints are complex and can take anything from two weeks to two months to complete; although I sometimes work on more than one piece at a time, which can slow things down a little. What can appear to be a simple design may often require a great deal of intricate work in drawing and creating subtle repeats by hand and digitally.

Along with the myriad of ideas popping into my head  for future projects I try to take note of, I have decided to spend a little time each day considering and researching a new addition to my Maps wallpaper collection. My two previous designs, The Soho Papers and The Paris Paper were based on places that held a particular resonance for me. France has captivated me from a young age – my mother went to boarding school in Cherbourg at the tender age of 5 and hung onto her impeccable accent and her close friends had a passion for France. I didn’t need much persuasion to follow her in that. A school trip to Paris with its obligatory whistle stop tour of iconic buildings and boulevards, opened my eyes to classic French style… But the reason Paris is memorable is because that’s where I first fell in love, Bob Marley provided the soundtrack on my Walkman.

The Soho Papers came about because it’s an area of London that I have come to know and love over the years, I wanted to cement my connection to it and surround myself with it, using the graphic beauty of the area’s old maps. My partner had been involved in setting up The Groucho Club in Dean Street, and during that period we often popped into Soho at the weekend and we would do our weekend food shop at Camisa & Son, a renowned Italian deli on Old Compton Street. When my daughter was a toddler, there was always a trip to Maison Bertaux for a strawberry tart before we went home. I love the intimacy of Soho, it’s a village in the middle of a city. The characters, markets, seedy dives and some very insalubrious alleys all weave into an intriguing and complex tapestry of life. Researching the maps made the place even more interesting and the process became more a social history than visual research, how street names changed, buildings disappeared, different nationalities came and went over the centuries, all leaving evidence of their occupation and offering something new to the area. So I am trying to decide between Rome and New York for the next one.

Currently, in between working on my new designs, I am spending a lot of time managing the renovation and ultimately, the creation of my new home and studio.  For me, the most exciting aspect of the building work is the blank canvas that I will have at the end of it, in fact, I’m already planning new wallpapers with the house in mind. I don’t plan on putting wallpaper in every room as

I am a minimalist at heart, who has a love of pattern on the side

Instead of decorated walls, I’ve already decided to use objects as motifs in some of the rooms which will create rhythm and patterns in response to the changing light over the course of the day.

I usually end up working through lunch, especially if I’m really engrossed in my work. It’s only when my concentration levels start to dip in the mid afternoon that I realise I need to eat or drink something, while taking  a break I will delve into Twitter or Pinterest to see what is happening in the world of art and culture. Since I moved, I am more energised and much more connected to nature; stepping outside into the garden which overlooks fields and catching sight of a squawking pheasant is such a novelty. I breathe in the view with my eyes and often realise that I have been standing there looking and thinking for quite some time. Another design challenge there, how to create that outside room that does not sacrifice the garden for the view, tricky!

In the afternoon I might turn to working on one of my up-cycled cases, working on a physical object after staring at a screen for hours can be a welcome break. The meticulous nature of the work involved on these suitcases is another time consuming activity, but the process is quite absorbing and rewarding. First you have to create a paper pattern of the vintage case or trunk, then cut fabric and glue or stitch it onto the case.  The transformation, turning something old and unloved into a beautiful object covered in exquisite pattern is a real delight.

The end of the day will sneak up on me, the longer days are a real delight. The only downside I see to the arrival of spring is that I have to wait longer for night fall, since another unexpected consequence of my move out of the city is the night sky; that deep indigo ceiling brimming with stars is truly breathtaking.  In the evening I may pop out to catch up with a friend and go to see a movie or more often than not, have a quiet night in and cook something simple, my preference is for Italian, from my days as a sous-chef at The River Cafe, where I absorbed the art of great cooking and learnt the importance of using the very best produce. When I go to bed, my little Burmese cat inevitably snuggles down beside me, keeping me warm until I wake up the next day.

gabi bolton portrait

Artist and designer Gabi Bolton predominately creates works in textiles and wallpaper. Her collections include her striking range of upcycled vintage suitcases and toolboxes as well cushions. Originally trained in printed textiles, Gabi has explored various artistic disciplines; working as a colour consultant, landscape designer, and as an interior designer for top London restaurants. She is the founder and director of Original Little Bird.

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