I came across the wonderful Sarah Hamilton through Twitter – just one of many fantastic connections I have to thank the microblogging site for. She’s a super talented printmaker, and her quirky, appealing designs adorn a variety of objects – from cards to woodblocks to furniture and even mirrors. She’s also super friendly, and has a wonderful mid-century home in Dulwich, which she’ll be showing off during an Open House weekend at the Dulwich Festival, on May 11 and 12.
And… *coughs*… she’s very kindly asked yours truly to come down and sign copies of my book at the event…so see you there!
I caught up with Sarah to find out a bit more about her fantastic career so far…
How long ago did you start designing?
After leaving Central St Martins, having studied Printmaking back in the days before Photoshop, I made a range of handmade cards and sent them to buyers at The Conran Shop, Designers Guild and Paperchase. They were very enthusiastic about my designs and all placed orders. Requests for different products followed from other stores, including a popular collection of bathroom mirrors for Heal’s.
I was then asked to make much larger focal piece mirrors, with my distinctive imagery, by architects and interior designers. This led to commissions, from galleries and private clients, for a wide range of artwork. Nowadays I sell my prints, cards, woodblocks and mirrors via Open House/Studio events in Dulwich, through shows including the East London Design Show and directly from my new website. I also have considerable experience in commercial textiles, having freelanced for a number of respected manufacturers.
What inspired you to go it alone?
I’d love to say it was a conscious decision, however I started selling my designs straight after college so I haven’t known any other life. I’ve huge respect for people who swap the security of a regular salary for self-employment. You have to embrace an insecure lifestyle but the creative freedom it allows is a price worth paying in my book.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt in your years of designing?
It would have to be the unexpected places my designs have lead me to. You just never know when you finish a design where it will end up. For instance Georgina Wright, a weave designer for Kvadrat, bought one of the Heal’s mirrors, which led to us collaborating on a project she had been working on for Elmo Leather in Sweden. We’ve since made lots of fascinating trips to various locations in Sweden, Denmark and Italy. One little blue mirror – how could I have ever have predicted this?
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
The day-to-day journey of discovery, experimenting with colourways, sourcing materials, creating new images or even designing the display or publicity material for a show. I just love every creative aspect of my work.
Any particular highs/lows you’ve experienced?
There’ve been plenty of both. One notable high was when, days after delivering a large commission to a lovely client in Hampstead, they asked for the same again for their houses in France and Norfolk. A few months later there was a great feature about the to-die-for house in The Observer, with lots of my artwork.
As for lows – when The Conran Shop were stocking my cards they approached me about designing a wide range of stationery items – a wonderful opportunity, of course. Some way down the line the buyer apologetically said Terence Conran had decided to design the range instead. I guess losing out to Terence Conran is a pill you can swallow with bubbles.
Do you have any favourite products?
There are definitely certain designs which I’m happiest with, these include Rhythmic Leaves (orange) and Birds and Urchin (powder). Behind the scenes I agonised over the colours and they both went through multiple incarnations. Making a design look simple is in reality incredibly difficult. I’m also especially pleased with the woodblocks – the depth of colour and texture is rich and rewarding and I worked very hard to achieve this look. People often say they adore the soft texture of the wood – it’s so different to working on paper – I’m constantly amazed by the possibilities.
Any advice for up-and-coming designers?
Pay close attention to detail. I was once at a buyers meeting with a smart store who were considering stocking my designs. The head buyer unwrapped my card and unnervingly scrutinised the envelope stating rather gruffly ‘I’m extremely fussy about envelopes.’ When I bought the most beautiful, but pricy, envelopes I’d wondered if anyone would even notice. He did! They do! He then placed a huge order on the spot. Skimp on food, heating, light, water but never ever compromise on materials.
What’s your own home like?
We have an unusual mid-century house in Dulwich, South London. It’s an upside down house with the bedrooms on the ground floor. It makes sense to live at the top of a house to maximise light and views. Period houses are wonderful but what a shame that most of the living goes on in the basement. Furniture-wise someone said of me, and I did laugh, ‘you’re one of the mid-century brigade.’ Well… sort of… but I’m passionate about contemporary design so I hope I didn’t fossilise in 1950!
What inspired you to get involved with the Dulwich Festival?
If you love art and design and you’re interested in houses then Open House events are a must – I visited The Brighton Festival and was hooked. When we bought our house I thought it would be great to take part in the Dulwich Festival as it celebrates the wealth of creativity that the area has to offer. Last year I was amazed at how many people came to our event, so many said my designs really suited the house and they enjoyed learning how I made the work, peeking in sketchbooks and the setting of my studio, within woods.
Find out more about the Dulwich Festival Open House programme>>
See Sarah’s beautiful designs on her website>>