Studio Visit

Joanna Fowles

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
5th of April 2013
Sydney textile designer and shibori specialist Joanna Fowles in her Rosebery studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Scarves and test swatches hang in Joanna's colourful studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Studio details.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Sydney textile designer Joanna Fowles, aka the most photogenic designer we have EVER featured on The Design Files, in her Rosebery studio.  This woman seriously does not take a bad photo!  Photo - Phu Tang.
My goodness.  I cannot tell you how difficult it was to cull photos from this beautiful shoot with Sydney-based textile designer Joanna Fowles!  Our talented Sydney photographer Phu Tang really has outdone himself... or could it be that Joanna is just the most photogenic person we have EVER interviewed!?  Quite possible.  This woman does not take a bad photograph!  Anyway, I think I will have to put all the outtakes on Facebook later today... there are many more beauties I couldn't squeeze in here! But come on now, let's not be too distracted by Joanna's impressively radiant glow (!!), which is a tad frivolous, given how ridiculously clever and busy and utterly prolific she is! Joanna is originally from England, and first moved to Sydney in 1998.  She returned to London for six years, but moved back here permanently in 2011.  Joanna says this time it's definitely for good - 'I love it here, and now there is a baby on the way too!'.  Okkkk so maybe that explains the radiant glow! (congratulations Jo!). Joanna is a textile designer, printer, dyer and digital crafter.  She is what I would call a serious craftsperson.  Yes.  You know what I mean.  One of Joanna's specialist skills is Shibori - a traditional Japanese form of textile dyeing.  But her practice is actually surprisingly varied - she experiments with wood, paint, dye, photography and screen-printing techniques to produce a great variety of abstract and geometric designs on fabric.  She takes commissions, she sells her work online, she collaborates with other artists and designers, she teaches part-time at university, and she takes weekend workshops.  She has also sold and exhibited her work internationally, to clients including Louis Vuitton!  Do pop over and check out Joanna's portfolio site and online shop for a good look at all these amazing happenings. Aside from working on her own practice, Joanna also teaches at Megan Morton's amazing School in Sydney, and she has some workshops coming up at Harvest Textiles in Melbourne too!  Upcoming classes are listed below... jump on it people, these will sell out!

Upcoming classes with Joanna Fowles at The School (Sydney) -

April 6th - Full Day screen printing April 27th - Shibori May 11th - Mother's Day block print June 2nd - Screen printing Book here for classes at The School

Upcoming Classes with Joanna at Harvest Textiles (Melbourne)

12-14 April - 3 day shibori, screen printing and dye methods 24-26 May - 3 day shibori, screen printing and dye methods Book here for classes at Harvest Textiles Massive thanks to Joanna for joining us today and for sharing her beautiful work.  Jo has also recently joined forces with Kate Banazi, another brilliant Sydney designer, to launch a collaborative product range which we will share with you in depth on Monday!  Too much, too much.  
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study, what prompted you to move from London to Sydney in 2011 and what path led you to what you're doing now?
I've had a fascination with fabric and pattern ever since I can remember. I guess it feels like a constant thread through my various career paths as a stylist, screen printer, textile designer, digital crafter and dyer. It's always about fabric. I left London for Sydney in 1998 with the intention of a short visit. A few months turned into eight years. I worked in creative fields at fashion magazines and freelance styling before deciding to change tack, follow my passion, get my hands dirty and do an intensive year long screen printing course at TAFE. My first real start was setting up a screen-printing studio in Sydney with another graduate. We created soft furnishings label Perry & Fowles printing everything ourselves. It was a huge learning curve. After several years I returned to London to work and study textile design at Chelsea College of Art. My focus shifted towards more digital applications within textiles and combining those with hand processes. To have time to study, focus on process and not commercial or production constraints enabled me to have the freedom to explore and develop my work conceptually and develop my aesthetic. I returned to Sydney, nearly two years ago now, for love. It felt like a massive leap of faith but it was worth it - I have a new family here, two wonderful step children and now have a baby on the way too!  I am so, so happy to be back here again and to call Sydney my home. My career here has grown organically combining different elements into something really exciting. I have the brand Joanna Fowles with a capsule collection of hand printed and dyed scarves, I freelance in textile design, teach at university part-time and host workshops at Megan Morton's The School in Sydney and at Harvest Textiles in Melbourne. It's great to be back in Sydney and be part of the creative community here. I share a lovely warehouse studio space with Kate Banazi at the back of the amazing store Koskela, and have now set up a collaborative project, L.O.T.S or Line On The Side, with Kate. I spend lots of time experimenting, dyeing and printing at my studio as resident Textile designer at Koskela. No day is the same and it's an exciting time. I feel pretty lucky right now!
Joanna looking through her archives.  Photo - Phu Tang.
You're a resident teacher at Megan Morton's The School where you are the master of printed and dyed textiles, regularly hosting screen printing, block printing and shibori dyeing workshops. We particularly love the shibori technique you are famous for – can you elaborate on this style?
Shibori dyeing is one of the most exciting dye processes, because each time you dye with Indigo a little bit of magic happens. Unlike other dye methods, Indigo dyeing involves suppressing oxygen from the vat. This means that when fabric is removed from the vat it magically changes colour in front of you, from a wacky lurid green gradually to a beautiful deep blue with exposure to oxygen. I won't tire watching fabric transform in colour right in front of my eyes. It’s a unique colour used all around the world, from traditional Japanese Shibori Indigo, African Adire cloth, even denim for jeans which originated in France. We all seem to be intrinsically attracted to indigo blue.
How would you describe general design aesthetic?
I have a love of both order and chaos. I naturally want to create mess and then impose a structure or pattern onto it in order to contain it. It seems to be a running theme in all my work. I try to create a aesthetically pleasing combination of chaos and obsession often using geometrics, grids and spots.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? What materials do you use? How do you approach the creation of a new textile design? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively?
I use different dyes, indigo and printing inks in the textiles that I sell. If I am working digitally the materials I use can differ. I love to use elephant paper and work on a large scale. I will often use charcoal, wood, paint and photography to make and build shapes and patterns. The way I approach a design depends entirely on if I am working to a brief from a client or if I am working for myself. If it's for a client there will be set design boundaries or guidelines. If it is for myself I tend to work more intuitively and let the materials or a reference guide me.
Dyeing!  Photo - Phu Tang.
Where or who do you draw inspiration from?
Good design, geometric pattern, lines, grids and spots. I never tire of them and return to them again and again. Colour, fashion and fabric. The list of inspiration is very long, as so much inspires me and my work. Inspiration often comes from looking intently, finding the bits that excite me and adapting those elements to suit my own aesthetic. Inspiration can come from a building, place, artist or the environment around me. Artists whose work I regularly return to for inspiration include Yayoi Kusama for her obsessive mark making, Louise Borgeouis for her beautiful textile art collection that I saw in London two years ago blew my mind, Cy Twombly for his instinctive mark making and stunning colour palettes, Agnes Martin for her simplicity and geometric order, and Ellsworth Kelly for his collages. Geometric pattern is something I return to again and again. I gather and love to display all my inspirational imagery to group it and arrange it. I will create sketchbooks from this information and create inspiration walls in my studio that I feed from and refer to to inform my designs.
Details from Joanna's studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.
You've recently started collaborating with Kate Banazi to produce your combined side project L.O.T.S. or Line On The Side. How did this partnership come about and what screen printed goodness can we expect to see from L.O.T.S?
We were both bizarrely following each other on Instagram and then randomly met in The Standard Store in Surry Hills last August. We hit it off and the idea of a collaboration blossomed. Now she can’t get rid of me, we share a studio space and a collaborative idea has become a business.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
On studio days I get to work before 9.00am, do a little bit of admin and emails, and then get going with prep for dyeing or printing. This might be dye colour testing, which is quite involved, as every colour has to be mixed, tested, dried then steamed and washed before a fabric colour can be determined. Or I could be hand painting and screen printing fabrics. I'll often pop over to visit Megan and her team at The School for a catch up or to plan or prep for a workshop that’s on at the weekend there. Lunch breaks are dangerous as Kitchen by Mikes is in the same building. Afternoons will often involve hand painting bigger pieces such as the blankets for L.O.T.S and other concentrated time consuming pieces. I'll then try to get home early to have time with the kids and have a bit of a chill with them before working till later at home on the computer. Workshop or teaching days are different. If it’s a university day I will often have a jam packed day teaching several classes of up to 80 students. We spend most of our time in the print room experimenting and I tutor them one-on-one in their chosen direction. At the moment I am tutoring third and fourth years. It's always pretty hectic in the print room but there is a great print technician Phil on hand to help. It's hugely inspiring to see what the students come up with. I find it really exciting. Workshop days are just as enjoyable. They run for either several hours, a full day or a more involved three day intensive course. I find them tremendous amounts of fun because we get people from all different backgrounds coming and no class is ever the same. Some people have no experience and others are obsessive textile people that I call 'repeat offenders', they just keep booking in for more workshops! I never tire of teaching classes because each student always brings something unique to the workshop and I always get a great buzz out of sharing a process with people. It’s a huge amount of fun that never really feels like work.
Screenprinting in the studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?
I cannot go more than a couple of hours without my beloved Instagram. To me it's an entire community that inspires me and offers direct feedback on things that I am up to. I follow some wonderfully creative inspiring people from all over the world and those little insights each day into these people's worlds is just amazing. I like the connection and getting feedback from someone who shares your passion too who will make a little comment on your work from the other side of the world. Pinterest is a treasure trove of beautiful imagery – when on deadline I have to limit my time on there. Kinfolk Magazine is the best magazine. The photography is stunning and I love the independent community and philosophy it embraces. I always discover great pattern inspiration over at Patternity, and another great site is Synaptic Stimuli.
Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Kate Banazi is the best screen printer with a wicked sense of humour. Bruce Slorach and Sophie Tatlow from Utopia Goods are good friends and I love their great range of Australian inspired prints and beautiful products. The Standard Store and Collector Store both provide a stand out independent retail experience. The unstoppable whirlwind force of inspiration and ideas that is Megan Morton. Lara, Jess and Emma from Harvest Textiles – three creative girls who feel like my Melbourne family, they're such generous sharing people who produce exciting bold screen printed textiles. And finally Jennifer Loiselle a great friend, now living in London but she counts because she’s Australian. She creates exquisite oversized jewellery.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Selling work to Louis Vuitton at Indigo trade fair Paris, it was the first digital design I sold and a really happy moment!
What would be your dream project?
A pattern cutter, machinist and lots of beautiful fabrics at my disposal to dye, print and turn into a capsule clothing range. It’s the next project on the list.
What are you looking forward to?
I can honestly say the next organic step, whatever that might be. To me it's about feeling fulfilled creatively and being surrounded by like minded people. Having moved recently to my new spacious studio space I would love to see my ventures L.O.T.S and Joanna Fowles Textiles flourish and grow into something bigger. That is a tantalizing thought.
Studio mess!  Photo - Phu Tang.


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
I still can’t quite get over the fact that I live five minutes from the ocean, so I guess it just has to be Bondi. The big skies and that lovely line of horizon that gives the endless feeling of space. Something I never had in London.
Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?
I am in love with Bunnings warehouse, you can find so much in there including shibori essentials such as G-clamps and twine.
Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
A good friend of mine's brother has a new restaurant/bar called The Old Growler in Kings Cross, it has good food and a really nice vibe.
Where would we find you on a typical Sydney morning?
At the moment with the amount of activity on my plate, I start my morning with a mini lie in with my partner, the only time in the week we usually get to ourselves. I love making a big breakfast. Then it’s a dash off to host a workshop at The School or a leisurely morning spent pottering in my new studio space.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
I’m not sure it’s so secret now but it's still a gem. Wendy Whiteley’s garden in Lavender Bay is the most beautiful random reclaimed community garden. It's close to my partner's mother's house and we love having picnics or taking a flask of tea and finding a nice spot to have catch ups.
More of Joanna's beautiful hand-dyed scarves hanging in the studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.

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