What do most surface pattern designers want for their patterns?
To have a long, prolific and extensive life, well past the lifetime of the designer!.
One word describes it all: “timeless”
This is exactly what Lucienne Day has achieved with her patterns.
The freshness and originality of her work has ensured that her patterns are still relevant today as they were in the 1950’s, when she first begun her career.
If you’re not yet acquainted with Lucienne Day, then let me tell you a little bit about her.
She was born Desiree Lucienne Conradi, 1917 in England. She was half-Belgian and was lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family. Lucienne discovered her aptitude for printed textiles at the Royal College of Art, where in her final year, she met the furniture designer Robin Day. They married in 1942.
Together, they were the English version of the well-known American design couple Charles and Ray Eames.
How did she come into the limelight?
Before the post war era, pattern had been much more intensive and busy to look at – think the 19th-century world of William Morris, Charles Voysey and John Ruskin.
For Lucienne, it was a case of designing the ‘right things’ at the ‘right time’.
The Festival of Britain in 1951 marked the ‘right time’ in Day’s career. She made this opportunity her own and took full advantage of it by showcasing her talents, designing new and innovative textiles as well as wallpapers for the Homes and Garden Pavillion.
Her work, “Calyx”, an art-inspired furnishing fabric she created for a room setting designed by her husband, was a full blown sensation with its striking colours and daring abstraction.
Not a coincidence, Calyx was a work very much influenced by international trends in art at the time. In Calyx you can see shades of Kandinsky and homages to Miro and Alexander Calder all blended with her own idea of pattern and colour.
This pattern design made way for a new aesthetic that she explored for the rest of her life.
As you can see, it’s a simplistic and abstract design with what seemed at the time an unusual colour combination.
Lucienne’s success at the Festival lead to her fabrics, ranging from bold geometric figures to subtle abstract patterns, being produced by companies as diverse as Heal’s and Liberty of London.
Today we are used to designers working internationally, but during the early post-war period this was much rarer: an indication of Lucienne Day’s high standing was that she was also sought after by French, German, Swedish and Norwegian manufacturers.
What have I learnt from her?
There are three important things that stand out for me, which seem to keep repeating in my life..
1. Lucienne was a versatile artist who loved to experiment:
Her works can be found in a wide range of items – carpets, wallpapers, tea towels, and ceramics as well as textiles. You can also find her work on a pair of Converse shoes.
How cool is that!
During the 1960s she experimented with painterly textures, bold geometric abstracts and flat florals, using bright contrasting colours to dramatic effect. Her interest in architecture was also reflected in some of her patterns.
The bottom line: Be as versatile as you can be! Go outside of your comfort zone and experiment and then when you think you’ve experimented enough experiment some more.
Try various tools (different brushes, pens etc.), new mediums (watercolours, ink, crayons, oil paints, spray paints etc), play at new ways of making patterns, really your imagination is the limit.
2. I so love the way Lucienne’s use of handrawn, abstract and loose motifs:
This brought about a huge shift in the way we think of, and construct, pattern today. She basically pioneered the introduction of modern abstract pattern design in the textile industry.
Lucienne did not conform to the general direction of pattern design of her time. She thought outside of the norm and brought about a major shift that influenced future generations.
The bottom line: It’s okay if your work doesn’t fit into any one genre – just keep working at it and keep looking for inspiration far and wide.
Her colour combinations were at the time very different to what most people were used to. So, don’t be scared to experiment with colour and enjoy the process of seeing colour come alive in your patterns.
Lucienne Day was a remarkable woman in so many ways; there is much to learn from her and her truly brilliant textiles.
I hope you have been inspired by the fantastic work of Lucienne Day.
N.B For further insights, check out the following links.
-Lucienne Day obituary
-An interview of Robin and Lucienne Day with Wallpaper magazine, December 2008.
-V&A Lucienne Day archives