New Designers

The One Year On Interviews – Melanie Smith and Coral Fowley

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Coral Fowley designs printed textiles, creating scarves and fine art prints the draw inspiration from scientific research and the relationship between light and colour. Melanie Smith is an illustrator and designer, and has launched a creative storytelling product to encourage children to exercise their imaginations.


Tell us the story behind you and your business. How did you become interested in design?

Coral: I can’t put my finger on when I first became interested in the arts or even realised that design was for me. I naturally gravitated towards subjects I could use my hands and be expressive using colour and texture.

Melanie:  I have always loved drawing and art was one of my favourite subjects at school. And when I studied my foundation course, my tutor suggested I should take graphic design further and study it at degree level. I don’t think I was confident enough in my creative abilities at that point in my life, so instead of continuing with a practical arts degree I changed course slightly and studied for a degree in the History of Design & the Visual Arts. Following my degree, I worked in galleries, and then as an arts producer for Artangel. However during this time I began to realise that my own creativity needed a voice, and an outlet, so I went back to college!


Where did you study and what was the most useful thing you learnt from / best things about your course?

Coral: I studied Fashion and Textile Design at the wonderful Winchester School of Art (WSA) and fell in love with print there. At first I had no idea what printed textile design actually was, all I knew is that I could draw until my hand hurt and mix all the colours, which is pretty much still the philosophy I try to live by. After my undergraduate degree I had a very uncreative year before starting my Master’s Degree at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), in Farnham. My MA massively changed my practice, in the most unexpected way. At WSA I was taught how to print and during my time at UCA I learned why I personally print.

Melanie: First of all I completed a Foundation degree in Graphic Design at Brighton University, followed by a Post Graduate year at LCC in Visual Communication.The best things about my course in Brighton was that it was a very practical course, and taught us not just design techniques, but also gave me an understanding of the client side of a design practice. Learning ways of presenting work to your client, so that they get what they need and you can give them your best work, is a challenge, so learning about this was brilliant.And probably the best thing about my Post Graduate course was learning how to iterate and finesse my work. I began to gain a clear understanding of less is more!



What inspired you to start your business?

Coral: In all honesty, I just wanted to create products I would like to buy myself. I wanted/ want to combine my love of print and pattern with the products I am most attracted to.

Melanie: Having worked for other people in my previous career I felt that a new career should perhaps herald a new way of working too. It felt like the right thing to do, and as I’d been working on my own whilst studying I’d got used to creating at home in my study, and I quite liked that.


Give us an insight into your thought process to design your work – where does your inspiration come from?

Coral: My design process is pretty structured compared to most. All of my design inspiration comes from my research into colour and how light is a key factor in colour vision. I draw, paint and play to create visual representations of the theory I am most moved by. It is an interesting balance between reading and making, both undoubtedly inform each other.  It is almost a snowball effect.

Melanie: Much of my inspiration comes from looking and collecting. My time working at Artangel was spent working closely with visual artists who always looked at the world, and at people and places, with an enquiring mind. They saw things differently, and it would always spark an idea. I try and view the world in the same way. I also regularly visit art galleries and museums; there are a lot of interesting things from the past which can inspire future projects! I also collect stuff all the time; I have boxes of postcards, flyers and maps I’ve collected over the years. And I take photographs, lots and lots of photographs!


What materials, methods and tools do you use to make your products? / What one technique, material or tool could you not live without?

Coral: My work, although pretty heavily digital by the end of the process, starts life in a pretty scruffy journal like sketchbook. I never tend to draw or write with a particular product or even outcome in mind, that comes later. I can’t leave the house without my trusty sketchbook and a bunch of fine liner pens. For some reason, I find doodling in pen much more productive; it’s more of a commitment to my ideas. Most weeks I analyse my sketchbook process to see what I can take further, both research and product wise.  This is when I digitalise successful drawings or textures to develop.




Melanie: I always sit down and draw with just a pencil, then I draw over it again using a Rotring pen – which I love using as they allow you to draw such lovely lines. Much of my work is then scanned into my computer and then I begin to colour the drawings and create compositions. I’ve begun using some non-digital colouring methods for some of my newer work.  I am in love with the Tombow colouring pens, which are a new thing for me. And I am revisiting printmaking which is very exciting.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? / What piece of advice would you give to this year’s graduates?

Coral: ‘Be true to your own style, even if you can’t see it.’ I struggled for a little while with all the things which inspire me or grab my attention. I felt like I was stretching myself creatively too thin and did not have a recognisable style. The reason I like to share this advice is because of the ever growing pressures surrounding creatives of all disciplines. Social media and internet platforms are a huge tool to share our work but it’s also easy to compare your work to everyone else’s. The advice, ‘be true to your own style’ is all about having faith in the fact that your work may be a different to someone else’s, yet that doesn’t make it less great.

Melanie: I think it is probably that things always take much longer than you ever expect them to. So, I would say, try and be patient, and know that if you are working hard and you are making good work good things will come your way.


What have you designed that you’re most proud of? / What project are you most excited about at the moment?

Coral: I must admit, even being asked to exhibit as part of the One Year On stand at New Designers this year feels like a massive achievement for me. It has really given me the confidence to do something I have wanted to do for a very long time and launch myself as a designer. I am very excited about launching my new paper goods line at ND 17 and online two weeks before the big event itself. I have never created a collection which is more me (sticking firmly to that great advice) nor have I ever been able to combine my research so closely to my practice.

Melanie: I think it has to be my Walk-in-Book for children. It has taken me 3 years to develop and get it to market but it has definitely been worth the rollercoaster ride. I’ve already had such great feedback from parents and children! It has been really exciting to know that an idea I’ve had, and have made into a tangible product, is out there, right now and it’s helping children be creative and fire up their imaginations to make and write stories. That in itself is a very rewarding feeling.



Where do you want to be One Year On from now?

Coral: This is a great question; to be honest I am so excited for what the year has to offer. I’m going to embark even further down the research path in autumn 2018 when I start my PhD. My research is such a huge part of my practice. My absolute dream for the upcoming year is to successfully launch my new collection at ND17 and make working for myself a reality. One year on I hope to have developed as a designer and a researcher equally. I can’t wait.

Melanie: I would love to collaborate with, or be commissioned by, other companies working in the UK. As much as I like to work on my own projects, it would be exciting to collaborate with others. I’d also love to keep creating and designing new products for children. I’m also writing a children’s book, so it would be great to finish that too!


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