Guess what? I've managed to wangle an interview with the very lovely Emily Lawlor who makes the gorgeous China Jack Mosaics I showed you here. I couldn't be more excited to have the chance to quiz a real, live artist at Modern Country Style.
So, here goes...
Emily, your pieces obviously have a common theme, highlighted by your company name, China Jack Mosaics. Where did the inspiration come from for the concept as a whole?
I did a design degree at Chelsea Art College which involved training in mosaic and ceramic. A fascination with the written word and a love of surface patterns form the basis of my concept for China Jack.
From my childhood, I remember beautiful Irish hand painted china from my great grandmother – it always came out for special occasions – and is tied up with many family memories of eating and drinking together. Much of the china got accidentally smashed one Christmas – and I kept all the fragments – thinking that one day I would make a special mosaic.
Last year, I decided to make something from the broken china – I started thinking about what it represented - memories of cups of tea consumed around the kitchen table with family and friends. Laughter and language (my parents ran a language school). I came across a wonderful quote by Bernard Paul Heroux ‘There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot by much diminished by a nice cup of tea’.
I wanted to combine my love of tea, words and language with colour and pattern. As I laid out the shards of china, I thought it would be interesting to combine wood and ceramic together in a mosaic. I have been collecting wooden printing blocks for many years – they are beautiful objects in themselves.
The union jack is an iconic design – I wanted to interpret it in different ways through use of colours and patterns – and explore the symbolism of ‘having a cuppa’. I then fused all these ideas together into China Jack mosaics.
What inspires you when you design an individual piece?
China Jack mosaics evolve in different ways – I am always looking for new ways to combine pattern and word . Inspiration can come either from a beautiful piece of china that I have sourced - large plates are best - and this will then become the main colour theme for a piece and will often inspire a word or phrase. Or – the mosaic might start with a word – at the moment I am working on ‘BLIMEY’ – which is a word I love. The word BLIMEY is picked out in metal lettering – and the piece is monochrome – I was looking for an opportunity to use some beautiful brown and white ironstone plates which I had. I love Cockney Rhyming Slang and use some of this language as starting points for new designs.
What or who have been your major influences?
I have long been inspired by the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his fantastical mosaics in Barcelona. He uses mosaics in an exciting way – riots of colour and texture following organic shapes. I also remember being influenced by the artist Jasper Johns when I was at art college – his textured and collaged paintings explored the iconic theme of flags again and again.
What brought you to the place where you wanted to launch your own business?
Nearly two years ago I had a log cabin studio built in the garden – which meant I had a dedicated working space after 5 years of not having a studio – finally all my materials and books together in one place – a big workspace where I could make larger scale pieces and leave them in progress – not have to tidy them away. This led to a huge amount of creativity – I was making large hand-felted flowers for a National Trust touring exhibition – and began to turn my mind to developing artworks for selling. This coincided with my developing and teaching a course in Cheltenham called ‘Artisans’ – a low level business start up course for arts and crafts practitioners – and as I was teaching students to write business plans and marketing plans – I starting to develop my own business ideas at the same time. I had made a TEA mosaic for our new kitchen and had a lot of positive feedback from visitors – so I started to think that maybe I could develop this idea to sell.
Do you prefer designing your own pieces or working to commissions?
I enjoy both. I was trained to work to commission – over the past fifteen years since I graduated from Chelsea I have worked on site specific commissions – where I worked to a specific brief related to a place – and I enjoy the rigours of this. But I am now also enjoying exploring my own ideas and developing these in a sketchbook.
Where do you source all your beautiful materials?
I scour car boot sales, flea markets and local antique auction rooms for china. I won a lot of boxes of random china recently at our local auction room and, before I took the hammer to it, my husband checked the contents through and found a pristine Minton tea pot – which was worth much more than all the lots put together – saved from the hammer!
The wooden letter blocks I have been collecting for years from antique shops and markets – they are increasingly hard to source as they have become fashionable – they are valuable objects in themselves. I am currently exploring hand-carved wooden letter blocks made by carpenters in Rajasthan. I also source metal letters from a company in Birmingham – these mosaics have a more modern and crisp feel and the letters give much more flexibility in which words I can use as they are all the right way around!
What are your plans for the future of China Jack Mosaics?
I am currently looking at exhibition spaces and galleries and making a body of work for an exhibition in 2011.
Thank you so much, Emily, for taking the time to chat with me. I'm SO in love with your work. It's been such a privilege to see 'behind-the-scenes' of what you do day-to-day.
Now, onto other news....I had such a fantastic time at my wreath-making course. Thank you so much for all your gorgeous comments. I think I shall declare next week 'Wreath Week' at Modern Country Style so I can show you all that I've learned. Does that sound a good idea?