We have been producing a letterpress calendar for nine years but this year is really special for us. For the first time we have commissioned original artwork from one of our favourite artists, Mark Hearld.
Mark studied at Glasgow School of Art and then at The Royal College of Art; “Tinsmiths” first experienced his work as printed fabric produced by St. Jude’s. In the intervening ten years we have held biennial exhibitions St. Jude’s artists and sold hundreds of metres of their stunning and diverse fabrics. Our sewing room have made innumerable pairs of curtains, blinds and cushions using Mark’s texile designs, much to the delight of recipients.
The idea of commissioning illustrations for this year’s calendar surfaced when Mark commissioned Tinsmiths to make a pretty complicated curtain for the extraordinarily rich interior of his York house. It seemed a good opportunity for an exchange.
Martin Clark, who runs Tilley Letterpress in the neighbouring alleyway here, in Ledbury, has always printed our calendars. During 2016 Martin and Mark worked together to produce some large linocut prints and some smaller hand-coloured line prints for Tinsmiths’ “Spring Life” earlier in 2016, with this background the two were familiar and comfortable in working together on the calendar.
With a shared interest in British Wildlife we settled on a bird a month with a flock of pidgeons for our front cover. Mark’s twelve illustrations have an energy and fluidity that captures characteristics of each species. Thank you so much this collection, Mark and thank you Martin for the care you took in printing them.
To see more details of the calendar and to order on-line follow this link.
Sign-writer Hannah Sunny Whaler’s exhibition “Fairground” in “Little Tinsmiths” shows her incredible control of a simple sable brush and traditional enamel paints to create some very uplifting artworks. Hannah lives and works in Bristol, studied Illustration at Falmouth College of Art and originally hales from Malvern. She usually works to a client’s brief, painting shop signs in most part. For this show she has taken time “off the street” and painted stand-alone signs on mirror and board, using traditional letterforms, scrolls and flourishes and she has thought hard about the phrases and embellishments used traditionally in Fairground and Circus. The result is an explosion of colour and ornament, evocative of the 19th century. Several of the works on show are painted on glass, both mirrored and clear. This gives the painted areas another dimension, adding a “real” drop shadow to the clear glass pieces which are set into a simple metal frame which is easily hung on the wall.
We asked her why, when signage is so readily available at the click of a mouse, are her services so much in demand? “When I paint a sign for a business or for an individual there is a level of involvement that brings the process to life. Standing on a ladder, communicating an idea, the character and personality of the shop and its keeper simply makes a connection with passers by – immediately and in the long term. I think that shopping centres and the built environment have become stale, with signage mostly being impersonal and flat. Humans yearn to see the mark of another – especially if it is, in colour and style, uplifting. I think that’s why I’m so busy.”
To see examples of Hannah’s work, look on-line at Hannah’s area on our website or best of all, make a visit 10-5pm Tuesday to Saturday at 8a High Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1DS 01531 632083, for more information about Hannah see our earlier Blog “Signs of the Times”
We arrived in London last week paint brush in hand and with a sample of Tinsmiths made to measure curtains and blinds, lighting, cushions, rugs, world and artisan textiles, artist prints, homeware and hardware. This area of London has a village feel and is well-worth a visit, away from the frenetic centre but a stones throw from the British Museum.
Our month-long Tinsmiths residency continues until 30th June in a charming little pop-up – a tiny version of our Ledbury shop – adjacent to Pentreath and Hall, 17a Rugby Street, London WC1N 5QT. We hope to welcome new faces and that our on-line customers, designers and press in London and the home counties will call in Monday to Saturday 11-6pm.
A Day Out in Bloomsbury
Here are a few ideas to add to your visit to mini-Tinsmiths this summer.
Textiles at the British Museum, Fridays til 8pm
Interiors at Pentreath & Hall, our very close neighbours
James Smith – it’s June so we’ll call this a parasol shop!
“Found”, Curated by Cornelia Parker at The Foundling Museum
Thomas Farthing Menswear – traditional or ready-to-subvert.
Picture this! 18th century Lyon and a race is on to revolutionise the production of elaborately patterned fabrics.
This race, ultimately, was won by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752 – 1834) whose name is familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in textiles and to many others with no interest at all. In 1801 Jacquard demonstrated his patterning mechanism, which transformed the production of fabrics such as brocade, matelasse and damask.
English Mantua, circa 1708. Bizarre silk in salmon-pink damask with floral and foliate pattern brocaded with polychrome silk and gold metallic file
Prior to this their production had been extremely labour intensive and relied upon master weavers working in conjunction with a ‘draw boy’ who would stand on a perch above the loom and manually lift warp threads, thereby dictating whether the weft sat above or below the warp and thereby creating a pattern. Jacquard, working off the backs of earlier weaver/inventors, created a loom whose warp threads, via their bolus hooks, were controlled by cards punched with holes. The existence, or not, of a hole dictated whether the bolus hook would raise or lower the warp thread via the loom’s harness, therefore creating a pattern. Each card would correspond to the warp positions for one row (i.e. weft insertion) of the design. For example a loom with a 400 hook head might have four threads connected to each hook, giving 1’600 warp ends and four horizontal repeats. However, the jacquard loom is able to create non-repeating panels that might have 1’000s of warp ends and therefore bolus hooks, for examples this design commemorating Jacquard, produced in 1839 and requiring an extraordinary 24’000 punched cards!
Left: Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a loom requiring 24’000 punched cards 1839, Right: A Jacquard loom
Nowadays jacquard looms (or more accurately jacquard heads on dobby looms) are used to create a wide variety of fabrics woven from any fibre. What sets them apart from other textiles is that they are often relatively expensive due to the fact that, although jacquard heads are now digitally programmed, the warping of these looms remains labour intensive. Indeed, looms are often only threaded once, with subsequent warps being tied onto the ends of existing warps.
We recently attended Decorex and were able to view a variety of contemporary jacquards. We were very impressed by the work of the Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company, established in 1903. We had great fun riffling through their archive books. Every fabric they have ever woven has been documented, not only in terms of yarn and design, but also colour, with samples of one-off dyes kept for posterity. (They recently had to match the blue from the end of a Biro for a wealthy client – someone should have pointed out that it’ll look completely different once the lights are turned on!) At the other end of the spectrum we were inspired by the fleece blankets produced by Ian Mankin. These are woven from yarns that are 75% recycled cotton and 25% polyester from reclaimed materials (read plastic bottles!)
The Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company’s ‘Bed of Ware’, festooned in their silk damasks
Ian Mankin’s new range of fleece throws, made from recycled & reclaimed materials and woven on their jacquard looms
So why else might you have heard of Jacquard? Jacquard’s loom, with its punch card programming, is cited as an important step in the history of computing. The series of punch cards were the programme; change the programme and the machine will produce a drastically different result. Furthermore, instead of the process needing to be overseen by a master weaver it could be attended to by an unskilled labourer, highlighting the fact that in the realm of textile production the jacquard loom was key to the industrial revolution. In conclusion the fact that the term ‘jacquard’ is so ubiquitously used to refer to such a variety of not only woven, but also knitted textiles, is testimony to the extent of the revolution that was finally ushered in with Jaccquard’s 1801 demonstration. Styles of fabric that were once the domain of the wealthy became, with time, available to the masses.
Writing signs by hand might be considered anachronistic but Tinsmiths has had a wall waiting for the right writer for ten or so years. Last week, signwriter Hannah Whaler originally from Malvern, brought her brushes and brilliance to Tinsmiths Alley and enlivened the space. Her canvas, long and thin, stretched down the alleyway to Ledbury High Street providing passersby with a harbinger of what they could expect if they followed Hannah’s sign.
Three days of painting and a creation – part fairground, almost steampunk but more than anything a celebration of type with convincing 3D drop shadows – was complete and clients absolutely thrilled with it. Before Hannah (23yrs) departed we asked her a few questions about her career to date.
How did you get interested in hand-painting signs?
I first became interested in hand painted signage when I was at university in Falmouth studying Illustration. We were taught how important it was to be able to understand and work with type, often with illustration your images end up responding to or accompanying text, with book covers and posters especially. Once I started looking into vintage lettering styles (all of which are designed and drawn/carved by hand) my obsession began. I moved from drawing letters to painting them, training myself to use a brush and understanding proportion and layouts.
What sustains your interest?
I’m really inspired by all the traditional cultures that surround and stem from sign painting – so the circus/fairground, canal boats, gypsy wagons… the folk art side of it really interests me. I do a lot of reading up on these things, looking at how the whole culture and way of life of these people feeds into the craft. As well, just the old examples of sign painting I see around me on the street, there are so many examples still standing as bold as ever tens of years after being painted, hidden away amongst the peeling vinyl! Nowadays there is more new stuff out there than there has been for a very long time, there’s an incredibly talented new generation of painters that are hitting the high street and bringing sign painting alive again. It’s so encouraging to see.
What’s the best/worst part of it?
The best part is standing back and seeing something come together from what was just a sketch a day ago. I love how the client can watch that happen too, it’s like magic for them, because you kind of know all along what your plan is and how you want it to turn out, but when they see it form before their eyes it’s exciting stuff. I absolutely love working with small independent businesses, meeting people and creating a piece that will benefit them. The worst part is the cold if you’re working outdoors. You sort of paint with your whole body when working on a large scale, so being relaxed and focused is really important, and thats hard when your frozen stiff from 7 hours painting up a ladder! I also have reynolds desease (poor circulation) so in the cold loose my sensitivity in my hands, making it hard to hold a brush.
What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I’ll painting for a long time to come… But short term future I’d like to be in some kind of apprenticeship. I’m self taught, so I know there is SO much left for me to learn. Skills like gold gilding, more knowledge of materials and processes, they are all more strings to my bow and open up more opportunities and avenues for work. Long term future it would be fantastic to travel with my skills – go abroad and paint for people elsewhere in the world.
Who is your best supporter?
It has to be my old manager, James. He owns the bar that I used to work in (for the last year I have been sign painter by day, waitress by night!) at The Gallimaufry. He was the first person in Bristol to give me a proper sign writing job, then by securing me a waitressing place at The Galli I could afford to move over there and start my new life. Since then he has been my guardian angel, hooking me up with other painters and artists, promoting my work and just being a constant source of support and encouragement. He’s passed on not just contacts and work, but a real spirit of generosity that has formed a big part of my ethos now. And of course my mum and dad, because they are the ones ALWAYS at the end of the telephone whenever they need to be there!
Hannah Whaler will be exhibiting at Tinsmiths in July 2016, if you would like an invitation to the show just e-mail your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.