Lorna Syson is one of the first designers I ever met – I think it was the first time I attended 100% Design, long before I even had a blog. Spotting her friendly face across a vast and unfamiliar trade show is always a lovely surprise! I’ve interviewed her for other publications over the years, but never for my own blog. I thought it was about time to put that right…
Lorna, what’s the most important thing to know about you?
I’m passionate about my work and asbolutely determined to make my business a success.
What inspires your designs?
I am inspired by the natural world around me, be it in the countryside or urban parks and gardens. The wallflowers were inspired by a trip to the Eden project in Cornwall late summer 2008 where I saw a whole garden full of Dahlias. I love that the greatest design can come from the simplest influence. For example, the best selling Juneberry and bird design happened because of some great tits nesting outside our front door. I’d be watching the parents coming in and out all month and one morning was lucky enough to catch one of the chicks on its first flight. The most recent coast and countryside collection is inspired from a trip visiting relatives in Cornwall.
Your products have a midcentury feel and you’ve already mentioned an influence from nature – where does your love of those things come from?
The Songbird collection is inspired by birds visiting my garden when I was growing up and the memories these birds bring when I see them again now that I’m living in London. The midcentury feel is purely my personal taste! My home has a vintage 60s twist on it; we have a set of 60s chairs from my partner’s parents, which I love! It really interests me when a piece of furniture or home accessory has a story behind it. We recently found a chest of drawers with a makers sticker from 1935… after that I was sold! I also worked in vintage shop for a while, which is where I really learnt to appreciate the simple shapes and forms found in Ercol and Eames designs.
Tell me about the story behind the cushion you were showing at 100% Design at the end of last year. I seem to remember that it was inspired by a walk in Cornwall and I’d love to hear more.
The inspiration for these prints came from a New Year’s Day walk with family between Land’s End and Sennen Cove. With seabirds wheeling overhead and the sea far below glittering in the winter sunshine, it was the perfect evocation of wild Cornwall. Looking down from the cliff at the foaming white waves breaking on the dark rocks conjured this image in my mind. Later walking down into Sennen Cove we came across the old winding house. The thought of generations of lifeboatmen pulling out in open rowboats into a raging sea under darkening skies led me to create this pattern.
Talk me through your usual design process from initial inspiration to final product.
All my designs seem to have started with a day off! Just enjoying doing what I love: being inspired by my surroundings. I’ll go out armed with my camera and take hundreds of pictures of all kinds of inspiring imagery. Anything from landscapes to photos purely for colour inspiration. I bring all these photos together and design straight onto my computer using Illustrator. I’ll take aspects from different images, from subject to composition to colour, to create an abstract version of reality. Next is colour testing. I carefully select each colour to make sure it is the right one for each product and that the whole collection looks stunning together. Sampling then happens to ensure I’m happy with the final colours, composition, scale and position. Once any adjustments are made the final step to finish the process is fabric and manufacturer selection. I have to decide on the most suitable fabric, who the best manufacturer will be and exactly how it will be made.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
Definitely the design! I love the moment of inspiration, and bringing all the different colours and shapes together to create the design. I also really enjoy seeing how the design develops over time as I work on it.
What does a really good day and really bad day in the life of Lorna Syson look like?
It’s always great to deliver a commissioned piece to its new home with happy clients waiting. A really bad day is finding out that six more of my lampshades have been crushed in the post!
What are you most proud of?
I really love it when I meet members of the public who are seeing my work for the first time. Even though my work is based on my own personal memories of my holidays and childhood, so many people can relate to my designs. It’s great watching them smile when they see my designs as they evoke feelings of their own personal happy memories of their childhood or family holiday.
What advice would you give to an aspiring surface pattern designer?
My advice would be to believe in yourself, build up great relationships around you, whether that’s with friends, family or mentors for the tough times and when possible, take some time out to really enjoy the good times.
Spend as much time working on the things you don’t enjoy as the things you do.
It’s so important that you establish from the beginning who your target audience are and to have the right product at the right price for them.
Realise that you won’t be doing the things you love such as designing every day – a lot of my time is spent replying to emails and organising deliveries, so enjoy it when you get to do it!
Tell me a secret!
I’m currently working on my next collection, so get ready for more of the great British countryside but this time with more of a woodland theme and a few hints of hidden detail.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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