Collette Paterson: OCA textiles tutor
Textile courses are offered by the Open College of the Arts covering a comprehensive range of media and techniques.
The objective is to provide students with a solid foundation upon which their creative capacities will flourish. Starting with the exploration of core issues relating to textile art, students develop their interpretation and application of imagery as well as tactile awareness. Tutors, such as Collette Paterson, help students achieve their artistic potential.
An important element of the program is the incorporation of intellectually stimulating material, including support from tutors who are already established textile artists and designers.
In this series, tutors from the Open College of the Arts will be exploring with us both theoretical and conceptual ideas relating to mixed media for textiles, contemporary practice, and a foundation of traditional skills.
Rebecca Fairley began this series by exploring her flair for the unconventional.
In this second edition, Collette Paterson reveals the impact world cultures have had on both her teaching and her art.
A broad range of outcomes
TextileArtist.org: What kind of work do you make?
Collette Paterson: My textile work is predominantly materials-led, exploring a range of traditional textile as well as non-textile techniques. I currently develop and make textiles, accessories and garments that have a strong focus on fusing material properties to achieve a bold and dynamic outcome, for example, latex and wool or plastics and cotton. I also make intricately constructed jewellery, which can employ textile-making techniques or alternative ways of assembling and building. I try to push the methods of construction as far as the materials will allow, as well as ensuring there is a sense of ‘flow’ in the pieces. By working with materials that wouldn’t usually be placed together, the challenge tends to be to create something that projects their unity, as well as their ability to support or complement each other.
What originally inspired you to specialise in this area?
My creative work cuts across a broad range of outcomes, from working to very commercial briefs for perfume brands to more experimental materials-led experiments and products. I don’t really feel that I specialise in one particular area. My training is in textiles, but I feel as a designer that I am expected to adapt to different outcomes and products and also be able to apply knowledge in colour, materials, pattern, construction, composition, presentation and communication across a variety of fields.
Experimental with materials and techniques
Tell us a bit about your journey as both an artist and a tutor.
My journey has been one of working in diverse design and education cultures.
I initially studied woven textile design at Heriot-Watt University in the Scottish Borders, after which I extended my research into examining and creating tactile textiles for multi-sensory environments for sensory-impaired people. These original areas of focus have led me to always be concerned with building materials and products with a three-dimensional emphasis and considering how people can be led to interact with the materials.
After lecturing in Scotland in design for a couple of years, I moved to Shanghai, China to set up a UK fashion degree at an international design school. It was at a time of extremely rapid growth and huge changes in Shanghai and China as a whole. It was an amazing time to be there and the growing importance and appreciation of the creative industries there was very clear to see. This experience has had a huge impact on both the creative and academic sides of my work.
After five years in Shanghai I moved to London to do an MA in textiles at the Royal College of Art. This was a great outlet to use everything I had learned and also gave me the luxury of time to be very experimental with materials and techniques. I also taught textiles at the University of Brighton at this time, so again I was able to bring my practice into my teaching and let my teaching impact on my design work.
After graduating I moved immediately to Paris to work for the fashion house Thierry Mugler in both their fashion studio and their perfume division. This gave me great insight into the French fashion industry from the market-driven perfume sector to more artisanal fashion and textiles creation. Living in Paris for more than a year and half was a complete luxury, with so much art and design inspiration and history on my doorstep, not forgetting the amazing food and wine too!
I moved back to Scotland from Paris in 2012 to set up my own studio and have been able to combine my design practice with lecturing in textiles and design too. I have recently embarked on a PhD programme of study to allow me to reflect on my experience in China and to consider the future impact of the creative industries there.
When making work, what is your process?
The way I work really depends on the project and whether I am working to a very controlled brief or not, but I do usually allow my material choice to direct the final outcome. For very targeted design projects, I will do a lot of drawing to start and let this thinking on paper and on screen influence my material choice. The material choice and development will then inform further drawing and development. It’s never a linear process, but one of constant experimentation and aiming to refine. If I am focusing on a project that is led by form, then I will always allow the materials to lead it, trying to discover the optimum shapes, construction and means of making. I probably have quite a fickle approach to the making techniques I use.
Both streams of work
What techniques and materials do you use?
My techniques vary from project to project, everything from origami and knotting to needle-punch and laser-cutting/etching. I try to find the best technique for the outcome I am aiming towards. My current work on scarves and garments employs needle punching to fuse latex and wool.
By contrast my recent jewellery collections have grown from an exploration of creating rounded and structured shapes through laser-cutting sheet acrylic, to now integrating the laser-cut shapes with knotting techniques, and letting one inform the other.
What is the specific subject you teach and what does this involve?
I teach textiles at undergraduate and postgraduate level in the institutions I work with. I also teach visual communications, which feeds from the commercial work I do on perfumes and branding.
What attracted you to teaching textiles as a discipline?
I have taught textiles since just after I graduated from my BA (Hons) course. I didn’t plan to teach from the outset, but I do feel having a balance between teaching and making is extremely beneficial to both streams of work. They complement and feed each other in a really exciting way.
Different ways of thinking
How has teaching others impacted your own work?
I think it’s important to be very up-to-date with what is happening in art as much as in commercial design outcomes. To be effective at teaching, I feel you have to be very aware of the current and possible future contexts for new work. I think this approach has led both my own practice and my teaching. Teaching involves a lot of communication and discussion and I feel my exposure to students’ ideas, contexts and mind-sets has encouraged me to retain as broad an outlook on the textiles discipline as possible.
How about a memorable teaching moment?
Working with international students has been the biggest eye-opener for me. The way you think is so important within creative disciplines. Of course there is no right or wrong way to think, but it is a huge challenge to work within an international context to discover how quite different ways of thinking are embedded into a culture. Realising that students perhaps need to be more reassured that taking risks in their work is a positive thing and that failures can be as valuable as successes in the creative process was a key realisation for me.
Do you have a question for the talented tutors of the OCA textile courses? Leave a comment for them below.