Ian Berry: From conception to creation

Ian Berry: From conception to creation

Textile artist Ian Berry has been working for 12 years with Denim. During this time Ian has developed a technique to make the art look like paintings or even photorealism.

Ian creates scenes, portraits, and installations in his chosen material and was proud to be named a 30 under 30 artist in the world. He says:

The work is not just about it being in jeans, it’s just my medium, the way of painting our contemporary lives, out of the of material or time.

In this interview, part of our From conception to creation series, Ian walks us through the process of making his 2017 installation The Secret Garden, which is on view at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, until April 2018.

Name of piece: The Secret Garden
Year of piece: 2017
Size of piece: Installation (3m high, 12m long)
Materials used: Denim
Techniques/methods used: Laser Tech, Hand Cut, Stitching

Ian Berry, The Secret Garden

Ian Berry, The Secret Garden

Beyond closed doors

TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?

Ian Berry: When I was asked to do a site-specific installation for the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York I already had a piece on loan from a client in the city, which had just shown somewhere else. It was Behind Closed Doors, which you actually wrote about in 2016.

I had thought of using that as the basis of the piece. Making the whole steps into denim and turning the walls and ceiling, just like the picture with pictures frames and denim wallpaper, with the original artwork at the top.

That would have been the easy option, but I really started to think about the children and how to try and engage them the most. I also had the window in the entrance of the museum, so I decided to put the piece in there.

It made me think of the lady in Behind Closed Doors, and my own thoughts of what she was thinking, that I had never previously revealed, leaving it to the viewer, which I know they did.

While I was making the BCD, I was thinking of a woman with a perfect home but the children had grown up, leaving the nest empty. As I know the home in the picture, if you look on, not up the stairs, I knew the garden was at the back. It made me think of the garden being full of the laughter of kids playing once upon a time.

Ian Berry, Behind Closed Doors

Ian Berry, Behind Closed Doors

Ian Berry, BCD Entrance

Ian Berry, BCD Entrance

The idea of the garden started to develop

With further thought, again always with children in mind, it made perfect sense. I also thought of the kids in New York, many, while benefiting from growing up in an inspiring city, may not have a garden.

I also loved the community and village spirit in New York when you delve deeper and find the urban gardens there special, especially when you find a small gap in the spaces between the buildings that have been taken over by gardeners.

Yes, they have amazing parks. But, with busy parents, how many get to go? I also thought about city living and being working parents. I grew up in Yorkshire with a garden, and near some great woods. I didn’t grow up with ipads and all the other things like today. It seems easy for a parent to let their kids on them for hours and for themselves to get on with other things. Don’t yell at me, I am a parent. I know.

I not only thought about the child but the experience with the parent. I wanted them to go around together looking and seeing the different things in the mystical world, and to relook at the world around them. I would love for the parent to take the child to go and see the local community garden, or home to experiment with denim.

I’d love for the parent to put the phone down and experience with the child, this world. Ok, maybe a photo or two!

Ian Berry, Example of NY Community Garden

Ian Berry, Example of NY Community Garden

And finally, I am from a family of teachers. All my family, and extended, are or have been teachers. Over the years I have loved to go into schools and show my work and do projects. But on this occasion, it was nice to get something in the show that I really thought could amaze them.

I put a cotton plant at the entrance at the show, I would imagine not many would realise their jeans were made from that, so, and forgive me…

From plants to pants, to plants again.

Ian Berry, From plants to pants

Ian Berry, From plants to pants

The child’s eye

What research did you do before you started to make?

I’d spent a lot of time in New York and would often seek out the hidden community gardens that you could find in the small gaps in the city. It is always nice in such a big city to find the communities that do bond together and even though so large, areas can have a village feel.

I’m blue, not green fingered, and I did have to further research plants. I was going to go advanced and knowing it would show over winter think about how that would look, however, I just thought on aesthetics and the best effect and while I had blooming flowers, I also put fallen leaves on the ground.

When I knew it would come down in Spring I had wondered about putting spring flowers in before it closed. In truth many plants were even inventions, thinking more of the child’s eye, and possibly what they could recreate.

Ian Berry, Rose (detail)

Ian Berry, Rose (detail)

But the biggest research? I was a child and lived my childhood what now seems a long time ago. But I grew up with very little inspiration around me to think art was a career option.

I believe what the museum is doing is incredible and it is an honour to show there, where many amazing artists have shown before. It’s important we show the children the value of art, inspire them, encourage them, help develop them.

I kept thinking of the little Ian Berry growing up in Huddersfield. I would have loved a place like this, so on the tiring nights installing and the planning beforehand, thinking of those kids, if only just one I could help believe in themselves, then it would be just amazing.

So, While the piece is perhaps not the best example of my real work, I believe my inner desire to help creative young souls was rewarded with smiles and looks of wonder.

Ian Berry, Benny in The Secret Garden

Ian Berry, Benny in The Secret Garden

Of course, I’m more known for my work in with the scenes and portraits, but I had experience of making installations with the Launderette, News stand and CCTV control room, for example. But this one was another level.

Ian Berry, Launderette Installation. Photo credit: Antonia Palou

Ian Berry, Launderette Installation. Photo credit: Antonia Palou

Ian Berry, Laundromat Installation. Photo credit: Lucinda Grange

Ian Berry, Laundromat Installation. Photo credit: Lucinda Grange

Ian Berry, News stand Installation

Ian Berry, News stand Installation

Ian Berry, CCTV Control Room Installation

Ian Berry, CCTV Control Room Installation

Was there any other preparatory work?

There was, of course, a lot of prep work on it, but as it was one of the first times I had enlisted some help, in the first few weeks I felt more like a project manager than an artist. Trying to get all the timings right and all the people on board and the things in the right place, at the right time.

It was only afterwards that my assistant who helped me in New York pointed out when we stood back ‘Ian, it looks just like your sketch’ which is amazing as the sketch was rubbish!

Ian Berry, The Secret Garden

Ian Berry, The Secret Garden

The prep work was a lot to do with the space, and miscalculations as I’m totally off now with inches and feet, it means nothing to me and the space was actually a bit bigger, or longer than expected.

It was working out which was the best denim to use and also how to apply it to the ceiling. How to make things safe especially as its children, and how to get everything from Italy, France, the UK across the Atlantic and to install in time.

While I work 3D on my 2D work, I have only made a few installations so in some ways I was learning new things, it is actually the first time I used a glue gun. And didn’t my fingers know it!

I was practising how to make flowers before making more of them, learning new techniques, even for me it was fun learning new ways to use the denim. I feared many times that individually it was more crafts, but do believe on the whole, as a whole it is a piece of art. Especially the Trellis.

Ian Berry, trellis

Ian Berry, trellis

Cone Denim

What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?

Well, as you know, I use denim in my work. Much of the time I use worn denim or have been sent denim by brands. Many of the plants were made this way, but the trellis, which for me is the main part of the work and installation was all made out of a very special denim.

It was very bittersweet that Cone Denim gave me some of the last ever denim from White Oak. It was the last major factory in the USA to keep producing denim and it’s so sad that it has closed down. You cannot get now, in large quantities at least, denim in the USA. Can you believe that? No more all-American denim.

They thought it would be a good tribute to this amazing place, 112 years in production to use this denim in the installation and in New York City. I was given two rolls and only can hope I did them proud.

The Cone name lives on in plants in China and Mexico, so I’m glad this historic name that has been there all along in the modern denim story, is still living. I did use other donations to make the plants and it is good to teach the children about recycling, and resourcefulness.

For me, it was a first time to use florist wires and foams inside the denim. It keeps it interesting and it was also nice to work in a new way, after normally working months on the labour intensive work that I do.

Ian Berry, Wisteria

Ian Berry, Wisteria

What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?

Normally it is me, my hands, scissors and glue. I like that it is simple. I often say, no paint, no bleach, no dye. Just jeans. This time, the rulebook went out the window!

While Obviously I was still cutting and glueing, I introduced some new tools. As previously mentioned, for the first time, since school at least, I used a glue gun. It would be unless in my normal work, but for this perfect, for the speed, it would dry, and strongly glue together especially on more 3D pieces.

The more interesting tools were the laser machine and specialist denim washing. I was flying back and forth to my friends in Italy, a company called Tonello, a leader in the laundry and laser technology and at the forefront of sustainable technologies, which I hope we could all agree, is something important for the industry and the world.

Ian Berry, Working at Tonello

Ian Berry, Working at Tonello

For the trellis, it would have taken a few years to cut out the vines and leaves. Besides, it would have been very hard manually cutting and in doing so distressing the shape it would have fallen apart. This way I could see out my vision and I let this technology in my world.

While I have always prided myself on using just my hands in my work, it was good to think, I’m using the tools that the denim industry is using in their production – so it doesn’t feel too far off my original vision and concept of using denim.

As well as cutting the denim, I also ‘etched’ on the denim with the laser. About ten years ago I did play with bleaching, but not only is bleach bad for the world, it was unpredictable on the denim and dangerous to use, this almost does the same effect but better. I also used this a few years ago but didn’t like it so never visited again until now, as I saw it as a tool on its own, but it’s only when you combine it with other tools like the laundry, do I see it as a perfect piece of equipment for art.

Using their washing machines, using ozone technology to make different shades and contrasts is a great thing and something I am interested in using in future. We need less waste and less water usage in denim production and these are perfect examples. The consumer should be demanding jeans made this way.

They were fantastic to work with, so helpful and knowledgeable – and they are right in the heart of the Italian denim world. For me, it was amazing to work in a place where in would walk many denim world icons, and you’d have great conversations.

Back to the work, I would say I’m more known for, I will be keeping that more handmade style, there may be smaller things I could use it for, but for the installs, with this tech, anything is possible.

Ian Berry at work

Ian Berry at work

Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage.

Rather than Stage by Stage, how about country by country


Working in the studio on plants, flowers, animals, as well as organizing all the many people who were working with it on me. Cutting, experimenting, Researching. Of course, the original piece, Behind Closed Doors was made here in my studio.


Working with Tonello we would laser cut the Trellis and etch on the denim different designs. When etching we would then wash to create better effects, because of this, I would then hand cut.

Ian Berry, Lasered leaf

Ian Berry, Lasered leaf


Many of my friends I have made over the last few years volunteered to help make some plants to go along the path. These then could be stuffed on location in New York.

Organised by Patricia Catharla I’m so grateful for the skilled people she got working away in a village in France to make many different plants.

Ian Berry, Path

Ian Berry, Path

New York

I arrived in New York over two weeks before the opening. The many boxes had been sent to the museum, but still a lot had to be done.

When seeing the space I had to locate another laser machine to cut more for the trellis. I also had to hand cut more flowers, leaves, and stuff the plants, as well as make the path.

The installing was both fun, and stressful. Fun mainly because of the assistants I had, with both knowledge of denim and New York. They were great, especially Christine Rucci. I had many helpers and we were going to the many hardware stores and all over the florist district to get more props and materials.

Below is a little film of the making.


The Making of the Garden in New YorkWhats your favourite part of the installation or your own childhood memories of gardens? __________________________________ Location | Children's Museum of the Arts New York on until April 2018Partners Technology | TonelloDenim | Cone Denim White OakIllustrator | Sergio WheelDenim Consultant | Christine RucciFilmFilm by | @SeanRiller with additional filming by Antonio PalouPhoto by | Lucinda Grange Music | That's the One by Heavy Empty Spaceft Jesse Smith Jasper SmittySupportTricia Betz Carey Timmy Ho Bettina Kongsgaard Patricia Cathala Florence Cathala Chantal Dupont Logan Hatchett Holly Brown Dan Sperling Åsa Berry Jennifer Steele-Payne BPD Washhouse Denim NYC Factory Christine Escanes

Posted by Ian Berry Art on Thursday, January 11, 2018


What journey has the piece been on since its creation?

The piece only opened in New York in December and will be on ‘til April, I have already had a lot of requests to show it at other venues, fairs and festivals, so we will see.

It was created very much for the children in mind and some of its qualities was on making the best environment for them, as much as showcasing my own art. I could adapt it, having said that it seems to have had universally positive reviews and of course could be adapted for other venues.

Ian Berry with the Secret Garden Trellis

Ian Berry with the Secret Garden Trellis

Read Ian’s interview with TextileArtist.org here.

For more information visit: www.ianberry.org or find him on Instagram

Got something to say about the techniques, materials and processes used by Ian? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

FREE E-BOOK: How my journey into textile art began, a fascinating insight into the work of textile artist Sue Stone
Saturday 17th, March 2018 / 13:30

About the author

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8 Comments on “Ian Berry: From conception to creation

  • Thank you very much for this excellent material you send weekly!
    Loved the work with denim and the result!
    Congrats to the way you let us learn about different textile artists!

  • Sherron Pampalone

    Once again, you’ve showcased an artist that I would never have known about! How interesting, I want to go to that one! Thank you!

  • My mum (who died last year aged 97) always recycled the family denim. She recovered all the deck chairs, made cushions and useful bags with artistic detail. I have been making my own bags, hats and jackets by recycling Denim too, since the 1960s. Still using a bag I made in 1980 sized and pocketed for my Open University folders. Denim is tough stuff. Regards M

  • Thank you for all the interesting and educational content. I appreciated learning about Ian Berry and his work – fabulous – and inspiring.


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