Mandy and Alice Pattullo: Drawing support
Mandy Pattullo is a textile artist and tutor, known for her textile collages. Her book Textile Collage was published by Batsford this autumn. Coincidentally, Mandy’s illustrator daughter Alice Pattullo also released a book this autumn: An Animal ABC, a children’s picture book published by Batsford’s sister company Pavilion.
Here they talk about their creativity and how they support each other through the artistic process.
A passion for textiles
TextileArtist.org: Mandy, have you always been creative, from childhood? How did you get into textile art?
Mandy Pattullo: I was always making things as a child, flat Suffolk puffs threaded onto string to make clowns, clothes for my Cindy and troll and I was backed up by my grandmother who made clothes for me and knitted and made clothes for my dolls too. I still have these!
I picked up the passion for textiles though in the late 1970s through joining Laura Ashley scrap bag pieces into patchwork quilts and I eventually did a degree in Surface Pattern which allowed me totally to indulge in all things decorative, embroidered and printed.
I taught textiles full-time at Newcastle College for several years before resigning to go back to my practice. I was sick of enabling everyone else’s creativity and not having time to do things for myself. I still teach, but to small groups, and have now time to indulge in following my own ideas.
Alice, would you say you had a creative upbringing? Did you enjoy art & creative activities together when you were a child?
Alice Pattullo: Yes, we were brought up into a very creative household and always encouraged, if not made to draw and ‘do’; mum has no time for idleness…so would think up new activities and projects for us to do.
The kitchen was and is still the hub and heart of the home, so we would all work together there at times; I can remember as a young child drawing and painting there, marbling papers, collaging, I particularly loved being allowed to rummage through mums collage suitcase, right up until working on my A level art exams before I left home.
Mandy, would you say you consciously wanted to make sure Alice had the opportunity to explore art and design from an early age, or did it just happened naturally?
MP: We always took the children to museums and art galleries and forced the children to join in art sessions in galleries and Young Embroiderers Guild. I think we encouraged their aesthetic standards by buying only the best picture books and surrounding them with art on the walls and art books on the shelves. If you have a passion for something yourself it is easy to pass it on to child.
Paints and other art materials were always available and artwork produced by children was valued, kept and displayed. Many of our friends are artists too so there was always talk around the kitchen table of what people were doing, what they had seen, what they had read and I think this created an environment which encouraged exploration of making and designing.
Making independent decisions
Did Alice get into particular artists and styles or media through being introduced to them by Mandy?
AP: Yes I think to begin with I probably was very influenced by things mum showed me or exhibitions she took me to, as well as her work, which I don’t resent at all – It provided me with a good base to grow from and I still love coming home at Christmas and being able to look at all their art books, and see what mum’s up to, but I did relish going to university and finding my own influences and inspirations and making independent decisions about things I like.
A lot of the artists I found on my own, of course, mum was completely aware of but part of the interest and excitement is coming across someone yourself. We still, admittedly less now we are both so busy, send each other letters and postcards from exhibitions we have been to that we think the other might like.
Do you have similar, or varied, tastes in art now? Do you ever go to exhibitions together, for example? Do you ever introduce each other to new artists, designers, makers etc.?
MP: We love going to exhibitions together. Recently we have been to see the Louise Bourgeois room at the new Tate Modern extension and the Bedlam exhibition at the Wellcome Institute also gave us food for thought. We don’t just go to exhibitions of textiles and illustration but like anything that stimulates ideas.
We both love the printed word and second-hand books and collect tear sheets from magazines and newspapers, which are organised into visual diaries or scrapbooks. It is a treat for both of us to visit each other and look at these resource books and see what is newly stuck in. We share links to artists and designers we like and often talk about what we have seen in shops or at shows.
We especially share a passion for folk art and naïve decoration and painting. Alice is jealous that I have been to the major folk collections in Sweden, but Alice has seen much in Eastern Europe that I haven’t visited. We have no problems buying presents for each other as our taste is so similar we just have to buy something we really want ourselves and then reluctantly give it away.
AP: We do have crossover in our tastes, particularly folk art and outsider art like mum says, so it is a treat to see exhibitions of this genre together. I recently visited the folk collection at the American Museum in Bath on mums recommendation; it didn’t disappoint, but I think we also have quite individual interests too.
I live in London and probably don’t take enough advantage of the wealth of galleries we have here but do make the effort to see something I’m really excited about – I particularly loved the Ravilious show at Dulwich Picture Gallery last year and earlier this year the Soviet Children’s Book illustration exhibition at House of Illustration was great inspiration for me – much of the work was images I had pored over in books, so to see it in the flesh was such a treat.
I actually find Museums over art galleries more inspiring myself, as the objects and artefacts have interesting stories and meanings imbued in them which is very much what stimulates the content in my own work. I love the V&A and the British Museum.
I’ve discovered a new found interest in science and medicine as I’ve grown older which I think I disregarded when I was younger, so love to visit the shows at the Wellcome collection and read a lot more non-fiction and pop science books than I ever have.
A happy balance
Mandy, by its very nature most of your work will be handmade, but do you use digital software at all? And Alice, how much of your process is hand-drawing & hand-printing vs Photoshop etc.?
MP: I do not use any digital software in the making of my work (though I can) but make the most of social media in the form of Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook in order to aid research and market my business. I set up my own website, manage an online shop, send out newsletters to a large database. All of this is enough sitting in front of a screen so it makes the hand sewing even better when I turn off the computer and turn to the needle.
AP: I definitely spend a lot more time in front of a screen than I think I would like to but essentially everything starts off by hand. I work in notebooks and sketchbooks drawing in brush and ink; this is the process that is most instinctive to me and the part that I enjoy the most. These drawings I then scan, colour and compose in Photoshop for commissioned illustrations – this just means it is quick and easy to make edits to the illustration, which is sometimes essential when working to tight deadlines.
When working on my own work I will often try and cut out the computer; I might draw straight to film for screen print layers for example but generally I have found a happy balance of analogue and digital within my work.
I don’t have a computer at home though so when I leave the studio I can’t sit in front of a screen (except for the TV…) which I find much healthier than when I worked at home – I think it’s really important to get physical distance and perspective from your work sometimes.
Do you inspire, and critique, each other’s work now?
MP: We do critique each other’s work but neither of us takes criticism easily and so it can lead to arguments! However, we really respect each other’s opinions and it hurts because it really counts what the other says. We regularly send images to each other for advice on how to progress.
One day it would be really nice to do a joint exhibition together and maybe I could interpret some of Alice’s drawings into appliqué and stitch. I am very inspired by all she does.
AP: Yes as mum says, we are both incredibly stubborn – whilst we want the advice and (constructive) criticism, we don’t necessarily take it very well, particularly from each other, but I definitely appreciate and respect being able to have a conversation about my work with mum – we are both self-employed creatives, and whilst I appreciate advice from other people too it helps to have someone who has a creative understanding to talk to.
We do often email each other for a quick opinion on colour or composition, which is useful if no one else is in the studio yet; we are both early birds!
I think a joint exhibition could make or break us…
The outcome of your work are very different both in style and medium, but are there any similarities, or indeed, any clear differences in your creative processes?
MP: We both really value research. That initial stage of a new project where you have to visit collections, read around a subject, collect the materials and ideas. The biggest difference is that I choose not to do commissions so everything I produce is to please myself rather than a client.
I am at a different stage in my career so can afford to invest time in things which will not bring me any income. The similarity is that we have both created strong brands. My textile work is recognisably mine, even when others try to copy it, and Alice has a similarly strong style.
AP: I think our creative lives are actually very different; I am almost always working with a client, and often to tight briefs and deadlines. This isn’t exclusive to illustration but is very disparate to what mum does. This is why I particularly relish doing my work – I love having the time to thoroughly research an idea and indulge in just drawing without being driven by a formal brief.
Having said that – I like the combination of the two – I get paid well for commissioned work which gives me the financial freedom to then produce the prints and images I want, which I can then exhibit.
Do you share your experiences of – and perhaps advice on – making a living in the creative arts, and the business side of things? Mandy, is this something you feel you were able to prepare Alice for?
MP: I am lucky to be able to make my living through teaching and selling my work and have done for a long time. I hope I and my husband, who is an architect, have provided good role models to show you can be successful and self-employed and certainly happier with the creative life. We do discuss with each other major decisions which might involve financial risk but have encouraged Alice to find her own way, and keep all receipts!.
AP: My parents have been good role models for a freelance life but I think mum was wary of my choices for quite a while – I can remember up until quite recently she would ask me if I was going to apply for ‘obs, which used to absolutely infuriate me.
I think I have developed my business independently from them and strived actively not to be dependent on them, part of the reason why I chose to go to Uni 350 miles away – I really enjoy working for myself and think I have developed a strong business acumen on my own, making my own contacts and paths.
Having said that it has been useful to be able to talk about being self-employed with my parents – from a boring tax perspective, I’ve had many HMRC debates with Dad. Ironically we were told nothing about this at university, though to be an illustrator in the conventional sense you will almost exclusively need to be self-employed.
How did your publishing deals come about?
MP: Several publishers had approached me but I was just waiting for Batsford to knock on the door as their design and production standards are so high. I respect the work of other artists who have written books for them. I was ready to write about my own inspiration and share techniques and I was fairly confident that people would like the photographs of my work and read my words with respect for the ‘thread and thrift’ path that I have followed.
I was surprised at how long the whole process was from initial contact to publication date and the work that was involved. I have lots of respect for editors and the time they invest in getting it right.
AP: I had been working on my ABC for around a year and a half before I revealed it to the public. I really wanted to launch it altogether with an exhibition rather than just putting out a couple of prints every few months. I asked my friend The Gentle Author if he would feature it on his blog ‘Spitalfields Life’ which he kindly did, and Polly Powell at Pavilion saw it and almost immediately asked if she could publish it – I think I had been in for a meeting to plan it before that week was through!
Can you tell us a little bit about your current books – what they’re about, plus what inspired them and your creative process?
MP: My fabrics are unusual, carefully sourced and the starting point for my process. I wanted to put them at the centre of the book and transmit my enthusiasm for using vintage textiles and the respect I have for their provenance.
The section about materials was the best part to write as it allowed me to research the history of old quilts, feed sacks, Turkey red etc. The book details my textile collage techniques and the way I use them to create fabric pictures, artist books and applied to garments.
AP: My book is An Animal ABC which is a children’s book compiled of a screen print series of animals that I produced, along with an accompanying rhyme and fact for each animal. I am really happy with how the original prints have been reproduced; I think it will both appeal to young children and adults alike.
My book stemmed from a desire to start a project of my own to just indulge in mark making and drawing without the constraints of a commissioned brief; I had had a few years of working quite intensely on commercial briefs and wanted to work on something as a relief from this. It ended up being a labour of love over around a year and a half, working on it in-between various projects and culminating in an exhibition in the sadly now defunct Mascalls gallery in Kent. I worked closely with the Print Block in Whitstable to produce the screen prints and bound a huge screen printed copy of the book (which opens up to 1m wide!) which I guess was kind of the prototype of the published version today.
And what’s next for both of you?
MP: I am involved in preparing for a solo exhibition called ‘Worn’ which will open at The Customs House, South Shields on 3rd December and runs till January 29th. There are three separate stories in the exhibition – worn out clothing, worn through quilts and ‘Worn Out’ a tribute to my grandmother in the year that I have become a grandmother myself. I always devote January to experimentation and producing some new work and this new year I will be revisiting photographs of folk art I took in Sweden and seeing where they take me.
AP: I am also working towards a solo exhibition, my largest to date, which will open at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next summer. I am thoroughly enjoying being able to immerse myself in the project and try out new techniques and materials as part of the process.
I am still working on various commissions alongside this as I still need to make money! and have recently finished commissions for The Woodland Trust, Slightly Foxed and Gardens Illustrated.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview why not share it with your friends on Facebook using the button below?