OK David is an illustrator, painter, designer and writer. We just love his whimsical characters and witty sense of humour. He is the brainchild behind the best-selling fabric design for Liberty’s ‘Queue for the Zoo’. We have a collection of David’s ‘12 Dancers’ paintings in the Dive Bar at Ham Yard Hotel which are sure to inspire some pretty epic dance moves.
1. Like us, you clearly enjoy working with vibrant colours, what are your favourite colour combinations and why?
Yes, I can’t help loving colour. I love how simple it is on the surface, and how rich it is when you go deeper and see how it’s not one single colour at all.
I have a special love for greens and certain intense blues, but I don’t have a favourite combination. Putting colours in different settings completely alters their effect. It’s surprising how much impact a colour can have, and how it can change your mood.
I tend to think of colours as characters in a story. The special chemistry of colours are in their tones.
2. You have such a wild imagination, where do you find your inspiration?
Sometimes something speaks to me, and then I keep asking myself why I like it until I have my answer.
I am a story person. I am always looking for an escape route into a story or onto an interesting train of thought. When I look at something, I see the colours and the composition of the shapes, but what I am trying to find is a narrative, and if it’s a funny story, that’s even better.
3. You have recently become a full time artist/designer, starting your business OK David, do you have any advice on making the jump?
For me it’s more of a hop, skip and then a jump. I’m at the skip part at the moment. I’m doing lots of commissions and designs for other people, but haven’t launched my own designs yet.
4. It’s such a fine line when creating characters and designs which are whimsical and folky, yet not too childlike or cartoony – how do you know when you have got a design just right?
Everyone has their own tastes, so that fine line is a very wiggly wriggly one. For me, something is more or less right when it doesn’t feel wrong. Perhaps it’s like adding salt when you’re cooking. You have to keep tasting it.
I want to evoke a feeling of something. If I look at what I’ve made and I feel some spark of feeling, then I know I’m getting close.
5. When starting a commission, what are your usual steps?
People commission me to design fabric patterns, and to make paintings. As well as understanding the commission – what’s it for, where’s it for, when’s it for? – I like to understand the person who is commissioning me. What do they like? What brings them joy, and what makes them laugh?
When I work with Liberty I have a lot of freedom, which is how I like it. They tell me what the theme of the collection is, and they let me find my own take. When I did ‘Queue for the Zoo’, they just asked for animals. I added all the clothes and hats because I thought that would be more interesting.
I like to start making sketches as soon as possible. Drawing, and doing research is how I understand the project. This is when I discover what will work and what won’t.
As the different parts of the composition begin to become clear, I speak to the person who has commissioned me and we discuss colours.
If changes are needed, I make them. When I designed ‘Dapper Dogs’ for Liberty, which showed lots of dogs at a party, the only change was to do with the dogs drinking wine and smoking cigars. Apparently that’s no good for a children’s fabric! So I had to take out the cigars and remove the bottles of booze and replace them with scarves. I felt sorry for the dogs.
With my pictures, there is almost always a secret story, or details that connect me to what I’ve made. In my design called ‘Desert Island Deliveries’, based on the Radio 4 show, lots of tropical birds are delivering luxuries to the island. I added an Aston Martin as a private joke for my dad, because I promised him I’d get him one one day.
My ‘Dapper Dogs’ had their own names and personalities, and I wrote a short biography for them all. There are details in those illustrations that most people will never notice, like the greyhound with the running hare motif on her ballgown.
Lastly, when I painted the ‘Twelve Dancers’ for Ham Yard, I wrote on the back of each painting the names of the dancers and what they were dancing to. While I was painting them, I was listening to a lot of Fats Waller and other music from that time.
What made the Ham Yard commission so special was that Kit had the paintings framed and included their names and the songs on the frames for people to see. For me that thoughtful touch was really wonderful.
6. Is there a favourite artist, architect or designer who has been a key inspiration in your work.
Recently I’ve been looking at Hockney and Sorolla paintings, trying to learn from the way they paint light. I saw a Carlo Zinelli exhibition a few months ago and kept thinking about it for weeks afterwards because of how deliberate and focussed his painting was.
I’m inspired by sparkiness. I think that’s the common theme. People who have lots of energy and curiosity, and think, “Hmm, I wonder if I can do that?”
I love seeing workshops and places where things are made, even if they’re not artworks. They always feel special.
I get a lot from books. At the moment I’m reading a story by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, who is an Angolan writer. He has a way of writing that feels like you’re inside a dream.