It’s less than two years since she graduated, but Johanna Basford has already achieved a string of accolades for her textile design. It started with a call from DKNY, not long after graduation from Duncan Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. A scout for the company had seen her work at the annual New Designers exhibition in London and asked for samples to be sent to New York. Her Crazy Botanic wallpaper was selected and put on show in DKNY on Bond Street, during London Fashion Week.
‘One minute I was a student in Dundee, the next minute my wallpaper was in the London store of one of the best-known designers in the world – it was really exciting,’ says Basford.
The theme of Basford’s work is ‘bringing the outside world inside’ and her designs, which combine delicate hand-drawings of flowers, butterflies and bees with silk-screen printing, have generated attention at home and abroad. Carefully screen-printed by hand, a 10m roll of wallpaper can take two days to produce.
Last year she designed a range of bedlinen for Heal’s and created her new design Macbeth for the Design UK exhibition of contemporary designers, held at Liberty during the London Design Festival. And it’s not just retailers that are taking notice. Basford’s work is currently on display at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, where she has created backdrops for the museum’s Surreal Things/ Surrealism and Design exhibition.
The detailed botanical designs that are Basford’s trademark are inspired by nature. ‘I was brought up in rural Aberdeenshire,’ she explains, ‘where my father was a gamekeeper and my grandfather was a gardener, so I had lots of exposure to flowers and insects from a young age.’
Basford is now introducing a new twist to her designs, with a range of her bespoke wallpapers, to be launched at The Scottish Show 07 in Edinburgh in May, during the Six Cities Design Festival. This time she has used light responsive inks, so that the patterns either glow in the dark, are heat-sensitive or materialise under sunlight.
It’s a continuation of her theme rather than a departure, as Basford points out. ‘The concept of evolution has always interested me and it’s an integral part of my work, which shows caterpillars transforming into butterflies and so on. I wanted to develop that idea further, so that patterns themselves change and evolve, depending on light and temperature,’ she says.
The creation of the new range was not without its challenges. ‘Because my wallpapers are hand-printed rather than mass produced, not all inks were suitable for creating these effects,’ Basford recalls. ‘I had to track down exactly the right kind of ink and the silk had to be a certain size of mesh, to allow the ink through’. ‘Colours were tricky too,’ she adds. ‘Some worked and some didn’t, but the end result was well worth it.’ Basford is now working on the launch of her autumn collection, a range of wall-hangings with a fairytale theme, and she also plans to produce framed prints of her drawings, which are always the starting point for her designs.
Her talents have brought her much acclaim, but Basford is quick to acknowledge the support she has had from The Scottish Arts Council and The Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust, in the form of grants and a loan, as well as practical assistance with the day-to-day running of the business. ‘I couldn’t have done it without their help,’ she says.
A move to London could be the obvious next step, but Basford has no plans to relocate. She prefers to focus on building her own business, just where she is – working from her studio on a fish farm in Aberdeenshire. ‘When I was a student, I did a work placement with Timorous Beasties, in Glasgow,’ she says. ‘They are what every textile designer aspires to be and showed me that it is possible to be successful and stay in Scotland.’