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Anna Jacobs - 'British Design, Beautifully Made'

Her designs have graced the pages of magazines such as Home & Gardens, House Beautiful, LivingEtc and featured in the Sunday Times and Financial Times, so it goes without saying I was beyond excited when Homeware Designer of the Year 2021, Anna Jacobs agreed to be interviewed for my latest creative blog post. Delve straight into her colourful and enchanting world of this incredible artist!

I’m a 51yr old single parent of two and I run my own business from home as an artist and homewares designer. I also teach colour for interior design and have just launched my new online colour course!

What inspired you to work in your chosen profession?

Well, I didn’t actually come to this profession until my early 40's. My art teachers at school always said I should earn my living through art, but I wanted to pursue other things first. So I actually started off as a singer in girl band (supporting Robson & Jerome!). Then I worked in theatre production; and eventually, via a long circuitous route, somehow ended up heading the Marketing & Business Development department of a big City Law firm.

However, after eight years in the corporate world - not my natural environment – I was desperate to be creative again. So I left when I was pregnant with my second child and just took a load of short courses in various creative fields to see where I landed – photography, interior design, surface pattern design, styling, etc.

I ended up focusing on Interior Design initially, but by that stage I was a single parent of a baby and a toddler and I found it quite challenging! But at the same time I also got offered my first teaching job at Chelsea College of Arts, as well as my first solo show of paintings. The solo show went really well and the gallerist suggested one of my paintings would make a great lampshade design – and the rest is history! My homewares brand ended up taking off so much that I dropped the interior design, because I didn’t have time to do both. So really my current career has just evolved in a way that I never intended or expected it to, but it’s perfect!

Where do you start when you begin a new project?

So, if we’re talking about designing a new lampshade or cushion for example, it always starts off with the original painting, which I create as an artwork, either in pen and ink on watercolour paper, or ink, acrylic and plaster on board, which gives a more textured painting. From there, I scan it and then work on the final design in photoshop, as it needs to work on fabric and in the format of a lampshade or cushion.

Your designs are so beautifully colourful, where do you find your inspiration for your work?

I’ve just always been fascinated by birds and flowers! But I’m also entranced by moss on rocks, weathered painted doors, tree bark, all sorts of things. I don’t limit myself to perfect illustrative colouring though. I like creating things in colours that make me feel happy and that I find beautiful.

What is your creative process?

I’m always looking for images that convey a sense of beauty and freedom – and that also give me that little bubble of excitement and delight. So I spend a long time looking through images of birds and flowers online, walking around my own garden, going to wetlands and wildlife centres and then photographing and sketching until I start find a form that works. At this stage I’ll also often have a colour, or a palette of colours that I want to work with, so that will also play into my sketches.

At the same time, I look at a lot of art from various artists, which is simply to get my creative juices flowing.

Eventually I get to the stage when I can create an actual painting and from there I go through the scanning and design online, as I described above. Once I have the design right, I then test print it on various fabrics to get the colour and texture right, until I can finally send the fabric to my makers. My lampshade makers are in Shropshire and my cushion makers are in South East London.

Name a person or business that you admire or inspires you?

Tricia Guild, because she has always stayed true to her own instinctive love of particularly beautiful and vivid colours. She started her own textile business with a tiny collection of hand dyed fabrics. She then went on to build a hugely successful business based on stunning colours and patterns, even through times when those types of colours weren’t at all fashionable in interiors. But she always stuck to what she loved and her own gut instincts, which takes a lot of courage. She’s also really lovely and offered to help in whatever way she could on the colour courses I was a teaching a few years ago!

What is the best piece of advice you have been given (in life or business)?

‘Just apply yourself’.

My mum said this to me when I was about 9yrs old and had come home from school having failed yet another test. I was pretty much bottom of the whole school. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that I needed to make any effort to achieve anything. I went back to school, started applying myself and within a year was top of the class. It was like I’d discovered a magic formula! And since then, whenever I’ve struggled and felt overwhelmed by a task, or life, I’ve gone back to that very simple thing and just applied myself, one step at a time. It always works.

What do you love most about your role as a designer?

"I love the fact that it gives me the freedom to fulfill a fundamental need to create and explore beauty and visual delight.

How do you deal with feedback?

I used to be terrible at getting feedback. I’m much better now – I like to think! Now, I’m more fascinated by what people have to say and it always improves my business and my design work, so I take it a lot less personally.

What is your biggest success story or proudest moment in your career so far?

It’s hard to pick one to be honest! Three highlights are: designing the four 60ft yachts for adventure sailing company, Rubicon 3; opening my Heal’s concession shop on Tottenham Court Rd; and winning Homewares Designer of the Year, 2021.

What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

Starting my business in the first place! I was a single parent in my early 40's with two very small children; I had no money and I was exhausted. But this was my one chance, possibly my last chance, to find a way to earn a living that both fulfilled me and enabled me to work flexibly, so that I could spend time with the kids. So I was pretty motivated. I went back to that advice from my mum all those years ago and just applied myself. Taking it one step at a time, working it out, taking two steps forward, one step back and simply keeping going. And eventually you start seeing the light and it starts getting easier.

What would be your dream commission/ project?

You know what, I would actually love to design the rooms for a boutique hotel! You could have so much creative fun! One day, of course, I’d also love to design my own home – if I ever got to owning one again.

Check out Anna's new online course 'Create Colour Magic in Your Home'


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