Tracy Kendall is a designer of extraordinary original wallpapers. Juliet Bawden met her and found out why she began designing.
JB Did you go to art school originally and if so where and what did you study?
TK I went to art school in Manchester – Manchester Polytechnic between 1977 -1980 graduating with a Fine Art Printmaking Degree. MA in mixed media textiles from the RCA 1997-2001
JB When we first met you were working in the print studio at the Royal college of Art and doing your own work as well. The print I remember was the giant knife fork and spoon. That you screen printed onto fabric as well as paper. No one was doing anything half as imaginative as you were. What made you want to produce your own wallpaper and was it difficult to find a manufacturer?
TK It’s a fairly typical answer to this, I wanted some wallpaper for myself at home in the kitchen and everything I saw that I liked I couldn’t afford so I made my own…the cutlery set. I had printed some wallpaper for myself again for my house a few years previous to this – the newsprint design. I silkscreen print myself, so I am my own manufacturer. My fine art printmaking degree and a MA in mixed media textiles from the RCA and decades of teaching print in art schools gives me the skills to do this myself.
JB Why wall paper?
TK It is the perfect mix of all my training and interests and family background. My family on my father’s side are Russian Jewish cabinetmaker’s so lots of hand skills and measuring, lots of measuring. I like that by limiting myself to wallpaper I can do anything with it, I can explore it fully rather than trying to put my designs on fabrics, plates, trays or whatever I fully embrace just one medium.
JB Are any members of your family involved in running the business and if so what roles do they perform?
TK My partner works for me doing all of my administration. Without him we would not be paid or have such good communications between the interior designers and suppliers that we work with. My son does my website and some visual technical support.
JB Your work looks very complex, labour intensive, and expensive to produce. Is all your work bespoke?
TK All of my work is made to order and can be changed and adapted for the clients interior. Some is very simple and in the scheme of how things are made not that expensive. Other designs are expensive, complex and very time consuming but then true bespoke work is.
JB To whom do you mainly sell? How do you find your clients or do they find you?
TK I mainly sell to interior designers and a lot are from the US. I have shown there quite a lot and the Americans seem to understand and embrace modern design.
JB Are the papers produced in the UK?
TK All my production is in the UK.
JB Are you there when the making process is taking place?
TK For most of the work yes, it happens in my studio so we over see it from start to finish. Some of the designs are produced by other manufacturers, all of whom we have worked very closely with for a long time to ensure the quality is of the highest standard. Everything is checked in the studio before shipping to clients.
JB Do you have more conventional papers that you sell to wholesale or retail clients?
TK We do sell wholesale and retail and any of the designs can be made for those markets.
JB Here comes my how long is a piece of string question. What is a typical working day like for you or is there no such thing?
TK I don’t have a typical working day but my day starts with clearing my thoughts walking the dog on the beach. Then its working on whatever project I need to. We usually have a number of projects going through the studio at any one time with varying deadlines and work requirements. At points in the day I check with my partner any suppliers issues or if we need to order in anything for a job. There is always a great deal of measuring with all the projects so I am often permanently attached to a ruler of one form or another!
JB One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and or aged parents. Have you ever had to deal with either of these of issues and did it impact on your creative life or business?
TK I didn’t start my business till I was in my 40’s and worked all through full time whilst my son was growing up, both my parents died early in life. I did have to wait until I was divorced and rid of my ex husband before doing anything but once I had started there was and has been no stopping. My creativity has never been linked to a time or place, it has always been there in one form or another.
JB You have moved from London to Margate what are the benefits and the drawback of this move?
TK The move to Margate has only had benefits no draw backs at all. It helps to give some sense of a work/life balance and also a indication of life after work.
JB Do you run creative workshops or give talks?
TK We are about to run some workshops after much nagging by friends who want to learn to screen print and yes I do give talks at some colleges and universities.
JB What is the best part of your work and what is the worst part?
TK I love a new challenge, when a designers wants to try something different or unexpected with my work. The worst doesn’t really happen for me, I get to do what I enjoy everyday as a living and that’s something most people want to do.
JB Who or what inspires you?
TK My answer has been the same for many years to this question, Ingo Maurer the German lighting designer. He manages to combine beauty, technology and humour within his work so effortlessly.
JB How long have you been working as a professional designer?
TK 15 years
JB What advice would you give to any designer starting out today?
TK Do whatever it is with passion, don’t copy, get your hands dirty and enjoy being outside your comfort zone.
JB What is next for your work?
TK Some more designing as I want to expand on some of the designs I already have either in scale or colour or via a different production technique or all of the above.
Find out more about Tracy and her wallpapers HERE
Photography: Antonia Attwood