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Interview with Anna Jacobs

Can you tell me who you are and what you do?

I’m an artist, an interior designer, and now a designer. I also teach colour theory on the interior design courses at Chelsea College of Arts. This is my new career. I’ve only been doing this for the last two or three years.

Tell me about your background.

I’ve had a very mixed background. Until 4 years ago I was Head of Marketing and Business Development for a big City law firm. I did that for 8 years. Before that I worked in theatre, producing, marketing, mainly social enterprise. Before that I was a singer in a band and did charity fundraising and all sorts of things. But this is it! This is my career now.

What led you to pursue this final career as an artist?

My O-Level and A-Level art teachers really tried to persuade me to try and earn my living through art. They wanted me to go to art college, but I was academic so I pursued that. By the time I had done my degree and a masters degree I got led into other things. I wasn’t confident enough about my art to do it, because it was my one natural talent and I thought that if I pursued that and it failed then it would be too devastating.

But once I had been working in my corporate career for a while, I became increasingly desperate to paint. During one of my summer breaks I did a week-long course at Camberwell, and that got me painting and drawing every day. And I started getting more and more excited about it. I was working full time at the same time, before having children. It got to the point when it would get to Friday, and I would be just itching to get to the end of the day so I could rip off my suit and paint as soon as I got home. Then I would get up at 6.30am on Saturday and Sunday morning and paint all weekend. I had got to the point where I just needed to be creative.

Then I had kids and I had to stop it all again because I didn’t have time. When I was pregnant with my second child – I had just got pregnant with her – I took a massive risk and resigned from my job. I had decided that this was the moment to pursue my creative career. But then I split up with the kids’ dad, so that’s why it has taken me a while!

I ended up at 41 having to start my whole life again from scratch. I had to sell my house, so I was 41 with no partner, no career, no money, no assets, nowhere to live with a baby and a toddler. It was pretty awful at the time.

So even though you had had such a tumultuous time, you felt happy and able to create joyful images…

This is what I had always wanted to do. The two things I knew from quite a young age that I wanted most in my life was to have children and to be creative. So suddenly out of the disaster of what had happened, I found myself actually with the two things I wanted most!

What is the significance of your image of the flying bird?

When my son was approaching school age I thought it would be the right time to put out feelers for starting a new creative career, and then within a really short space of time, just as my son started school, I had my first solo show in Dulwich through Jane Newbury, I got my first teaching job at Chelsea College of Arts, and I was offered my first interior design job. I ended up having to paint the whole show in three weeks. I had to think of a theme that would make sense. So for me this moment in my life was being free from all of the rubbish. The flying birds all came out of that. They’re about feeling strong, flying free, doing a new thing, which is why I think a lot of the colours are so vivid. It’s a combination of being really vivid and bright because I was happy and also peaceful and strong because that’s the place I felt I’d come to in my life.

What about the flower images?

I painted the flower images when I still had my house. They were from my garden in East Dulwich. To make them you need a lot of space and somewhere to dry them. When I found myself on my own in this little flat, with small children that became impractical. I had to find a medium that was very quick drying and I could store flat. So I started painting in ink on watercolour paper, because you can do it straight away and you don’t have to store a big thing. So I painted in pen and ink on water paper using Japanese graphic art pens and brush and dip ink. I love ink because it gives a really vibrant colour, it’s different from water colour. You can get a richness and a depth.

How did you develop your work from paintings to homewares?

To create the homewares I make really high quality scans of the image. Then I digitally manipulate the image to make it work on fabric. To make the images work on a rounded surface like a lightshade, I have to duplicate and add to the image. For example on the bird image, I’ve drawn in some extra reeds to make it work. The image then becomes a mixture of my original work and sort of adding and creating on my computer to make it work on a three dimensional object.

This one (Sedum Detail) for example, the abstract one, is a massively big blown up close up of the flower image.

So for this first collection of homewares, you’ve developed a few themes and motifs which you work in different ways, developing them and getting more out of them?

This first collection of homewares was only launched at Olympia in January. Dulwich Open House in May last year was my very first test of them. I didn’t know whether people would like them. They were really successful, so between Dulwich last year and January I have been working on the manufacturing process. Jane (Newbury) stocked some and I had a shop in Scotland. I thought that if I was going to launch to bigger shops and more nationwide I needed to get it all running really smoothly. It’s market testing for me.

I had a much wider range at Open House last year. I was seeing which was the most popular and what worked together as a collection. In January I chose my six designs and I launched those so I’m now in 30 shops across the country. My official launch was only six weeks ago!

This year at Open House I will be showing my new products, including new prints, new designs, giant lampshades and glass lamp bases.

What do you enjoy about being involved in the Dulwich Arts Festival and being part of Artists Open House?

I love the creative atmosphere in this area and the fact that there are so many people making art and being creative around here.

That’s one of the best things about the Artists’ Open House, to have the opportunity to see what’s going on creatively in your neighbourhood, to see all the artists working on your doorstep. That’s such an exciting thing.

I also love being in a shared house with other artists. We all talk to each other and it creates a wonderful atmosphere. I think it’s nice for people visiting as well because you get a variety of work. I love having the chance to meet the people buying my work. I put so much passion and thought into creating the image and the colour that to be able to have a conversation about that with someone is really rewarding.

How important is colour to you?

Throughout my life I’ve always been very sensitive to colour so I know how much of an effect it has had on me. I’ve always been fascinated by it and now I even teach colour theory at Chelsea College of Art as well. A lot of people aren’t aware quite how much colour affects us. It affects us because of emotional and cultural associations but it also has a very physical effect on our bodies because of the way the rods and cones in our eyes react. Colour has a physiological affect. Colour can either create an effect of real peace and calm or inject warmth and sunshine to an interior. So the very vivid pinks, blues and greens, you put them in any room, it makes a room glow. It makes me feel happy. So I create colours that make people feel happy and peaceful and mirrors the feeling that I want to convey through all the art work.

I can see that the diversity of your work is a process and that one has led out of another. Is there one aspect of your work that you enjoy making the most?

I tend to enjoy the thing that I’m doing as I’m doing it. I’m constantly creating new things. Recently I’ve been doing product design for the very first time for my lamp bases. I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s three-dimensional. And yet at the same time I’m coming to fruition with a particular group of images and I’ll soon be starting to create my next collection, some of which will be at the Dulwich Arts Festival this year. There will be some of the new colour ways. I’m really excited about doing that too.

Can you tell me about the lamp bases?

The lamp bases came about partly because of Dulwich Open House last year, when I used them purely for display. It didn’t occur to me to manufacture them at that point. Everybody loved them. They were also a massive hit at the Olympia Trade Show and so I have now sorted out the manufacturing. My whole brand at the moment is made in Britain. What was interesting about the process of the bases was that because I wanted to respond to the demand quickly, and also make them a very reasonable price, I was advised to go to Poland, which I thought was a good idea. My grandmother is Polish, so I thought that was a nice tribute to her.

For various reasons I ended up deciding to move the manufacturing back to the UK, to this wonderful family run glass works in Norfolk, who are one of the oldest lamp fitters in the country. It’s a big selling point for British manufacturing because the process has been so easy. I’ve been able to travel up to Norfolk, work with the master glass maker to hand blow and we’ve worked together with me drawing and literally creating the perfect shape that work with the shades. The glass is a beautiful high quality crystal glass.

So you will have these all ready for the Artists’ Open House?

They will be ready for the Open House, where you’ll be able to see bases from the very first batch!

There seems to be a lot going on for you at the moment with lots of possibilities and your work taking new directions. What are your professional goals? What are you hoping for in the future?
What I would really like is to create a high quality global brand that is about British manufacturing and has a core of beautiful art and a sense of craft and hand-made about it. I would rather stay more high-end and for each product to be something that is very carefully thought through and designed to work with a whole interiors brand. I want to create something long-lasting, something which is sought after. At the same time I need it to be a successful business as on a practical level I would like to provide security for my kids. As a single parent it’s about supporting my family.

You’ve been on quite a journey…

I think what’s been fascinating for me is the journey. I was earning lots of money in the city, I had my own house and garden. I didn’t really have to think about money or space. And I’ve found that suddenly having no money and living in a small space and having the (delightful) restriction of children, actually has made me far more creative. You have to think far more, it guides you more than when you have everything.

Photography by Sally Mais & Timothy Soar

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