Meet the makers: Gillian Arnold

Textile artist Gillian Arnold makes beautiful textile prints of ferns and other plants on satin. She tells us about making 20-metre table runners for her wedding and why pregnancy has unleashed her creative powers

1. Your pieces attracted quite a bit of attention on the Makerhood stall at the Urban Art Fair. How long have you worked with this technique?
I started printing from actual plants when I was at art college in Liverpool. I actually enrolled for a fashion course but found I didn’t have the patience to make clothes! So I transferred to the textiles course, which gave me the freedom to experiment with printing.

2. So when did you move to south London?
I moved to London after graduating and worked for a prop-making company in Coldharbour Lane. I was producing “throw-away art” for window displays in House of Fraser stores, like Dickins & Jones in Regent Street. It was great fun – we would produce a Bridget Riley-style 1960s painting and then have to work out how to make 100 copies!

3. And now you work on community art projects?
Well, actually I gave up work about a month ago because I’m expecting a baby in a couple of months! But I spent the past eight years working as an artist with schools and the community, doing things like producing large-scale prints from kids’ drawings. But I’ve also covered jewellery, sculpture, mosaic and photography. It’s really stretched my own skills – but I’ve also gathered lots of ideas to work on myself.

4. It doesn’t sound as if you’ve had much time to work on your own ideas!
That’s true! When I got married last year I did make my own table runners for the wedding reception – four 20-metre lengths of fabric featuring feathers and ferns. I also printed on my own wedding dress and printed my husband’s tie as well! But now I’ve given up work, it’s wonderful to have time before the baby arrives to be able to create my own pieces. My website is http://gillianarnold.com.

5. What will happen after the baby is born?
I’ve got to carry on after the birth – I need a creative output, or everyone around me will suffer! Hopefully I will have enough pieces made by the time the baby arrives to be able to continue selling them online. My husband is incredibly supportive – he takes care of the website and the business side of things.

6. Tell us about the work you’ve done in west Africa.
I’ve been working for five or six years on a project in The Gambia, teaching women how to sew and make jewellery. It’s been hugely satisfying, passing on skills to people who really benefit from them – they sell their work in two hotels now. You can see photos on the website, as there are links to Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.

7. What’s the appeal of signing up with Makerhood?
I heard about Makerhood from a friend at Morley College and hot-footed it to the makers’ meeting at the Sun and Doves in Camberwell. It was just a few days before I gave up work, so I had to hurry up and make some pieces to put on my stall! I think it’s brilliant that Makerhood’s emphasis is on localness – from my community work I know that it’s better to work through connections with people rather than some impersonal online shop.

8. What’s your top tip for a bit of “hidden Camberwell”?
Café No 67 at the South London Gallery is brilliant. They do set menus of really well-made food, with a great balance of flavours. It’s got a glass ceiling and walls, so you can look out on the garden while you eat.

Café No 67, South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH

You can see Gillian’s gorgeous textile prints at http://brixton.makerhood.com/gillian-arnold


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