I am often asked ‘Why lampshades?’ and ‘How did you come up with the idea?’.
The idea for making lampshades came about when asked to design and create a 3D item as part of my design and embroidery course. Ever practical, I thought I’d rather spend my time working on something for the house that was actually needed rather than yet another project that ticked all the right boxes but ended up stuffed in a drawer. I had a period lampbase which needed a shade and an old Tiffany-shape wire frame – so it seemed like a good idea at the time. The resulting lampshade turned out to be quite a show-stopper and I decided functional art was the way to go if I was to make a business out of my craft.
That was in 1998. Here it is today in all its faded glory.
The design concept evolved from my study of mosaics which I had chosen as my research project. All my patterns and designs were about fitting small shapes together; I would go to bed at night and dream in little interlocking pieces!
The actual shapes incorporated in the design were taken from existing shapes in the dining room in which the lamp was to sit. There are spots from the marble fireplace, swirls from the Victorian sofa, curves from the firescreen and crosses from the radiator cover.
The materials I used in the original shade were handmade papers and found objects. I had been experimenting with stitching into a variety of unconventional materials (J-cloths, teabags, plastic carrier bags etc) and decided I rather liked working with handmade papers. I tried making my own from shredded waste paper and even old denim jeans, but it was all too thick and dense to allow any light through. I bought various sheets of natural coloured paper and spent hours trying to stain/dye/paint it to get the jewel-like colours I had fallen for when researching the Byzantine mosaics. It was the effect of transmitted light – the sun through stained glass windows, that I was trying to capture and ended up using glass paints on paper to get the desired transparency and richness.
The technique was my own take on a traditional form of reverse appliqué. We had studied embroidery from around the world and I was intrigued by the Mola work of the Kuna women of the San Blas Islands in Central America. The women made themselves blouses from two panels of cotton fabric worked in reverse appliqué. They took several layers of different coloured cotton into which they stitched patterns, before cutting into the layers, leaving a border of each showing to create a multicoloured design. I developed this using pulp-dyed plant-fibre paper and cutting through the layers to reveal blocks of colour beneath. This is the technique I still use in my work today.
See a selection of Molas here.
This show piece took far too many hours to make commercially so I experimented with various lampshade shapes and designs until I came up with a frame shape that was different, unusual, practical in use and commercially viable. Here is an old image of an early ArtShade made in 1999.
Since its inception all those years ago the ‘tricurve’ shape is still my top seller as either a complete lamp or a wall shade. It remains unique in its design.
(Apologies for the less than perfect photos – they are mostly pre-digital prints).