Today’s guest post is by our regular contributor and intrepid explorer of interesting people and crafts, Julia Little.
Whether it’s a marriage or partnership, being together for half a lifetime or more is a challenge. I’m not sure what the secret is and everyone is different, but I have always thought that respect is up there. That and a huge dollop of humour! But a new thought has come to mind as some of us approach silver wedding anniversaries and beyond…. and that’s kindness. Kindness is a simple thing, but often forgotten in a fast paced and busy life.
I met two very kind people this week, Kate Fishenden and Jonathan Mercer of pattern and printmakers Starch Green. Two incredibly talented designers, patternmakers, wood engraver (Jonathan), screen printer (Kate) and thinkers. I spent a thoroughly absorbing morning listening to their story of how they met, their working and family background, their future plans and ideas. This was followed by a mini tour of their home studio packed with prints, books, art and then out to their printing shed (really mini!), perfectly formed to house Jonathan’s tools and 19th century Albion printing press. These home studios are where they create beautiful patterns on stationery, ceramics and textiles.
Jonathan and Kate met in the late 80’s while working together as product and graphic designers respectively. Soon after they bought their home in an area of Shepherds Bush, originally known as Starch Green (we will come back to that name). In the early part of their partnership Jonathan was a full time wood engraver, selling his designs to various ad agencies and publishers, busy with work during what was a golden age of illustration.
Kate was busy too with her corporate life which included Head of Brand Expression at BT, but both she and Jonathan always enjoyed creating ideas together. Jonathan set up Brand Guardians, a research company for designers, which Kate soon joined. After many years (and 5 children!) they felt the wind was changing.
Kate, how did you come to set up Starch Green?
We asked each other, what else would we like to do, we have always liked to think about the next plan or idea, we always have a creative urge. We also wanted to balance home with work, we loved creating patterns and products, so Starch Green was born.”
Jonathan hadn’t done the wood engraving for years and wanted to get back to the craft. It took some time to get back into the swing, but before long he was busy carving and repurposing some of the old blocks, and I really love designing printing and working with colour. Some work is done by hand, and some is scanned and printed digitally onto a range of ceramics.
Jonathan, what is it you love about wood carving?
I particularly love the feel of the wood, carving the designs, and also when printing seeing how they can be made into wonderful repetitive patterns, there is huge enjoyment in discovering colours and combinations which takes time but is so satisfying.
Jonathan’s take on such a traditional craft is totally refreshing and much more advanced than some of the ‘old school’ engravings of the past. His woodcuts have life and beauty in their design which come from years of practice and understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
Kate, do you also take commissions?
“We always love taking on commissions, but now, with our own range, it is also possible to offer products and designs saying ‘this is what we do, hope you like it’.
What’s your bestseller?
I asked them both, what’s next?
Our dream is to have an artisan printmaking studio/shop where we do what we do. People can come and watch it as it happens, then you can buy the stuff! Running workshops could also be a plan, teaching people the joys of print and pattern making.
I can see how this charming couple rub along so well. I hope they get their dream, I for one would be first in line for a Starch Green workshop.
And as I use my Kindness jug, I will be gently reminded of Henry James’ quote,“3 things in human life are important. The first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind”.
More details on the Starch Green website here