It’s an overcast early spring morning and we’re in the coastal town of Barry to meet with lighting and textile designer Louise Tucker. Affable and effusive, Louise welcomed us in her newly decorated home and introduced us to her partner Jason ‒ a talented musician and her soon-to-be husband, and opened up about her formative experiences and travels and how she developed an intuitive and tactile approach to lighting design by skilfully mixing basketry and textile weaving with contemporary design.
Rooted in her fascination with the way light changes materials and structures, Louise creates lighting designs that blur the boundary between traditional craft and contemporary design while celebrating the ever changing relationship of light with the living space. Later on, Louise invited us to see her studio at Canon Hill Artspace, where she talked us through her creative process and told us about her involvement with the local community of designers and makers and her upcoming projects.
Where does your passion for designing and making come from?
I was always drawing as a child. My mother was a keen knitter and my father was a keen den builder so making was naturally part of my life growing up.
What made you step outside the boundaries of textile design and start experimenting with wood?
It was actually while on my MA at Chelsea College of Arts that I started exploring new materials. The college has great workshop areas where you can try out metalwork, ceramics and woodwork. I found myself exploring different approaches to basketry through material play.
Your work celebrates the ever changing relationship of light with the living space. In your opinion, what is the most important aspect to take into consideration when choosing the lightning for your home?
When planning the lighting for your home, I would say, you need to select a variety of different quality lights. I personally like to mix functional lighting that has a clean graphic quality with decorative feature lighting that adds texture and interest into the room.
What was your most formative experience as an MA student at Chelsea College of Arts?
Exploring materials and processes in their workshop areas. It definitely opened up my practise to try something new.
What did you enjoy the most while living in London? Is there anything from your life there that you miss?
I definitely miss the galleries. There are so many and there is always something new to see. There is something special about seeing works of art within an exhibition space. You look at it differently.
Why did you choose to go to Finland for your student-exchange placement and what is the best memory that you brought back home with you?
My student exchange was based on a craft course at Kuopio Academy of Craft and Design. The school pretty much opened their doors to us and allowed us to freely work within their department. We took every opportunity to try out new techniques and I found it was quite liberating to work independently without a brief and just explore processes and making.
You were one of the SEED Fund 2015 winners. What did this mean to you and to your business?
To be granted the UAL SEED fund I needed to submit a business proposal and present a Dragon’s Den style pitch. Starting a creative business can be quite isolating and you question whether you are moving forward in the right direction a lot. Having my plans approved and supported by UAL gave my confidence a massive boast that I was on the right track. The funding supported showcasing my work at Clerkenwell Design Week which was a great opportunity for me to meet other areas of the creative industry.
You studied, travelled and worked in various locations around the world. How did all these experiences influence and shape your aesthetic and way of life?
Each experience has given me so much. My experience within an Indian silk mill helped me develop a logical approach to taking an idea into a developed final product. My weaver in residence experience in the Shetland Islands allowed me to explore my love of natural materials and to some extent inspired the start of my exploration into mixing basketry and textile weaving.
Sustainability is increasingly becoming one of the key concepts in contemporary design. Would you say that it is part of a designer’s responsibility to promote this idea, rather than relying on trend?
I believe that creating products that embody the care of the maker and that showcase a story that resonates with people will create products that people will want to hold onto and will hopefully stand the test of time. It is not just about the materials you use but what the materials are used to create.
Your creations are both art and lifestyle objects. Who or what inspires you artistically?
Textiles and the many techniques used to create and construct fabric will always form a great inspiration for my practice. I love visiting art galleries. A wonderful and inspiring place to visit is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. They have a rather wonderful collection of baskets, textiles and objects.
When creating, you rely mostly on your hands. How did you arrive to this intuitive and tactile approach?
As a textile weaver I was always using my hands to assess the making process. This ranged from assessing the yarn quality and warp tension on the loom to assessing the fabric – how it felt in my hands. This was how I understood the making process and it became second nature to me. When creating my woven PREN light pieces I use my hands in the same way. They are my tool. I use them to measure different areas of the design, and to shape and form the pieces.
Could you walk us through your creative process?
I tend to develop new ideas and explore new forms and patterns within my practice by creating small scale models. For developments of my PREN lighting ranges, these models tend to be created either in wood or paper. Through the process I photograph the models from different angles and may even hold them in different locations around light sources. It is through these photographs that I assess the developments as I go along.
Where do you source your materials from?
All the wood I use within my products is sources from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved locations.
What are the challenges of working with wood? Are you considering other materials in the future?
Wood is such a diverse and wonderful natural material and I know that through my creative practice I have only really started to understand and use it. I have found that you generally have to work with a respect for the material. Working in a forceful manner and the material may break. I have slowly developed a way of working where I know when and which area to apply pressure and force to in the making process. As a material I feel there is so much more for me to explore and learn. I am very excited about where my future practice will take me and I am keen to see how my aesthetic will translate within different materials.
What does a regular day look like for you?
The luxury of my studio practice is that every day is different for me. I generally tend to set aside whole days in my week to focus on making although I bounce between the different elements of the making process. To be able to develop new designs and ideas I have to set aside blocks of days to really clear my head and focus. This usually means that I clear a whole corner in my studio and put together a new mood board. As with all independent makers, I have to balance my making time with the general running of my practice.
You have recently moved house/studio. How do you think that these new settings will impact on your future style and creative rituals?
I definitely think that my new home is going to impact my future creative work. The opportunity to experiment with new ideas and live with them within my home will give me a new insight into my pieces.
What other disciplines are you interested in and/or involved with?
I am interested in exploring different making techniques such as casting to see whether there are further opportunities to tend my practice.
Do you listen to music while working? If so, what is your music of choice?
I listen to a mixture of music and podcasts while I work. My current playlist includes everything from Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead to Benjamin Clementine, Villages and Joby.
What are some of your favourite locations in Wales?
Growing up visiting my grandparents in West Wales, I have always had a love for the Welsh coastline. Some of my favourite places include Solva, Newgale beach and Tenby.
What do you think about the local community of creatives? Do you connect with local designers?
There are some great designers in Wales and as a local community there are quite a few great people beavering away to make everything better for the independent designers in my area by creating events. Kirsty from design store Home By Kirsty is one such person. Some local creatives that I admire are:
Laura Thomas – All round ace weaver.
Evan James Design – Designer Emily Skinner creates fascinating interchangeable wall panels.
Would you consider taking on apprentices?
I definitely think this is something that I would consider as my studio practice progresses.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have recently returned from an Artist in Residence in an NGO in Kutch, India. A wonderful experience where I worked with textile artisans and visited many different textile makers, as part of that experience I will be working on new work influenced by the crafts of the region ready for an exhibition in November 2018. I will also be launching a small collection of woollen blankets this coming year. The collection is called Speckle and is inspired by the many shadows and patterns created from my woven lighting. As a trained woven textile designer I couldn’t resist working on a textile project again.
How do you see LOUISE TUCKER STUDIO evolving?
I definitely see the studio exploring new materials.
Can you recommend us:
A song: The Twelfth of Never. Both Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley have created beautiful versions of this song.
A book: George Nelson: On Design. It's always interesting to read essays by designers as they reflect about the design challenges of their times.
A film: Whiplash ‒ a film about an ambitious jazz musician. The music and intensity of the film are addictive. Jiro Dreams of Sushi ‒ a documentary about a Sushi master and his craft.