Saturday, 28 February 2009

Tracy Kendall Lecture

Although not technically an illustration lecture the ebullient Tracy Kendall provided us all with a healthy insight into how a surface and pattern designer of such high standing as hers works in the industry today.
For a little background, Tracy attained her BA in fine art at Manchester and then proceeded to work for the next 18 years at the Royal College in London as a technical assistant.

Her career as a designer did not truly begin until 1996 when she approached Ilsa Crawford, of Elle magazine, whilst she was visiting the college with a design that had initially been created for her own home. This image of a blown up knife and fork is now one of her most iconic designs.
She says this moment of her launching her career was fortuitous because at the time many of the old companies associated with the type of work she produces were dying off and there were not many new ones starting out.

Following her work appearing in Elle she then began to be approached by other magazines. Among these was Marie Clare.
She could not stress enough throughout her lecture the importance of editorial pieces as a means of promotion for her designs, as she does not spend on advertising; this is a major avenue for getting her work noticed.
She does employ an agent in New York and has showroom pieces on display in a design house there to.

She spent a fair amount of time talking about the effort that goes into her trade show appearances.
We had explained to us the way that shows are approached with the need to do them differently where one show had dozens of Christmas firs suspended from the ceiling by wire. She showed different examples where small samples were hung in sections in various surroundings.
One thing she did stress that was of note, was the rate of success when plain, 'masculine', black & white images are used as compared to colour, due to the fact that, outdated as it may seem, most of the people with money at this sort of trade exhibition tend to be men.

This subject also led to her also her into talking about the importance of her designs being tactile to some degree as she explained that people always seem to need to touch her exhibits. Something she did note does not happen when they are shown as fine art.

For a while she talked about her methods as a designer and the need for an amount of trial and error in her work. The example she used was of a photocopy of a grass stem, which she stated was quite an immediate piece of imagery. The point of this being that although she would only need one piece of grass and even though it may be the first one she picked there was a need to test this by picking and testing, say, 100 such blades of grass to be sure she had the right one.

Another thing she talked about at some length, something crucial to her success, was her relationships with her trade sources and people like manufacturers. This she stressed is an ever-changing list and something she evidently works very hard to keep up with.
Things like having to re-source things due to manufacturers going out of business in the recent bad-climate, as well as tracing the manufacturers from source, thus cutting out the middle man, were put to us as examples of just how hard she has to work at the business end of things.

Besides then the printers and laser etchers and screen making people then that she employs it came as something of a surprise when she divulged that she only actually employs one girl in her workshop/studio. Somebody that came on the recommendation of a friend and helps her in the assembly of her pieces.

Tracy has just completed her MA over four years in London and talked about her relationship with her tutor(s) whilst also maintaining a professional output. During this time she completed various elements that went into editorial pieces and provided some good publicity for her work.
One in particular she remarked upon as what she had at first regarded to be a mistake by the editor, who had sent her a request to be part of a '50 famous designers' lineup.

This led to her again talking about the value of a good editorial review, something she regards as 'priceless', or even making sure that the photos she gets for her work are absolutely as good as she can make them by hiring pro-photographers, that may cost up in the region of £1000 a day (having good contacts and friends again being important, then they charge you a lot less). This is used to give her the chance of the respective photo being good enough to go on the cover of the publishment in question.
A good editorial means that for the phone; 'does not stop ringing'.
When she receives a favour from one of her contacts, she will in turn pass on details of her own contacts to them, as a favour in-kind.

Now-a-days she will get offers from different companies to work in conjunction with them to achieve goals because she is so respected within her field. She has gained contracts such as designing wall decorations for 25 rooms for a hotel in Paris. Both things which she stated were a bit of an exercise in self-confidence as she had to have the presence of mind to be able to say when something was wrong and to state what her influence on the design procedure was/is.
Other recent work was on the Frost French changing rooms.

Another thing of note was he different sorts of red tape she encounters in different countries with her designs. Where as one country will allow anything to be put on the wall. Different guidelines for safety will, for example in New York mean that she cant use certain things or (as in one case) the entire wall covering has to be coated with a flame retardent solution!
She noted that when the installation though is regarded as an art piece all the rules change again.

She is still experimenting with new designs, still sourcing out new materials to deal with and is currently appreciating the minimal aspect of her designs. She stated that it was only necessary for her to use maybe a 5cm strip of colour on a whole wall covering to have the kind of impact she desires.

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