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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Putting optical illusions on homeware: an interview with designer maker Dionne Sylvester

Meet Kent based fashion designer turned craftsperson Dionne Sylvester: traditional homeware will never be the same!

Written by Amelia Gregory

Dionne Sylvester plate designs
I first discovered the striking homeware of designer maker Dionne Sylvester at Spitalfields Market earlier this year, where they immediately caught my attention. Her colourful designs give traditional teacups, plates and upholstery a zingy modern update inspired by the play of light on the Caribbean sea and a fascination with optical illusions. I love them!

Dionne Sylvester portrait
Where do you find inspiration for the combinations of colours that you put together?
My inspiration first came from looking at different menswear books, which led to researching the phenomenon of British Dandies and the collections of Ozwald Boateng in particular. I like the smart appearance of the Dandies and the extravagant colour clashes so beloved of Boateng, who uses unexpected shades for the inner lining as his signature look. My shocking colour ways are also influenced by Caribbean culture. You can see these references running through my range because it is both fun and traditional.

Dionne Sylvester designs Meadow
How do you create the feel of optical illusions within your artwork?
I use a combination of simple techniques to create illusions. The main image is often created in a prominent colour so that your eye is led to it, even though it has been well hidden in the final design. Sometimes other colours further distract the eye from the original image. When your eye detects a form your mind will then create logic from the whole pattern. It’s really nice to hear what people see in my designs: birds, dancing people, faces and just about anything you can think of. Everyone sees something different in my work.

Dionne Sylvester bolster cushion
What was the best thing you learnt during your degree in fashion design in Falmouth?
The best thing I learnt was digital printing, I was really lucky that I had the best technicians and I was taught so much about the practical uses of the equipment because I was in the first year to do the fashion degree. This meant that the technicians had a bit more time to give us tips on using everything and it was all new. I completed the first year on a Contemporary Crafts degree before I changed over to Fashion, which is funny since I have now gone back full circle and my work could be included under the umbrella of ‘craft’. My studies enabled me to pick up a real fusion of different skills.

Dionne Sylvester teacup designs
Why did you decide to crossover into the production of homewares, and what has been the easiest and hardest things about the transition?
I’m still not sure how it happened! But, I knew I wanted to do something of my own and I love making and being creative. I bought the same equipment that I used at uni to do digital printing for fabric and it started from there when I began to experiment with the equipment boundaries. The first products I produced were sets of teacups which I got into a shop in Margate a week later, and the original prints on those are still being used on products which I sell.

Dionne Sylvester designs mugs
The easiest part of all of this is how creative I can be and I am basically making, designing, painting and producing pretty things on most days. But the hardest transition is that I’m learning as I go along. I didn’t know anything about homewares or the craft business. From production to location of selling and keeping accounts, I am constantly learning. But it is still fun and I have met lovely people on the journey.

Where and how are your products made?
I source all my products locally or from within the UK, and I produce all my products from my home studio in Kent. It’s a bit crazy and gets messy, but it works at the moment. I’m looking into getting the ceramics made by a specialist outsource as I want to expand my ceramic range.

White Horses Whitstable art sails
How did you get involved with the White Horses Whitstable project and what inspired the final design that appeared on a sail? (see Dionne’s sail on the far left)
I got involved with White Horses when I saw their advertisement for local artists and I wanted to be part of the project because it sounded very unusual and I have never been involved with producing public art before. The print that was featured on my sail is called A Water Dance and was inspired by my travels to the Caribbean – inspiration came from looking at how the sea reflects the different colours around it, changing the tone and creating movement and textures. I thought that would fit in well with the theme and it is also one of my favourite designs that is featured on my range of cushions.

White Horses Whitstable 2013
White Horses Whitstable 2013. Photo courtesy of Leo Mason.

Whom do you produce fashion prints for, and how do these complement your own range?
I have sold to Bally, Gap and straight to textiles houses. My designs for fashion are very different as they tend to feature hand drawn illustrations in pen and ink and use a lot less colour than in my own work. I make mini collections of prints around themes such as decaying nature, the human body and creepy animals.

Dionne Sylvester- a water dance
Dionne Sylvester – A Water Dance.

How has the Prince’s Trust enabled your business to grow?
The Prince’s Trust has been brilliant! I went to them when I was unsure of what I wanted to do, and my mentor made me think about the possibilities of my small idea. She made me realise how much I had learnt from my studies and what an enormous love of art, craft and design I have. Taking part gave me the confidence to use all the skills I have.

Dionne Sylvester designs cushions
Where can interested readers find you in the run up to Christmas?
With the run up to Christmas, I’m going to be selling in Style Market on Saturdays at Spitalfields Market, at Handmade Christmas in the O2 on 15th December and at the Of Cabbage of Kings Christmas Market in Stoke Newington on 15th December.

Lastly, I believe you now live in Chatham in Kent – can you share with us what is happening creatively in the area? I’d love to know…
I have always worked and socialised in London but it has been three years since I left uni and I’ve kind of settled in Chatham now. There is a really creative buzz going on in Medway with lots of artists and designers hosting interesting events. This is not just because of the different arts universities in the area – it feels as if the local people are coming together to make a creative community, which is growing very quickly. It will be interesting to see how Medway artists affect the local landscape in the coming years.

You can find Dionne Sylvester‘s etsy shop right here. Photography by Caroline Wenham.

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