Introducing our latest collaboration
Illustrator, screenprinter, fan of the cardigan, Charlotte Farmer brings vibrant colours and bonkers animals to beautiful archived matchbox designs
Archivist is nothing without the wonderful artists and designers we collaborate with. Sometimes an artist’s work arrives on your desk and it just feels like that collaborations was meant to be and that was exactly how we felt when we first saw the colourful world of Charlotte Farmer – if you haven't fallen down the rabbit hole of dazzlingly colourful, screen-printed, grumpy animals that is Charlotte’s Instagram, you are in for a treat! Take a look here.
As a screen printer and illustrator based in Bath, her work is colourful and a little bit bonkers. So, a perfect fit for Archivist. She studied at Saint Martin’s, has been featured twice in the Royal Academy, and her list of illustration clients is hugely impressive. We are thrilled that she has agreed to work with us to create four beautiful matchboxes with hopefully many more to come later this year. A few weeks ago I was lucky to sit down with the wonderful Charlotte and here is a snap shot of our conversation…
Madeleine Allardice: It’s so lovely to get the chance to sit down and talk with you today, so thank you so much. Let’s dive in strait away, to the element that makes your work so distinctive; COLOUR! Has your work always been so vibrant?
Charlotte Farmer: Oh no! At one point my box of printing ink was just full of lots of bluey greys, just variations of the same colour. But now when you look at it it’s just different variations of orange and yellow and pink. I think I’ve just got more and more confident with colour as I have been making my own work.
MA: I suppose If you are going to spend hours crafting one print, it might as well be made with colours that bring you joy!
CF: I think when I was overusing blues and greys, I was busy trying to make things realistic, but now I sort of think what the hell, let’s just make the sun pink. I am all about the sunsets! I just started to find out what colours I really like and what brings me joy. A friend of mine at college was really obsessed with Battenburg cake so that could be it…
MA: I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say their artistic inspiration comes from a cake before! Where do you take your inspiration from?
CF: Loads of people when they're doing their artistic statements, it’s a lot of ‘Oh, I'm so inspired by nature,’ and I don't know…. it can just sound a bit pretentious. And I really try and avoid that. I just want to try and make people smile when they see my work. So, I take inspirations from grumpy cats and Battenburg cake!
MA: You definitely do that! I don't think anyone could help but smile at the very grumpy bear with a monkey on its’ back. Where do all your physical prints begin? What is your studio like?
CF: The studio is just outside Bath, and it's in the middle of nowhere. All we can see out of the window is tonnes of chickens. I used to print in a bigger studio in Bristol with loads more people there, and I really miss it, but it all got really complicated over lockdown.
MA: Surrounded by chickens, that sounds idyllic. Do you find screen printing a relaxing process?
CF: It's weird. It’s not relaxing. It can make you feel quite tense, because as you add each layer of colour it becomes more and more crucial that you get it all in the right place. One little mistake on one layer of colour can ruin the whole thing. I do love it, but I also find it quite stressful. Also, it’s really tiring! When I'm printing I am on my feet all day. I don't think people realise how long it takes to make a print – you’ve seen how big some of my prints are and how many colours there are! Having said all of that it’s still a completely rewarding process.
MA: The most notable difference between your original artwork and the designs you made for our matchboxes is that we asked you to adapt the designs to work with five colours.* Was it strange to see your designs slightly stripped back, not to mention seeing them printing by someone else and this time letterpress printed instead.
CF: Oh they look great! But you see I just feel as if its cheating if I do a screen print that's only about seven or eight colours. It doesn't feel like it's enough. It feels too easy!
MA: How many colours are your prints then, if you’re saying printing seven and eight colours feels “too easy”?
CF: Maybe eight to sixteen. They're probably average somewhere in the middle of that number. A really big print, with multiple matchbox designs, patterns and colours, that does take me maybe two or three days. Also, you can only fit one or two stencils on your screen, so you have to keep washing it off and exposing it and starting again. Whereas if I'm doing one of my individual match boxes, I can fit everything on one screen, so it's bit quicker, so I can do those in a day.
MA: A very intense day I imagine?
CF: There is a lot of coffee involved!
MA: You’ve been talking about your match box designs a lot – where does your love of these designs come from?
CF: I started looking at matchbox labels because my Dad has this collection of ‘80s wine bar matchbooks. There is a whole world of matchbox labels, and they are all just so bonkers. They have the sorts of animals that I really love drawing (lions and tigers) and they are all just doing weird things. I could just keep drawing them forever, not sure I should, but that’s how I feel.
MA: No please keep drawing them, we love them!
CF: I really love vintage packaging, especially tea or fireworks as they have quite weird language on them. Like, ‘the finest tea for your breakfast table’, that’s not that weird but there is a certain musicality to it. ‘Luxury for the afternoon tea table’. It's all just quite fancy. ‘The finest tea obtainable,’ phrases like that I really like.
MA: Language is really important for you then? Your designs are littered with charming idioms, so I suppose it’s not surprising that that is where you get your inspiration from. Could you tell me a bit about the titles of your designs? The four matchboxes we have for example.
CF: Oh the titles are really important, it’s another way of making people laugh when they see what you've done. Also, you can guide how people think about the work. The one that was in the Royal Academy that you've got, it was called Cat Tricks. Then the leopard and tiger, that was just called The Chase… I mean, these aren't hilarious examples. But the monkey with a bear on a bike that is called The Cyclists Burden. I used to go out with a man who was really into bikes and I couldn’t stand him or cycling. So that explains that name…
It’s fair to say that we could have kept talking for ever about vintage packaging and printing. It was a joy to talk to her and I must say, ever since Charlotte mentioned Battenburg cake, I cannot look at her designs without feeling a wave of nostalgia for the soft yellow and pink squares of Mr Kipling’s Battenburg cakes.
Shop our collaboration here.
*With both screen printing and letterpress each colour is applied separately in layers. This can be a very long and labour-intensive process. It’s also a very considered approach to design – where printing digitally always you to use photography for example with thousands of colours these methods need to you see the design as layers of single colours. In the world of Archivist we have to be a little more ergonomic, to make sure we can sell them commercially. Less colours, means they are quicker and cheaper to print.