A Portrait in Objects: Dee Hardwicke
As an artist and designer my work table is at the heart of studio life, and its surface is an ever-changing ‘collage’ of the projects I’m working on. The table is usually covered in a gorgeous array of yarns, knitted swatches, watercolours, sketchbooks and flower-filled vases, so I don’t always see much of the beautiful wooden surface itself!
I spotted the table at the back of my local vintage shop a few years ago. I was fascinated to discover that it’s an old brioche-making table (complete with a dough-proving barrel under the top), that the shop’s owner had brought over from France.
The moment I sat down at the table and ran my hand over the wood, I felt myself tingling. Somehow I instantly knew that it was almost my duty to continue the table’s heritage as part of a tradition of making. I love to think that this simple table—which would once have had dough being kneaded and shaped on its surface—is now enjoying a completely new creative life here in Wales.
I’ve always been incredibly inspired by the Arts & Crafts tradition, something that’s reflected by my love of working with a wide range of materials, from yarn and paint to clay. I’m also a real believer in the William Morris philosophy of surrounding yourself with things that are beautiful or useful since it’s so true how much joy they can bring from day to day. This former milk bottle drying rack, like my work table, was another treasure I found in my local vintage shop and have completely repurposed. There are lots of farms in this part of the country, and in days gone by a dairy’s freshly washed milk bottles would have been popped on the hooks to drain.
As soon as I saw the rack though, I knew it would make a perfect mood board. Rather like the surface of my work table, the rack looks different from day to day—and sometimes you can’t see much of it at all!—as I switch yarns and sample knits around, often taking a few steps back to assess and appreciate the newly emerging palettes and textures. I’ve been so busy with exciting projects such as Field Guide No. 25: Botanica and my latest book, The Knitted Fabric: Colourwork Projects for You and Your Home (Laine Publishing) that I haven’t managed to paint the motif I drew on the wall behind it yet.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve filled sketchbooks with watercolours, pencil drawings and pressed flowers. In the same way that many people keep a written diary, my sketchbooks are a visual record of the world around me. I’ve lost count of how many sketchbooks I have, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They’re squirrelled away all over my studio and house. The pages of my sketchbooks are where my designs begin to take shape, so I often look back through them for reference and inspiration. The initial sketches and drawings become part of an ever-evolving creative story; a design is never ‘finished’ since there’s always potential to develop it even further. I love looking at the motifs in my sketchbooks, remembering the origins of a particular design, reflecting on how it has developed over time, and imagining what form it might take in years to come.
No matter what season it is, my studio is always filled with flowers and foliage, whether it’s a few freshly gathered roses from my garden, a beautiful bouquet I’ve treated myself to, or some fallen twigs discovered on a walk and popped into a simple glass jar. I find it so inspiring and uplifting to be surrounded by nature, and I’ll often start sketching one of the flower-filled vases on my work table, perhaps having noticed a particularly eye-catching colour or pattern that could form the basis of a design. Having trained in fine arts, I’ve learned the importance of really looking, and it’s amazing what tiny, intricate details you begin to notice when you study something as apparently simple as a stem, leaf or petal.
I live in Wales, where I’m surrounded by gorgeous cottage gardens and spectacular scenery, from mountains and rivers to pastures and wild flower meadows, so there’s endless inspiration all around from season to season. I love bundling up in one—or even two (it can be chilly here!)—of my knitted wraps and heading out for a bracing walk along the country lanes and across the fields, taking in the constantly changing colours and forms in the landscape as I go.
I’m never far from a cup of tea when I’m in my studio. I love the whole ritual of taking a few quiet minutes to make tea, and I often find ideas springing to mind when I’m filling the kettle or letting my thoughts wander as I take my first few sips. I have a cupboard full of china samples from exclusive collections I’ve worked on with partners such as the National Trust and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, so there’s always plenty of china to hand. This Cottage Garden design from my second collection with the National Trust is one of my favourites though. There’s something incredibly satisfying about the generous proportions of the cup (which holds plenty of tea), and the saucer is very handy for popping a biscuit onto!
After studying painting and fine arts, I completed an apprenticeship with Quaker potters in the Welsh Marches. The Quaker family I worked with were based just across the fields from the beautiful ruins of Tintern Abbey on the banks of the River Wye. The whole experience made me fall in love with working with clay and, over the years, I’ve created bespoke tiles and commissions for projects ranging from private houses to a school chapel. I’ve developed a unique way of making tiles and mosaics that encompasses my training and my love of painting and sculpture.
This little butterfly tile is one of my most treasured pieces. It was created many years ago when a biologist who lived nearby commissioned me to make a series of hand-painted butterfly tiles illustrating our local butterflies. My son was very young at the time, and he and I spent many happy hours in nearby meadows while I studied the butterflies that were flitting from flower to flower. As with all of my work, the designs began life in my sketchbooks before metamorphosing into the tiles. The butterflies I sketched all those years ago have provided me with endless inspiration, something I’m always reminded of when I look at this very precious little tile.