‘See beyond the end of your nose’ is the very fitting motto of Jessica Russell Flint. She creates lively designs that turn the ordinary into something fun, from bright pink flamingo make-up bags to pineapple print napkins. Going from a degree in Geography, to a career in advertising and then on to Central Saint Martins, Jessica finally took the leap of faith to create her own brand and become a full-time artist. She talks to The LuxPad about how she will never become a sell-out and why humor is one of her biggest inspirations…
Before training at Central St Martins you completed a degree in Geography, what made you go from one to the other and did you always know you would end up in the art & design world?
I had always been drawing and painting, my whole family are artists and designers. I knew I’d always go back to art but it was really important for me to do a degree, get out of London for a while and study something else that I was interested in. Geography was full of interesting subjects, it’s so varied, from politics to music and even fashion… I did my dissertation on “fashion and the body, and how we transform through spaces”. When I returned to London to get a job and worked in advertising for six years it was really relevant, but ultimately whilst I was still drawing in my spare time I missed the all-consuming nature of being an artist. I began to blog my designs and do exhibitions even before I studied at St. Martins, and my work was selling… I just needed to take the leap of faith, and fingers crossed it has paid off. It has been very tough, going from a decent salary to constantly worried about cash flow and stock flow…but I love it and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!
There is a real sense of fashion and fun in your designs – do you think that you will ever make the move from homeware to fashion design?
I get asked this a lot! I love fashion, but I have always been very aware of my surroundings and it’s so important for me to feel comfortable, and make others feel comfortable in their situation so designing for the home is definitely more of a passion. I’d never say no to fashion, but it’s a very different ball game – for me, with fashion, it’s in the cut and the shape and that’s not so interesting to me. I am collaborating with various fashion brands at the moment. The beautiful swimwear brand Lilliput and Felix are using my bees and leaves print on a range for their SS16 collection and there are various other collabs in the pipeline that I am excited about. For now – that’s how I’d like to keep it. I’m too busy to keep up with my own work let alone think about embarking on a whole new area!
All of your designs are very colorful and eclectic in subject matter – who or what inspires you most?
Honestly, I think humor and a sense of life and enjoyment are really important to me. I grew up in a very sociable and happy environment, we were not particularly well off but everything we did was always fun and as aesthetically pleasing as possible. My mother was amazing at making things look incredible out of nothing. I guess it has worn off. We also had a lot of animals and grew up in the middle of nowhere so I think that plants and animals and their incredible natural beauty are so inspiring. I think we’ve been through so many bland and minimalist trend phases lately that it’s nice to be able to celebrate with color and objects in the real world.
Can you take us through the process of initial design to finished product – how long can it take?
All of the designs begin as a piece of artwork. I will use ink and quill pen to create the outline of an object or animal, and once it has dried I will apply layers of texture and color to create a finished piece. If I am creating a fabric or a textile repeat then I will scan in one of the paintings and select the parts I want to use in a digital application. I can then change the color ways and add in other sections from other pieces to create a repeat. I can then use this on a product. Products are then produced in various locations, I print all materials in an amazing print house in Chester and have various sample machinists to develop samples. Once a design is approved I can send to a larger manufacturer – some in the UK, some in Turkey and India, depending on the product. It’s taken a while to build up a reliable production base but I have a good team around me now who I trust and understand quality is at the forefront of my requirements.
What are your top tips for revamping a living room space?
I totally buy into refreshing with new paint every couple of years. Even after a year you can notice new age marks on walls that might not be immediately apparent but once that new coat is on it can transform a room. I love the cliché of paint from Farrow and Ball…and if you can’t afford to do the whole room in this, pop into your local Leyland with a swatch and they can color match pretty much anything for a snip of the price in their very good own brand. I like a statement wall. Not going over the top is key. Off black is quite a big urban trend at the moment for statement walls, but this can look terrible if it’s over the top.
Flooring can make a huge difference, if you’re fortunate enough to peel back old carpet to reveal wooden floors, investing in a sand blaster can transform anywhere. We just did a house in Dalston that had revolting orange varnished floors – total 70s style and just blasting the varnish off has transformed a space that looked cramped and outdated into a beautiful, clean space – ready to be filled with lovely furniture and accessories.
I’d also recommend a bland base, not too many clashing colors without a nude base. You can get away with almost any bright accessory or wall art if you start with a nude base.
Pinterest is a great place to start for inspiration!
How would you describe your interior style and do you have a favorite room in your home?
Old English meets Urban. I like clean spaces with old remnants. I’m uncomfortable with stark spaces but, whilst I love the old English vibe it’s not so convenient anymore. I also love hints of Mexican – I have a very cool old set of drawers in a sort of Eames ‘70s retro style that I bought off gumtree a few years ago. I “tattooed’ them with a basic Aztec print and it works so well. I love our kitchen, when we moved in to our flat a few years back we were very poor but hated our 90s bulky kitchen – so we just pulled it all out and concreted the walls. Put old sleepers in the wall for shelves instead of cabinets and my husband built a larder out of old wooden doors. We just bought the IKEA steel kitchen base cabinets and a vintage wood sideboard, inserted an old kitchen butlers silk and voila! It’s done on a minor budget but seems so much bigger and has a great feel. Once we put prints on the walls in frames the whole thing fits together.
What is your most treasured possession?
A beautiful vintage armchair my grandmother gave me that I’ve had re-upholstered. (And Betty, my beagle-lab dog.)
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
“Do un to your neighbor as you would do unto yourself”…. (The Bible – my Sunday school teacher and my mum). You get so much more out of life by treating people well. Being a bitch in life or business won’t get you anywhere.
What is the hardest lesson you learnt when setting up your own business?
Tenacity. You need to have so much patience to get where you want to be. People think setting up a business will give them more money overnight – it’s not the case. It’s a long long game and rewards come in long after the effort! It’s so hard. If you don’t have a passion then stick to the day job!
What’s next for you and your brand and where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
On a personal level I’m trying to find the time to put together enough pieces for a new Art Exhibition, the brand has been so time consuming for the past couple of years I’ve not had the time to get a body of work together – so this is something I’m aiming for this October.
As well as taking on more interior design projects and commissions, this is something I’m really enjoying…transforming spaces without a huge budget, updating old pieces and bringing in the new. It’s amazingly rewarding.
On a brand level, we’ve just introduced the new wallpaper and fabric range and I’m hoping this will become a key area of the brand. It fits well with the designs. We’re aiming to bring in a wider range of pieces so we can establish products by room. For example, we are about to produce a bathroom range of textiles and lampshades.
In addition, one of my favorite designer samplists, Jules Kenna, and I are working on a “bespoke” collection of one off and made to order pieces – such as foot stools and floor cushions, headboards and upholstered pieces. I am excited about all the different areas – I hope in five years’ time we will be a well-known brand, at least in the UK, but still provide a personal customer service. I have no intention of selling out to the mass market. I want to keep the quality and design aesthetic.
Shop the eclectic range of Jessica Russell Flint home accessories now and add a little fun to your ordinary.