Sunday Maker's Session with Artist and Designer India Copley

During the week I went to visit artist and designer India Copley, not far from Chancery Lane station in London. She took me on a stroll around the local residential streets which were all brimming with greenery and character. We picked up an iced coffee in a café on one of the street corners and cooled off in the heat, then headed to her studio space nearby. It was as idyllic as it sounds, and with her open studios looming, I would definitely recommend a visit. In the meantime, have a read of our conversation below to discover more about her exciting practice, inspirations and grand ideas for the future.

Hello India! Other than reading our Sunday Maker’s Sessions, can you tell us what your perfect Sunday afternoon looks like? 

I would definitely start the day by heading out for a coffee and pastry at Good Cup in Nunhead, my favourite local cafe. Ideally, I’d then wander along to a market, one of my favourites is Deptford and I love to get there early to rummage around for gems. Often people spill their lives out onto their stall, it’s so intriguing to see. I would browse the local independent stores in the railway arches, often purchasing, yet another, houseplant from Forest. If I’m lucky there might even be an open studio going on around there too. Then in the afternoon I would head into town to go to an exhibition, of course Tate is always a safe bet, but Victoria Miro or Camden Art Centre usually have an interesting exhibition on too. After spending the day soaking up inspiration, I’d finally head back to South East for a walk in the park with friends and casual drinks, with a view, on Hilly Fields. Perfection!

Outside of London, where you would find inspiration for you practice?

My work is often inspired by nature, notably landscapes, and a location that has always inspired me is Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire. I grew up nearby, so I’m definitely naturally drawn to these surroundings, I have fond memories of climbing on the beautifully warped rock formations as a child. It is also near Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is always a great place to visit to seek out some inspiration. I have spent a lot of time by the dynamic Cornish coastline. I love to go on long cliffside walks, finding a quiet spot to get out my sketchbook and do some drawings. 

More recently I discovered The New Arts Centre on the way down to Cornwall. Inspiration when you least expect it is sometimes the best! I came across a wonderful exhibition there called Common Thread. It was a celebration of various textile artists, some well-known and others more up and coming. I found inspiration in the works of Sophie Rowley, Ben Nicholson and Amy Revier and a creative duo called Forest and Found. As well as taking in the exhibition I was also inspired by my surroundings there; the architecture,  interior spaces and the onsite park

Can you give us an insight into your creative journey, where it began and where you’re at now? 

I graduated from Chelsea College of Arts with a degree in Textile Design, and whilst there I specialised in mixed media. A very influential part of my studies was spending six months on an exchange program in Sweden, at The Swedish School of Textiles. It was there that I first discovered the art of tufting, and almost instantaneously I knew it was something I wanted to do again when I came back to London. The facilities back in the UK to pursue this craft are hard to come by, however this year I won the ‘Make It’ award at Cockpit Arts, and was given the opportunity to set up my own studio space and equipment here in Holborn. My current practice is now largely centred around the craft of hand tufting, with a focus on proportion, form and colour within my designs. I see tufting as drawing; just with wool, so a really important part of my design process in creating these tufted outcomes is experimenting with initial paper-based drawings, collages and prints.

Imagine I have no idea what tufting is, could you describe the processes involved to me?

Tufting is most well known as a form of rug making. Essentially it is a weaving process where yarn is pushed through a canvas backing using a pneumatic tufting gun – which is powered by compressed air. The air feeds the yarn through the gun and there is a small blade on the end which cuts it to the required pile length. You can change this length by using different sized needles, or alternatively you can remove the blade which creates a looped pile.

The canvas backing is an open weave which allows the yarn to be fit through, it  needs to be stretched taught onto grippers (which are lethal!) attached onto a wooden frame. I’m lucky enough to have had a large frame made up in my studio which allows me to make pieces up to around 2.5 meters.

The yarn I use for tufting is surplus and it is 100% wool. I am very particular about the colours I use so I mix up small colour swatches which I send off to a mill in West Yorkshire so that they can colour match and dye the yarn to the exact colours I want. There’s often a lot of to and fro with the sampling to get the colours just perfect. Overall, I would describe tufting as a physically demanding step by step process, but also very satisfying and rewarding.

Other than conventional rug making, what are your plans and ideas to implement tufting in more unusual ways?

The textured nature of the finished tufting lends itself to being interesting wall art. By using different colours and pile heights you can create unusual, tactile surfaces. Through my work I aim to push the boundaries of what textiles are; blurring the lines between craft and art and exploring the relationships between functional and decorative.

A commission I am working on at the moment is for a large tufted piece of artwork to go above a bed. I think that tufting will  lend itself really well to a bedroom setting because of its soft nature and warming feel. I hope the piece will give off a sense of calm but also be an exciting and intriguing piece of art. In time I would like to work on more site specific pieces, weather this be for a gallery space or interiors. I’d also love to collaborate with other craftspeople to create a collection of pieces that demonstrate the different ways in which tufting can be used and displayed.

How do you pull together your colour palettes for your paintings and tufting?

My holy bible is a book called ‘A Dictionary of Color Combinations’. I focus a lot on colour proportions and often combine a handful of muted and neutral colours with one or two brighter or richer tones. Interestingly, I have drifted back to the trusty colour wheel recently. Implementing colour theory within my work appears fairly obvious, and something I have probably subconsciously done since studying art in school, but it is also a very effective way of making complementary colour decisions. 

A lot my palettes are also pulled from nature and are likely a subconscious intake of my day to day surroundings. I definitely have a clear selection of colours that I’m immediately drawn to and I very quickly know if a colour just isn’t quite right. An important thing for me is to get this bank of colours down onto paper, so I often spend a lot of time mixing up swatches. I have a small sketchbook which houses all these rigorous colour studies.

If you could master another creative skill or technique what would it be?

I’ve always been drawn to process driven crafts. During my degree I experimented a lot with ceramics, woodwork and metalwork, and really enjoyed learning various different skills from each of these crafts, I think I probably spent more time down in the foundry than I did in the textile workshops. Although I enjoyed them all, I think if I were to pursue just one of these further, it would probably be woodwork and carpentry. As I develop my tufting further I can already visualise them becoming more sculptural and I can imagine woodwork structures integrating, supporting and working alongside the tufted textures. Again, it links back to the idea of creating contrast, the combination of soft tufting and hard wood would make for an interesting combination. More recently I have also been considering doing an upholstery course too!

Finally, it is clearly important to experience your work in real life as it is so tactile and textured. With this in mind when can we come and see it please?!

Cockpit Arts are (hopefully!) holding their open studios on the 26th – 29th of November, so if you’re keen to come see me tufting in action and a display of my tufted pieces then please do come along!

See India's Limited Edition Print available to purchase through our shop here!