Jane Foster, Designer & Author

Jane Foster is a British textile designer, illustrator, maker and author living and working in Devon with her partner and daughter. Jane creates Scandinavian and retro-inspired designs. By the end of 2017, Jane will have had 17 books published with the majority of these being colourful retro board books for pre-school children. She has also collaborated with Make International who produce mugs, glasses, kitchen textiles and haberdashery with her trademark bold and colourful designs on them.

“My aim is to produce happy, retro designs that appeal to children and adults – trying to add a bit of fun to everyday life. I love working on a mixture of projects and am my happiest when I’m screen printing or working on a new book. (coffee and cake always at hand!)”

What was your first memory of creativity?

When I was five, my dad gave me a large paper potato sack from his allotment that I painted and made into an American Indian dress. He cut out holes for the head and arm. I wore it with pride around the garden! When I was two we lived in St Louis (house swap), and spent time travelling all over the United States. My parents told me I was transfixed with meeting American Indians and loved all the vibrant colours and jewellery. It had a lasting impression on me. My parents were academics but Dad loved being creative and was always making strange things (fibreglass canoe, rectangular guitar and a hexagonal wooden summer house). He was also in a skiffle band, loved DIY and was hugely encouraging to me when I was growing up, spending hours reading the newspapers whilst listening to me playing the violin.

What was your creative journey to get to where you are?

I’ve always been creative as I initially studied music (violin & piano) at the Royal Northern College of Music followed by a PGCE in music and expressive arts.
This was followed by years of teaching music, and playing in various bands. I came to my screen printing/art career much later in life but in some ways, they’re both very similar in that I still have an audience as such and produce material for children. I gave up teaching nine years ago and embraced trying to make a go of this new career although it had been happening for a while in the background. Whilst living in Brighton and discovered a screen printing venue around the corner. I did a week course in the summer of 2007 and was hooked. I was spotted in a Brighton Open House and was soon signed up to the Art Group where I made and designed prints for 10 years. These were sold in Habitat and gave me the confidence to keep going! I started a simple website, blog and it gradually took off to where I am now.

What impact have big name clients had on your career?

To some degree, working with clients has meant that I’m seen as less of a gamble to future clients who want to work with me. It fills them with more confidence to work with me and they can also see that I have an existing brand which can work over several product areas. I do also believe that working with too many companies at once can be detrimental to a brand as many want exclusivity in a certain area. I always respect this and have turned companies down in order to remain loyal to existing ones. It’s possible to become over licensed and not have anywhere to go next. This can be confusing to the public and isn’t always a good idea.

How do you establish your own style over a period of time and still stay relevant?

It’s a million dollar question and I’m always working on this! I think I try to stay true to myself, always choosing to work on projects and designs that I enjoy. I like pushing myself into new areas which keeps my work fresh. I avoid taking work that is too stressful and I avoid trying to fit in with any trends as I believe good design can last longer than trends and there’s a danger when you try to produce designs that you think people might want. I try to think about how Steve Jobs approached design – he worked on new designs that people didn’t even know they needed and wanted until they saw them. He tried to stay ahead of the times instead of trying to fit in. There will always be an audience somewhere for your designs, it’s about finding and engaging with that audience and that’s
the challenge.

Does your work develop thematically, or is it more distinctive and random?

It’s usually always distinctive and random but when I’m given a brief, I spend a lot of time away from the table thinking and visualising. I then put pen to paper and the designs come quite quickly. I used to use this approach when I played the violin – we were encouraged to work away from the instrument visualising actually performing the piece of music – I think athletes often work this way too.

Who has been the biggest influence on your work?

My dad was a huge influence, as he was always super encouraging with everything I did. If I sat at the piano, the TV automatically went off. He’d spend hours driving me to London to get extra violin lessons or taking me to concerts. My parents also took my sister and I to the Tate Gallery and I remember being wowed by David Hockney and Bridget Riley. They bought me a kids mini screen printing kit when I showed interest at school. I mustn’t forget to mention my lovely art teacher Mrs Bruce. She had huge black backcombed hair – a bit like Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees) with thick black eye liner. She wasn’t afraid to stand out and I loved this quality in her. She was a fabulous teacher and let me have my own art table by the window. She encouraged me to screen print t-shirts, gave me fabric to make curtains and print posters for our exhibitions. It was sad in a way that it would be a whole 22 years later until I came back to the love of screen printing.

What inspires you or provokes the motivation towards creativity within?

I think I’m always constantly motivated to create. It’s in my blood and feels as if it’s a need I have, much like eating and drinking. If I ever have a few days where I’m not creating, I start to feel strange and miss it terribly. When I’m being creative, I’m usually living and focused in the moment and not worrying about anything. I love the feeling of working on a design that I can then screen print onto fabric and then make a product from. It’s also incredibly rewarding to work on my children’s illustrations knowing that thousands of babies around the world are going to be enjoying them with their parents. Our daughter is my best and harshest critic, and hugely fun to design alongside, often showing me how it should be done!

I’m also motivated to earn a living from what I do as I’ve always needed to make my own money. My sheer determination to not have to return to teaching has been an underlying driving force for me too – one can’t underestimate the importance of this – I’ve had to make it work.

Which famous artists do you admire or inspires you the most?

The illustrator Dick Bruna (who designed the Miffy books) was also another huge influence on my work as I loved his illustrations as a child and have continued to like and collect his books ever since. His work is so timeless and has an incredible appeal world wide. I know his black line approach and use of primary colours was definitely an influence on my work.

Which designers do you admire or inspires you the most?

I love the work of the 50s designers Robin and Lucienne Day. They were a good team together (much like my partner Jim and I), producing iconic furniture and fabric designs, pushing new designs forward at a time when many were playing safe. They were so prolific and worked across many platforms.

What is it you love most about what you do?

I love the fact that I can continue to be creative in the comfort of my own studio at home, keep flexible hours
and be my own boss. I also love the freedom this life has given me to be with our nine year old daughter as she’s growing up, not ever having had to put her into child care. (okay – this has often meant me working 8pm to midnight when she sleeps, but I don’t mind )I can pick her up from school every day and watch her grow. She has her own desk and sewing machine in the studio too where she can create alongside me. I feel so grateful for having the life I do and treasure every moment.

Event Details: Conversations in Creativity (6.30pm) 3 May – Blackburn Cathedral