Meet Snowden Flood
Let's pause for a moment to meet in her London studios. Snowden is a talented British Designer that I first learned about via Jess, a London friend who attended the Hidden Art at 100% East show this past Autumn. Snowden recently launched a line of affordable home accessories consisting of plates, cups, pillows, and ceramics. I think that learning about her process, a bit about her personal life and challenges, and where she draws inspiration from may motivate you in any endeavors you may be currently pursuing. I hope you enjoy our chat, and if you have any questions for her, you may post them in the comments section below. You may also refer to her professional bio on her website, too. Enjoy!
cattledogs: Hi Snowden, so nice to have a chance to meet up with you. I know your bio on your website is pretty extensive, but can you give us a quick summary?
snowden: Sure, Holly. I was born in Texas and moved to London at 9 months old. I've lived in the UK my whole life until I was offered a scholarship to do my masters in Sculpture at Parsons in New York. I stayed in NY for 9 years as an artist and working for a very high-end architect developing products and designing for his clients. I moved back to Europe in 2000 and carried on working for that client (Peter Marino Architects) and designing for other private clients. I don't have any formal design training though... Learned everything 'on the job' or self-taught.
cattledogs: Interesting beginnings... Can you now tell us about your product line and why you decided to design accessories?
snowden: Well they started in different ways... Unexpectedly (and rather devastatingly), I became a single parent to my 3 week old baby so I had a lot of time alone in my house wondering what had just happened to me and adjusting to 'Plan B'! In the evenings when my little boy was sleeping, I threw myself into working creatively. Any time I wasn't looking after him I worked on my products.
cattledogs: I'm sorry to hear that. Since your accessories each have their own story to, maybe you can start with the leather and suede cushions that you offer.
snowden: Yes, the leather and suede cushions started with me messing around cutting out patterns and bonding to other colours of cloth and leather. I decided on laser cutting after spending 14 hours cutting a design by hand one night! I experimented with bonding and adhesives for two years, so that has been a long project.
cattledogs: And the embroderies?
snowden: The embroideries happened because I was developing some designs for a private client in the Middle East based upon Moroccan embroideries. This client mostly likes brown and I'm not really a fan of that colour! I was working with an embroiderer I know well and had them recolour and resize the designs I'd done for the clients, it looked so great I sent them some more things. I wanted to see what the imagery I'd been using for the laser cut designs looked like as an embroidery. Again, it's been a long development!
cattledogs: And how did this lead to where you are today?
snowden: What happened was that when I did the first few cut leather panels, I showed them to some industry (interiors and design) pros and realised that the designs I'd created could be developed as a collection (rather than just cushions) and would create a strong brand identity - so that's how I started to think about things like ceramics too even though I've had no experience as a ceramicist. I am currently developing wallpapers, notebooks and rugs to augment this range.
cattledogs: That's great. Shows the value in seeking out advice from the right people, doesn't it? So, you mentioned that you're not a ceramicist, but I'm sure you have many personal skills. Would you like to tell us about those?
snowden: I am a strange mixture of extremely practical and rather hands-off. For instance, I am currently doing an embroidery for a baby shower gift, but I would not want to be embroidering my own range - I don't think I'm a good enough embroiderer to sell the work. I like making things but when it comes to business, I'm a real perfectionist so I wouldn't think work produced by my hand is good enough. Anyway, my skills? I can weld, do carpentry, sew, make clothes, print, I'm a good cook and like gardening. To be honest, if it's remotely creative I like doing it. That's what I realised when I gave up being a fine artist... That I was just as happy cooking a meal!
cattledogs: I'd like to know more about what happened at your meeting with those industry professionals that you mentioned earlier. How did you approach it?
snowden: Well as I mentioned, I showed my work to some industry professionals. One lady develops work for Barneys and buys for them and as a straight talking New Yorker I knew she wouldn't mince her words. Being British and a perfectionist, I kind of introduced it as "it's rubbish but let me know what you think"... She, and the others disagreed and the feedback was 100% positive so I was encouraged to think about my work in a more positive light. I understood then that what I was doing could be expanded to include other items as well.
cattledogs: After exiting that meeting (doing the happy dance, I'm sure), what would you count as your next success?
snowden: For me it's still very early days actually. Although I've been designing for clients for years, my product range has only even existed since the end of September 2006. I suppose my first success was being chosen to exhibit with other Hidden Art designers on their stand at 100% East because that really exposed the work (1 week after being 'born') to a huge audience, thankfully it went very well. Also I have just been nominated for an award by the Hidden Art organisation - whether I win or not, that is jolly nice!
cattledogs: With so much good, there's always some bad. What difficulties have you encountered?
snowden: Plenty! The biggest one is juggling being a single parent with the need to make money and having enough time to build up my company. I basically work any time I can. The other big obstacle I've encountered is that my products are still more expensive than I want them to be. I'm not trying to compete with Target or Woolworth's but neither do I want someone to have to have a 2nd mortgage to buy my things. This is more a problem for the US where much of the interest has come from: adding in shipping and duties weak currency makes my things quite pricey. I'm trying to address that but it's proving a real slog! Mostly I am my own worst enemy because I am immensely impatient. I expected within a week of launching to have my products in every design store in the world... Sadly it all takes much longer!
cattledogs: Pricing seems to present issues for many designers, even well-established ones. Tell me, how large is your company?
snowden: It's just me! I live for the day when I am able to hand all the paperwork and accountancy bits over to someone else as I hate that part of it.
cattledogs: I'm sure someone makes your products for you then, so where are they manufactured and with what materials?
snowden: The ceramics are manufactured in Stoke on Trent in the UK, an area known as 'the potteries'. As you probably know, it's where Wedgewood and Royal Doulton are made too. The plates are bone china and the mugs are porcelain. The laser cut cushions are mostly lamb leather and suede and are made by me in my studio, though I do send them out for laser cutting. And the embroideries are made in India by a small family firm. I send them the layouts as drawn out panels and they return them embroidered. They are made into cushions here.
cattledogs: We touched on manufacturing and materials, let's get into the actual design process a bit. Do you have a particular theme that you work with?
snowden: Hmm, not intentionally. I am drawn to strong graphic imagery though that's for sure - always have been, looking through old portfolios from art college in the early 90's I found lots of sillhouettes and paper cutouts, not disimilar to what I'm doing now!
cattledogs: What are the main characteristics of your work? your work method?
snowden: So far all my work shares a visual language in terms of colour and being boldly graphic - despite the different media. I am quite tactile and like texture also, maybe its being a former sculptor, so the cushions all reflect that. The other thing I like is taking something that is very familiar and giving it a little twist somehow, that shows throughout my work, be it the art I used to make or the work I do now.
cattledogs: How does your work reflect your personality?
snowden: In it's liking for the overlooked and slightly offbeat. Being quirky and a bit 'in your face' but with a sense of humour! Definitely my colour sense. I have so many brightly patterned items of clothing, I sometimes find it difficult to get dressed in the morning!
cattledogs: What projects do you have in mind for the future?
snowden: I want to produce rugs, wallpapers and lighting. Basically I won't be content until my 'brand' is dominating the world of interiors accessories! Right now, I am just resolving a few issues on the line of embroideries and have the new samples back - five iconic buildings designs, each in three colourways in beautiful colours... Nobody has seen them yet but I'm excited about them (see two photos shown.)
cattledogs: Ah, world domination... Good goal! Where do you find your inspiration?
snowden: Everywhere really. I am a complete book worm (don't have a TV) and have tons of art and design books. Being a former artist, I still see lots of contemporary art shows which gets my brain ticking over. I love clothes and fashion and look at the fashion world particularly for colours. I'm a bit of a visual junkie, I am always flicking through magazines and books or staring around at things and people. Friends worry that my staring will oneday cause someone to start a fight with us! I am also inspired by people, like my friend Lianne of Mrs Me (who I see you have discovered recently yourself Holly) - she makes beautiful and extremely elegant work. Also, The V + A and the Tate Modern, two places I go to a lot. I like to sit in the members bar at the Tate and stare at the river and the skyline. The V + A is always inspiring because of it's range - from a light intallation by a member of Massive Attack to a 16th century bed, you can't ask for more than that can you?! I've been inspired by blogs actually lately. I have to admit that I'd never seen a blog before this summer, but being able to access such a wealth of global thought and images on the best design, art or whatever, is invaluable. So, I'm a bit of a blog junkie now!
cattledogs: Your day at Tate Modern sounds like the perfect way to spend a Saturday in London. You know, I almost forgot to ask you something that is constantly on my mind, especially lately. Is there anything you think is lacking in the design world that you'd enjoy seeing more of? Is there anything that you're seeing way too much of - you know, that it's driving you insane?
snowden: What I loved about being at 100% east was how much of the work was conceptual and not in production. At the bigger trade shows, like Maison et Objet, 100% Design or Decorex, this part of it has made way for the commercial aspects and that's a shame. As a designer it's great to be able to go and bandy ideas around and get a feel for trends. I like going to the end of year student shows for the same reason. On the negative side, if I see another stags head with antlers, butterflies or a chandelier silhouette I think I may scream!
cattledogs: Ha! I know what you mean! Now let's talk about your work studio. How is it laid out and where is it situated?
snowden: I work from home which I have grown to love because I can care for my son, dash off a few emails, kind of at the same time. I bought my home in September, and I've been so busy that I haven't done a thing here yet. It's kind of an ugly little boxy redbrick house built in 1973 and previously owned by an old lady so it is not yet indicative of my taste... All the art and personal belongings are still in boxes I'm afraid, awaiting decorating to be done!. It has a beautiful light in this house though, so once the building work starts, it will be very gorgeous indeed. So, my studio, like the rest of my house, is not entirely reflecting my own personality yet. However, my working practice is spread over two floors. Downstairs I have my little office. It was the old 'utility room' so it is still very unglamourous, it has a cement floor with white painted brick walls. It has stuff everywhere - magazines, pictures, drawings, pantone sheets, embroideries that have gone wrong, you name it! On one side it faces onto a little garden which is great to stare into when I am feeling a bit uninspired. There's a big old tree out the back which I like too. Upstairs is a little room with all my work in stock and my work table. I do all the cutting and bonding here along with any layouts I need to do for the embroiderers. Also any packing for orders would be done there. Again, it's a bit of a mess design wise, it's not something I've been able to turn my attention to yet - being rather time impoverished!
cattledogs: When you have a moment to actually breathe (!), what do you do for fun?
snowden: I like playing with my small boy. He is 3 now which is a great and a very creative age. Being with small children is knackering but often quite inspiring because they constantly challenge your preconceptions about how things 'should' be done or 'should' look. We play lots of muddy football, pretend to be foxes in the woods in our local park (his current favourite game) and do lots of art and cooking together. In my own time I like reading, riding my bike, swimming and going to galleries and markets. I adore film and I'm a bit sad that I don't get to go to the cinema very much any more.
cattledogs: Being raised in Europe, I'm sure you have quite a few vacations to talk about. Out of all the places you've visited, where would you live if money were no obstacle? Why?
snowden: Barcelona, Spain. It has everything, sea, mountains and Spanish people it's a great and exciting place to be. One problem though, you have to speak catalan - which sounds like a cat being strangled.
cattledogs: Yikes! And to wrap things up, what are 10 things that you can't live without?
snowden: Sorry, I'm probably super dull and poker faced on this one. If you'd asked me 'things i love' I'll tell you millions, but 'things i can't live without'? Going through tough times a few years back, I know now that the only thing that really means anything is my son and my friends, all the rest is nice but - when the chips are down - totally meaningless!
cattledogs: So true! It's a somewhat shallow question, I know. Oh, and I nearly forgot, but how did you get your fabulous name?
snowden: Thank you! It's a family name. My mother wanted to call me after her uncle who brought her up - Jim Snowden, but selfishly I was born a girl so she had to use the surname... She is from California though and I don't think she thought I'd be brought up in a country (UK) where the tallest mountain is by the same name (spelt slightly differently) so I have suffered through many years of mountaineering jokes and innuendo!
A big thanks to Snowden Flood for visiting us today on cattledogs. Thank you again!
[Since there's a lot of reading here, and I have an appointment this afternoon, I need to sign off for the day. I'll be back later this evening!]
(images from snowden flood.)