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Artist Spotlight | Harriet Popham and 'The Line of Beauty'

last updated 14 December 2018

Illustrator, pattern designer and embroidery artist, HARRIET POPHAM, shares her passion for the materials and subject matter that shape her unique artistic language, as well her excitement at seeing the fruits of her creativity translated from her studio into the ‘real world’.


Since graduating from Swansea College of Art UWSTD with First Class Honours in Surface Pattern Design, Harriet has forged a successful freelance career for herself and, since joining Bright in the Spring, has already turned her distinctive brand of creativity to an impressive range of product commissions and projects.

A prolific designer with meticulous observational skills, and a brilliant eye for detail that allows her to capture the beautiful intricacy in both natural and man-made subjects, Harriet has enjoyed consistent interest from clients across all sectors: her signature combination of sensitive linework and strong graphic design sense lends itself to all manner of applications–from textile patterns to editorial design; greetings cards and sophisticated colouring books to large-scale murals…and pretty well everything inbetween!

We caught up with the Somerset-based artist to find out a little more about her process, inspirations and recent projects:

Harriet Popham HEADER_FINAL From top, left to right: Beautiful blue-ink botanical illustration created with gin-label packaging in mind; Sheffield architecture line-drawing, printed onto fabric to create a unique lampshade; exquisitely detailed line art for one of two ‘grown-up’ colouring books with Harper Collins; Harriet in her bright, light and enviably well-equipped work space; line, collage and paint illustration of the Palm House at Kew Gardens; created in response to an open call by Liberty of London, Harriet’s playful ‘Piccadilly Circus’ print features acrobats, trapeze artists and unicyclists in direct interaction with and reflection of the bustling chaos of the locale; an example of Harriet’s innovative approach to her work, experimenting with new ways of combining dip-pen, collage, paper-cut, print and alternative mark-making on a fruity theme; ‘Sheffield Evening’ print originally commissioned by the Museum of Sheffield and featuring snippets of the city’s architecture within bird-life silhouettes and botanicals from the winter gardens.

Talented in illustration, pattern-design and freestyle machine embroidery, is there any one particular medium that you find is more natural to you or enjoyable than the others?

“I really love working in a broad range of mediums. The one that comes most naturally is probably fine line ink drawing. Recently, however, I’ve been embracing bold block colours through painting, digital drawing and paper-cutting, and have also invested in an iPad so have been playing with [the] Procreate [app]: I feel very excited about the potential there”

“When working on personal projects I try to select one of these per week to focus on and develop. Each week is different - different in subject matter, technique and application of the design…endless fun!”

Collage and linework Work in progress: a snap of Harriet’s desk as she constructs her artwork from painted, collaged and ink-drawn elements; an example of the artist’s deliciously-detailed line drawings demonstrating her keen interest in architectural form.

How do you go about translating your designs from line to thread?

“Free-motion machine embroidery is, in some ways, very similar to drawing with pen, only you’re using two hands and moving the fabric around under the line / needle that’s in the middle.

Sometimes I sketch my design out and stitch onto paper, while at other times I make it up as I work, playing with zig-zag stitch for heavier lines, cross-hatching for shadows and generally building up textural patterns.”

Embroidery and fabric Sketching in stitch: Harriet’s skill in free-motion embroidery allows her to create designs that wonderfully-incongruously splice the immediacy of social-media-governed modern life, with a more relaxed, meditative arts-and-crafts-inspired aesthetic; Harriet’s intensely detailed designs are bursting with colour and often feature the playful inclusion of birds and animals that intertwine themselves with the pattern lines.

You have worked on such a variety of projects, and ranging so broadly in terms of scale as well as application. Can you say a little more about how you approach such a vast project as e.g. the Sheffield Museum installation, or your more recent interior design for Mercure Bridgwater, versus something at the opposite end of the spectrum, such as your greetings card designs?

“I approach the large scale jobs by creating A LOT of drawings to ensure that the design is visually rich and that, even at large scale, has plenty to make your eyes dance around and absorb the different elements.

For Sheffield Museum I was designing for a 40sq metre floor piece, so I spent weeks creating drawings that I layered together digitally. When I finally saw it installed in the Millennium Gallery Walkway (full scale after seeing it as drawings that covered my studio and the design that I kept zooming in and out of to view each metre,) it was amazing…I couldn’t stop smiling!”

Interiors and murals Inspiration sketchbook, pattern design and finished artwork in the Museum of Sheffield’s interior spaces; preliminary drawings of Bridgwater’s environs and the finished frieze in the newly opened Mercure hotel’s restaurant.

Read more about Harriet’s design process for the Mercure Bridgwater wall art and see the finished artwork in situ as displayed at the new hotel’s launch here.

“In contrast to these large designs it’s refreshing to work on individual illustrations that stand alone, be it for greetings cards or home décor. It’s an altogether different ball-game, as you’re creating something that exists in its own right as opposed to constituting an element in a larger pattern.”

The intricate lines of your artwork really celebrate the wonder of both architectural design and the more organic – but no less complex – shapes and textures of natural, botanical subjects. Do you have any favourite drawing spots – or other go-to sources - from which you like to take inspiration for these fabulously detailed pieces?

“During the summer, I was in London drawing the magnificent parks and canals on location. I also take hundreds of photos to work from when back in my studio.

inspiration From left to right: Veg market browsers print; line-art print inspired by the artist’s enthusiasm for house plants(!); sketching at the Serpentine in Hyde Park, one of Harriet’s outdoor inspiration excursions; self-directed dip-pen florals prompted by an interest in the current trend for illustrated gin labels; drawing from freshly picked foliage.

“I find inspiration everywhere, from the intricate details of veg at a farmers market to the shapes made by the browsing customers.”

I love to do first hand research and am fuelled creatively by places I’ve experienced. For botanicals I like to pick fresh flowers - or plonk myself in a garden and get lost in the details.”

If you could design for any particular brand, organisation, or event, which would you choose and what might be your dream project?

I’d love to create something for the V&A–perhaps a print that celebrates not only the museum’s content but also the incredible building and surrounding architecture. I’m also really keen to do more interior collaborations: designs for fabric, homeware & packaging. I adore Anthropologie, Liberty and museum shops. I’m open to everything.

“For me, seeing my work out in the world in a real way, whatever application it may be, is a dream come true!”

To see more of Harriet’s work, check out her full portfolio on the Bright website here, or contact Bright Art Licensing’s Hannah Curtis to discuss commissioning.

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