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Meet Artist and Designer Chris Eckersley

Discover where artist and designer Chris Eckersley gets his inspiration from

Where do artists and designers get their colour inspirations from?

Up until the late 19th century an artist’s palette was dictated by the raw pigments available at that time. Old Masters would make their own paint from pigments ground into a binder; the colours available would be dependent on the artist’s contacts in major trading areas or the latest developments in chemistry.

Today, a far more extensive range of colours has been made possible through paint brands like Dulux Trade which means that decisions can be made about colours based, not on availability, but on style and subject. Or nature and a toy train-set in the case of Chris Eckersley.

Chris is an artist and designer who originally studied sculpture at Gloucestershire College of Art, and design at Central Saint Martins. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, his work is wide ranging and includes, amongst many things, designs for furniture created at his studio in Herefordshire.

A few years ago, Chris was designing chairs for a furniture manufacturer who decided that they should be available in a painted finish. The question for Chris was what range of colour to use? Preferring not to choose colours ‘second hand’ but to work from his own curated palette bespoke to each individual project, he remembered Ruskin’s advice to ‘look to nature’. The University of Birmingham’s Winterbourne Botanical Garden is where he started taking photographs of plants and flowers, returning several times throughout the year to record seasonal colour variations.

By cropping the most interesting part from each of the Winterbourne photographs, Chris made archive-quality digital prints. Then, with an artist’s mindset of selecting the main colours, he identified six colours from each print creating a natural colour palette. In the process he unexpectedly found that some of the palettes resembled the ranges of colours he’d been looking at from 1950s vintage colour charts, displaying plenty of greens with the odd splash of something brighter.

Chris translated the colours into household paints that could be used in product design or interiors and found he could match almost all of the colours within the Dulux Trade fandeck; colours which he says, “…are the best range of non-artist colours currently available. The paints have the most depth and greatest range, and Dulux Trade Eggshell is really the finest eggshell on the market.”

Altogether he made over thirty ‘Colour Charts’, featuring groups of colours which ‘go’ together, for use in art and design projects. Here he talks about working with materials, using bold colour, future colour trends and his toy train-set.

You’re a furniture designer by trade and use different materials including metals and wood. Tell us what makes wood so special to work with?

Wood is beautiful and decorative but I had a background in sculpture and so I’m more concerned with shape and form than with material. I’m about to start a project that involves cast concrete, which I’m really excited about, using the material to create an outdoor day bed in a simple sculptural shape. The challenge will be to make it comfortable.

Your work is known for your bold use of colour. Where did your love of colour and pairing different and opposite, sometimes clashing colours come from?

I’ve realised that two colours that contrast that I’m forever chasing, come from a toy train-set that I had as a kid. It was a hand-me-down from a relative. The carriages were tangerine-orange and sage-green – and I’m always looking to see if I can see these colours in anything else. They’re not opposites on the colour wheel, but they are an odd combination and I love seeing them together; I find myself drawn to these colours. I’ve used a variation of them on an outdoor table and chairs set that I’ve designed. The wooden frame of the table and chairs is topped by a perforated metal surface that’s either coral or pale green in colour respectively.

Dulux Trade identified the concept of ‘duality and opposites’ as one of the key trends in colour for 2016 as part of our Colour Futures trends forecast. What do you think will be hot, colour-wise, next year?

As far back as the ‘50s, you can see that we have followed colour trends, prior to that it was a question of what pigments were available. But thanks to technological advances we can now access colours from any era at any time. For instance, I recently worked on a Georgian house where the owners wanted to look at colours from the 1740s and the Dulux range enabled me to match the colours used in Georgian times very precisely. However, I think that eventually all these ‘heritage colours’ will be surpassed by a move to brighter, purer colours.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been invited to exhibit a sculpture next year at Doddington Hall, near Lincoln where, every two years, they hold a big sculpture show. I’m making an installation called ‘Blue Field’ which will extend over an acre of a ground populated by blue painted stakes creating both a grid and a sea of colour. You’ll be able to see it at Doddington Hall next summer.

What colour trend are you most looking forward to conquering next in your work?

Increasingly I find myself going back to using pure colour, such as the blue you’ll see in my Doddington Hall piece, which I’m fascinated by. I like playing with blocks of colour and so now I’m working on some very large abstract paintings using colours taken from my ‘Colour Charts’ project.

If people should colour one thing…

Well they could paint their shoes. I had an old pair of shoes which were spattered with paint and so I painted them in a bright red and they turned out really well. Friends now ask me to paint their old shoes! We could all do this - it’s a great way of injecting new colour into your life - and it’s a very easy thing to do!

We’ve come to the end of our time with you, Chris so thank you for a glimpse into your fascinating work including the shoes idea! Suffice to say to our readers – paint at your own risk!