the weekend starts here...alison milner

If you are looking for the blog hop, click HERE to jump straight to yesterday's post, though, if like me, you think the tables below are brilliant you might want to read on before you hop off...

Okay, on to the weekend starts here...

When I came across Alison's work a few months ago I fell in love with her little tables; it was only later I found out how diverse her work is. I was really glad Alison found time to talk to me in the lead up to the festive holidays.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: I know that you trained in furniture design originally.  How hard was it to get from there to working with so many diverse materials?

alison: It was easy! I studied 3D design at Middlesex Polytechnic in the early 80s. In the second year we had to choose between ceramics, glass, jewellery or furniture. I thought furniture would give me the best chance of using lots of different materials. I worked in laminated wood, tubular steel, large scale cardboard, knitted nylon, plastic velum, flooring material, rolled magazines, shaped mirrors, tie-dyed canvas, brass sheet, sandblasted glass, silk and loads more. I spent all my grant money on materials. I still love researching and understanding materials and dreaming up new ways of using them.

In 2005 I had a book published “Inspirational Objects- a visual dictionary of simple elegant objects’ featuring photographs of all the things I’d collected over the years. I date this as the start of my new ‘post-small-children’ career. After the book was published I designed an exhibition and collaborated with Christiane Kersten on some ceramics as merchandise for the exhibition. The ceramics were popular and everything followed from that.

It’s harder for me to understand how I seem to have become a surface designer, but at the RCA my thesis was called ‘Design Aesthetics’ and I wrote a chapter on ‘Decoration and Ornament’ in which I put forward nine basic principles of decoration! So it must have been something that has been in my mind for a long time.


alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: Do you have a favourite material?

alison: Because of my collaboration with Christiane Kersten, who makes most of our Chris Alis ceramics, I think I would have to say ceramics, although I am currently getting very enthusiastic about Vitreous Enamel.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: Your work is so varied it's hard to pigeonhole you. How would you describe yourself?

alison:  That has always been a problem for me. After I graduated in furniture I applied for MAs in Furniture and Theatre Design. I was offered a place in furniture at the RCA and sculpture at the Slade. It was a really difficult choice to make. In fact it’s the only decision in my life that I sometimes wonder about (I would have been in the same year at the Slade as sculptor Rachel Whiteread).

I now describe myself as a designer of 2D for 3D. I do a lot of surface design, but I like to have a say in how it is used. I would find it difficult to license work and loose control of that aspect. This makes my career harder, but more interesting.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: What are the rewards and challenges of running your own business?

alison:  Steve, my husband, and I have both been self employed for over twenty years and have always worked from home and never had any spare money. Jobs seem to come in clumps rather than evenly spaced which means we are either working all hours or wondering if anyone will ever employ us again.

I think it is hard for two people in a couple to both work flat out to deadlines at the same time, we tend to take it in turns being the main worker or the support system. We have different skills, so we can help each other.

We are really privileged to have been able to do our own thing for so many years, but it is hard and has taken a lot of persistence and stubbornness.

Both our sons are now following in our footsteps: Felix is studying photography and Wilf is studying Film and television production.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: When did you start your own business and how has it changed since then?

alison: I started in 1987 but really re-started in 2005!

In the 1980s we didn’t even have a computer and Steve processed his films in our damp rented basement. Jane Dillon my favorite tutor at the RCA gave me a list of phone numbers for all sorts of influential designers in London who I went and met and showed my portfolio to. They were all complimentary, but work for designers didn’t really exist in England in the recession of the 80s. It is so much better now.

Finding no work in London, I then had all my portfolio typed out in Italian and went to Milan, but again lots of compliments, but no work, (it took months of faxes to get one of my sketch books back from Mr. Alessi!).

Back in London I decided to be a designer/maker. I went to a metal casting course in Hackney and showed work at the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery that was then in Covent Garden. I managed to sell some work, but we were really poor despite the fact that Steve was doing very well at this time and worked for lots of cool magazines.

In my early 30s we had two children and bought our first Mac computer and I fell in love with Photoshop. While the children were small I mainly worked with Steve Photoshopping his images for magazines (it was a rarer skill then than it is now).

alison milner

alison milner

About fourteen years ago we moved to our current house. It is a big terrace house right next to the sea.  Work has taken over every room, there is even a potters wheel in one of the bathrooms. When our oldest son moved out his bedroom immediately became a store room for our touring exhibitions. We have one large room which we try to keep clutter free. We call it the studio it has big sea views and we use it as a flexible space. It can become a workshop or a photographic studio or a guest bedroom, sometimes all three at once.

There are so many more opportunities for designers and artists now and so many ways of getting your work noticed. However there are also so many more skills you have to be proficient in. 

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth: What would be your ideal brief?

alison:  I think the client is as important as the brief I would ideally like a client who wants me to do the job because they like and understand my work and who is able to describe what they want and why they want it. A job that has a pre-set budget (I’m useless at quoting).

I’d love to do something like a whole restaurant; ceramics, tables, walls, floors…(but nothing too elitist or with bad food!). 

I would rather do work that is designed to last than ephemeral fashion or gift items.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth:  What next?

alison:  I’m a very late developer, but I feel like I am at last putting my message out clearly and attracting the sort of people I would like to work with.

At the moment I’m working on a commission for a Macmillan cancer care centre. I’m designing a large wall piece of enamel panels 5 metres by 2.4 metres which I’m going to decorate by hand (with the help of some laser cut vinyl stencils). It’s partly illustrational, but also breaks into pattern at various points.

I am also working on new collections of work for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Shop and  Rathfinny Estate (A Sparkling Wine Vineyard in a very beautiful part of Sussex). In the last week I have had emails from The Barbican Shop and Ottolenghi Restaurants.

alison milner

alison milner

patternbooth:  What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

alison:  Give yourself enough time to research widely. Keep interests away from your specialisation. Keep sketchbooks of ideas. Read and write. If you don’t do all these things your work will just look like other peoples work.

I think a good computer and Adobe Creative suite are a must… when you start you can generate all your own marketing material, website, etc.

Be patient and true to yourself.

alison milner

alison milner

If you want to see more of Alison's great work then you can visit her website at www.alisonmilner.co.uk