The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

Designer Profile: Kate Farley

This Autumn, we present six new Barbican-inspired commissions from a range of designers and makers. In the weeks leading up to the opening of our new Shop, we’ll be paying a visit to the six designers to find out more about their practice, their products and their visions of the Barbican in a series of Designer Profiles.

Each profile will be accompanied with a product showcase on our Instagram account @barbicancentre.

Our first studio visit is to printmaker, Kate Farley.


‘After a two-year National Diploma in Surface Pattern in Norfolk I chose to study Printed Textile Design on the degree course at Leeds College of Art and Design back in the mid-nineties. After my degree I went to Camberwell College of Arts to study an MA in Book Art, I’ve felt somehow caught between fine art and design with my practice. Book Art for me is an exciting world of narrative, book structures, visual communication and printmaking, and without it I wouldn’t be doing what I do now.

katefarley_gallAt that time I had no real idea of what the world of work was offering but I’ve undertaken many commissions, residencies, public art projects and commercial pattern design over the years, enjoying the challenges along the way. I’ve always combined my design career with a parallel career as an academic as I really enjoy the process of learning and teaching too. I taught at Central Saint Martins for several years, and I’m currently Course Director of the degree in Textile Design at Birmingham City University so I’m always busy!’


On Inspiration

‘I’m always working across several sketchbooks at once, keeping my eyes open for ideas. Landscape and mapping are recurring themes and feed my design work – my Plot to Plate collection was inspired by my allotment and National Trust kitchen gardens. When I start on a new commission I throw myself in to drawing, cutting, collaging or printing to find the right language. I don’t wait for something to come to me, I’m busy working and soon I get an idea of where I’m going with it.’

On Creation

‘With the Barbican project I wanted to keep the shapes the dominant characteristic so stayed away from mark making/texture, whereas my Construct collection, launched last year, was based on hand-made drawing tools dipped in ink. Each project needs its own solution, and I enjoy the search. Once I know where the image-making is going I’ll often scan original artwork in to the computer and work either in Photoshop or Illustrator to test rhythms and compositions, depending on repeat pattern requirements or placement images. Then it’s back to the drawing desk to resolve final shapes and proportions before finalising everything as digital files.

I only had a small idea of what I wanted to create when I first showed Adam [Thow, Head of Retail at the Barbican] my design concepts as I didn’t want to present a closed loop. He was great at allowing me freedom while providing some content/theme direction. We sent ideas to and fro via email and once we had agreed on the designs we worked in relation to product development.’


Patterns in patterns

‘I think I have quite a varied style across my projects but others think my work is distinctive, often in its simplicity and geometric structure. I tend to be fairly economical with detail, and like unfussy calm, so like to keep an essence of the subject I’m designing, rather than all singing, all dancing.

I enjoy the challenge of communicating information within a pattern too.

The Barbican commission has let me explore this idea further, blending architectural detail with the language of music to tell a story, relating to the activities of the centre.’

Print vs textiles

‘I love paper and textiles – they both have different needs when it comes to printing patterns. I enjoy the pattern design process whether it’s with a pencil or paper and scissors. I am also influenced by my understanding of printmaking, for example the number of colours/plates add cost and time. It takes skill to design with less colours, relying on negative and positive shapes to provide visual interest. I love the hands-on process of printing too, so I create limited editions of prints as part of my creative journey, as well as hand screen printed notebooks and cushions. I like to sample my new patterns on fabric too as it’s important a pattern can work with the weave of the cloth underneath. My new collection I’m launching at London Design Festival is cloth inspired printed pattern, building on Construct in different ways so the two are inseparable as far as I’m concerned.’

Digital vs handmade

‘Today’s designers have to be constantly learning in order to keep up, but it’s also important for me that I remember my traditional skills. I still plan repeats by hand, on sheets of paper, and I still create original artwork by hand. More often than not though, even if I’m going to hand screen print something, the artwork will be handled digitally to get to that point. I also have to work with several different colour systems depending on the client: Pantone, RAL, CMYK, and gouache paint chips for others! I pride myself on always learning, and of course I feed that back in to my teaching.

In today’s design world with digital print production we can print on almost anything as well as textiles but it’s important to me that I work closely with those printing for me as I have high standards and the materials I place my patterns on require consideration! I’m so proud to have my Construct patterns available on laminate, having collaborated with Formica to do so. Digital production allows bespoke production, and that’s exciting!’


On the Barbican

The shapes of the instruments explore scale and detail in the same way the buildings do. The strings become walk-ways, the oboe keys are jetties on the water

‘Of course the balconies of the towers are dominating, but I also liked the rhythms of strong shapes such as windows, the lakeside terrace and details such as the lights. I was drawn to the repetitive rhythms that can be equated with musical beats.

We did start by including the conservatory so I made drawings on site and later made paper cut out plants but they were culled fairly early on, for a more clear/structural result. It was the right decision. I explored various pattern compositions, but once I’d made the link between the journey across the Barbican estate, with that of a sheet of music it felt more resolved and appropriate. The shapes of the instruments explore scale and detail in the same way the buildings do. The strings become walk-ways, the oboe keys are jetties on the water.

I hope people will look at the design work I’ve made for the Barbican and notice different details over time. Years ago I used to exhibit my artists books at the Barbican, now I’ve been back making different work, but everything feeds in to everything else. It’s been a pleasure!’

Designer Knowledge

‘I would advise people to work away from the computer and develop a confidence in image making firstly. It’s easy to rush to make a repeat pattern in Photoshop, but it’s like cooking, if you haven’t got beautiful ingredients it won’t be as good as it could be. Patterns take a long time to get right if you want decent patterns.’

See a selection of Kate Farley’s Barbican commission on our Instagram account.

Visit Kate Farley online and on Instagram and Twitter.

Kate Farley’s range will be available to buy from the Barbican Shop in Autumn. Subscribe to our Shop newsletter for more news on our new ranges in the coming weeks.

One Comment

June Gentle

Fabulous images Kate.
You undertake a complicated research to provide a fine honed deceptively simple image.
good luck.

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