There are many different definitions for ‘design’, ‘craft’, ‘artisanal’, and often the use of technology doesn’t really come into it. Some may believe that using a computer takes away from ‘traditional’ methods of design and making, but here at The Holborn we believe that anything which drives a craft forwards, makes it fit with the tech-addicted audience we have all become, and actually gives creatives more freedom to experiment can only be a good thing. Jon Thomas created his bespoke wallpaper company ‘Shufflebotham‘ to show that craft and computing do not have to be mutually exclusive. His bespoke wallpapers all start life digitally, allowing him to add huge amounts of detail to his architecturally-inspired work before they are blown up large for his customers and clients’ walls. Read on to meet Jon and discover more about his love for digital, how travel changed his career and his link to Dylan Thomas….
Please can you introduce yourself and your business, Shufflebotham?
Starting my own business has been a dream of mine since I was young and finally in 2015, my brand, Shufflebotham was born – a luxury wall covering brand specialising in off the roll wallpaper, bespoke panelling and murals.
I didn’t want to be ‘just another wallpaper company’ so I committed to developing high quality wall coverings with designs that tell a story and bring a sense of character to walls. My designs are very much architecturally inspired and evoke a sense of nostalgia – whether it’s an old palace, a pair of doors in the Hollywood hills or traditional Victorian panelling, each product can be connected to a time, place or era.
We offer a bespoke design service for clients and all of our products are designed and made here in the UK, baring the FSC logo where possible.
I am passionate about design and get my creativity from my mother who was a landscape watercolour artist. My father is an entrepreneur and a born business man and I am told that we are distant relatives to the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. I like to think I have inherited some of his creativity, his work interests and inspires me greatly.
Can you tell us more about your background & what led to you designing digital wallpaper?
I graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a BA (hons) in Product Design. My final dissertation was about the emergence of the new digital era and the dawn of the internet. The early 90’s were an exciting time for ecommerce and the World Wide Web and so I decided to try and get work in this area. My first job was for a small company called Tricom Technology in Swansea where I was responsible for designing web sites for small SME’s (including Swansea Football Club and the London Camera Exchange). After Swansea I moved to Birmingham to work for Orange, where at their new Birmingham flagship studio I was responsible for multimedia and print in-house. I then worked for British Telecom in their major business unit where I was responsible for some high profile websites such as the re-branding and development of the Criminal Justice Website for the Home Office.
After many years working in the ecommerce sector it was time for a change so in 2004 I quit my job and packed a bag to travel the world. Over the next 12 months I developed my love for photography and spent time thinking of what to do on my return to the UK. I was sat in a cafe in Bangkok reading a paper when I came across a full size advertisement for the Bangkok trade fair. I decided it was fate and the next day hopped into a taxi to visit. It became obvious to me that I should be using my ecommerce experience alongside my new Thailand contacts – alas I decided to start my own retail outlet on my return to the UK.
I spent the next two years building my ecommerce website which was so successful it stocked over 2000 lines of gifts and lifestyle products from around the world. I was one of the very first e-retailers in the UK during that time. In 2015 after 10 years of successful trading I decided it was high time I revisited my dream of starting my own design business and finally took the plunge.
You owned an online retail store before launching Shufflebotham. How did you find the transition in career after so many years?
Selling my previous business was tough and was not an easy decision to make after 10 years of building it up from nothing. However I had become tired of the constant retail treadmill. And selling other designers products was a constant reminder of my passion for design. I knew I had to break free and start my own brand.
Why did I choose wallpaper? Working digitally gives me the perfect outlet for my ideas, it gives me the freedom and flexibility to create whatever I dream of and I feel like I am able to constantly feed my creative addiction. One day I can be working on a complicated classic Italian ceiling and the next I can be designing something bold and contemporary. This is essential for me as I am able to continue to develop a style by simply experimenting. There are no limitations to what can be produced with digital print technology and this inspires me greatly. I am joining the digital wallpaper revolution at an exciting time.
Although it wasn’t easy to make a change I feel it was necessary for me as a creative individual. I didn’t want to look back and regret not following my heart so this is where I find myself now back in the deep end. It is a position that seems to suit me, the challenge of starting something new is very addictive…I enjoy the risk it seems!
Where and what do you find most inspiring to your work?
I gather inspiration from everywhere, I travel a lot as other cultures and cities really fascinate me. London, Paris, Rome, Havana, I am drawn like a magpie to their streets where I must photograph everything! Old buildings and architecture particularly interest me and they have a key role in the Shufflebotham aesthetic. I visited old Havana in Cuba when Castro was still in charge, this was magical for me. The crumbling old buildings, classic cars and cobbled streets – I was in heaven!
Can you talk us through your process from this inspiration to a finished wallpaper?
I start out with a basic outline of an idea, this inspiration can come from anywhere, a walk on the beach, a photograph of an old building etc. As an example of the process, I was watching the TV detective series ‘Columbo’ the other day and was inspired by an old Miami post box in one of the scenes. The post box had an interesting metal grate which caught my eye.
To start the design process I will break apart the basic elements that make up the post box aesthetic on my A3 sketch pad. This subject usually contains three basic elements, pattern, colour and texture. I break each of these elements down and then decide whether to put them back together in the same fashion or to add to them.
When I’m happy with the overall aesthetic I will move on to the computer where I start work on the underlying pattern. Correct proportion is key and is always one of the greatest challenges. Working on a full size 3m wall panel for example using only a computer screen is very difficult, and so everything is quite literally done by eye. After I am satisfied with the underlying pattern I will then move on to working on a suitable photographic texture and lastly I apply colour and lighting.
The final stage is sampling and it is here I get to see the design for the first time. If the sample works the piece will then be sent to the printer for production and added to our catalogue. This entire process can take up to 3 months to perfect depending on the complexity.
What has been your favourite project to work on so far? What would your dream project or client be?
I really enjoyed designing our Decorex stand as I was given free rein on the design. I created a mock Georgian drawing room which included a full size fireplace and our trademark Benjamin XL full size wooden wall panels. The decorators spent all day wallpapering but it was worth it and was a great success. I would love to create some window designs for Liberty of London or for Paul Smith who is someone I admire greatly. His traditional yet quirky twist on British design continues to inspire. For me, his designs seems effortless, there is beauty in simplicity. I hope to achieve as much with Shufflebotham.
For more information on Shufflebotham visit www.shufflebotham.com
Interview by Verity Inett | Workshop Editor | email@example.com