John Booth is a Scottish-born fashion illustrator, ceramicist and textile designer based in London. He trained at Central Saint Martins and is now the college’s Associate Lecturer in Fashion. He teaches courses at other institutions such as BA Fashion at Westminster University, and has collaborated with designers such Fendi, Ashish and Paul Smith.
Known for his textured, graphic works, John’s signature style is playful and colourful, and features a host of embroidery, bold line work and multi-layered collages spanning the fields of high fashion and interiors.
You incorporate reclaimed materials in your practice – how important is sustainability within your work?
We all have a responsibility to approach things sustainably. At the studio we try to create as little waste as possible. For me this is really important as it’s about working creatively and economically. I enjoy painting old pieces of furniture, repurposing textiles and being as waste-free as possible with the ceramic process.
Can you tell us how you started on your path to becoming an artist?
For as long as I can remember, I have been really into art – making, drawing and creating – and I was lucky to go to schools that had great art teachers and art departments. That was so important to me. I did A-levels and Art Foundation at my local sixth form in Barrow-in-Furness and was lucky enough to get a place at London’s Central Saint Martins to study Fashion Design with Print, which marked the start of my journey as an artist in London, 20 years ago. Despite being in the fashion department, we were always encouraged to get inspiration from all sorts of artists, not just fashion related sources. We employed an ‘applied art’ approach, which I still adopt, as even now I enjoy working across textiles, ceramic, wood – anything, really.
From where do you source the inspiration for your work?
It’s a constant cycle of looking at stuff; books, magazines (old and new), exhibitions, talking to people, observing what people wear and what they have in their homes. It’s looking at interiors, objects and art, and considering their place within our lives – considering functionality versus decorativeness. I try to find inspiration and information from the day-to-day. I think about subjects that give us entertainment and joy, and how important those things are.
How important is colour to you, and how do you go about choosing your palette?
It’s so important to me. It’s one of the driving factors of my work, as it evokes such an emotional response from me whilst I’m creating. I like considering colour schemes and combinations whilst also trying to not overthink it. I like to think there is tension between spontaneity and the consideration of the use of colour. The colour palettes are often revisited from my past works and consciously repeated for repetition and continuity, based on combinations that I think look good together.
Can you describe a typical day in your studio?
It varies depending on the type of project I’m working on at that minute, my mood, how busy I am or how quiet I am. But I try to have a structure of sorts: arrive anywhere between 9am and 12pm, do some admin, chat to my studio mates (I share a space with other artists, and I love the sociable aspect of the studio) and then attempt to do some work. I tend to get proper work done after lunch, to be honest! Then I’ll have afternoon snacks and coffee, chat some more, do more work and leave anywhere between 6pm and 10pm. Some days are great, while other days are beyond slow and disheartening. I’ve learned to accept the variety of studio life.
Do you have any studio hacks that you’d like to share?
Get your admin and meetings done at the start of the day so they don’t disrupt your manual work, and also so that an early meeting can get you up and out of the house. Other than that, I’m still trying to work out the ultimate way to work at the studio, as being disciplined can be hard. It’s good to be mindful of trying to avoid all distractions. If you can figure that out, let me know!
We notice you have worked on several collaborative projects with brands. Do you enjoy this process?
I enjoy doing collaborations for many reasons. It’s great to meet a whole new team of people, learn from them and work closely with them. To have a whole new range of applications, equipment and processes at your disposal. To see your work applied in ways that you might not have been able to execute by yourself. For your work to reach a whole new audience – potentially in a different part of the world. It’s also a great way to expand and develop your work and portfolio. It can be a very stimulating thing.
What advice would you give to other creatives wanting to collaborate?
Be proactive, and don’t be timid. You can’t wait for people or companies to ask you to work with them. If you want to work with someone, ask them. And be open minded – some of my favourite collaborations have been with companies that might not have been an obvious choice for me to work with at first, but ended up being surprising and fulfilling experiences. Supergroup is an ongoing collaboration with one of my studio mates, Ian Mcintyre, who has his own formal practice as a formal product and industrial designer, and we have worked on a combination of decorative and functional objects since 2018.
What tools or materials are your favourites to use?
My ultimate favourite tool will always be a fresh black marker pen applied to decent, thick paper. It’s such a pleasure going back to the simplicity of drawing, especially in between working with less familiar techniques. I love slab building with clay and decorating it in thick slip colours, and using thick gloss paint on wood. I guess it’s all about the sensory aspect of the materials that dictates how much I enjoy using them.
How did you get involved with supporting arts charity Hospital Rooms, and how important is it to you?
I approached them as I saw what they were doing as an organisation and I thought it was brilliant. I was very happy when they accepted my request to work with them! They help so many people going through a hard time by using art as form of healing and therapy. As an artist it’s been a privilege to work with them alongside the hospitals and service users.
You describe yourself as a fashion illustrator and textile designer, but your work appears to also span into fine art – would you agree?
Most of the time, it’s other people who give me these titles – maybe depending on what they want to focus on. I used to feel a certain level of awkwardness calling myself an artist (especially a ‘fine artist’), but recently I’m feeling more confident in it. I’m happy to continue to work on as many different things as I like, under the guise of being called an artist. As long as you get to make the work you want, does it really matter what you are called?
All images are courtesy of the artist. Click here to see more of John Booth’s work.