Linda Florence

Linda Florence Wallpaper by Linda Florence Floor in the Sheffield millenium Gallery by Linda Florence
lampshade by Linda Florence
sugar Dance by Linda Florence

Designer-maker Linda Florence's work is all about pattern making. She specialises in hand printed wallpapers, designed with an eye-catching combination of contemporary and traditional motifs, colours and textures, but has also made floor tiles, book covers, screens and is perhaps best known for her sugar floors patterned with motifs worked in icing sugar. 'I enjoy making different things for different people', she says.


When did you first start print making?

I’ve always been interested in pattern making. When I was doing my BA in textile design at Dundee University I spent most of my time in the print department. I experimented with printing on as many surfaces as possible, not just paper, but woods and laminates as well.

How did this interest in surface pattern develop?

I made a lot of wallpaper when I was doing my master’s at Central St Martins’, but then I started looking at flooring and how pattern was used to disguise wear. I even did a placement at a carpet factory for a while. After I finished there I decided to focus on wallpaper. I was really interested in wallpaper as it was something I could make myself and in hand printing wallpapers I could make changes to each print and have a chance to experiment.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs from?

From all sorts of things. I love 1970s wallpapers, the arts and crafts, graphic books – it’s a real magpie selection as I look at everything, not just natural forms. I’ve just been doing some Japanese wood block printing and I find these types of historical print-making techniques really interesting, but I also like exploring contemporary techniques such as laser cutting.

How important a role do materials play in your work?

I’m very interested in working/experimenting with different materials and I’m always looking for new materials and new surfaces to investigate with print. I like using industrial materials – for example sandpaper or grip tape – and putting it in a domestic context. I like the way something so industrial can look so ornate. I’ve also worked with materials as various as sugar, leather, iron filings and magnets. I’ve even done an installation which involved cutting patterns into grass at the National Trust’s property Tattershall Castle.

Do you enjoy combining different materials?

Yes, I love the way you can combine different surfaces and textures – for example different grains, or matt and silk – in one piece and produce different effects in different lights. I made a 20-metre floor pattern in Sheffield using a combination of flocking and industrial sandpaper which I really enjoyed working on as there was an interesting contrast between the soft and the hard surfaces. Both materials were black, but as they were different densities of black they looked different in different lights and I really liked that optical effect. I also sometimes bond foil to my papers to maximize the changing light effects – sometimes the foil stands out from the paper and in other lights it looks completely flat.

What made you start work on your interactive wallpapers?

I’m interested in how people are drawn to pattern and work with it, and I like creating pieces which the audience have control over – I don’t need to have sole ownership of the piece. For example, I’ve made some wallpaper based on the idea of scratch cards inspired by the bumpy 1970s wallpaper which I used to pick at as a child. People can scratch off the layers to create new patterns. I re-worked the idea with my Magnetic Draw Doodle Wall [created for the Monsters in Paradise exhibition at Craft Central in 2007] which incorporated iron filings under the flocked surface so people could draw their own patterns using a magnet. What was great about that piece is that it was mounted on a folding screen so one person could be drawing something one side at the same time as someone else was working on the other side which meant that they made lots of different, unlinked patterns, creating a really interesting layering effect.

Are your Sugar Floors inspired by your interest in interactive work?

Yes and no. They really stemmed from my work into flooring at University and my interest in how patterns wear on floors. When I started to develop the work I was very interested in ballroom dancing and spent a lot of time going to tea dances. I wanted to track how the dancers moved around the room and using icing sugar seemed a perfect way of doing this – especially as I love the way you can taste and smell the sugar as they dance.

How much freedom do you give the dancers?

I stencil the initial pattern onto the floor and then let them dance how they want, although it does have to be ballroom dancing. I am quite open to suggestion and let the dancers do what they can in terms of what speed they move at and what dances they know. I created a Sugar Floor in the Raphael Cartoon gallery at the V&A to coincide with their exhibition Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft. The initial pattern was based on the very ornate patterns in the gallery stonework and the dancers created a sort of blurred figure of 8 pattern as they were doing a Viennese waltz.

Does it worry you that the pieces are so transient?

No, not all. It’s the making that’s important. I don’t feel it needs to last as the event is of the moment.

You’ve recently done some quite different work for the Siobhan Davies Dance Studios – can you explain how that came about?

I was asked by the arts collective 60/40 to make something that explored the relationship between the studio’s practice and my own work for their Starting Point exhibition series last year. I decided to make a series of three zoetropes which I hung from the stairwell. They were interactive pieces and if someone turned one on the top floor they would set all of them in motion connecting all three floors and creating movement through the whole building. I liked the idea that the viewer had control of the pieces and it wasn’t just down to me. Also zoetropes are a good vehicle for my work as they are all about how to make pattern move and I’m really interested in animating my patterns. The patterns I used were based on some of the images I’ve been inspired by while I’ve been working in Germany [Florence is currently visiting professor Weißensee Kunsthochschule, Berlin]  – posters, graphic work and graffiti – so they were quite angular and bold and I loved the way the zoetropes combined these graphic images with their organic movement.

Interview by Diana Woolf