Eve Campbell’s wallhangings capture the colours, shapes and patterns of nature on Scotland’s west coast
Photography Peter Sandground
Words Judy Diamond
Deep in a secluded corner of the Cowal peninsula, with lush woodland on one side and the blue waters of the Kyles of Bute on the other, Eve Campbell is hard at work. The artist, designer and maker is in her attic studio, cutting paper shapes, stencilling imagery and mixing up fresh batches of colour. She is making a printed wallhanging to be exhibited as part of Northword, a traditional storytelling project that spans northern Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Russia and more. This piece, Queen of the Inch, is inspired by a Bronze Age burial site on Inchmarnock, a tiny isle visible from the window.
Artists often turn to printmaking to produce affordable examples of their work. It makes sense: the cost of a Picasso oil painting, say, is beyond the reach of almost everyone, but you could pick up one of his lithographs or screenprints for just a couple of thousand pounds. It might be from an edition of 500 and the great master’s hands probably didn’t touch it (a studio technician will have done the hard graft), but it still counts as a genuine Picasso.
This idea that prints are somehow less authentic or less worthy of being collected is being turned on its head here in Argyll. Campbell’s large-scale prints are so time-consuming and so complex to make that most are one-offs.
Creativity has always been a part of her life. “I grew up surrounded by art, design and making, in the house my architect grandfather built,” she says. “My mum is a ceramicist, my dad is a painter and I learnt to draw by watching them. Today we work alongside each other and are always bouncing ideas and opinions around.” She regularly visited the Glasgow School Art as a youngster to see degree shows and attend Saturday classes, and it was inevitable that she’d end up studying there. In the final year of a degree in textile design, she was offered a place in the architecture school. “Despite not taking it up, it did highlight my desire to create design for living in,” she says.
“For my final-year project, I set out to use print as a technique to transform and bring life and colour to architectural spaces. I enjoyed creating large, bold prints and often found myself hanging my prints on the wall to view in full. They were like artworks, yet versatile in size, shape and affordability. This developed into wallhangings that I saw as the perfect solution for transforming a space.”
Carry Farm, south of Tighnabruaich, has been Campbell’s base since 2018. She works in an agricultural shed above her parents’ studio, Drey Workshop, alongside a collective of makers, all of whom exhibit at the family’s nearby Hayshed Gallery. The combination of beach, heath, hills and forest is a constant source of inspiration for them all, and Campbell is often found sketching in the woods or on the shore, capturing nature’s shapes, colours and patterns. These feed into her designs, becoming more abstract through a process of drawing, collage and print.
“I’ll start off by filling a sketchbook with drawings,” she explains. “As part of my Wildwood project, for instance, I spent many hours in the woods around my studio, drawing from life. Once I have a bank of drawings that capture my subject, I take these to the print table. I select colours and cut relevant shapes out of newsprint and begin the printing process.”
In screenprinting, a stencilled design is transferred onto a flat surface using a mesh screen and ink. “The ink is pushed through a fine mesh screen with a squeegee in order to create an even block of colour in the shape of your design,” she says. “My prints are printed layer by layer through a unique process of paper stencilling, masking and screenprinting. Using paper allows me to work in a spontaneous manner and make design decisions as I go. Because of this, my wallhangings are single-edition prints and cannot be easily repeated.”
Colour has a crucial role to fill, in particular the way different hues interact: “I find it amazing how slight changes in colour can completely transform a piece of design or a print,” she says.
She cites Sanna Annukka, Marthe Armitage and Josef Frank as designers whose work she admires, but her biggest love is reserved for Finnish label Marimekko: “It has taken me to Helsinki to visit the Marimekko factory. They’ve mastered the art of bringing life to a space through bold, vibrant prints.”
She also rates Alexander Girard and Charles and Ray Eames for their experimental approach. “They considered play and pleasure as an essential stage in the design process. This approach creates spontaneous, unique work free from the restrictions of the ‘norm’. I try to embrace this free approach when I design.”
New commissions, textiles for soft furnishings and pieces for exhibitions keep the ideas flowing and allow plenty of scope for experimentation. There’s pressure with deadlines, says the artist, but she couldn’t be happier. “Ever since I got my first screen and squeegee for my tenth birthday, it was my dream to be a printer and have my own studio,” she smiles.
“I have learnt just as much from the times I’ve failed or felt uncertain as the times I’ve succeeded. The key is to be open to all opportunities. It is not just about knowing what works for you, it’s also about figuring out what doesn’t.”
Looking for more? Check out Art Words by Emily Powell