Cambridgeshire-based Caren Barry is one of the upcoming names in British surface pattern design. Her distinctive, pretty illustrations are modern with a hint of nostalgia, perfectly matched by her delicate pastel colour palette. We spoke to Caren about her life, her home, her love of flowers and her collection of decorative owls…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Caren, a twenty-something illustrator and designer based in Cambridgeshire. I started my creative little business just over a year ago when I left my job in retail and ventured out into the world as a freelance surface designer. I now spend my time as a designer/maker for my own brand of beautifully decorative printed textiles and paper goods.
I studied Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University, which as a course is a mixture of applied design, art and studio crafts. I discovered surface pattern design in my second year while experimenting with digital printing. I loved how I was able to transfer illustrations that had taken me hours to complete on to so many choices of fabric. I ended up creating a small collection of digitally printed wallpapers and interior furnishings for my degree show exhibition and from that point on I was hooked on surface design! I graduated university in 2010 before moving home to my parents where I saved pretty much all my pennies so that I could eventually be in the position to go freelance. It took me a few years, but I’m so happy I managed to do it.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic is contemporary while also being very traditional, organic, quirky and colourful. I have a passion for pretty patterns (and an everlasting love for flowers), so I love to design floral surface patterns that can be translated on to natural fabrics to create a handmade product that is functional yet beautiful.
Have you always been a “creative cranberry”?
I’ve always enjoyed designing and being creative, so yes I suppose I have! But to explain it a little further, ‘Cranberry’ is a nickname that has stuck with me ever since university when one of my adorable friends and housemate mispronounced my full name. When I started my business last year a friend also pointed out that “a cranberry” was an anagram of my name. That’s how “a creative cranberry” came to be! I really love how unique it is to me and it felt like such a perfect tagline for my creative little business.
What and who inspires you?
Nature, animals, colour, the little details in life and, obviously, flowers are an endless source of inspiration for me.
Are there any designers, artists or illustrators you particularly admire?
There are so many talented designers out there, it’s impossible not to be inspired by them all. Aside from that, I do admire the work of Clare Nicolson – she has such a great eye for colour. I’ve also recently picked up a huge love for the work of Annie Mertlich after discovering her on Instagram. A fellow flower addict, she creates truly beautiful calligraphy and watercolour-based designs.
Can you describe your studio?
I have my own little studio set up in the spare bedroom at home. It’s so nice to have my own separate workspace that is based at home because I love being able to quite literally roll out of bed and into work! It takes a lot of discipline to stay focused and in ‘work mode’ – I have to admit that I do have the odd day where I slack off a little and allow myself to work in pyjamas from the sofa, which is okay sometimes, right? It also means I can enjoy lunch with my boyfriend who works a few minutes down the road and this really helps break up my day with some lunchtime chit-chat!
The furniture in my studio is all white, which makes my workspace appear more spacious and really helps brighten up the room so much too. I have a huge trestle table which I use for all my computer and sketchbook work, plus it’s great for product photography and I have a smaller desk hidden away in the corner for my sewing machines. My studio is still very much a work in progress and I find that the more improvements I make to the space the more motivated I feel to work from home!
How do your designs develop?
My designs start with an idea that I’ll scribble down in my notebook or draw in my sketchbook with one of my trusty fineliner pens. I usually have a product in mind once I begin a design. From there I fill in the details by adding pattern and line work, scan them into Photoshop to add colour and rework the composition. I repeat these steps until a finished pattern or design begins to take shape. I like to use simplified, abstract forms which I will layer to add depth and soften with my choice of colours. I try to keep my brand as cohesive as possible by using a similar colour palette throughout my pattern designs. I love mostly pastel colours, although I am trying to be more bold with my use of colour! Yellow, pink and grey are proving to be a very popular choice within my floral designs lately.
Do you sketch a lot?
I always like to have a sketchbook and pen in my bag. As a lot of my designs are based on intricate illustrations I tend to do a rough sketch first and then take a photo of the subject which I then refer back to so I can finish the details later. I prefer to sketch with fineliner pens simply because the permanency of the ink stops me from erasing or starting the sketch again. This was something my art teacher at sixth form always advised us to do because you never know when an “imperfect” sketch can be used at another time to create something beautiful. It feels so much better to find a way to improve a less-than-perfect drawing in progress rather than erasing all your work or rashly crumpling up the paper and throwing it in the bin!
Is your home as beautiful as your work?
My boyfriend and I have very recently started investing in lots of fresh new furniture and soft furnishings to make our rented house a ‘home’. I love Scandinavian design, so our home features a lot of white paired with natural solid oak. While I wanted the space to feel bright and airy I also wanted to introduce plenty of pattern and colour through our choice of cushions, throws and decorative accessories. It’s been so much fun creating new ways of updating our little terraced home since we’re unable to redecorate or update the ‘fixed’ pieces in the house. The space has transformed so much, so I’m thinking a little blog post about the makeover may be necessary!
What’s the one thing you most covet in your home?
It would definitely have to be my collection of decorative owls. I have a mixture of candles, wooden ornaments, ceramic mugs and porcelain vases, which are scattered around the house. I’m not sure when or how my collection started, but I love how each little wise owl adds a quirky piece of character and charm to every corner of our home!
What do you listen to while you draw?
If I’m not listening to Radio 1 all day, I’m likely to be listening to the beautiful voices of Foxes, Birdy, Ellie Goulding and HAIM – they’re always my go-to artists when I have lots of work to do and need that little extra bit of motivation.
How would you spend your perfect day?
For me, a perfect day would be spent at Columbia Road Flower market, followed by a trip to the Botanic Gardens with my camera and sketchbook in tow. Working from home and at a desk the majority of the week means I try to make the most of my weekends with plenty of fresh air. Spontaneous day trips around Cambridgeshire with my mister are my fave. Spending time outdoors always goes a long way in helping me gain a different perspective and refresh my inspiration.
Finally, if you had to pick just one flower or plant to grow, what would it be?
Being a self-confessed flower addict, I regularly buy a lot of plants and flowers for the home. It’s pretty much compulsory for me to pick up a new plant or flower baby when I’m out – and I’ve always thought that if I didn’t work as a freelance designer then I’d definitely open up my own flower shop instead. If I had to choose just one flower to grow, then without a doubt it would have to be peonies – they’re just the most beautiful flower. My dream garden would include a colourful meadow of wildflowers, with lots of cherry blossom trees, leafy-green succulents, beautiful English Roses and, of course, some of my favourite peonies. *sigh* One day I’ll have the space to plant my own flower garden and you’ll definitely find me there with my sketchbook and pen!