Ilka Dickens is an Australian living in London, or as she puts it “this fabulous city I call home”. She is also the woman behind graphic design company Dickens ink. which she runs from her living room, sometimes surrounded by her two small children. Her designs are characterised by sharp graphics, humour and strong typography, often with a 1920s feel. We talked to Ilka to find out more about her work and influences…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an Australian living in London. I studied graphic design at RMIT in Melbourne, and came to London to work for a couple of years. Fourteen years later I’m still here! I’m married to a Brit and we have two young children.
Is it true that you started Dickens ink “to escape Bob the Builder”?
I actually started my business to escape full-time work. After having children, I found working full-time a struggle. So after the birth of my son I quit and started Dickens ink. Working at home with two children is pretty tricky, so having my blog and my business gives me the escape I need and preserves my sanity.
How did you pick the name Dickens ink.?
I wanted to use my surname because it’s a quintessential London name (my husband is not related to Charles Dickens, unfortunately). I also wanted to keep it as my blog uses my surname too. The ink part is of course related to the ink I print on the page.
How would you describe Dickens ink?
Bold, humorous and quirky. I try to design cards and prints that will make people smile.
What influences your work?
I often design new cards for friends, say for weddings or birthdays, and these often end up in my shop. I also read design magazines and subscibe to a bunch of design websites. Living in London is also very inspiring, as we are often in galleries at the weekends.
Are you inspired by any artists, designers or periods?
I love design from the 1920s and 1950s. I love the typography and hues from both periods. I also buy art books after going to exhibitions. I have a Matisse book that I bought from the Tate Modern, which is very inspirational. If I’m ever stuck for colour ideas I’ll flick through my art books.
How does the creative scene in London compare to Australia?
I’ve just got back from a trip to Sydney and I have to say the design scene is on a par with London. I was especially impressed with the restaurant design. They have embraced shabby chic like a lot of London pubs and restaurants, but instead of dark leather and skulls on the walls they have lobster pot lights and white, distressed furniture. It’s like night and day, but each suits its environment.
What’s your creative process?
As my work is mainly typographic, I design directly to computer, mainly using illustrator. Once I come up with an idea I research fonts and then come up with numerous black-and-white versions. I then start playing with colour, if I decide it’s needed. Sometimes I can create a new design in a day. Other times it takes weeks to get it right. But I do often go back to the first design. I’m a big believer in ‘first idea, best idea’.
Your shop is always jam-packed with designs. Have you ever experienced a creative block?
I’ve never had a creative block – my problem is finding the time to convert ideas to new designs. I always write down new ideas, it’s just a matter of finding the time to come back to them.
Do you have a favourite piece?
I love my Victoria Park print. It’s a place close to my heart, as I live just around the corner and spend a lot of time there with my children.
Can you tell us about your workspace?
I have a desk in nook in our rear reception. It’s a vintage Habitat desk – chrome and glass – which sits by an internal window next to our new kitchen extension. I have a big ugly printer (which my husband hates) that sits on some Ikea drawers, which contains paper for my cards and prints. I like and need to work in the heart of the home, so I can keep an eye on the children.
Describe your day as a maker…
Everything I do is a juggling act around the children. After dropping off my daughter at school I take my son to nursery. I then either race home to print and prepare orders or I go to one of my local cafés and work there. I then pick up my son, take him home for lunch and a nap, and try to cram in as much work as I can before he wakes up. I often go back to work once the kids are in bed. I’m always at my local Post Office, standing in long queues. It’s the bane of my life!
You’re doing some pop-up shops this year. Can you tell us more about those?
I have a pop-up right now in a shop called Anchor + Hope in East London. The owner Holly invited me to fill the front of her shop with my prints and cushions. It feels great having my products in my own mini shop. It’s open until the end of February.
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
Being selected to stock my cards in Funky Pigeon stores throughout the UK.
Have you got any big plans for 2015?
I’ve wanted to do a trade show for some time now, so that’s definitely on the cards – no pun intended!
You can get 10% off everything in the Dicken ink. shop until Sunday 8 February 2015 with the discount code ‘Dickens10’