Based in Dunedin, Helen Riley-Duddin of hjrd Design is a mum, wife, designer, maker and lecturer, teaching in Communication Design and Interior Design. Nine months ago she launched her range of magnetic wallscapes and now spends much of her studio time developing new designs and working on commission pieces while caring for her daughter Jemima.
What do you make?
I make a variety of things, but my Felt shop is currently focused on what I call Magnetic Wallscapes – something somwhere halfway between art and play, in that they’re dynamic decor – not traditional art, nor are they toys…
How did you get into your craft?
I think it’s been a life-long exploration of what I can do with my hands, mind, and the simple materials I find. From a young age I made and sold jewellery, cards, clocks, calendars; along the way hoarding treasures like copper telephone wires and paper scraps in preparation for some future idea.
Professionally my background is in communication design, where I usually design two-dimensionally, typically for print. I think my ‘wallscape’ craft emerged from my background in this and my hands-on-can-do explorations. It was the transition from working full-time to becoming a new parent that sparked the idea for designing dynamic wall decor; sharing our space with the delightful chaos of a growing child where losing floor space to play things was inevitable! I wanted to design something to reclaim an adult aesthetic in living areas with a playful approach.
Clockwise from left: Helen and Jemima in the studio; coastal cabbage tree, 2005; Helen’s stash!
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I still don’t really think of my work as a ‘craft’ in itself, I guess it’s some new handmade combination of graphic design, interior design, sewing and paper craft. I studied in Design and Marketing and have Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce degrees which most definitely informs the work I do now.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My wallscapes only use vintage wallpapers and fabric offcuts; I love the hunt in sourcing my treasured materials. The concept behind using these materials was to make a statement about context; by salvaging them and using them in an unintended way they’re liberated from their original associations or garments to better appreciate their colours and textures. This is also particularly ironic for the vintage wallpapers which were intended for walls, but in their wholeness are almost unbearable in a contemporary setting until their context is redefined in wallscape form! In this way they offer a nostalgic celebration of former homeware aesthetics. I adore the tactility of these mixed materials and often find myself studying closely their patterns, prints and textures.
As for favourite tools it has to be my hands and eyes! And my iMac of course. I find myself trying various approaches but revert to the most basic tools and what I can achieve with my own hands. I guess I often think of that saying ‘a good workman never blames his tools’ … I love the control I can achieve without using complex tools or machines which with my impatience often disappoints!
What inspires you?
This is always difficult to define, but I know it’s a combination of certain influences; Nostalgia for the simple joys, sense of wonder and youthful imagination that is childhood – watching my daughter grow and learn evokes this. I grew up on an organic market garden in coastal Kakanui which instilled me with an appreciation for the truly natural, looking to nature’s forms, colours and textures for inspiration and a ‘making-something-out-of-nothing’ methodology. The prints, patterns and textures found in my salvaged materials are often a great inspiration.
Describe your workspace:
My workspace is at home, but separate to the house. It’s essentially a ramshackle sleep-out tacked on the end of our garage, but it’s set amongst the garden in our backyard and after tossing the curtains, ripping up the carpet, painting the walls white (with some magnetic areas of course!) it’s transformed to a space I love to work. I have three main work areas; office, production (at my favourite red formica table), and jewellery workbench. Amongst the creative chaos are several places for Jemima to perch and potter while I work. I quickly learned how important it was to have a place separate from our living space to work in. When I’m home most of the time working and looking after Jemima it’s really good to be able to ‘go to work’ and ‘come home again’ keeping home and work separate. I love my studio.
Five words that describe your mind:
Intrigued, chaotic, analytical (yes, that’s right next to chaotic!) optimistic, empathetic, intuitive. And clearly indecisive – that makes seven.
What are you currently listening to?
Right now, it’s the blissful peace of Jemima sleeping. But most often beaming through the studio are The Woolshed Sessions, Delgirl, Wellington Ukulele Orchestra and LCD Soundsystem.
Recommend an album: It has to be the Woolshed Sessions – most definitely most played!
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Absolutely, it’s about context and narratives. The materials I use have their own histories or stories which are sort of edited in their transformation to becoming my wallscapes. These are designed to be rearranged as a form of story-telling for adults; we change them around to suit our mood, to work with the decor, to set a scene in our daily lives. This process of interacting with them evokes that sense of play, imagination and engagement we experienced when we were younger – it’s like telling stories with the materials of our childhoods; the clothes we used to wear within the walls of our homes that were furnished with wallpapers of the era.
I like the thought of my work empowering others creatively; install the wallscapes your way, colour the illustrations as you see them in your imagination…
Your favourite childhood book?
A book called The Best Nest was right up there with the Dr Seuss classics. Also I have to mention The Giant Jam Sandwich as I won that in a colouring competition!
What are you reading now?
Prizes – selected short stories by Janet Frame. And selected textbooks on design research [with my teacher's hat on].
My Mum would have to be my crafting heroine; supremely talented in all manner of made things; from home baking, gardening to spinning, knitting, weaving, sewing… self-taught but an amazing teacher.
A favourite quote:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
Do you have any pets?
We do, Ted the big fat cat. His name has proved troublesome with Jemima learning to talk though: books say ‘Teddy’ and ‘Cat’, but Teddy IS the cat!
If you were a crayon, what colour would you be? The red one without a doubt!
Check out more of Helen’s gorgeous wallscape designs in her Felt shop, hjrdDesign, and watch this space for her new range of restickable decals!