(First published Oct 3, 2015)
For this month’s LightBulb we meet textile artist and printmaker Lou Tonkin, based on the charming Cornish coast; Lou is a sustainable warrior, combining eco-friendly materials with her textile pieces. Inspired by her feathered friends, and studies of local wildlife and insects she creates felted treats from recycled wools, finished with lashings of embroidery! From mixed media textile pieces, to needle cases, purses and even rescuing old jumpers! Her works are such a delight.
This is a fascinating story where we discover Lou’s ‘lightbulb moment’, we follow her journey; transforming from an art college pupil to an established British textile artist. As a big admirer of Lou’s work I know you’re going to love this blog post!
I’m Lou Tonkin, a textile artist and print maker from West Cornwall now living on the very beautiful south coast of Cornwall, in a very pretty village called Gorran Haven. As an artist I have my own work space at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, about 3 miles from my home which is one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been and what’ more, I’m lucky enough to go there EVERY day.
My light bulb moment was less of a moment and more of a movement. I studied illustration originally at art college but somewhere around the second year I lost my way a bit…. I struggled to fit in. I’ve always been fairly shy; but at college this made things feel quite lonely, I lost concentration on my studies and I found any creativity a real mountain to climb.
It was at around this point that I saw a ‘room to let’ sign on the college notice board, something about it appealed to me. It was advertised as ‘one man & his dog’; as someone living in a busy house at the time it sounded ever so relaxing. I knocked on the door just out of curiosity but found myself moving in by the end of the week- cutting out the middle bits, the ‘man’ was my now husband, time tripped by & found myself expecting a baby – my wonderful Ned!
As a Cornish girl with a fighting spirit it changed everything for me, I had found the best reason of all to be creative; it wasn’t a paper degree or the intellectual study it was something much more practical – the need to provide for my family. I worked hard! I was stitching a skirt for a commission even when in labour with my second child; time flew by and I found myself as the mother of the three most wonderful, inspiring people I have ever met. We moved a lot in those very early years, this is where I collected memories and skills. I worked constantly, and made incredible friends who all inspired me in their different ways, I so enjoyed inspiring them with my love of making -using whatever we had at the time; I felt that this was a time where I grew as a textile artist.
We have had a small holding; experienced a lot of places, travelled a lot and generally squeezed everything we could into life. My husband was offered a job back in Cornwall about 5 years ago, so we now find ourselves a little more settled with the children starting secondary school and needing a little more stability.
With all of these moves I found I had a real talent for connecting people through my creative drive; I found my confidence and I use it wherever I can to help teach my skills to those who might need them, like people from our local homeless shelter.
I am passionate about sourcing and using sustainable materials; I can’t help but want to share the joy of it with others. I started a Project a few years ago called ‘The Cornish Wool Project’ talking directly to local farmers to ensure the materials being used for my products & artworks were as local as possible but also to show the value in the materials close to us. And… things get even better…. I am even luckier this year because Heligan have agreed to let me advertise for other makers to join me in my workshop, where I have started up a group selling the products we make in the Heligan shop under a ‘Handmade at Heligan’ brand. The Handmade at Heligan group already produce wool, twine and bagged wool packs specifically for makers or for garden projects from the Heligan estate; all of which are now for sale. It’s the start of a whole new exciting adventure championing the use of traditional crafts as something to be appreciated with real value.
It’s safe to say I LOVE my job! Everyone I have the opportunity of working with is incredibly, amazingly, wonderful. I so enjoy the prints I get to carve; which are based on my surrounding environment, and the artworks I get to create use local sustainable materials. Teaching workshops are always a joy, they give me a good excuse to travel the length and breadth of the country. Meeting people every day in a very public environment is fantastic; it’s a good way of reflecting on my work. Each day brings new excitement and is always different to the last.
One of the best parts is having a creative home so that I can invite people to visit – like lovely Marna who visited me at Heligan last year with her beautiful family. I enjoy where I work too, as the beautiful surroundings inspire me to keep creating. Visitors are always welcome, but if you can’t make it to Heligan though I do try to keep up to date with my making stuff on my social media pages look for me as:
It’s safe to say that Lou’s enthusiasm for making and creating is certainly contagious; Lou’s lightbulb moment has been a fascinating read. To discover more about Lou or to drop by her shop visit www.loutonkin.com where you can arrange a commission!
Thanks for reading the latest Lightbulb post, make sure your eyes peeled for the next instalment, in the meantime you can keep up to date with latest adventures over on Little A Design’s Facebook page or you can subscribe to the newsletter for more crafty news too!