We sat down with designer Helen Russell to find our more about her inspiration and design plans for the future.
What made you become a designer and where do you get your inspiration from?
I’ve always loved doodling and making things so eventually (after some diversions) I went to Manchester University to study Three Dimensional Design. It was a mixed media course so I got to try wood, metal, ceramics and product design. I loved them all but particularly enjoyed working in clay and with wood. I think this perhaps harks back to my love of the outdoors and many happy hours messing around in forests and up mountains. Wild places continue to inspire me and most of my work centres around nature and its critters. I love storytelling and illustration and am finding that increasingly it’s the decoration of objects that holds my attention. I like to take plain surfaces and turn them into short stories.
Tell us about your range with Royal Stafford
The Flower Garden is a place of peace and tranquillity where bees buzz away happily and other garden friends are waiting to be found! Being outside makes me feel calm but ready for adventure. I wanted to create a range that evokes a sense of happiness, good fortune and cheer. Bees always make me think of Spring and new starts so I aimed to create designs to look fresh and clean, like the smell of newly washed sheets if it’s possible to put that into an image. Also, bees are in a bit of a sticky place at the moment with the use of so many pesticides that are killing them off, I wanted to do a design that celebrates them and all the hard work they do.
Why is a ‘Made in England’ product important to you?
England and the wider UK has such a strong history of manufacturing, I find it heartbreaking that we have lost, or are losing, so many traditional skills. The creative industries is one of the country’s fastest growing sectors so it seems sensible to me to try and couple what I am trying to achieve with the expertise that the country still houses. Also, I’ve been used to making everything myself from scratch so if I am handing my designs over to someone else to produce I like to be able to meet those people regularly. Both to check I’m happy with the quality of a product but more importantly because it’s such an excellent opportunity to learn from people with different skills and experience. I know I could travel for that but why on earth would I when there is such amazing talent, experience and opportunity on my doorstep!
Do you use any special tableware?
There are some super talented designers and designer makers in the UK. I have some fantastic wheel thrown bowls by Nick Williams of Consall Forge. They hold lots of soup, or cake and custard, and are wonderful to hold on a winters night. I also have Sarah Heaton plates which always make me smile and are such an unusual shape – friends and family always comment on them. Finally my favourite mug for a lovely hot chocolate is one made by my friend Cath Ball. Her work is super delicate, porcelain decorated with impressed fabric or pieces where she sews into the clay. The piece I own is finished off with the most beautiful aqua coloured glaze. I keep that one in the studio away from the family!
What’s next for you?
My own collections are being added to all the time and I love everything that goes with that but I’m really enjoying the experience of working with other people and companies so I’d like to pursue more of that. To a degree I am self-taught, technology wasn’t really taught on the course I did (it’s an age thing) so I’m also doing some online courses this year to help me better get to grips with the professional software I use. There’s also a slightly bonkers, very uncertain project on the horizon that would be amazing if it came off but a fantastic journey even if it doesn’t. Fingers and toes and eyes crossed for that one!
The Buzzy Bee range is available to buy here.