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PUBLISHED APRIL 2023


STORY

Lannan M. O’Brien

PHOTOS

Clementine Cusack
Ellen Merchant

LOCATION

London

The first chapter would be an idea inspired by a flash of color or a glimpse of nature, followed by a tale of a meticulous technique. By the end of the narrative, it would be clear that the process wasn’t rushed, and the piece celebrates the creator’s touch. And that’s exactly Merchant’s intention.

“I want you to be able to see the maker’s hand and tell that it’s been done by a human being,” she says.

The London-based decorative artist, designer, and printmaker discovered her passion for pattern and print while studying illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, inspired by a technician whose wife was a print designer. “I didn’t know that was actually a job, that you could create patterns,” Merchant says. “And then [your art] becomes a part of somebody’s home. I think it’s the greatest compliment when somebody wants to have something in their home that you created.”

If walls could talk, the ones adorned with Ellen Merchant’s bold prints would have stories to tell about hand-crafted artistry.

Ellen Merchant hand-inks her patterns for her fabrics and wallpapers.

The realization that she could create art that was reproduced and used in practical ways changed the course of her studies. After college, Merchant worked as a print designer for a fashion brand for a few years, churning out four to five designs per week. Then, after starting her master’s program at the Royal College of Art—and doing her own freelance projects on the side—a pandemic lockdown forced her to rethink her creative process, using only the material available in her apartment. “All I had was lino and some carving tools. It really changed everything I did,” Merchant says.

Merchant hand-inks her patterns for her fabrics and wallpapers

She learned she could spend days on one task, like a linocut—a printmaking process that involves carving a design into a sheet of linoleum—and she liked the challenge of designing within a tiny rectangular space. “That’s another thing I enjoy about traditional processes: they’re all limited. On a computer, you can manipulate anything any way you want.”

Bluebells wallpaper in Butter

Bluebells wallpaper in Butter. "I have always loved bluebells; they are such modest yet vibrant flowers."

Printmaking by hand plays an integral role in Merchant’s bold, botanical designs. Whether displayed on the fabric of a couch cushion, an art print, or the wallpaper of a home bathroom, her patterns speak for themselves. Paired with eye-catching color combinations (think emerald and mustard, deep red and soft blues), the “maker’s marks” she chooses not to edit out have become signatures of her style. Variations in the ink and so-called imperfections in the pattern contribute to a handmade aesthetic, as well as to a worn quality that could even be confused as antique. “I’m really drawn to things that look hand done,” she says. “When you have a design that has little variations, I don’t think of them as imperfections. I think of them as character.”

This kind of character doesn’t happen overnight. Initially she hand-prints her designs. For wallpaper, she uses a printing press from the 1950s that she “tweaked” to print rolls of wallpaper, a process that takes about two days per roll.

“People are so keen to do things that are quick, and there’s so much emphasis on quick results and printing easily and cheaply,” notes Merchant. Her method of printing is the most time-consuming—and it definitely doesn’t involve Photoshop. Once a design is physically printed and developed, she outsources it locally for production. “I like to meet the people and see where things are being made,” she says.

Hand-printed cushions in poppy linen

Hand-printed cushions in poppy linen.

However painstaking, Merchant’s dedication to handcrafted design has helped establish her brand. She recently collaborated with the London-based company Daydress on an original block print design called Chintz Trail, which was featured on dresses in their Spring 2022 collection. When Gabby Deeming, the founder of Daydress, reached out to her, Merchant says, “It was one of those moments where you’re like, ‘Is this real?’”

However, Merchant’s heart will always belong to interior design. She and her fiancé, Carl Batchelor, upholster furniture with custom hand-printed fabric through their side project, Peacock & Pigeon. “We love finding antique furniture and doing it up,” she says, adding that the project is “more for fun.”

What’s on the horizon for her textiles collection? Merchant will be releasing three new wallpapers soon, as well as a “funky” new colorway of her Nomad design called Bazaar. In addition, she has an American project expected to launch in the coming year that she refers to as a “dream collaboration,” but is keeping the details under wraps.

The artist returned to the Royal College of Art to finish her master's in textiles and is set to graduate this summer. In the meantime, she enjoys watching her business—and her designs—continue to grow. “I’m just adding slowly over time,” she says. “It’s exciting to create more of a collection.”

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