I have serious studio envy. Cath Derksema of Prints Charming has the most amazing warehouse studio space and it’s a riot of colour and pattern. Prints Charming is known for its beautiful fabrics in bright, saturated hues and simple, graphic patterns, and the studio is a reflection of that aesthetic.
Cath is creative to the core and seemingly never stops. She told me that for her, creativity is more about immersing herself in the process than the actual outcome. When you look at her intricate and densely layered embroidery stitching you can’t help but imagine the endless hours that went into the making. Cath showed me piece after piece of beautiful embroidered linen that she keeps folded up, saying that she feels no urge to make them into anything. It feels like such a shame not to have them on display as wall hangings, framed art or used in a functional piece, but it’s the actual process of making that satisfies and fulfills Cath.
I know you’re going to love reading about the road that led to Cath’s creative life, and you’ll be taken in by the vast space and small details that form her Space to Create.
Where do you live?
I live with my partner Baz, and two sons, Dylan, 17 and Toby, 12 in the inner west Sydney suburb of Annandale. We have lived here for a long time and watched the area change into a thriving, buzzy, and lively village. We love living here as we have a strong supportive creative community and we are also close to other wonderful suburbs like Glebe, Camperdown and Newtown. We own a CD and vinyl record store in Newtown so the proximity all round works.
Where do you create?
I work in an old warehouse in Annandale.
Ever since University I have had a creative space to work in. I’ve had an old warehouse in Surry Hills, a design studio in Paddington, a harbour side studio in Blackwattle Bay, a garage in Lilyfield, a shop in Annandale, and now my current warehouse space. I feel extremely lucky it’s two minutes from home, big, original, light-filled and beautiful. And I now share it with three other wonderful creatives.
When do you create? Is it a full time job?
I’m always making things. It’s a full time, all time job for me. Even when I am at home I’m still doing things. I can’t turn it off. It’s who I am.
What path led you to this creative place?
I have been a commercial designer since I left university in the mid ’80s. I worked for John Kaldor as a designer in the late ’80s when there was a strong vibrant ‘rag trade’ in Australia. It was an amazing experience where I learnt who was who, and what was what in my industry. I travelled to European studios where designs were bought, and then went to Japan to have them all hand-painted and put into repeat ready for production. It was an incredible time, however I had a burning desire to do my own thing.
I left Kaldor and formulated ‘Art Park’. My business partner and I sold original artwork locally and internationally, as well as developing our own line of Australian handprinted homewares. We had a store in Paddington for five years, and as many partnerships do, we eventually went our separate ways.
I had a family – two gorgeous boys – but I couldn’t help myself, I needed to print.
Then came the beginning of ‘Prints Charming’ with Kirsten. We had been friends at Kaldor and started printing in a little garage in Lilyfield. Over the time we were able to part take in the international craft market and secured licensing contracts with American and Japanese manufacturers. After 10 years things changed, and our partnership dissolved (amicably), and now I have a licensing agreement with Spotlight in Australia. They print and manufacture the Prints Charming brand in apparel and quilting fabrics, with embroidery kits soon to come.
What’s your elevator pitch? How do you describe what you do?
I make things. I am trained as a textile designer but I dislike the notion of being pigeon holed. I fit between a designer and an artist. Everything I do is connected to my heart.
How would you describe yourself in six words?
Passionate, colourful, optimistic, direct, lighthearted.
Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
I find inspiration all around me and that doesn’t just mean visual. Smell and taste are evocative senses that often ignite thoughts and memories. Textures also, are a constant inspiration that all essentially come from nature. I often draw on travel experiences, and try to limit my internet time. I’m fairly old school and love a book or magazine to hold, smell, paw and drool over.
What are the essential items in your workspace?
Clean, calm hands. Linen, cotton and string… and my wild harvest incense.
Do you have a favourite tool that’s essential to your work?
I seriously don’t have a favourite one. A trusty pencil always excites me.
What do you love the most about your creative space?
It has a unique sense of serenity. Despite it’s location under the flight path and close to busy Parramatta Road, I often marvel in the sound of rosellas and kookaburras, and beautiful raindrops on the tin roof. The Warehouse has at least 12 banks of old framed windows that are weathered through time, and allow a warm soft, natural, earthy light, to permeate everything. I feel very blessed.
Is there something you don’t like, or would like to change?
Because the studio is wonderfully ‘raw’ the natural elements are also…
Do you listen to anything while you work?
I am known to thrash a good CD. My fave at the moment is Mac Demarco.
Favourite work-time snack (or beverage)?
I am surrounded by high quality yumminess. The Little Marionette and Stone Ground Espresso for the best coffee, Black Star for delicious pastries and a home-made salad always keeps me happy and energized.
What would be your dream job or collaboration?
I absolutely love where I am right now, however if I was just starting out as a designer/crafter/maker I would love to work with Easton Pearson. Their use of high quality fabric, printing and exquisitely crafted accessories never ceases to inspire me.
Tell us an online resource or app you can’t live without.
My absolute fave has to be Instagram. I was so sceptical but Toby, my 12yr old made me do it! Hence the long name: printscharmingoriginalfabrics. It gives you a slice of studio life, and has opened up my creative circle. It is an app that completely inspires me, and I can choose from couture sights to biodynamic farms and anything in between.
What’s the hardest thing you find about what you do?
I guess the hardest thing is finding enough hours in the day. Generally my work is very labour intensive which can physically take its toll and mentally leave me frazzled. When I work I often forget to eat and drink, as I become too immersed in the making. I always have something on the go, and cannot function otherwise. People frequently ask me where do you find the time and I reply with: there is ALWAYS time!
How do you work out the financial aspects of your business? What resources, tips and tools would you recommend?
So much of my energy and focus is poured into what I make, that when it comes to ‘book work’ I just don’t have any energy left! There are people out there that love crunching numbers and making things add up and reconcile, so I let them do it. It’s money well spent!
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives?
If you are fresh out of school or university, I highly recommend working for someone.
Do some hard yards and learn as much as you can. Keep your eyes and ears open as to how your industry operates, and learn who’s who. Network as much as possible, and endear yourself to all around you. Everything is for a reason, and can be called upon when you least you expect it! Remember a menial task can be the key to a big project.
Don’t give up easily. Good things take time.
Do you have a dream that you’d love to fulfill?
I would love to do a four week studio exchange. Paris, Mexico, Florence or Argentina would suit me just fine. Four weeks and the family wouldn’t know I’ve been gone!
Cath also runs workshops in embroidery and shibori dyeing – keep up to date with upcoming workshops on her Instagram feed.
All photography by Lisa Tilse for We Are Scout.