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The Curios Collection ~ Q&A with Fee Greening & Balineum's Sarah Watson

Fee Greening Balineum Tiles

In celebration of the launch of a new tile collaboration between artist Fee Greening and design studio Balineum led by Sarah Watson, CommonRoom caught up with the two makers in their studios to talk all things creativity, inspiration and interior design. The tile collection features the motifs designed by Fee that appear in our very own Climbing Curios wallpaper. The collaboration represents a wonderful meeting of minds, and is evidence of what happens when several ideas align perfectly. We're excited to be sharing with you both Fee's and Sarah's work - and hope the chat we had with them sheds a bit of light on their process.

Hi Fee, hi Sarah. Thank you for chatting with us. Our first question is quite close to our hearts at the moment, so we’re asking everyone we can for their take on it. How do you navigate the balance between creativity and the business side of things?

FEE: It’s a conundrum that I struggle with. I spend daytimes working on admin and edits, and then in the evening once emails stop interrupting my flow I move on to creative stuff. My best drawings are usually made past midnight when I’ve really settled into a rhythm, completely undisturbed. But that set up can’t work every day of the week or I’d keel over! Fortunately over time I’ve learnt which months of the year are usually busy and I block out creative time during the quieter periods. I’ve got a bit more of a grasp on it over the last year or two. I try to be firm with my boundaries and remind myself not to take things too seriously - I’m an illustrator after all, not an open heart surgeon.

SARAH: I don’t. I just work a lot. I am often tired and irritable, feel incredibly thinly stretched, and hate everything and everyone a lot of the time. But in amongst that I do have moments of joy. I try to do things like pace myself, have clear job descriptions so others know what I expect of them, wherever possible have systems and processes so I/we don’t wear ourselves out on the simple stuff. But the truth is, I often have to work evenings or weekends to do the creative stuff when no one else is around. Turns out I really like working on public holidays. 

How would you describe your own style? Are there any homes or styles you particularly admire? 

SARAH: I wouldn’t know how to describe my own style. It’s very patchworked. I am definitely a product of my environment and experiences. Observing my clients has helped me develop better taste. I like and admire so many different people and styles. I am certainly not a purist. I admire everything from complete minimalism to over-the-top pattern and colour. I’m even partial to a cabin and cowboys.

FEE: My personal style is scruffier and tougher then my more delicate fashion illustration commissions. I spend most of my time in holey Levi’s and paint splattered boots. Our house is like a favourite brightly coloured wooly jumper, smelling of burnt toast and covered in mud. My favourite homes are probably the Weasleys’ home, ‘The Burrow’ in Harry Potter, and I was always weirdly fascinated by the Sherwood Forest tree house village in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

SARAH: As long as something is done well, and with an attempt at integrity, I’m interested by it. I am increasingly avoiding most design magazines and mass market brands because I find it them boring. I get sick of seeing the same things over and over again. I have a physical repulsion to it.

How did this particular collaboration come about? How do you normally decide who to collaborate with, and what motivates you to collaborate with others?

FEE: Sarah had already begun experimenting with tile samples using my motifs when a dear client of mine asked me to paint some tiles to match the Climbing Curios wallpaper from our CommonRoom collaboration in their bathroom. I knew the only person to speak to about this was Sarah and the project just naturally came together. Sarah made the beautiful matching tiles and we thought we should open the collection up for everyone to buy. I love that people can match them with the original wallpaper, the fabric, the whole caboodle.

SARAH: Collaborations are entirely driven by what might look good on a tile. Is it new and interesting? It is creative or challenging in some way? If so, then I’m open to it. Fee has a whimsical charm that I find very appealing. I feel her motifs are like contemporary English delft: she has captured the essence of the countryside.

FEE: I guess my style is pretty niche, so I usually only get approached by brands that share similar inspirations and values. I also have wonderful agents that manage that side of my work and advise me on what projects I should invest time and energy into.

Fee Greening Balineum Tiles

Fee, we’ve seen these new tiles used beautifully in your kitchen. Can you share some advice for those who want to make their home their own?

FEE: I am so pleased with the tiles. We have them as a simple backsplash above our kitchen sink, and every time I run the tap I think of summer and being in the garden with the sun on my face. My advice would be to stay focused on what is authentically you. I am bombarded with stunning homes every day on Instagram and it can be tempting to emulate them, but just because I like something doesn’t mean it’s right for my home and lifestyle. Some of my favourite pieces are items I’ve had since I was a teenager and they have dictated a colour palette that runs throughout every element of my life, my illustrations, home, wardrobe, garden. So every purchase - be it an egg cup or a pair of socks - fits right in.

Sarah, the motifs Fee uses translate so well to tiles (and everything actually)! Can you tell us a little more about how you think the tiles could be used?

SARAH: I imagine you’d use them like a delft tile - around a fireplace, as a kitchen backsplash, chequerboarded with plain tiles. I love the combination of tile and wallpaper - which is why we love watching what CommonRoom does and why we often take inspiration from CommonRoom papers.

Finally, do you have a favourite source of inspiration or somewhere you always find yourself returning to?

FEE: I am such a broken record when it comes to this it’s a little embarrassing. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved Medieval illuminated manuscripts, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Blake, Arthur Rackham’s dark fairytale illustrations. I just never really evolved further, I came out fully formed.

SARAH: Travel and walking. I am constantly exploring: be that locally or further afield.

Further reading...

Fee Greening's tile collection at Balineum.

Sarah on Instagram.

Fee on Instagram.

Climbing Curios by Fee Greening, available exclusively at CommonRoom.


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