Screen printer Alice Rolfe of Rolfe&Wills, whose colourful work has long captured my eye, tells me about her fantastic designs, where she finds her inspiration and why she loves working in Bristol.
Please can you tell us a bit about Rolfe&Wills?
“It’s a small, independent, creative business based in Bristol. It started with me and a close friend, Chloe Wills, hence the name, but after she had her daughter it evolved to just me. I sell homewares such as cushions, tea towels and mugs, as well as prints, cards, notebooks, bags and clothing. I design and screen print all the products – I like to keep things simple and vibrant!”
What’s your background?
“I studied fine art at Wimbledon University, and then completed a Masters in fine art and teaching at Kingston University. Whilst living in London I assisted some great artists – Jamie Shovlin and Tanya Kovats amongst others. I exhibited around London, the UK and Europe, and after 10 years in the Big Smoke I decided to move back to Bristol. Here I was able to focus on making and designing aspects of art which I just love.”
Describe your style:
“I like simple lines and a splash of colour. I’ve been experimenting a lot over the last two years, but I’m honing my style to layering colour and fine drawings.”
What inspires you?
“I’m inspired by what I see around me – an unusual colour combination in nature, or a line or angle in architecture. I record it and eventually a design will come together in my mind.”
How do your designs evolve from an initial idea to a finished product?
“It’s a bit like when you learn a new word and then hear it everywhere. I’ll see two colours which work well together and then I’ll spot them all over the place. I’ll store them and at some point a design will come. I often leave an idea for a while, let it evolve a bit and then, when I can’t wait any longer, I’ll start the printing process. I’ll experiment with layering colours and eventually it’ll be ready for printing onto my products.”
Many of your designs feature Bristol scenes – what do you like most about the city, and how does it inspire you?
“Bristol is so great, and it’s been a fantastic place to start a creative business. Bristolians are very supportive of independent businesses, and other designers/makers are supportive, too. In London there’s a lot of competition between artists, but in Bristol people offer advice and help you along your way. My drawings of Bristol are a bit of a thank-you to the city. I wanted to depict the less obvious areas – Stokes Croft, for example – for locals to enjoy.”
You only use organic inks in your work – is protecting the environment important to you?
“Being environmentally responsible is extremely important to me. Although setting up your own business is incredibly hard, I’m in a privileged position where I make every single decision, and I can’t justify having a negative impact on the planet just so I can screen print for a living. Everything I use is organic and ethically sourced, not only the inks. For example, the paper for my notebooks and prints is 100% recycled, and where possible I source things like mugs and tea towels from the UK. When my products are made abroad, I only use sustainable companies who employ ethically.”
Describe a typical working day:
“I usually do a 10-13 hour day. I run a studio (Garage Studios) which I rent out to six other creatives, and it’s a fantastic place to work. I get there in the morning, and I normally start by packing the web orders I’ve received, as well as answering emails and doing admin. I also run a co-op shop, Paper Plane, so a lot of my time is spent working on that, but if I’m really lucky I can actually get some printing done!”
Of all your designs to date, which is your favourite?
“I think it’s got to be the Chevron Cushion. I love the colours in it. I print three layers of colour but some overlap, so ultimately there are six colours. Sometimes they don’t all line up, so you can see some lovely misprints, which I really like.”
What are your future plans?
“My future plans… Well, I don’t want to take over the world or anything like that. I’m quite happy with how things are, but I guess it would be good to employ someone part-time to help with the workload. I’m always looking for new shops to stock, and I’d love to find some more time to experiment with designs.”
Photography by Jon Rowley