19 December 2019
MT MEETS Fi Douglas of Bluebellgray
You founded the company in 2009 when you created your first cushion design on your kitchen table. You now have a studio of 16 with your own store and stockists across the globe. Do you often have to pinch yourself?
I honestly just couldn’t have imagined where I would be now when I started Bluebellgray 10 years ago! When I started out I had very little money, and I was doing everything from my kitchen table, I literally had six cushions when I started as that was all I could afford to make. It was different times back then too as it was before the days of Instagram, and internet shopping was still pretty new to people and we didn’t shop on our phones. I did a lot of direct to consumer events (including one in Japan!) and it was a wonderful way to actually meet and talk to my customers and hear their direct feedback on my designs when it was still so young and new. The brand has grown so much since those days when I did absolutely everything on my own. It’s an absolute dream to have such a wonderful team to support me, they inspire me every day and make it all possible. We’ve done some amazing projects over the years and there have been many moments when I had to pinch myself. Opening our own store has to be the biggest highlight for me of the last ten years, it’s always a rollercoaster journey running your own business to have got to the point where we were ready to do that was such a wonderful moment!
From watercolour florals to super-scale abstracts, your hand-painted signature designs have become synonymous with the brand. Where do you find you inspiration?
Travel and the natural world are always my biggest inspirations. I always photograph my travels, beautiful colours and flowers that I see along the way and I take the photos back to the studio for inspiration. I try to travel somewhere new with my team before we start a new collection to get first hand inspiration, sometimes that travel could be going for a walk in a beautiful forest in Scotland or somewhere more exotic like Morocco. It’s always really important to me that my inspiration and designs come from my original research and paintings, all my designs start very simply- with an idea and paint and paper. I’m always soaking up the world round about me, looking at colours everywhere, I adore flowers and gardens, I’ve loved how having children has made me do this even more, they always want to stop and look at things so it makes me appreciate them even more too. I’ve always adored painting abstract pieces, ever since my art school days I have painted in this way, I love the freedom of painting abstract, it’s just about shape and colour and there is something so beautifully simple about it.
Is your home as colourful as your designs?
Yes! My home is very colourful, I adore colour, I always think it is such a mood lifter and really affects how you feel, it can be so joyful. With our current house I really wanted to create a fun, happy home for my family, somewhere we all love to be and hang out in. My kids have grown up surrounded by colour and even my boys think nothing of having a pink sofa! I love living with my designs and testing them out in my home, although it’s hard to resist the urge to completely redesign every time we do a new collection, I get so absorbed into it! Blues, turquoise’s and pink are always my favourite colours.
How do you work? Do you have a sketch book of ideas? Talk us through the design process:
I start by sticking photographs of my research trips all over my studio wall, I like to have them there all through the design process, just looking at them and absorbing them and taking in the colours and vibe of that season. I’ve used mt tape in my studio for years to tape all my research on to my walls! So much prettier than blue tac :) I don’t actually work in a sketchbook, I prefer loose sheets of paper and I like big sheets of paper, always the same brand, I’m super fussy about the materials I use! I always use the same brand of paper, and despite having a huge collection of paintbrushes, there are 2 brushes that are my absolute favourites that I use to paint almost all my designs with, I’m always terrified of using them and I stick tape on their handles to make sure I can always spot them easily and to help them from going missing. For some of my abstract designs I paint on canvas, I prefer painting on big canvases, and use big brushes.
After the designs have been painted I have them scanned or photographed very high resolution, this allows them to be digitised and put into the computer for further work. They may need an element of cleaning up or re scaling on the computer to get them ready to be printed, but the design itself gets very little manipulation, the aim is always to keep the designs as true as possible to the original paintings. Almost all my designs are then digitally printed, it’s the method I have found works best to keep the colours as true as possible. We work with different mills to make sure we pick the right cloth for each design.
This year marks the 10th year of Bluebellgray…do you have any exciting plans to mark this milestone?
I had a little baby recently (my third) so to be completely honest I’ve been so busy with my baby that my first babies 10 year milestone (Bluebellgray!) didn’t get quite as much attention as it might have done! But we did re release a special limited edition cushion design from the archive from way back when I started out to mark the occasion which was lovely. And it was so lovely to see loyal customers that have bought from me since the beginning, buying this cushion 10 years later, that was super special.
What’s the most satisfying thing about Bluebellgray?
Being creative every day and working alongside some of my favourite people in the world every day. And making beautiful products, the days when we do our photoshoots are always my favourites- it’s very satisfying to finally see a collection and vision all come together after months of hard work, that’s always a great moment.
What keeps you so passionate and focused today?
Our customers keep me passionate- when customers get in touch and tell me how the designs make them feel that makes me so happy and makes everything worthwhile. There’s been some beautiful stories over the years from customers that always stay with me, and when times are tough, that’s what I pull on and remember to get me through it. We have an incredibly loyal and wonderful fan base who have taken Bluebellgray into their hearts, and it’s a wonderful thing to have that and I’m so grateful for it.
What were your biggest challenges along the way?
There are So many challenges to running your own business, especially one like ours where we do absolutely everything from the very start, from the blank piece of paper to the final moment when the product is on the shelves and sold to customers- there is a HUGE amount in between all that to make it happen. We have many challenges over the years with other companies stealing our designs and ideas, that has definitely been a challenge, and I think that is a challenge for so many independent creatives. I always think running your own business is like a constant problem solving exercise!
When did you first discover mt Masking Tape and how do you use your tape?
I first discovered mt tape on a trip to Japan about 8 years ago and have loved it ever since! Nothing else compares to it, it’s a constant in my studio and has been for years, my team use it too and we all truly love it! I use it for sticking all my inspiration and notes to my studio walls. My kids use it as well now and love it just as much as me, they use it for crafting and making things. I also always keep it at home for wrapping presents with.
Quick fire questions
Best advice you have ever been given?
Good design takes time
Favourite Gallery or Museum?
Jupiter art land near Edinburgh
If you could have dinner with three artists (past or present) who would they be?
The interior designer Anna Spiro