The background and process of developing Optical Africa

Me in the foyer of the Escher Museum at The Hague in 2014.

A few years ago I visited the Escher Musuem in The Netherlands. It was an amazing experience that left me resolving to develop a range that captured some of the magic and trickery of Escher’s art.

Upon returning home to Africa I saw that African fabrics had a magic to them too.

My studio floor full of African print fabrics.

Different. But connections can be made.

African fabrics are deep with meaning and make you question your reality and beliefs. African fabrics tell stories, bring light to issues, are used to make public personal affirmations and celebrate public events. There is a similar intrigue to them as there is to an Escher artwork – you want to look deeper!

Marrying these two inspirations, Optical Africa was born as a concept.

I researched online and discovered Diana Ejaita. Her style is bold and tactile. She is Italian born, living in Germany but has an indisputable African influence.

Wren Diana Ejaita designer of our Optical Africa Screenprints Image credit Diana Ejaita 2.1MB
Diana with hand-illustrated Wren sleeve. Image curtesy of Diana.
Diana Ejaita
Diana’s designs. Image curtesy of Diana.

She works with mixed media to create patterns and prints and was excited to work with me on this new range.

Wren BTS Diana Ejaita Screen printing designs Image credit Diana Ejaita 724KB
Diana behind a silkscreen of an exposed lino woodcut repeat. Image curtesy of Diana.
Wren BTS Diana Ejaita Screen printing designs Image credit Diana Ejaita 761KB
Diana screen-printing. Image curtesy of Diana.

Developing the range took longer than expected with lots of changes as we refined the artworks to achieve the trickery and deep meaning intended. Diana works with wood linocuts and silkscreen which gives the design a real tactile quality and the imperfection of the repeat gives it an honesty that is very special.

Wood Linocut. Picture curtesy of Diana Ejaita

After this she digitizes and tweaks the design some more.

Positives of 2017 Range Designs

The process is long because each step one prior to digitization is very labour intensive.

Getting the right balance of contemporary pattern, story and optical illusion that pleasantly captivates was a challenge but I am thrilled with the outcome.

We have 3 designs in two colourways, each telling a story, with an African reference.

Jenny and I working on colour stories.

See the designs here.