20 March 2019

Esther Cox Answers 12 Questions Relating to the Creative Process

What is the creative process and how does it define us?

In this ongoing Q&A series, 12 simple questions are posed to people across different industries to reveal what it means to be creative, whatever your vocation.

Answering the questions this time is textile designer and illustrator, Esther Cox.


In a nutshell, what do you do?

Professionally I create patterns for fashion textiles and interiors, and illustrations for posters, books and packaging. Personally I explore the human instinct for decoration and pattern through painting and collage. They overlap, feeding and confusing each other.

What’s your creative process; how do you get stuff done?

Look. Procrastinate. Play. Arrive at an outcome somehow… In practice this means visual research, drawing and collaging elements. Scanning into software and reworking and colouring digitally. The hand element defines my ideas, shapes and textures, the digital element allows me to turn those ideas into a cohesive repeat or composition. Colour is vital in what I do, and working digitally allows me to play with countless combinations. Mostly I know it is 'done' when I can't see any significant changes to make.

Everyone works differently. When did you become aware that your creative process is your own?

I think my process has largely been built out of trying to find a way to do things that I didn't know how to do. From a place of not thinking I could do things I've managed to create my own visual language and way of making. It has taken me years to unlearn a lot of things from art school that didn't make sense to me.

My first ever client was surprised by the way I presented my colour palette as a little pattern of intersecting shapes to show how they would be combined. I've since seen people use a list of Pantones or a pie chart (yawn).

I still find it difficult to produce roughs for clients. I work in an intuitive way and don't have a finished idea in my head. Offering a pencil sketch to a client doesn't give a very satisfactory indication of what the end result might be. I find it difficult to articulate it, so I am asking a lot from clients to trust in my peculiar process.

When are you most creative?

Usually when there is a deadline looming and I should be focusing on that. New ideas often start to present themselves then. Work begets work I suppose. A blank page and free time is actually stultifying. It's not the best system for a freelancer...

Can you be creative in a vacuum or do you need outside influences to help?

I spend a lot of time looking. Whether that is books, magazines, exhibitions, the Internet or the wall. As a textile designer I have to be aware of trends, but I feel the danger of getting caught up in them. So after my research is done, I tidy it all away and start work without too much reference material. It's the only way to retain your identity.

The thought of sharing a studio horrifies me slightly. I enjoy the solitude at work so my mind can wander or focus as it needs. But there is a great energy and joy in working with a client who is prepared to trust in you and have a free exchange of ideas. It's how I make my best work and I wish there were more of those creative relationships.


Did you seek being a creative or did creativity find you?

I'm not aware of a time without creativity. It has always ebbed and flowed, and it took me a long time to figure out (and still am) how I could use it professionally. I think it is born of a sense of unease, of not fitting, and feeling outside of things. I'm a keen observer so I've gathered a lot of information over the years. Creativity is a way of using and making sense of that I think.

Do you think your background has had an effect on your creativity?

Certainly. My parents/grandparents are/were creative in different ways. I don't think it was ever intended as a career for me, but as a child I was always given things to make/sew/draw as a means of keeping me quiet and occupied. And it still does.

Have you ever struggled with creativity?

Most days. But the challenge is an exciting one. Howard Hodgkin, one of our great modern painters, is reputed to have said 'I hate painting'. That makes absolute sense to me.


Is there any one person, thought or thing that’s changed the way you think?

I struggle to answer this question as there are many things, not one definitive one. My mum had a French art book when I was younger on Raoul Dufy and I would pour over the pictures even though I couldn't read it. I have my own copy now and I still look at it with awe and envy. Books have always been a way in for me.

Otherwise I can only really say that when I was choosing my A-levels at school I was told that Art wasn't a proper subject and I should choose something else. Which probably cemented my choice to pursue it.

Do you have one piece of advice for anyone starting out as a creative?

I try not to give advice. It's there to be ignored isn't it? I'd only say persevere. The path will not be linear and there is almost certainly more than one to follow. It is doubtful you will ever feel you have 'arrived'. But therein lies the excitement and drive and keeps you creative.


Do you think creativity has defined you?

Yes. I'm a peculiar bird and sitting in an office in a suit, listening to people talk about 'thinking outside the box' would have killed me long ago.

What would you like to do if you weren’t doing what you do now?

I've done lots of things as the creative life is not always a financially secure one. But I was quite adamant as a child I was going to be an interior designer, so maybe that. I dallied with the idea of textile conservation once too. It still fascinates me, but I might have lost the patience for it, and I certainly don't have the science for it.

T H A N K   Y O U