We caught up with Julie Anne-Pugh, the queen of watering cans, who’s bringing a troupe of her hand-painted wares (and a whole lot of attitude) to DRAWN, The Illustrators Fair - this Saturday, 10am - 4pm at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your past, your connection to Shrewsbury, and where you are now?
Most creatives try out every hat until they find the one they like to wear. I’ve dreamed of being a painter in Paris and a dressmaker for the West End, all the way to interior designer for children. Up until I moved to London I’d always lived in Shrewsbury, you could nearly always find me in The Quarry or squirrelling away painting the walls of my room - sorry mum.
At Meole Brace School, I was FOREVER in the workshops and received a scholarship for engineering with Rolls Royce. It was fascinating but it wasn’t colourful enough. Throughout school and college, I was working across 2D print design and 3D product designs.
Between laser cutting cookie dough and making cake stands for Stop. Cafe, I designed a collection of seasonal fabric patterns. They stopped my graphics tutor at the time, Sarah Honor, dead in her tracks. Fabric samples aren’t the first thing you think of when you picture a graphic design portfolio, so it’s fair to say I have a knack for being a bit out of place.
I marched myself off to Hereford School of Art to push my creative boundaries, it was exhausting but so necessary. With a project about a pineapple, Central Saint Martin’s offered me a spot on the Communications Course where I was taught by Abbie Vickress who is coincidentally from Ludlow. For 3 years I studied Experience and Environment Design with her, learning how to answer briefs and apply research to spaces dynamically to curate experiences for the public. A huge highlight was designing and producing a jazz-infused stairway installation for a gallery. The public had to step all over my work to progress from one floor of the exhibition to the next.
By Julie-Anne Pugh has two sides to it, product and service. The products are, of course, the patterned Watering Cans (as well as prints and accessories) and the service is set design, interior/exterior painting and one-off commissions. If I hadn't tried out so many hats when little wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work on half of the projects I have.
We’re a huge fan of your watering cans! Why did you choose watering cans, and where do you get your inspiration from?
After graduating, I spent the summer as a festival set designer which led me onto working on one-off commissions. Some big and some small; it started with painting a banana which led to restoring two beehives, next, a 1930s Dolls House, then a guest bedroom and most recently painting on Camden High Street!
Before I sit down to work on jobs for others, I spend 30 minutes working for myself, in the same way a maths teacher might set up a quick brain teaser at the start of class. It means I hit the ground running when connecting ideas and putting down colour.
In this case, the watering can fell victim to the brain teaser. I was fed up with watering a garden that was becoming rather beautiful with something so uninspiring, for lack of a better word. Last summer the world reconnected with nature, we woke up with the sun and dressed ourselves to the weather, watering the garden provided a routine I didn’t know I needed and routine was something many craved. I spent 4 months from there, experimenting and testing out different techniques and styles.
The inspiration for By Julie-Anne Pugh has a totally holistic approach, the bottom line is people. From the things they say to the clothes they wear, I am totally powered by people. People add to the experience and the texture of our day. When I paint, I put down two or three contrasting colours and they spend the rest of the time trying to bring a sense of harmony to the design. The process has to be ugly for the result to be rewarding.
In whose homes have your watering cans found their way into?
The cans have blown all over, much like a dandelion. Last week the first international can was shipped to Paris, enchante! Daisy Tinker, an up-and-coming retail pioneer has a Beach Hut Can, the striped large cans. Closer to home, the lovely Kate, founder of Turtle Doves has one and many more of the By Julie-Anne Pugh Watering Cans have found their way as far as South Wales, Scotland and other parts of England. Hopefully, they’ll make it to Ireland next!
How did you get so good at social media? Do you think an artist can survive without social media these days?
I don’t know if anyone can truly be good at social media, I just like to talk a lot. I also like to share and social media is simply a community of people exchanging ideas and experiences. You don’t need social media to survive as an artist but you do need people. For me, they go hand in hand but they don’t always have to. There’s an element of exclusivity when work is unsigned or untraceable, it creates a totally different relationship when art can only exist in one solid place.
How has your work changed over time?
My work doesn’t have a linear nature, it loops, I’m an avid sketch booker and when I look back through things I have written, I still see its presence in my work today. My style has grown from something that was rather conventional with illustrative streaks to a cohesive kaleidoscope of colour that I apply to surfaces all over. I adore florals and dots more than I ever thought I would, but new trends are what really excites me.
Are you working on any other projects?
I’m in the early stages of working on a collaborative project between Camden Council and Camden Open Air Galleries but I’m very good at tempting fate so I’ll stop talking there.
Where has your work been featured? Do you have any events in the pipeline?
My set design has been installed twice at London Fashion week, more recently I designed, built and installed the window display with a seating area for a high-end luxury brand in Soho and next month the Watering Cans are going to be featured in Reclaim Magazine.
Away from the Cans, I am working on some really cool pop-ups both in Shropshire and London - I will spill the beans as soon as it has all been confirmed.
What are your ambitions? Where would you like to go with your art?
I want to keep pushing the boundaries, bridging the gap between exterior and interior lifestyle with pattern, develop more timeless products and transform spaces into places. I want to work with more designers in public areas to activate a sense of bridge within the community. The Watering Cans might be the key to that little girl with all the hats dreams.
Ps. I’m always open to collaborations and commissions, the best way to get me is on Instagram, or with a cheeky flat white!
You can catch Julie at the Illustrators Fair this Saturday 10am - 4pm, keep up with her latest projects over at: @byjulieannepugh, or become a member of the 'watering can fam' over at https://byjulieannepugh.bigcartel.com/