New definitions of 'Surfaces' and 'Textiles'–In conversation with Arun Sispal
An introduction to a new vocabulary and combination of materials
If you are looking for a way to revamp what the terms 'Textiles' and 'Surfaces' mean to you, take a look at designer Arun Sispal's work. At a very young age, Sispal has succeeded in creating a new vocabulary of surfaces, defined by new texture and visuals. His work is unexpected, beautiful and his creations are ones that we long to use ourselves.
One the one hand, are the rough cut or smooth, speckled and intermittently glistening, hard surfaces he develops. On the other, is the range of textiles he has innovated with and imbued with new materiality and tactile qualities. The most exciting part of looking at Sispal's work is the way in which it blurs the lines between what is hard and soft. His textiles often exhibit strong, clean cut and metallic qualities, while the hard surfaces he makes are patterned, and seem to flow and bleed like softer fabric would.
There is no precedent for Sispal's work, and it stands out for this reason.
At the heart of Sispal's work, is the intent to engage with the users of such creations. His is a human-centric approach to design, and that carries through to all of his creations, including a series of exquisite 'TRAYS', which can be customized and made truly bespoke, using a palette of material and finish choices, even as you order them online.
With foreseen applications in fashion, interiors, automotive design and the 'Colour Material and Finish' design space, the possibilities for Arun's work are endless and bound to create an impact.
We admire the many artistic realms Arun has worked in, and Arun, who is trained in Textiles and Surface Pattern Design has also impressed us with the unique material combinations in his works. Here is our recent conversation with this young, talented designer.
MD: Arun, your work focuses on innovative textiles and surfaces, experimentation and research with materials and an emphasis on human-centered design. When did you learn that these would be key themes in your education and professional work?
What led you to the design program that you recently graduated from–Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design at the Leeds College of Art?
Arun: I have always been interested in designing ‘for people’; creating work that connects with the user and triggers them to question– 'what is it?’ ‘or 'how has this been made?'. By asking these questions, the user or viewer instantly begins to form a relationship with the material, and for me, that is the starting point of creating ‘human-centered design.' When I see people whispering among themselves, and shuffling around, with an intrigued look on their faces, it makes me smile.
I like the idea of making something new, and I do this by changing the properties of materials via a new form or application.
My love for designing sensory and human-driven work originated from my undergraduate degree. While it was great to design for pure aesthetics, I wanted to create what was both beautiful AND evocative. I wanted my work to be connected to people, and get them thinking, rather than viewing it and saying ‘Oh, that’s a beautiful drawing of a flower.'
I chose the program I studied at, because, at the time, it was a relatively small course and had excellent facilities, and I wanted to draw the most from this. I also wanted to challenge the idea of ‘Printed Textiles’ itself. My tutors were supportive, allowing me to find my own feet as a designer.
The course consisted of a diverse mix of designers. So, I have friends and former classmates who focussed on areas ranging from digital floral prints, to abstract screen prints, kidswear prints, and to 3D material explorations. This is great, not only for future collaboration opportunities but also to get an entirely different perspective on design.
Human Centred Design
MD: A common theme in your work–ranging from art direction to textile and material development–is the impact on the user. What is the range of effects and sensations you are trying to create with some of your works?
Arun: For me, each collection of works is different. Recently, I have enjoyed exploring ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Calm’ as themes and a way to truly connect with the user. Taking inspiration from materials that are used to comfort and transport you to a peaceful place, such as bubble wrap, or the warmth of a Merino wool jumper, I like subverting these shapes and fibers into something unseen till now.
Hard vs. soft. Recognizable vs. unrecognizable. Reality vs. fantasy. Contrast is the biggest factor for my design when I want to evoke an emotion from the work.
MD: The textiles and surfaces you develop find their way to applications in fashion, interior design and other fields. Which of these realms are you most excited about right now and are inspired to innovate and develop the most engaging new surfaces for?
Arun: With my strong 'human-driven design' ethos, I am keen to delve into 'Colour Material and Finish' design. Purely because, for me, it seems to be the realm that is most centered around people. It is detailing by a CMF designer that add to the desirability of a product; which makes you pick it off a shelf and touch it, or that make you want to sit down on it(furniture) and run your fingers along a contrast stitch. It is about creating that experience.
To design for a sportswear brand or an automotive brand within the CMF department would suit my design thinking immensely.
With design being such a multidisciplinary field today, it is easy to be influenced by a fashion creation when you want to create a 'Colour and Trim' concept for a vehicle or vice versa. That is one of the key reasons I am drawn to this field. I have recently been reading a fantastic book, by CMF designer Liliana Becerra, which gets into the nitty-gritty of CMF, but is an easy read, while being super insightful and inspiring.
I also love creating fashion fabrics that capture this essence of ‘interaction’. Fashion was where my interest lay initially, and to this day I am strongly motivated by the possibility of my fabrics being applied in a fashion context. Again, it is something about the feel of fabric against your skin, how it catches the light, how it comes to life when worn; It is still about ‘people’. As a designer, I remain open to opportunities and working within a range of fields–from product design to fashion, to interiors. I would like to apply my ‘design thinking’ to all of them.
MD: We see an array of textures and finishes in your works. They are smooth, coarse, iridescent, natural and glossy– in pairings and combinations we haven't seen before. What are some of the materials you enjoy working with and are experimenting with right now? Are there any materials you are 'inventing', so to speak?
Arun: I love working with metals, mainly copper and sometimes aluminum or steel. The fabric that I enjoy working with is Silk Organza; the delicacy and translucency of it are a fantastic starting point, especially when paired with something durable, gritty and opaque like cotton canvas. Jesmonite is something I enjoy working with as well–a great composite material with many capabilities.
I wouldn’t say I am ‘inventing’ anything so to speak. For me, it is more about using an existing substrate and taking it to the next level; finding ways to combine materials that are not usually seen together; keeping it simple yet sophisticated enough, and to do something ‘new.' This is most exciting way, for me!
MD: Arun, your most recent works are a series of trays that people can purchase readily. They are unique, in the sense that a buyer can customize their finishes and materials and create something truly bespoke. This seems like a such a great way to engage with the people who will use this product. Tell us how the idea for this emerged.
Arun: You can, no doubt, sense my enthusiasm for ‘humans’ as being central to the design process. Even though I am the creator of the ‘TRAY’ series, I was keen to allow the future owner of a piece to have a choice and be able to choose something that reflects their taste, so they get something totally individual and unique. Choosing to create a ‘tray’ came from thinking of something super simple, and nothing fussy that could take away from the surface and material qualities. If you want to use it as a functional object for holding things in, you can. If you want to use it solely as a display piece, you can. It's about choice and simplicity.
Speaking for myself, I like to have a choice when purchasing anything, be it food, shoes or anything else, and I wanted to express this idea of ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ through the ‘TRAY’ series. If you are paying for a crafted product, you shouldn’t have to settle for something because that is all that is on offer. I wanted to give the owner the ability to choose from a selection of given combinations, as not everyone is from a design background, and may need some form of guidance. If however you would like something totally bespoke and not shown on the website, then we are also able to discuss that. It’s the best of both worlds.
MD: As a young 'maker', your work and talent were clearly bolstered by a unique program such as the BA. Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design, from the Leeds College of Art, where students are encouraged to participate in trade fairs and begin to sell and market their work while they are at school. That sounds like great exposure. How do you feel this has impacted work?
Arun: We were always encouraged to enter competitions, participate in trade show opportunities that arose, all through university. For me, the most valuable part of this experience was learning about making the most of every opportunity. You only need one person to take an interest in your work, and it becomes the catalyst for what is to come.
MD: Thanks so much for speaking and sharing with us Arun! We wish you the very best!
To our readers, you can follow Arun's work and products via the following links: