TEA AND A CHAT
Take a glimpse into creative life on the Devon coast with the man behind contemporary homeware brand Bert & Buoy
Meet homeware designer Bert Fowler
Designer and illustrator Bert Fowler set up his nautical homeware brand, Bert & Buoy, in the summer of 2015. Having always found inspiration in his surroundings, Bert spent his childhood in the Midlands, climbing hills and fishing in local rivers.
After a number of years, the love of a woman – his now wife – brought Bert to Devon, where he discovered another love in the form of the coastal surroundings. “The rare light, vivid colours, prevalent wildlife and iconic places o er an unrivalled way of life.”
Inspired by his new home, Bert decided to design a seaside-themed homeware range, Bert & Buoy, for which he produced the branding and first collection in just six weeks, launching with a pop-up at Dartmouth Royal Regatta. It was a huge success and attracted interest from interior designers and homeware buyers wanting to take home a slice of the British coast.
We chatted with Bert about his wonderful life in the South West, and how he made his lifelong dream of becoming a designer a reality. Describe your style in a few words. The modern classic. Nautical, but not as you know it.
What’s your typical working day like? I walk to my studio along the stunning Devon coast – the best commute in the world. With a nice cuppa in hand and music filling the room, I’ll catch up with the studio team, pick and wrap customer deliveries, respond to partner, media and customer requests and then spend the bulk of my day doing something creative. It’s fair to say I’m a design-aholic – a good idea takes sweat and sometimes tears to get right and for me to be happy with it.
When did you first get into design? I’ve always been influenced by mid-century style – the simple yet bold approaches to design. At university, I discovered a love for film title artwork, as strange as that might sound, especially those made by one of my design icons, Saul Bass. Soon after leaving university, I set up a creative agency working as a designer and illustrator for festivals, music, museums, galleries, theatre and cinema across the UK. My work was recognised as modern twists on classic styles, bold compositions and distinctive
illustration. This led me down a path to create Bert & Buoy.
How did you learn and hone your craft? Practice makes perfect. I needed time to build my confidence and it wasn’t until I hit 25 that I felt like, actually, I’m pretty good at this and now want to really push myself out there as a professional.
Share a bit about your creative process. I’m fortunate to have an amazing studio space by the sea in Torbay – the inspiration is literally 360 . I start a new design at the drawing board with a mug of tea. My process is to sketch potential ideas and compositions before thinking through how it might work as art on ceramics or textiles. Once I commit to a design, it’s the hard slog of refinement, refinement, refinement before outputting the final version.
Where does your love of all things nautical come from? The place I call home. We live and breathe the nautical lifestyle here in South Devon.
“I have an amazing studio space by the sea in Torbay – the inspiration is 360 .”
Forget the clichés, the Bert & Buoy collection is an authentic slice of the British coast to take home and treasure.
Why did you choose homeware? Because home is at the heart of life and we all need good design in our lives. To be able to have my designs in people’s homes makes me immensely happy.
How do you decide on design styles? Trial and error. I enjoy experimenting with my designs and seeing if they will become a tessellating surface pattern or a singular bold design. I love working with black line work and how ‘simple’ can be so beautiful, but I also love a slab of colour, especially o setting this colour inside line work.
Tell us about your production process. For the ceramics, it was very much a collaboration with Keith Brymer Jones. We met at a trade show and Keith invited me to his studio. He loved my designs and had this idea about the mugs being like a beach pebble – the smooth shape and the unglazed base. Keith threw the shape and I started the designs, wrapping bold compositions around the mug.
What tools couldn’t you live without? The Rotring Mechanical Pencil 800/0.7mm to be precise – this is one
super-cool pencil. Also, a tracing paper pad and some Sharpies – I take these items everywhere. I’ve taught myself to not be precious over using just sketchbooks and instead work freely across sheets of tracing paper that can be pulled out and pinned up. It gives you the freedom to make mistakes, which is the process of refinement and happiness.
How do you balance having a busy business with having a personal life? When I’m home, I awake to utter, joyful chaos each day; singing, laughing, skipping and playing. I’ve two kids under four, you see. They keep me grounded and remind me to step away from my studio to enjoy life by the sea together.
Have there been any struggles in getting your design business o the ground? Time. Sometimes it feels like there’s so much to do, and that 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough to fit everything in. I’ve had to learn to let go and that it will all happen… just one day at a time.
“Home is at the heart of life and we all need good design in our lives.”
Old hold Bert’s printed wall art, with Fishy Line-up being one of his signature patterns. Bert always 01 02 handy and loves taking it out and about with him. Do you ever feel creatively stunted? It hasn’t happened yet. If anything, I’ve got too many ideas. Too many scraps of paper with sketches, too many designs bursting for a lease of life in the Bert & Buoy collection. I do find a little pressure helpful though, often a deadline or goal will make me focus. Also the classic line of stepping away from your usual surroundings I find always helps – a sketchbook on the go, away from the studio, is super helpful.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt? Keep plugging away and put yourself out there. It’s so true that it’s 1% inspiration and 99% blood, sweat and tears!
Can you share what you’re working on? I’m developing the ceramics and kitchen range with Keith Brymer Jones – using the existing designs and a few newbies too. There’s a new interlocking design I’ve called Mighty Mackerel that I’m very excited about – I can already see it on a plate and a serving board. I’m also working on a range of new textiles and hand-screen printed and foiled wall art.
Finally, what’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve been given? Keep it simple and trust your judgement.
01 The huge chalkboard in the studio is great for colour and design ideas. Bert’s collection of bold nautical 01 02
cushions all are printed and made in the UK. Hand greeting cards. and 03 ‘Ship Ahoy’ 03
Bert’s drawing board, where he sketches his ideas. The Oystercatcher design, plus some new Buoy’s that will be available soon. A peek of Bert & in production. 01 01 02 03 03
01 Shipshape shelves in Bert’s Devon 01 displaying some of his latest products. Bert & Buoy’s 02
with as a large teatowel. The mug range that Bert produced 03 03 for MAKE International.