I met Tom at the New Designers this year, the premier exhibition where graduating UK design students have the opportunity to showcase their creativity, ingenuity and their vision for the future of design. I was one of the judges for the Colour in Design Awards (CIDA) and to cut a long story short, Tom was our award winner.
And over sipping free very orange drinks afterwards, Tom shared with me his love for colour so naturally I invited him on the Colour Couch, where he shares how he was slightly intimidated by colour and how it’s now central to his creative process.
What is your earliest colour memory?
Stumbling across a photograph of my father when I was about 12 years old. It was summer in the photograph, and he was in his late twenties. He is pictured with a huge smile stood proudly next to his bright purple MG with pink pinstripes. He’s still known for throwing a bit of colour into his wardrobe, but unfortunately the car is long gone.
What does colour mean to you?
Colour is a way of weaving narrative into the work I create, and also an amazing area to research. It provides limitless inspiration, and I believe you can nearly always find a colourful thread to pull at regardless of the subject matter you’re interested in.
Do you have a favourite colour or a colour that you find yourself constantly drawn to? And why?
Out of all the questions I’ve been asked, that is by far the hardest. It’s the one which makes my brain freeze, and up there with what’s your favourite band. For me, my response to colour changes as often, if not more than my taste in music. But I guess that’s the beauty of colour. It has the ability to say different things to different people. That became more obvious to me when I exhibited my current body of work for the first time. Each individual would react differently to the same piece, and it was nearly always in response to the colour. But, if I had to pick one, I think it would be ‘red orange’. It’s not a colour that I have used in my work yet, but it’s a colour that is always uplifting. It’s comforting and warming in winter, and vibrant and joyful in summer.
Do you have a colour that you least like? And why?
I’m not sure that I really have a colour I like least. They all have something to say, and a way of making you feel, but I’ve never been a huge fan of neon green. It reminds me of cheap itchy fabric and messy nights in bad clubs. But even as I say this, I’m thinking about the excitement and vibrancy of neon signs, which I love, so there we go. Every colour has its place.
What do you love most about working with colour?
I love the fact that there are infinite possibilities when working with colour. I will quite literally never run out of ways to experiment. Each and every colour combination has the ability to evoke memories or make people feel a certain way. Also, because my process relies on an element of reveal, I never quite know what my final outcome will be. I get genuine excitement every time I ‘reveal’ my surface design.
What do you think your life would be like without colour?
Pretty intolerable. I know that may sound dramatic, but colour plays such a role in all our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s the way we present ourselves to the world. Through the way we dress, the paint we choose to stamp our mark on a new home or, if you’re like me, the tool we use to try and make a living.
What’s your favourite colour story?
This is a bit random, but I remember reading a story about a very well-known tattoo artist named Sailor ‘Jerry’ Norman Collins, better known now for his rum! The story goes that he was told by a local competitor that purple ink was impossible to create. Rising to the challenge, he worked with chemists to produce an ink that he named carbazole violet, the very first purple ink. The story has it that Collins only used the purple ink on those he deemed worthy and swore them to secrecy about where it originated. Everything about that story is brilliant.
Were you ever afraid or wary of colour? And what did you do to overcome this?
Honestly, for a long time during my studies, colour was not a priority. I would even go as far as to say I was slightly intimidated by colour. I think I took myself so seriously that I had some misguided notion that serious craft meant muted tones. This was a very limiting mindset, and it wasn’t until I allowed myself to explore colour in my work and embrace colour that I truly began to enjoy making to its fullest. It was really a question of stepping outside of what I thought I was as a maker, and there’s no better place to do that than when studying.
Do you have a favourite colour place that you visit (or have visited)?
For a big dose of colour, traditional markets are the place to go. I recently visited the Bull Ring indoor market in Birmingham, a real sensory experience. But The Great Market Hall in Budapest is my favourite market of colour that I have been to so far.
If you could pick any colour and give it a name, what would that be?
Colly’s Cotton Candy Blue. My wife has had blue hair for the entirety of our relationship. It’s how I spotted her the first time we met. I guess having blue hair is a good way to stand out in a crowd.
For anyone afraid of colour what would your number 1 piece of advice be?
Stop thinking! It won’t hurt you. If anything, you’ll fall harder in love with colour if you do have a slight fear to begin with. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to colour.
Which colourful person do you most admire and would love me to interview for the On the Colour Couch series?
For me it would probably be industrial designer Ron Arad. I was looking a lot at his work and reading about him as a person when I was developing the collection of aluminium vessels.
What a fascinating journey from fear to loving colour. And I love Tom’s comment that each colour has something to say, and a way of making you feel. That’s the power of colour!
This evening I’m off to the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London for a private viewing event where Tom has been invited to show his collection at Formed with Future Heritage, which showcases independent makers and emerging talent. If you would like to check out Tom’s creations and the many other handpicked creatives, you’ll be able to starting tomorrow Tuesday 10th until Friday14th October 2022. Check out the details here.
If you would like to know more about the Colour in Design 2022 awards and our winner Tom Hancock, then head over here.
Wishing you a colourful day,