A note from Nicholas Hughes
This year, our Christmas collection is brought to life by British artist Nicholas Hughes with a magical interpretation of the carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.
The illustrator’s imaginative renderings are inspired by our founder’s love of nature, craft and fun and celebrate their shared desire to create something that lasts far beyond the festive season.
We spoke to Nicholas to learn how these charming illustrations made their way from the depths of his imagination to the packaging of The 12 Days of Christmas collection.
How did you become an artist?
I studied painting and I realised that words were not the way I saw the world. I understand it and interpret it through drawings, and from there I apply my drawings to wallpapers, prints and illustrations.
Why did you decide to work on this project with Bamford?
We have a lot in common. I’m inspired by nature, as is Bamford. We also share a slow approach to our work, my design process takes time, it can be enjoyed, not hurried. My design for Bamford is intended to be completely unique and to outlive the festive season. The home fragrance products, for example, can be used for many festive seasons to come.
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How did you devise the illustrations?
I sat down with the Bamford team, and we pulled together some ideas on how we could present The 12 Days of Christmas in a new and unique way. We loved the idea of including quince trees, pear trees, citrus fruits, birds, lords and ladies. We then selected some characters to be more flamboyant and more intricate than others.
Once I’d sketched up 15 or 20 different versions of each character, we decided which one was the most appropriate and then added in details that would work across the whole design – this ranged from diamantes on shoes to ribbons, silk cravats, monocles, champagnes flutes and fancy feathers.
Which characters did you have the most fun designing?
I loved designing all of them and finding the right place for them in the design. The lords were particularly good fun because we loved two of them in the sketches and wanted to squeeze in the other eight, so we came up with this idea of Christmas decorations – the old-style Christmas decorations with the cut-outs that fold in a concertina-style. That seemed to add a really fun, playful, movement into the design.
There are some really intricate details in the tree. The lord is wearing a cravat and he has diamantes on his shoes, so we really extended the same madness to everything.
How do the individual illustrations then turn into the wider design?
While I’m sketching, I’m starting to think about the repeat and how the pattern works. The maid came in towards the end and the design was already quite full. So if you start big, it’s quite hard to sort of scale that down. Initially I thought what makes a maid, and it’s her milk pails, but then some of my smaller designs were quite hard to read. We ended up going for something with motion because everything else was moving or playful. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the final design.
Does the design evolve once it’s been drawn up?
When carving the lino, the design can change slightly. It’s the process of consciously responding to what you’re doing that really excites me, but that’s only discovered through the carving itself and really slowing the process down.
Can you tell us about the lino carving process?
So, the lino block took hours and hours to carve, it was the first thing I did and probably took the longest out of everything. About a quarter of my time was spent cutting it out.
Cutting the lino requires a light pressure, if you press to hard you could accidentally cut through the design you’ve just carved. And if you cut too deep, you’ll find the cloth at the back of the sheet. I go into a world when I’m cutting out the lino. It requires a lot of concentration. If I try and multitask it goes wrong.
What’s really exciting is that at a glance, the carving looks kind of like a grey, splattered, scratchy mess, but on closer inspection all the fine detail and intricacy that you built into the design is revealed.
Rubbing is a key part of the process; can you tell us about that?
Rubbing is the process of placing tracing paper over the lino and rubbing a graphite bar over it to see how the form is coming along.
The point of rubbing is being able to see what you’ve missed. If there’s something missing, I can carve additional detail into the lino. If you cut a mark into the lino and it doesn’t register on the rubbing, then it needs to be carved again. We added lapels onto the lords, for example. Or sometimes you may not be able to identify a boot on a character’s foot, in which case it needs more work.
Sometimes you carve a really lovely line which wasn’t part of the original design, but you want to keep that really strong line, so you modify the design to accommodate it.
The birds were much more difficult to carve than I thought they would be. I was trying to make shortcuts so I didn’t have to do all of the intricate stuff and rubbing told me what shortcuts I was allowed to make and which ones wouldn’t work. Like when I carved the feathers, if you use the small tool and cut away really quickly, you can get a featheriness, but I only discovered that way of carving by doing it, so you learn and change things as you go along.
There are two tools I’d never used before that I used for this project. I usually work on a slightly larger scale, but we wanted to fit quite a lot into this design, so I had to get some smaller sized carving tools.
And lastly, did you enjoy working on this project for Bamford?
I loved it. I was thrilled that Bamford invited me to design the collection. You totally forget that when you’re working on a project, you’re thinking about it all the time. You live and breathe it. There’s nothing quite like it.
WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO BAMFORD PRODUCT AND WHY?
The The B Silent Bath Concentrate It’s truly wonderful for a bedtime bath and makes for a deep and wonderful sleep. I love a bath. And a good smell. This really is a good combo of lavender, camomile and vetiver.
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