Sarah Hamilton is a London-based artist and card designer whose work is inspired by colour, nature and midcentury design. She is the founder of the Just a Card campaign, which encourages people to buy from independent designers and retailers to help them stay in business, even if it’s ‘just a card’. In her new book House of Cards she shares her passion for the very British tradition of greetings cards. We caught up with Sarah for a chat about her favourite craft.
What was the inspiration behind House of Cards?
The aim is to celebrate greeting cards, not only the many beautiful images and wealth of creative talent behind the designs, but also their wider cultural significance. Cards are so much part of our everyday lives, we mark so many occasions with them, yet their impact often goes unnoticed. They provide an income to so many, and also support numerous charities and galleries. The huge role they play in peoples livelihoods was the impetus to my starting the ‘Just A Card’ campaign, which emphases how vital every sale, even ‘Just A Card’, is to artists, designers and galleries. They’re great fun to make, as we hope lots of people will discover from the projects in the book, and they’re even more fun to share.
How did you go about selecting the contributors to House of Cards?
We were keen to showcase a wide range of mediums and varied styles so people could be inspired by new techniques and experiences, or sit back and relax and enjoy a wealth of stunning designs. Co-ordinating this was no mean feat however, though it helped that I already knew, or knew of, many of them for making wonderful artwork, from years of experience in this world. I’d met Jakki Brown from Progressive Greetings as she’s very supportive of Just a Card, and as she’s as passionate about greeting cards as me. I was thrilled when she agreed to write the history of cards chapter. Jehane Boden-Spiers is such a great champion of the artists she works with that I felt she’d be the perfect person to write an honest and informative chapter about licensing designs – she didn’t dissappoint – her chapter is filled with fantastic information. We also wanted to feature some international artists, and this is where Instagram joined the party as I’d spotted Lynn and Kathryn’s beautiful artwork there.
How did you get into card making?
When I left Central St Martins I was desperate to continue screen printing, but there was the small matter of bills to pay, so I struck on the idea of printing cards. Having constructed a basic, inexpensive silkscreen press I set about printing a range of designs on off-cut paper scavenged from a local business. Necessity is the mother of invention if you’re a recent arts graduate! Fortunately lots of retail buyers loved them, which resulted in orders from stores including Paperchase, The Conran Shop and Designers Guild. Even now, after all this time, card making is close to my heart. I still produce hundreds of cards a year in my studio, alongside prints, drawings and homewares. I see them as pebbles leading people to my work and I’m often told people collect and frame them. The handmade press featured in House of Cards is the very same one I started on all those years ago too.
What is your favourite cardmaking/printing technique?
I began my card making career by hand printing all my designs. I’m a screen printer at heart, and love making cards using delicately cut paper stencils. I enjoy cutting the stencils as much as printing with them, as my bird and oak leaf project in House of Cards illustrates. Nowadays I mix my techniques and enjoy manipulating digital imagery. I often make paper cutouts of shapes on black paper, then scan these into the computer. This gives me the freedom and flexibility to experiment with scale and layout. Whilst all my designs begin as drawings, I find the computer a fantastic tool to extend my visual language. Prints look so different when you alter scale, repeat and colourways and this voyage of discovery is what I enjoy most about my work.
Where do you find inspiration for new card designs?
Like most artists my inspiration is far ranging, from nature, folk art, music, travels, 1950’s design – the list is endless. I wrote a chapter in House of Cards about gathering inspiration and also about my collections of pebbles, leaves, seed heads and objects. Natural forms recur thoughout my designs, as do images collected on my travels. I hope the chapter will help readers develop an eye for observation and be encouraged to translate this into their own designs.
Can you describe your workspace for our readers?
We have an unusual Mid-Century house in Dulwich, South London. It’s set in woods, with views over the trees towards the city beyond. My studio is at the top of the house with large windows which maximises light and views. It has a woooden floor painted white and is clean and tidy…ish, with shelves of objects and colour swatches pinned up for inspiration.
Tell us about the Just A Card Campaign, what made you start it?
The Just A Card campaign aims to encourage people to support artists, designers and independent shops by stressing that every sale, even ‘Just A Card’ is vital to their livelihoods. The idea came from the quote ‘If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought Just A Card we’d still be open.’ This simple observation, by gallery owners who’d recently had to close their gallery, prompted me to act. We so need to encourage people to support wonderful independent businesses, so they survive and flourish, otherwise we’ll lose them. The campaign goes from strength to strength. There’s now a wonderfully committed team of seven artist/gallery owner volunteers working on it. At Christmas we had a 1.3 million reach on social media. It makes me so proud to see how many people value our amazing creative community. Read about the campaign and meet the team on Justacard.org
Do you also like to send and receive cards in addition to designing them?
I love sending and receiving cards! Christmas cards especially are such a lovely way to keep in touch over the years. I wish more people would write personal messages inside – I love hearing what my friends and family are up to. There’s a very interesting chapter in the book about the history of cards, written by Jakki Brown from Progressive Greetings, which talks about our nationwide passion for sending and receiving cards. Jakki is as passionate as all of us at the Just A Card team are about the joys of a handwritten card.
House of Cards by Sarah Hamilton is out now!
Photographs by Fiona Murray and James Balston