The Papersmith Series — Caroline Kent, Scribble & Daub

The Papersmith Series — Caroline Kent, Scribble & Daub

Posted by Rebecca Lee on

The tale of Scribble & Daub is a heartwarming testament to the enduring power of hand-written correspondence. It all began following a serendipitous exchange with an old friend, and a special letter sent to Liberty’s. Caroline’s cards are now sought after by the likes of Vogue, and are stocked in department stores and independent boutiques the world over.

When wanderlust came calling, Caroline left her role in Edinburgh organising exhibitions for leading contemporary artists, but her curatorial flair still sings in the the work she creates today. Upon buttery letterpress printed paper, brilliantly coloured inks dance between delicate line drawings. Not unlike the wildflower meadow garden to which she tends today outside her studio in the idyllic English countryside, her designs are glorious in their elegant imperfections.

A Scribble & Daub card is perfect for an everyday note of gratitude as it is for the warmest of wedding wishes. We talk to Caroline about her love of literature, Andy Warhol and the charm of proper post.

Hello Caroline! Before Scribble & Daub, you were a curator of contemporary art, based in Edinburgh. Tell us about this previous life of yours, and what brought on the change in direction?

These days everything is 'curated', from our bookshelves to our clothes to our Instagram accounts, but at the gallery my job was to represent artists and make exhibitions, giving me the chance to meet or see first hand the work of incredible artists who have influenced my life ever since: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Francesca Woodman, Ceal Floyer, Howard Hodgkin, Hylton Nel, Cornelia Parker, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Wright, and many, many more.

Every exhibition brought something new, perhaps most memorably the day the entire gallery staff dressed as woodland creatures in outfits borrowed from the BBC costume department (f.y.i I was a red squirrel) as part of our first exhibition with Peter Liversidge, an artist whose work I love despite this indignity - not least because many of his projects involved receiving vast quantities of outlandish typewritten proposals and random objects stamped, addressed and sent through the post.

As a first chapter in my working life it was fantastically enriching, but all good things must come to an end. In the grip of wanderlust, I applied for a curatorial research grant, setting off for North and South America in the summer of 2009, pausing only to get married. We came home the following year, having seen America's enduring love for 'paper goods' and a fascination with the modern letterpress revival happening there at the time. That, and an enduring obsession with Argentina. Settling back into a cottage in rural East Sussex, it was no great surprise to find curatorial work was not thick on the ground and, expecting my first child, I was looking for something that would enable me to balance both creative and family life.

Out of the blue an old friend who ran The Fruitmarket Gallery bookshop in Edinburgh called to ask if I might make him some cards like the one I had sent for his wedding, and when that small batch sold out within days, he called back to order 100 more, and I realised I might have my answer. Shortly after, I wrote what I hoped was a charming letter to Liberty who became Scribble & Daub’s second ever stockist. Not long after that, Scribble & Daub cards were featured in Vogue and World of Interiors, and so it went on...

Your relocation to the English countryside sounds dreamy. We can imagine making botanical scribblings and tending to a meadow garden is thoroughly fulfilling. Can you describe your studio to us? What do you like to be surrounded by when you’re working?

As a child I used to pore over my grandparent's gardening books, making garden designs with coloured pencils which I like to think had a passing resemblance to Piet Oudolf's hand-drawn schemes, but alas these masterworks are lost to history so we will never know..! The meadow is my greatest luxury, a constant source of happiness (and some torment) as I look at it every day from my desk when I am supposed to be working.

Right now I am answering this thinking of the 200 Gladiolus byzantinus bulbs I need to plant this week, and watching a green woodpecker digging for bugs in the newly scythed grass. To the left of my ink-spattered drawing desk are, among other things: shelves of art books and exhibition catalogues; magazines; inks; sketchbooks; a painted marble lemon; coloured pens and pencils; old-fashioned toys, antique china and assorted other junk shop finds; my vintage ribbon collection and stacks of coloured tissue paper for wrapping. It is also home to my present library of small gifts I like to collect and keep on hand just in case, and box upon box of letterpress cards. To my right, another desk for packing orders sits beneath a wall of things I've kept from here and there over the years, bits of packaging I like, old exhibition posters, postcards, etc.

If you were generous, it might be described as organised chaos. Emphasis on the latter.

I remember when I first visited Liberty’s with my mother when I was young, and how completely dazzled I was by the colourful delights on display in the stationery hall. It was all so exquisite. The smell of wood and the perfume of the fresh flower stand evokes this for me every time I visit. What are your first memories of paper and ink?

It's such an evocative building isn't it? Every time I'm there I notice new little details I haven’t seen before; a tiny stained-glass flower in a window lattice, or a beautiful old carving hiding behind a clothes rail.

I'd completely forgotten about this until you asked the question, but when I was little I used to whittle myself pens out of twigs I found in the woods, dipping them into a giant bottle of Quink ink that my Dad had inexplicably given me, drawing secret treasure maps, and trying to write like Elizabeth I with her extraordinary looping z's.

Tell us how a Scribble & Daub card comes into being. What are your favourite tools to use in this process? Is there a nib or paper stock you have a particular affinity to?

Every card begins as a simple line drawing made with a traditional dip pen (of which I have three, two canary yellow, one bubblegum pink) and black ink. My nib of choice is the Waverley, also favoured by Rudyard Kipling who apparently fixed his in a "slim, octagonal-sided agate pen holder" and used nothing else. My paper comes from the Fabriano mill in Italy which has been making it since the 1700s, it is mould-made with hand-torn edges and comes in beautifully patterned yellow boxes. Finished designs are sent to my brilliant printer, Ian Foster at his workshop, Adams of Rye, where they are made into magnesium plates and printed on a hand-fed vintage letterpress. Afterwards it is back to the studio to be painted one by one, whilst working my way through the Desert Island Discs back-catalogue...

The colours of your designs are so vivid! Are we right in thinking these are the favourite hues of Andy Warhol? What do you enjoy about hand colouring with these inks?

Yes! I am a little bit obsessed with Andy Warhol's drawings and commercial illustrations from the 50s, and it was these inks, Dr. Ph. Martin's, that he used.

When I think of the artists whose work I love most, all set themselves parameters, be it in the materials they use, their method, or their subject matter, and in fixing those restrictions, they create the freedom to make wonderful things within them. It's very liberating to work only with these readymade colours – each comes in a little glass bottle with a dropper (though I just dip my brush straight in) and they are a joy to use. A brush loaded with ink can flow freely over the lines, or not quite even meet them - the perfect medium for a perpetually recovering perfectionist who knows that true beauty lies in imperfection! It dawned on me a while ago that essentially I colour-in for a living. I find the process very meditative and enjoyable, even now.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

I consume good books much in the way I do Crème Eggs - greedily and with enthusiasm - but once finished I am on to the next and couldn't tell you much more about it. That said, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch was an astonishing feat of storytelling which lingers long after reading the last of its many pages. I have devoured almost everything Edith Wharton has ever written; hauntingly clever stories with stings in their tails from the old world of New York society. And by my bedside currently sit two books half-finished that could not be more opposite: one, Andy Warhol's diaries, are a conscientiously kept record of the marvellously mundane minutiae of his daily life (cab $2, books & magazines $5 etc.) and merciless observations of the lives and loves of his famous and fabulous friends in 1970s New York. He takes you as close as you’re ever going to get to partying with Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, but it is also an endearingly human chronicle of his creativity and insecurity. And the other, Persephone's elegant re-edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Making of Marchioness is the literary equivalent of a duvet and hot water bottle.

What was the last special letter that you sent (or received?)

I would love to tell you that I am a consistent and diligent writer of letters and giver of gifts, and though I try my hardest to be exactly that, I miss as many birthdays and anniversaries as the next person, and have much less excuse! There are a few people with whom I still regularly correspond by letter, chiefly my ninety one year old Grandad, and a great friend in Berlin. It was to her I last sent proper post: a bar of chocolate with violets and a tiny scented candle wrapped in navy blue tissue and red ribbon along with a letter detailing - amongst other vitally important news - the finding of my latest charity shop treasure, a beautifully hand-painted and gilded old tea cup, a scribbled portrait of which was added to the bottom right corner for emphasis.

It is letters, not CVs or interviews or exams, that have defined much of my adult life thus far – it was a letter that got me my first job at the gallery, and many years later it was another, to Liberty, that secured my first major stockist and enabled me to build a stationery business with a babe in arms from a cottage in the middle of the English countryside. Never underestimate the power of proper post!

Thank you!

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