Vicki Johnson is an intensely busy woman. In addition to her exceptional work as a freelancer in textile design, she runs the Stew Print Rooms alongside Jo Stafford and is a member of Norwich’s Mesh Collective, a group of artists producing an impressive and diverse array of screen prints. Demand for her work, as well as her skills, is on the increase across Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as abroad, and she also gives occasional talks at Norwich’s City College. We began our interview by talking about her interests away from the artistic environment.
“Cooking and gardening! It’s all rooted in my Suffolk upbringing. My mum is a keen gardener and my partner is a chef - we grow as many of our own vegetables as we can.” Some of Johnson’s most popular textile design also has its root in her rural upbringing. “A fair amount of it is based on photographs from home. So much textile design involves floral patterns. I thought it might be a bit more interesting to produce slightly different designs, so I took hedgerows as a theme. It’s proved popular so far.”
Johnson defines herself as a designer, rather than an artist, and takes influence from many different sources. “I always enjoy the designs by Timorous Beasties - and there’s something eccentric about Thornback & Peel, too. On the fashion side, Erdem produce some marvellous designs, and so do Basso & Brooke. Always plenty to look out for!”
Johnson enthuses when asked how her presence at the Stew gallery and studio benefits her work. “It’s an enormous help,” she says. “Some of my work wouldn’t have come to fruition without Stew. The affordable rent allows me freedom to explore different projects, and having the Print Rooms in the same building is a great help. I’m able to print my designs there, which is a rare privilege, and it’ll be interesting to see how it goes down within the industry.”
Johnson devotes a great deal of her time to the Print Rooms, leading introductory workshops and taking mobile screen printing to the streets of Norwich. The Print Rooms’ mobile trolley will soon be making an appearance at the Covert Club, a night of underground music and cabaret soon to be held at Norwich Arts Centre. “We’ll be producing some fun ‘revolutionary’ leaflets on the night, to suit the theme. The trolley is cheap to run and you can produce so much with it - it should work well!”
Across all of her capacities, Johnson’s work deserves the attention it gets. Keep an eye out for her captivating designs, as well as the print trolley in the streets of Norwich…
Words and photography by Ryan Watts