With an artistic family legacy that includes Lucian and Bella Freud, it’s fair to say creativity runs through Frances Costelloe’s veins. Choosing Indian ink and clay as her tools, Costelloe has shaped a collection of minimal homewares, punctuated by hand-painted female forms and playful, one-off ceramics. As her brand-new pieces land at Liberty, we visit Costelloe at her North London home to get the inside scoop.
When did you launch your namesake brand? In January 2018. My baby was born at the end of June last year and then I had the idea to paint the lampshades. As soon as I started posting them on Instagram people were commenting saying they wanted to buy them. Something about being a new mum makes you incredibly efficient with your time. I did my web shop in a night! Over the next three months it really took off.
How did you come up with the designs? I’ve always been really into Indian ink drawings; I like how final it is. You can practice but you can’t rub out at all. I like the way that if you make a mistake, you just have to incorporate it into the work. Once it’s on the page it’s water resistant, so if you use another colour it doesn’t merge like watercolour.
I was also inspired by the Matisse shows we’ve had in this country. I really enjoyed Matisse in the Studio and The Cut-Outs. I had always been into oil paint and layering and colour, so these shows made me realise it’s just as effective if you strip back instead of painting with all of that tone and line.
You’re from a family of creatives, do you feel you were destined to be an artist/designer? I used to think I was going to be a ballet dancer but my mum told me I was going to be too tall. I’m definitely not too tall but I haven’t got the talent, so that was the major thing! Then I decided I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t really know what that meant – I had just seen my grandparents do it and loved painting and making things.
Did you train in the arts? No, I just did A Level Art. I used to want to go to art school but decided at the last minute not too. I realised the British art school system is not very pastoral and you don’t get much for your money.
What were you doing beforehand? I’ve always done drawing and I’ve worked in fashion as brand manager for Bella Freud. I also worked for an interiors company.
What did you learn from working with Bella? I worked with Bella – my aunt - for four years. I started as her PA and then the business grew and grew so by the end there was 13 people in the office and we launched the shop in Chiltern street. It was really fun, I got to work on lots of collaborations.
She’s so creative and it was great to work together and channel her vision. I love the homeware she does which you have at Liberty. She’s got such a good eye; her house is amazing and we used to work from there. It’s lovely to work with someone whose whole world is something you can aspire to and learn from. She’s had such an interesting life.
Why lampshades and ceramics? I was doing minimal line portraits of myself in the studio and I’d been doing ceramics before that. I’d been making these face bowls, blue with white, because I love those traditional ceramic colours. I liked the motif so transferred it to lampshades.
The shells came about after I started a ceramics course at this really cool college in Camden. That’s when I started doing the shells. I had seen a shell in the drawer of bits and bobs and made an imprint. I posted a picture of it on Instagram and again, people were commenting on how they wanted me to make them one. I like that it’s an evolutionary process.
I’ve always been really into Indian ink drawings; I like how final it is. You can practice but you can’t rub out at all.
What are your main sources of inspiration? I like to travel and go to London galleries. I went to the British Museum the other day and it was great to see Greek pots again. I had forgotten the way they are made and how they do the glazing; it’s so counterintuitive with all these coloured slips. It inspired me because now I want to use some of the techniques of scratching away the slip to reveal that background colour. You can always learn from where you are.
Aside from your product line, do you have any other creative outlets? I’m doing a print collaboration with a friend in New York. She’s using some of my prints on leather clothing designs. The whole collection is inspired by the Amalfi coast. It might even be on swimwear, which I love because swimming is one of my passions. I can’t wait to swim in my own design!
Ceramics is also really meditative for me. One of the ceramicists at my studio says that clay has memory, so if you push back on that shape it might remember the shape it was in originally, so it might bend back into that. When I was creating my shells, I couldn’t understand why they were bent! It’s something about the particles, they will remember the shape that was made with more pressure. It happens on the second firing when it’s hottest.
Do you apply your creativity to your own home? We moved in about a year-and-a-half ago and it was pretty much like this when we came. I’ve still got lots of interior plans I want to start on. I did manage to paint the bathroom black when my baby was months old though! I’ve also just painted my studio pink.