An early trip to India inspired John Robshaw to switch careers from painter to textile-maker. Captivated by traditional Indian fabric-making methods, he applied painting techniques to the process, creating sophisticated patterns steeped in Old World designs. The ancient craft transforms into modern luxury through Robshaw’s home and fabric collections—bedding, curtains, scarves and more—which are carried at ABC Carpet and Home, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. As a way of honoring cultural approaches, local artisans hand-make his line of textiles in Southeast Asia and India, where Robshaw travels several months out of the year and is continuously inspired in his work.
PBI: How confident were you from the start about leaving painting for textile making?
JR: I had no clue. I just wanted to make, design, create, and it didn’t really matter to me what the medium was. I was already using fabrics in my paintings since I was mainly working with denim and bleach, so it wasn’t a completely blind venture.
You released a book in October, John Robshaw Prints: Textiles, Block Printing,Global Inspiration, and Interiors ($40, Chronicle Books), that reveals your design inspiration from your global travels. Can you tell us about some of them?
When you are travelling to countries with incredible culture and tradition, it’s hard not to be inspired. I am pretty good about photographing anything that catches my eye and I am a very visual person, so with each trip I always find something new and intriguing.
How does color play a role in your designs?
I am all about color. Most of my designs are printed in India, where color is king. You see the most amazing shades and combinations that can’t even be dreamt up.
Do you have a favorite pattern?
Pipal (left) is on my bed right now, and I’m a pretty big fan of that print. It’s good scale, a nice medallion block, and it’s printed in my favorite color, indigo.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
It’s very much the product of an art-training background, and it’s all-encompassing and open to different mediums and different techniques.
Can you walk us through the process of creating a textile?
It all begins with a source of inspiration—such as a trip or an antique textile I’ve come across. From there, I play around with the designs and send drawings to India to be traced on a wood block and then carved. Then I like to manipulate the block a little. It can really go in any direction from there, depending on what the design is being used for.
How is textile-making similar or dissimilar to painting?
Very similar to printmaking, which I also studied. Every technique is fair game for painting, so I would say it was a pretty natural and seamless transition for me.
Besides the fabrics, what else do you admire about Indian cultures?
I love the food, the personal relations within the India culture, the architecture. Not the roads, not the hustlers. Overall, it’s a great place to work.
Some of your textiles have bold prints. What advice do you have for selecting the right one for a room and incorporating it without contrasting with existing decor?
I think people can be afraid of pattern, but I think the more you layer, the more natural-looking it becomes. I think a room is most interesting when it looks well-traveled and is representative of where you’ve been, so I think you mix it up with tone and pattern and you’ll find a balance in the end and you discover something by not approaching it head-on. Don’t try too hard and it will work out.
What trends are you seeing in textile design?
I really don’t know—I don’t really look at trends much.
What can we expect from your latest collection?
New colors, outdoor pillows—which I’ve never done before, so that’s exciting. Also making printed dhurries again. We are introducing more throws—some hand-woven, some printed. A lot of new things happening for spring.
What do you love most about your work?
The chance to make stuff. The change to design and make and create. Hopefully something new and interesting that I haven’t seen before.
Besides painting and textile making, are you creative in other ways?
Yeah, I hope so! I deep-sea dive, I collect stamps, I play squash, I love looking at design and continuing to explore other mediums.
Tell us about your involvement with Aid to Artisans.
I used to do product development for them with different groups and assessments with different craft groups around the world. I am a big fan of the founder, Clare Smith.
What do you like about Palm Beach?
Love Palm Beach. My parents live there during the winter. I like the weather, and it’s got a great vibe and great art. It’s the only place I can wear my madras plaid sports coat.