How to combine wallpaper and art in the home

By Nicole Saunders

How to combine wallpaper and art in the home
Just as her first collection with S.Harris is about to hit the shelves, artist Rachel Brown explains her creative process and how to successfully combine art and wallpaper in your home.

Los Angeles-based artist Rachel Brown may have been surrounded by art and creative women her entire life, but it wasn’t until the Missouri native relocated to the sunny city that she really found her calling. “My mum was my art teacher from kindergarten until senior year of high school; she was a watercolour artist herself. But I was always a little bit intimidated to go near it,” admits Brown. It wasn’t until she made the move to LA that Brown began dabbling in watercolour herself and fell in love with medium. “I’ve been doing it for five years full-time now and it was never the intention. I just loved the weather and saw other people out here were able to be full-time artists.”

A handful of pop-up shows later and Brown says she was hooked. In fact, it was at the Beverly Hills Art Fair where Brown first met Jodi Finer, the now creative director of textile design company, S.Harris. A year or so later, Finer saw that Brown had been in Africa. “She called me and said I have no idea what it’s going to look like but would you be interested in doing a wallpaper collection for me.”

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Brown’s first collection with S.Harris is about has been launched. It’s the places that Brown travels to that usually serves as her muses for her art and in this case, her first wallpaper collection. “I want to capture the feeling of travelling someplace exotic, in a room.” Brown admits it’s sometimes hard to do that with just one artwork. “But if you’re surrounded by interesting, exciting texture, if your whole room is covered in that, or even a whole wall, it’s just more dynamic,” she explains. “It’s more about creating an experience, that’s what was so exciting about the project – creating an actual feeling in a room.”

Evolution of her ideas

Brown quickly discovered that the process wasn’t quite as straightforward as taking an image and turning it into a wallcovering. “We wanted the collection to be interesting but still work in lots of different homes,” she explains. So after sending off 30 or 40 initial sketches, they were finally able to narrow it down to several different patterns and a concise colour scheme.

Brown did everything by hand and while she was still able to use watercolour for most of the designs she created, the process forced her to look at her art in a very different way. “Sometimes designs that look great on their own don’t repeat very well, so there were some that we loved but they weren’t going to look good in an overall pattern,” Brown says. “It really pushed me as an artist. When I paint I don’t do straight lines at all, and the project was much more technical than I imagined.”

Anyone who has ever hung wallpaper will know just how precise everything has to be. “Every stripe, every pattern had to match up perfectly on the other end because they’re connecting to the next sheet.” While Brown admits the project was challenging at times, she says she now sees patterns in a different light. “I know and appreciate how hard it is to make a good pattern now,” she says.

As for what’s next, Brown says while nothing is finalised – her and Finer are focused on the launch of their first collaboration – a trip to Bali is on the cards for the near future. “I want to go back to Bali and paint over there, and stay for a month and do a whole collection inspired by the Indonesian patterns and cultures,” Brown says. “I’m fascinated by the world of design and how art relates to furnishings and wall coverings and fabrics. Hopefully this is just the beginning of collaborations with designers because I really love that world.” 

Wallpaper, artwork or both?

Forget about monotonous prints, the wallpaper of today is art in its own right. So does that mean you have to pick one or the other when decorating? “I think the more layered a room is, the more interesting it is,” says Brown. While there is definitely wallpaper that can stand alone as art, pairing it with the right artworks will make a room more interesting, she explains. “Art on a white wall is fine, but art on wallpaper that really complements one another – that’s the ideal,” she says.

As for how to master the layered wallpaper and art look, Brown advises sticking with an artwork that has a simple black or white background and subject matter in the middle if you’re pairing it with a busy wallpaper. “If you’re doing something more simple with wallpaper, you can go crazy with the artwork.” Whichever you opt for, Brown’s final piece of advice is to pick one or the other as the focal point.

View some of Brown’s wallpaper and artwork below.



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