The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern & Ornament

The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern & Ornament is one of the most beautiful books I have ever owned. I find myself running my fingers over the debossed title, caressing the smooth yet chunky cover… it’s a book designed to be savoured, a sensual reading experience. My husband gave it to me for Christmas because I had put it on my wish list. I have to admit, when I saw it on Amazon I did think to myself “Do I really need yet another book with pictures of patterns from the V&A collection?”. I mean, a lot of it is available to view online for free. What is the advantage of having it printed in book format? Can I really justify the expense?

The trouble with finding examples of designs that interest you in the online catalogue is that you have to know what you’re looking for. I don’t think casual browsing is what the website was designed for (let’s just say, it’s not a Pinterest experience). A printed book with one or a few examples from each artist gives you an overview and makes it easier to narrow down what it is you’re looking for. You will probably also find a lot of designers whom you have never heard of and would never have found otherwise. A printed book makes for a relaxed and contemplative experience, at least for me.

Perusing the V&A Pattern and Ornament

Apparently the book has 1146 colour illustrations! I dare say I can peruse them for many years to come and never be bored. The examples shown include textiles, wallpaper and various decorative items like ceramics and furniture. At the beginning of the book there’s an interview with Timorous Beasties (one of my favourite design studios) that I feel sets the tone very nicely. I particularly liked Paul Simmons’ advice “Look for things that are not there, rather than what already exists”. There is a lot of “sameness” out there already, what we want to see your particular flavour of quirkiness.

I don’t think that the reviewer who complained that the pictures in this book are “haphazardly organized by subject matter” is a designer. This is not a coffee table book to impress your dinner guests with, but it’s a brilliant tool for working artists. The way the book is organised with artwork from different eras, different parts of the world and by very different artists giving their take on each subject matter is exactly what makes it so valuable for artists. Nothing is really new in the world of fashion and design, everything we create is just a different way of combining various elements. The more unexpected and surprising the combination, the more original and enjoyable we find the design. A book like this feeds your creative toolbox with a wealth of material that you can endlessly recombine and develop in new and curious ways.

The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern & Ornament by Amelia Calver

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