The Patternistas: bringing colour and kindness to the streets of Cardiff

Published August 11 2021
6 minute read
Run by Suzanne and Chris Carpenter, the Patternistas are a Cardiff-based creative studio specialising in bright, bespoke patterns for products and spaces. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve shared messages of hope and kindness on billboards around town, and decorated the windows of venues and businesses with beautiful illustrations.

Known for their bold colours and cycling the city on their tandem, we had the chance to catch up with them to reflect on creativity during lockdown, what advice they’d give to other creatives, and their plans for the coming year.

After 30 years at the helm of one of Cardiff’s best-known branding agencies, Suzanne and Chris felt the need to open up a space to explore their own creativity. “As a creative agency, you’re always solving problems for other people, helping them succeed”, says Chris.

“We wanted to have a space to explore our personal creativity”, he adds. Born from their interest in the creative process and passion for enhancing environments, the Patternistas make spaces more human and uplifting, both inside and out.

By making room for playful exploration and experimentation, the couple now inject joy, happiness and energy into interior and exterior spaces with bold nature-inspired prints and patterns. “Our designs are not for everyone”, Suzanne tells us, talking about their pattern collections that transform walls, floors and soft furnishings. “We cater for those with ‘hungry eyes’ who are looking for something lively and eclectic.”

Avoiding a creative drought during a year of lockdowns and quarantines has been challenging for many. But for the Patternistas, adapting to a more restrictive lifestyle and retracing their steps on the same walks in and around the city has only presented new opportunities, raised their profile locally, and renewed their sense of connection to their surroundings and community.

Before the pandemic, their focus was outside Cardiff, and they travelled regularly to London and Europe for work. Working closer to home has sparked a host of new collaborations, and their vibrant illustrations can be found at numerous locations across the city.

One of their earliest lockdown collaborations was with their local cafe, Penylan Pantry. When businesses were forced to close, the cafe’s owner, Mel asked them to use their windows to “spread some cheer to the local community”. Receiving the keys to the cafe through the letterbox, the Patternistas had no idea just how powerful their window drawings would become. Featuring the question “What kind of world do we want to emerge after this crisis is over?” alongside reaching hands and searching eyes, the illustration resonated with many people who didn’t hesitate to get in touch with supportive messages and positive feedback.

Overwhelmed and heartened by the response of the community, the Patternistas went on to decorate more windows, including Brod Danish Bakery, Waterloo Tea, Ty Hafan children’s hospice, and Velindre Cancer Centre.

They were also approached by Jack Arts to be involved in the #YourSpaceOrMine billboard project, where 10 British artists would brighten their city’s streets with positive messages. Theirs featured bright sunny faces with the message, ‘Kindness is catching - pass it on’, which they felt was some sort of an antidote to the general anxiety around catching coronavirus.

Keep your mind open and your head up

“That’s one of the benefits of being a ‘creative’ in this sort of situation”, says Chris about the pandemic. “We know the value of creative play and experimentation, and lockdown has given us extra time to explore.” But they acknowledge that the last year hasn’t been easy for everyone in the creative industry.

“It’s easy as a creative to hide yourself away and hope that things will come your way”, Suzanne admits when we asked them for advice for creatives in tough times. “But a lot of the time, things come from random conversations. Even in a pandemic, there are ways of connecting with people, and engaging with your surroundings and community.” While they don’t recommend working for free, they encourage creatives to keep their minds open, their heads up and always be ready to jump in and help.

A perfect example of this was a collaboration with Cardiff Council that started with a tweet.  When the council announced their intentions to install signage and street markings for the reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants last summer, the Patternistas had already been dreaming up ways to bring colour and life to the city centre. The tweet ignited conversations with Cardiff Council where they proposed brightening the signs and creating welcoming messages for the new Castle quarter cafe area along Castle Street.

“While of course there’s an element of luck, if you keep your head down, you’ll miss these opportunities”, says Chris.

Patterns in the pipeline

Thinking about life after lockdown, the Patternistas have a lot to look forward to with dozens of projects in the pipeline. These include a collaboration with Sustrans, a sustainable travel organisation close to their heart, creative work with Mesoa, a Cardiff-based male skin care brand with a focus on men’s mental health, and a bigger project with Velindre Cancer Centre. They also have a range of sustainable upholstery fabrics which are made in the UK from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

And a new product line in partnership with Simion, an upholsterer on the BBC’s Money for Nothing.
Looking ahead, the pair are excited about creative projects that are underway in Cardiff too, such as Extinction Rebellion’s powerful mural in Merches Gardens in Grangetown, and Butetown’s ‘My City, My Shirt’ mural to help make football a welcoming place for everyone.

“We love seeing the amazing new artwork adorning the streets”, Suzanne tells us. “We’d like to get involved in designing artworks that help connect people to place and we can’t wait to get back to running creative workshops in person.”

They’re also looking forward to seeing Cardiff’s new infrastructure for cycling and active travel when things open up. As keen cyclists and environmentalists, the Patternistas are hopeful that we’ll see creativity and sustainability taking centre stage in communities across the city in our post-pandemic world.

“But what we’re looking forward to the most is being able to be more spontaneous in life in general”, says Chris.

And that’s something we can all probably relate to.

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