I love learning about the creative journeys of other artists. It is especially inspiring when I am able to witness the artistic development of a friend, from student to international artisan. I first met Shilo Engelbrecht when she was studying fashion design at University. Her major interest was textile design.
Even then Shilo exhibited the traits that were to serve her well in the fashion and design world. A fearless explorer in her creativity, combined with a natural sense of adventure, has enabled Shilo to develop a very successful and rewarding career. For the past ten years Shilo has travelled overseas to many different destinations in order to learn skills and absorb ideas from other cultures. Now back in Australia, she is embarking on the next stage of her journey with a wealth of accumulated knowledge. I recently chatted to Shilo about her affinity with colour and how it developed into a lifelong affair with textile design.
I often think of your work as a celebration of colour, can you share how this affinity with colour began?
I think my parents encouraged me during childhood to appreciate colours and analyse imagery in books we were reading together. My mum would point out illustrations or details in designs while my dad was introducing me to natural wonders, in the forest or by the beach. This was an excellent recipe for my imagination ! A few years ago I became aware that I collect colour combinations from things I observe either in urban or natural landscapes and store them in some dusty corner of my memory for when it comes time to paint.
Was it always your intention to focus on textile design during your Fashion Design degree or was this something that evolved much later?
Yes I had already identified textiles as a medium that I wanted to work with in my high school art classes and early university sculpture classes.
Since graduating from university you’ve lived and worked in some incredibly diverse countries including Stockholm, England, and India. Is there a place you visit that feels like you’re coming home? Is that a place you could envision living one day?
No not really, we immigrated from South Africa to Australia when I was 7 so the concept of home has been flexible ever since then !
Traveling to another country can be transformative. The memories and cultural diversity we experience can often stay with us forever. Your work has taken you around the world. How have your travels influenced your designs?
My first springtime in the UK had a direct impact on my painting and palette. Living in Sweden exposed me to a new aesthetic & ideas about design philosophy, specifically, a very high quality of craftsmanship. Travelling to India exposed me to true resourcefulness, natural colour and the environment.
In 2016 you traveled to India as part of a month long residency learning about traditional textile techniques such as natural dyeing and weaving. Can you share how this project came about?
It was a group residency at Art Ichol to look at disappearing areas of craft, art, architecture etc within the state of Madhya Pradesh. I choose to research natural dyeing in the region, which we discovered had sadly already vanished. So instead, I worked with natural pigments from the earth and applied this to my painting in response to the landscape and experience. They were temporary works which I let pretty much wash away under the rain.
How has your time spent in India influenced your work?
I’ve become more reflective, slower and considered towards work. It’s hard to articulate the effect it had on me, I was traveling with an architect so this also added another really interesting perspective as we researched in parallel.
You’ve recently diversified from painting to collage, while still keeping within the realm of abstraction. Will this shift in mediums be something you’ll be exploring further or will painting still be at the heart of your designs?
There’s a great deal of freedom with textiles and you can employ various materials or mediums as the inspiration. I’m quite obsessed with painting and I still feel it’s at the core of what I’m thinking most about.
Your business is a collaborative framework between your designs and the crafts people who execute your vision. This search for quality craftsmanship has led you to many corners of the world, meeting many fascinating people in the process. Can you share one of your most memorable encounters?
I had a meeting in an office in India with a company who produces natural dyes. The meeting room was at the back of their fairly industrial factory, and towards the end of the meeting the owner pulled back the curtains and exposed a vegetable garden where all the factory waste ended up. The waste was so clean that it could sustain this lovely green & edible garden ! That was a revelation !
Creativity has a way of pushing us to extreme highs and lows. Can you share the highest and lowest points of your career so far?
The lows have been times of uncertainty and self doubt or when I just couldn’t make things happen fast enough and missed big opportunities. Turns out though that the highs have been realizing none of that matters, and the most rewarding moments have been times of pure experimentation and connecting creatively with others.
Do you have any daily rituals that help to keep you grounded?
I went to a tea ceremony recently and I think this is something I’d like to learn more about to incorporate this practice into daily life.
In a world saturated with online imagery how/where do you find inspiration in the real world?
It’s somewhere between old well worn books and listening to music to allow feelings to take shape and visions to form.
If you hadn’t become a textile designer what path do you think you may have followed?
I’d say an unemployed Botanist or I’ve always fancied a job working with trains.
What’s coming up next that’s inspiring you?
I’ve been working on a button up linen shirt for virtually years – the final samples will finally arrive this month along with some big printed panels of recent paintings. I’ve been working with Italian producers on all areas of these products so I’m super excited to see the results.