Interview with Cornish designer, Bonbi Forest
Cornish artist and designer Bonbi Forest, aka Lee May Foster-Wilson creates imaginative and dreamlike illustrations, which she prints on to fabric, jewellery and homewares. We caught up with her for a chat about inspiration, motherhood and living, working and riding horses in Cornwall.
Please tell us what you do and where you are based?
I am a designer/maker of textile prints, jewellery, homewares and paper goods and I am based on The Roseland, in Cornwall.
What do you love about working and living in Cornwall?
I am lucky enough to live in a very small village right near the rugged coast of Cornwall, there is a choice of beaches a five-minute drive away, and we are surrounded by green fields and bluebell woods. I realise such an existence wouldn't be for everybody but I love the countryside and the coast, so to have all of this so near and accessible in everyday life feels very important to me. It’s where I’m most comfortable. I do miss living in a city from time to time, the culture and the hubbub, but when I was there, I always felt the need to return here every couple of months or so to play at the country bumpkin for a few days!
3. Did you grow up in Cornwall – did you ever leave? If so, what made you return?
Yes, I grew up in the area I am living in now! I studied Fine Art in Brighton and stayed there for a few years after i graduated. I never thought I would return here permanently and in fact when I waved Mum and Dad off and settled into life at art school, if you had suggested I might one day live back here I would have screamed a big fat NO WAY and run even further!
While I was living in Brighton I was setting up Bonbi Forest and my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) was becoming a freelance a web designer. In the years after art school I also had a horse there and used to drive out into the Sussex countryside to ride every day and get my rural fix! In 2006 I was back visiting for a week, giant horse in tow, and and my parents had a call to say that my brother had been in a very serious race car crash in Germany. They went out there straight away and in the end my mum and brother didn't come home for seven weeks.
I ended up staying in Cornwall looking after my parents menagerie of animals and working from their house. I realised that with the internet I could work from anywhere and actually, I really wanted to be back in the motherland near to my family (there's nothing like a loved one's close call to make you realise what's important) and that it was really where my heart belonged. Thankfully Mark, who is also from Cornwall, felt the same way and as he could take his web design wherever he liked, we set about moving home for good.
4. How do your surroundings influence your work?
Nature is a big feature in my work, leaf shapes, animals and florals, and I often find myself taking pictures of it all on my phone; interesting shapes, colours, shadows, landscapes and beach finds of shells and sea glass, to draw upon in my designs. The constantly changing flora and fauna here is very inspiring to me, at the moment, the hedges are full of wildflower colour and the gardens in the village are flowering differently each week, sometimes quite tropically as the climate here means all sorts can grow! When autumn and winter come, the stormy skies and sunsets are amazing – there is a view right across a big part of Cornwall, which I get to see on my drive back from the studio most evenings and I never tire of it. The colours, light and mood of it is different every day.
5. How has becoming a mother changed your work?
Animals used to be the main theme of my work and our connection through them to the natural world but since becoming a mother I have found that the work I have been making and the themes I have noticed myself drawn to has expanded to take in those of growth, ambition, love, relationships and looking forward, which I still describe with the natural imagery and animal influence, but the work has a bit more of a personal meaning to it these days.
Pieces such as the From Small Seeds and Always Over the Mountain Lockets reflect this quite strongly with their themes of growth and the connection between mother and child. I have also released a couple of pieces this year that focused on romantic, platonic and familial relationships with hearts, infinity bows, florals and keys being the central motifs. My daughter is now 2 1/4 and I am expecting baby number two this summer, so I expect those topics will become an even stronger part of my work in the future!
6. What’s the latest line in your collection? And what do you have planned?
I have just released two new enamel pendants, which are along the themes of ambition and positivity. They feature the phrases 'Be Brave' and 'Know Thyself' set in my favourite imagery, one of stars and the moon and the other a garden of leaf fronds and pattern! They can be personalised with an initial charm and birthstone and have had a great reaction so far, I'm very excited about them. I have a few things planned for the next few months including a limited edition home ware line and some more textile prints and jewellery for the summer. For the rest of the year I am also thinking about Christmas already, which always feels a bit wrong when I'm painting pictures of and eating juicy pineapples one minute and thinking about snow and Christmas jumpers the next!
7. Could you run us through a typical day in your Cornish haven?
I am lucky enough to share the care of our daughter with my husband as he is also self employed and works from home, so I work quite a split day! I usually look after her in the morning if she is not at pre-school and we do fun things like play in the garden, trips to the beach, swimming, perhaps a pony visit at nana's house, and then after lunch my husband takes over and I go off to the studio and crack on with work. This usually involves emails and order packing first and then whatever else is on my list which is mostly organising jewellery stock with my assistant, Mo, who makes most of the jewellery for me, screen printing, ordering components and supplies and planning. If I have new designs on the go I will try and make time to work solely on these at least a couple of afternoons a week once the orders are done. I am always home in time for Ruby's tea and bedtime and then after she is asleep I tend to sketch out new ideas and tie up loose ends for the next day in the evening. I sometimes even find time to paint, which is a luxury! Since Ruby came along I have never been so organised with the business, there simply isn't time for procrastination anymore! I find it works really well for me too as I get to spend a few lovely hours everyday solely with Ruby and then I have my time to work and just work and I get to enjoy doing both of those things every day.
8. Any favourite Cornish gems that you can share with us? Favourite beaches etc?
There are so many lovely things to do in Cornwall, St Ives is always a treat of course with the Tate and Hepworth museum, also The Eden Project is fascinating, Fowey is a lovely town to visit and The Hidden Hut on Porthcurnick beach is great for alfresco food in the summer. These tend to be the places I drag my friends to when they come to stay! My favourite beaches are the ones local to me (they tend to be my most frequented anyway). Carne is a long and sandy beauty, West Portholland typically rugged and good for rock pooling, and well off the beaten track Kiberick is lovely and secluded, you have to walk down a steep field to get to it. There is also a smattering of pretty fishing villages and cosy pubs along the coast paths that are always enjoyable to visit even if the Cornish mizzle has set in for a few days...