Debby Akam


Textiles as an inspiration for Printmaking

People often say that my work reminds them of textiles, and ask whether I’m a textile designer. I’m not, but a love of textiles has been with me as long as I can remember, and the power of colour in environments, including the clothes worn by the people who inhabit them, as a source of emotional response is fundamental to my approach to my work.

Woven fabric has a powerful effect on me- finding an old garment transports me back to the time when it was new or current. It is the same response that impels some people to sew their old clothes into patchwork quilts, the impulse to bind memories into the fabric of the present.


          West African woven blanket                      


The materiality of textiles is life- affirming. The feel and smell of cloth, especially hand- woven cloth creates an unconscious connection with another human being- the one who made it. Blankets are made to nurture people or keep them warm. A tribal dowry bag from Northern India speaks to me of an anonymous craftswoman, making a precious gift with love because there is no money. When I first saw Navaho weaving, I was entranced by the use of plant dyes to dye the threads, making the woven cloth a reflection of its’ environment. In traditional cultures, weaving is often done in the home, and is a testament to aesthetic awareness, and the importance given to how things look and feel.



Tufted Gabeh rug from Pakistan                              Oil on canvas, Debby Akam




My partner Gary and I spent February 2020 at Tasara Weaving Centre in Beypore, India on an international artist’s residency (Tasara Beypore on FB). We were hoping to experience new ways of making things using low tech methods.


      Screen printing on fabric outdoors, Tasara 2020


In India print making is fundamental to textile production, including wonderful intricate patterns, created using low- tech methods like Dabu printing- a mud paste resist.


     My Indigo Shibori on linen made at Tasara

Dabu print from Northern India





Natural dying, and painting on unstretched silk




There are also large modern department stores where you can lose yourself in colour and pattern for hours, not to mention all the clothes on people that you see every day.



 At Tasara, there were 8 traditional handlooms. Gary and I had never done weaving before and we collaborated on a textile, marvelling at how quickly inches of cloth can be generated, and enjoying the creative mind and body workout that operating these looms provides.



The handlooms at Tasara with our textile!



The warp and weft of cloth speak of the fundamental truth of vertical and horizontal that is very calming. That you can make a useful object by cleverly combining threads in a particular way to create a web, membrane, net, or matrix, and even make wonderful patterns like this is magical.


Weavers at the Khadi Factory, Chermancheri, Kerala

However, my creative focus is primarily in making images with print and painting and I’m interested in exploring how to make a translation of the process of weaving, in another medium, rather than making a woven textile itself.


Woodcuts on Lokta paper, Debby Akam 2019

Surrounding substance, 2019 screen print made at Northern Print in colour variations

My work often combines hand- made techniques such as woodcut printing with digital technologies. Drawing, painting, photography, and printmaking all contribute to my practice, and I often work with layered images, where different kinds of source material are juxtaposed, for example, the gestural marks of woodcut blocks contrasting with the immediacy of events captured in photographs. Motifs are drawn from life, from ‘found’ source material, patterns noticed in textiles, the natural world or the built environment, an improvisational approach that allows an element of chance into the making process, and one that often results in images that invite multiple readings.

  ‘Homely’, 2017 screen print incorporating images of textiles from around my home.



Print making is a good medium for exploring juxtapositions of marks and textures within layers of colour. The process whereby the marks, motifs and patterns are cut in advance, allows me to intuitively and completely focus on colour relationships once I’m at the printing stage. 


Weaving is fundamentally about verticals and horizontals, and so invites a dialogue with minimalism and painting based on grids. It involves repetition, and repetitive body movements, bringing the relationship between line and colour, and rhythm together simultaneously.


Woodcuts juxtaposing grids and gestural marks handprinted on Japanese and Lokta paper



These are abstract concerns that modernist artists like Paul Klee and Anni Albers were interested in. In Britain, artists like Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Barbara Hepworth drew inspiration from tribal art, as well as reflecting the colours and textures of their surrounding environments. Today, there is a renewed interest in craft traditions because there seems to be a collective desire to make things, and look again at sustainable materials. Designers are revisiting proponents of the Arts and Craft movement like Ruskin and Morris, and restating the importance of mindfully making things.