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Country Creatives – Outside In

Country Creatives – Outside In



Continuing our series exploring lives of creative people living and working in the country.


Inspiration comes in many guises. For Alison Johnson, the creative force behind Outside In, it took the form of an unsuspecting dandelion growing by the roadside on the small Hebridean island of Colonsay where she spends the summer months tending her rather beautiful garden and entertaining family and friends.


The original Colonsay dandelion. Alison’s cushions reveal that when viewed up close even something as familiar and everyday as the dandelion has beautiful variation in texture, colour and tone.


“A photographer friend had been staying with us and during her stay she showed me how to take images with my iphone, using a specialist app.  I began to wander the island taking photos of old metal, moss – anything with interesting texture, pattern, colour and shape. Including the humble dandelion.”


Pleased with the effect she’d achieved Alison began to wonder how she might make her dandelion picture more permanent, simply for her own pleasure, rather than have it sitting lonely and unloved on Flickr.


After experimenting with Perspex and other media, Alison sent her image off to a mass-market digital printer to be mounted onto a cushion. When it returned she realised she might be on to something and she began to see an opportunity


“I knew I’d hit on something striking and beautiful when that first cushion came back. The quality of the mass market prototype was dubious but with the right materials and high quality printing it was potentially highly marketable.”


Phlomis Cushion, by Outside In.


Up until that point, Alison says she’d never seen herself as a ‘maker.’ She’d never had a shortage of ideas but without any formal training or a settled medium, she’d chosen instead to collect beautiful things made by other people and sell them.


Guided by William Morris maxim;


– Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful


She founded the Smithy in Tyninghame, back in 1996 – a wonderful emporium of cake, coffee and highly covetable homewares and gifts that attracted devotees from far and wide.


At the time Alison was a mother of two young children, with another on the way, yet when she says she spent the time she wasn’t serving behind a counter, her tiny son propped up beside her, scouring the globe for treasure she makes it sound like an idyllic life instead of the hard graft it undoubtedly was.


The Smithy was a roaring success, evidence despite Alison’s modesty of her creativity and commercial instincts. She sold the business on in 2006 and it continues to be a successful venture, but she retained her knack for knowing a good thing when she sees it.


Cushions by Outside In

The Garden Collection by Outside In; artichokes, cardoons, castor oil plant, dandelion, dhalia, phlomis, virginia creeper.


This time though, to her surprise, the ‘good thing’ is something she has made herself. New accessible technologies have given Alison the confidence and ability to realise her creativity, to become the ‘maker.’ She speaks laughingly of a ‘creative awakening’, of spending time indulging her inspiration. Drawn into a new way of seeing the landscape and objects around her she experimented with the flowers and plants in her gardens in Colonsay and East Lothian.


“I took literally hundreds of pictures. A flower that from a distance seemed to be a single colour, up close had huge variation in texture, colour and tone – it was a whole new world.”


Swallowed up by lush summer growth she emerged some time later with a collection of fantastically detailed, vibrant images that perfectly capture the colour, power and freshness of their subjects.


Alison’s next mission was to find a company that could produce digitally printed cushions in quality fabrics to her exacting standards at an affordable price. Thankfully she is the tenacious type, and she found a small independent company who were able to deliver on all counts.


The Garden Collection by Outside In, dandelion, cardoon, virginia creeper and artichoke.


The result is a unique collection of bright, colourful cushions featuring familiar flower and plant forms acutely observed and beautifully rendered; huge cardoon thistles, artichokes, dahlias, phlomis and of course the dandelion first spotted by the roadside in Colonsay. They look wonderful displayed singly or en masse in garden rooms and conservatories, seamlessly blending outside with inside.

In addition just released is a follow up collection of cushions featuring the briny texture of seaweeds, the smooth, wave worn forms of pebbles and the distinctive shapes of log piles in Binning Wood.


To buy and learn more see Outside In at Plump Up Your Life!


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