Ever since she can remember, Bethan Laura Wood has wanted to be an artist. As a kid, she felt compelled to draw and experiment with arts and crafts at every opportunity. Her passion got to the point that her parents asked her primary school teacher not to call on her to do extra art work, and instead focus on studying English and math.
“They were like, ‘She can do art. That’s already happening and there’s no stopping that train. So can you just make sure you make her do more maths and English?’ I thought it was horrible, and it was only after that I found out that the poor guy had been told by my parents,” says Wood, inside her shared studio space in London. “I don’t think I could really do anything else.”
Wood’s creativity radiates through her, extending to her colourful green and mustard floor-length caftan, cropped aqua-blue hair, and drop earrings that are larger than golf balls. The 33-year-old has always been fascinated by colour, and it is reflected in both her multi-hued uniform and her art. A graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Arts, Wood’s work includes a multidisciplinary practice of furniture, jewellery, ceramics, and lighting. Her art has appeared in multiple shop windows for Hermès, as well as Tory Burch in New York and Munich, and she has created works for Italian ceramics company Bitossi Ceramiche.
Wood was recently awarded the significant Swarovski Emerging Talent Medal at a dinner held at Tate Modern’s new Switch House as part of the London Design Festival (LDF). The Swarovski accolade is one of four medals awarded during the festival and recognizes an individual who has made an impact on the design scene within five years of graduation, with past winners including Marjan van Aubel, Daniel Rybakken, and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. “It’s always a surprise when you win something, and I am really excited to have won this one. It is quite a big award, especially for London and UK design—it is really nice to be acknowledged here, because I have been working a lot in Italy and Europe,” says Wood, who hails from Shropshire in England’s West Midlands. “It put the pressure on to make sure to do some good and exciting things at the LDF, so we have been quite busy working on things for that.”
“Sometimes it starts from a walk or an object, and other times it starts from meeting a specific maker or being introduced to a particular material, and then I let the material kind of lead the direction of the project.”
During LDF, Wood participated in a group exhibition called “No Ordinary Love: Martino Gamper With Friends”, curated by her former Royal Academy of Arts tutor Martino Gamper at SEE••DS Gallery. Her work was also displayed as the first Designer Takeover of the Design Museum’s windows. Wood’s piece was called Six Vases, with the display featuring a curated selection of her new Guadalupe Collection for Bitossi Ceramiche. In addition to the vases, which hold flower arrangements for pops of colour, Wood designed vinyls based on the patterns of the Guadalupe. “I was really stamping my name all over the windows,” she says.
Drawing inspiration from the cities around her, Wood was moved by the The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City while on an artist residency with the W Hotel. She fell in love with the pattern of the Basilica, which uses line details and hotter colours. “I am a very visual, physical person, so a lot of my projects are inspired by things that I find, like objects or buildings or these types of things,” she says. “Sometimes it starts from a walk or an object, and other times it starts from meeting a specific maker or being introduced to a particular material, and then I let the material kind of lead the direction of the project.”
Pastel-hued objects—like her oversized melons and leaves of lettuce for her Tory Burch windows, or the dark pink, purple, and teal squiggly seaweed for the Hermès storefronts—decorate Wood’s studio. It’s an artist’s candy shop; a toy pirate ship sits on a shelf in a corner, while bright sketches, photographs, and an assortment of brightly-coloured string hang on a corkboard wall of inspiration. Visiting her light-filled corner feels intimate, like looking behind the curtains at how her creative mind works. Like Wood, the bright studio is inviting and filled with intricacies.
Wood believes open-air markets are connected to the life of a place, where you see the highs and lows of interest in material objects from different decades. While in Mexico City at a flea market, she found beautiful 1960s lighting and other items from that period, which acted as a sort of time capsule. Apart from her residency at the W Hotel, she has also participated in a residency with London’s Design Museum and regularly works with artisans from Venice and Vicenza in Italy.
Visiting her light-filled corner feels intimate, like looking behind the curtains at how her creative mind works. Like Wood, the bright studio is inviting and filled with intricacies.
Finding clothing and other objects at markets has become a favourite past time for Wood, who favours London’s Old Spitalfields Market on a Thursday when vintage wares are sold. She often finds pieces to add to her wardrobe, with friends also contributing to the collection. Wood started experimenting with her look, like many girls do, at around age 13 or 14. The difference is that for Wood, her armour of dress-up attire became part of who she is as an artist. “I prefer to look like this, with loads of clothes,” she says. The colours extend to her makeup colour palette, as well. “For a very long time I used to do that green eyeliner and then white on the corners of my eyes and two diamantes. Then I woke up one morning and thought, ‘That is ridiculous, why would you do that?’ Then I found white dots on my cheeks were the most sensible thing to be doing,” she says with a laugh. Wood’s quick humour and love of chatting explains why she so easily connects with those around her, in whichever city she might be in at the time.
While her studio is based in an industrial building in London’s trendy East End, Wood spends a portion of the year teaching the Masters of Luxury at the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne, a university of art and design in Switzerland. With a love of meeting new people, she enjoys learning about her students’ experiences and how those relate to their art. Wood is going into her fifth year of teaching while simultaneously balancing numerous projects, and is slowly learning how to say no, or maybe later, to opportunities in order to fully dedicate herself to her creative process. It has been an incredibly busy few years for the artist, and it doesn’t seem that she will be slowing down any time soon. Next up she will participate in the “Dyslexic Design” exhibition, curated by Jim Rokos, which challenges the perceptions and stigma of dyslexia by accentuating its positive effects. This exhibit was important to Wood, who found a way for her own dyslexia to be a celebratory part of her artistic expression. “I think it is really good to have an exhibition that shows all these people that are really successful in their own rights and are doing really interesting things,” she explains. While having a hand in so many different projects may sound exhausting to some, Wood wouldn’t have it any other way: “Time has been going quite fast but I am enjoying every minute.”
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