Artist Spotlight: Divine Savages
Divine Savages is a London design house creating luxury British made wallpapers and fabrics, as well as limited edition prints and greeting cards. Since their launch in October 2017, the brand has become synonymous with bold, daring design, and their collections reflect a passion for unique prints with a flourish of both the divine and the savage.
Let us introduce you to the magical world of Tom Kennedy and Jamie Watkins.
Tell us about the birth of Divine Savages!
Jamie: Divine Savages came about when we were finally able to buy our first home. We weren’t able to find the kind of prints and patterns we wanted, so Tom (who has a background in fashion and illustration) began creating our own accessories. A print or two at first, then some cushions, then a shower curtain. Friends and family began asking where we got things from and the seed of an idea was planted — perhaps we could create a home interiors brand! Of course life got in the way and we didn’t do anything about it until 2017 when Tom left his creative agency and went freelance, giving him the time to focus on what would become Divine Savages.
As a design house with a focus on interior textiles and decor, you are a bit different from most of our greeting card partners. What made you decide to start producing greeting cards?
Jamie: We added the greeting cards range quite early on alongside our art prints. We were doing a few trade shows in our first year and so wanted a range of products that stores could buy from us, and the cards got really strong interest. People loved that on first appearance they seem really lovely and ornate, but when you look closer they’re pretty edgy – it’s our trademark twist. This product range allows us to get our sense of humour into our designs and have some fun, which is what we’re all about, both with the cards and our interiors.
Did you always want to be artists, even in childhood?
Jamie: Tom is the creative side and has always had that artistic talent from an early age. He studied Graphic Design and Illustration at university and then had a career working and designing for labels like Dr Martins and Fred Perry, as well as creative work for artists like Scissor Sisters and Kylie Minogue.
I, on the other hand, can’t really draw at all. My strengths are in business, marketing and strategy, so my creative skills come through in these areas.
What is your favorite medium to create with? Describe your process.
Tom: For our greeting cards, I usually always start the creative process with a trusty notebook and pen where I start to sketch out ideas for our new designs, and make notes about certain themes or jokes we could use. We discuss which lines we want to add to – Birthdays or Holidays, for example – and then work out what we need more of, what the current trends might be, things we’ve been inspired by recently. Then I use a mix of collage and illustration to start to piece together the design, adding key elements for which our cards have become known for – the gold foil, the odd swear word or three, and a dash of sass.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Tom: We love vintage illustrations and so these heavily influence our greeting cards range, but we always add our signature Divine Savages twist. For example, quaint illustrations of dancing Victorians in their finest clothes soon transformed into anthropomorphic safari animals having a right old knees up in our ‘Party Like It’s 1899’ card – which in turn has just been translated into our Safari Soiree wallpaper, which has been really successful.
We also get lots of inspiration from our friends and have a Whatsapp group message where we often bombard them with designs at the early stages. Their responses are our rule of measure on whether something’s funny or even makes sense. Plus there’s definitely a few cards that take influence from nights out with them!
What's your solution for combating “creative block” and maintaining productivity?
Tom: Running the brand means there’s always a million and one things to do, so if I’m not able to progress on one task then I just switch to something else on the to-do list to keep things moving. In the span of one afternoon, you might find me setting up new files for our printers, working on new colourways for our wallpaper collections, and designing a new print for our velvet cushions. No one day is ever the same and this helps creativity flow.
Failing that, a good walk and getting away from everything always helps to clear the mind.
What does a typical day at your studio look like? How do you manage your time?
Tom: We’re a really small team, so it’s full-on all the time! We prioritise the latest incoming projects, and orders from our website, shops and distributors. I get on with the creative side of things.
At the moment, we’re working on a really exciting new collaboration across wallpapers, fabrics and cushions, so I’m trying to focus on getting that going.
Jamie: I actually work full time so my evenings and weekends consist of answering email enquiries, processing orders, working on strategy, Instagram content, networking and building new partnerships. Tom and I work together on the long range plan for the business.
Planning is key. But as much as you plan to manage your time, something always crops up that needs your immediate attention — then you’re back to playing catch up!
What do you enjoy doing in your “free time?”
Jamie: What’s this ‘free time’ you speak of?! As I’m sure many small business owners know only too well, finding down time is incredibly hard. We haven’t stopped since we launched in 2017. But we are actually taking a proper holiday soon which we can’t wait for. It’s so hard to switch off, but we’ll try!
Tom: We always try to have one night a week off and at least one weekend day. I’m a movie geek so cinema is always top of the list. Otherwise we love hanging with friends. We also try to explore new places when we can. Sometimes even just in London we can find fun new things to do. We discovered the Art Deco gem that is Eltham Palace last year literally just a few miles from us. If you’ve seen any of our wallpaper designs you know that design period is a real inspiration for us, so we came back with loads of ideas!
What are the biggest challenges you have faced to get to where you are now?
Jamie: The initial start-up was actually quite challenging. Finding the time to actually press GO on the business. Life gets in the way, especially when you work another job.
Then there are so many things you just don’t have the answer for. How do we build a website? How do you take payments? How do you work out shipping? What boxes do we need? Where are we going to get photography from? The list was really daunting.
But there comes a time when you just have to leap, and once you do, the info you need is readily available. You just find a way to make it work.
How does the culture of your city contribute to the development of your independent business?
Jamie: We love living in London and count ourselves so lucky to be in this great city. There’s so much going on here, especially on the creative and design side. It’s London Design Week right now, so a whole host of events, talks and showcases are happening across the city, which we can’t wait to soak up. London’s also filled to the brim with gorgeous museums, amazing architecture and such a diverse mix of culture, it’s really inspiring and we draw from it every single day whether we’re consciously aware of it or not.
We hear you are working on a very exciting new collaboration. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Jamie: We actually can now as it’s finally been announced! We’ve joined forces with the Natural History Museum to create our next collection of wallpapers, fabrics and cushions. We are beyond excited to get designing these new prints, accessing the treasure-trove that is the NHM archive.
Tom: I’m a huge natural history fan, and many of our prints to date have drawn from the natural world and nature, so to have access to the vaults of one of the world’s biggest collections is a dream. I can’t wait to develop this new collection across our homewares.
As we move into Spring and Summer we’ll also be launching new greeting card designs and adding to our ever-growing collection. We’re lucky to be working with a distributor here in the UK now so we can focus more on the designs and let them take care of the stockists and orders, which is a much better use of our time.