Turkish Delights & Ideas for New Motifs

October 29, 2008

I had such a lovely evening on Monday night. May I tell you what I did? I visited the studio of Petra (see a tour of her place here) and spent several hours with her, some clients, and my friend Esra who just returned to Germany after vacationing in her native Istanbul. Esra brought with her a very special gift for me, would you like to see?

Turkish Delights & Ideas for New Motifs

Handmade ceramic bowls in the most beautiful shades of purple, with a raised tulip pattern, can you see the tulips? Isn’t it a pretty design? This is very typical from the tulip era in Ottoman history that has influenced design there for ages from tulips on palace walls to embroidery on clothing and hand painted onto ceramics. The Dutch have this period to thank for the tulip bulbs that made their way over to Holland hundreds of years ago.

Seeing this beautiful floral pattern made me think about all of the popular motifs that exist out there and how so many have a deeper meaning than, “it’s cute”, “I think I’ll design a print with a ___ one it because it’s popular right now”, “it sells”, etc.”… Not this lovely tulip. It stems (pun fully intended) from a very important place in history that people living hundreds of years from now will (hopefully) always remember thanks to books and families passing on tradition. Same with many of the ethnic prints and patterns, folk art, etc. that you find often while traveling or through the pages of popular design mags.

Turkish Delights & Ideas for New Motifs

Seeing traditional patterns from other cultures is a window into a new world? and it’s a very exciting view. The bowls that Esra gave me inspired research and so Tuesday morning I spent 4 hours reading all about the Tulip era and the Ottoman period to refresh my memory from past world history classes. It was so fascinating to learn about this tulip pattern because now I appreciate these bowls even more. I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but try to read Selvedge magazine out of the UK, “The fabric of your life: textiles in fashion, fine art, interiors, travel and shopping,” if you can because it as a magazine worthy of your time and money. Each issue is like a book, the writers are polished, accurate, obviously well-traveled, and keenly interested in world culture (and the fabrics! ah!) and unlike any magazine I’ve ever read, I walk away learning so much about what goes into the making of textiles, the tradition behind patterns, and so much more. Each issue is like a mini textiles class, I value Selvedge so very much.

After being so inspired by these tulip bowls I thought about all the patterns out there that have saturated the market and I wonder if perhaps a few of you would be daring enough to start a new wave in the indie design world. Why not try to consider the local culture or bring in something more meaningful to you personally into your next illustration or design? I think many of us are looking for some bright, innovative designers to show us something different. While I really enjoy the popular ones, from birds to faux bois, little houses, and deer… Why not wander off the path a bit and dig really deep to challenge yourself to design something that is a bit like the Turkish tulip — that has to do with your culture, what you’re all about, where you came from, an important period of time to you. Perhaps you are part Polish and could research what your ancestors make in Poland and think of a way to modernize that motif a bit? Or if you are from a certain state see what your state flower or bird is and if you can pull inspiration from that.

This is one thing that I absolutely appreciate about J Hill Design in Boston and her business, “Places I Have Never Been”. Her designs are based on how she imagines a place to be like after conducting extensive research on it. Isn’t that an interesting way to design? I’m sure with each design she feels really challenged and excited! Just? some food for thought in case you are feeling stuck in a design rut lately as one of my local friends told me that she feels very caught up in a sea of popular designs and would love to expand but isn’t sure what exactly to do next. Hopefully this will encourage you if you have been wondering…

So that was what I did on Monday evening — relaxed in a colorful atelier around layers of raw silk, IKAT, vintage ethnic fabrics, beads from Morocco and Istanbul, silver linens, tassels and sipping ceylon cardamon tea from London, eating double pistachio Turkish delight from Istanbul… yes, inspiration truly comes from nature for me, especially the two-legged variety — human companions. Developing meaningful friendships, and learning from others (including the popular motifs from their native country) can really inspire.

Now go made things, decorate, be creative! :)

(images from holly becker for decor8 and selvedge magazine)


  • Reply Holly October 29, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks so much for putting such thoughtful posts out for all to see Holly! I have been struggling lately with the creative juices not flowing real well, and you have inspired me to try some new things. Hopefully it will turn into something amazing and unique!

    Hollys last blog post: goodbloom October Giveaway!

  • Reply Ellen October 29, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    those purple bowls are AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ellens last blog post: LILY – Flower Catalogue Series – 4×6 Print

  • Reply Esra October 29, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Oh, I love this post my dear ! These bowls match perfectly to the shades in your living room and I am so glad you like them :-) By the way, I enjoyed our day very much and I had so much fun!!!

    Esras last blog post: Back from Istanbul

  • Reply eireann October 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Holly,

    This is exactly what I’ve been doing for about the last year–I’m an American expat to England, and my first solo show just opened here in Nottingham. It’s all work that reflects my experience in England (as an outsider and as Ive come to know & love it here)–a way of processing all the ways that my environment changed and all the new things (plants, animals, counds, kinds of buildings, accents) around me.

    If you’d like, you could take a look–I have a few photos of the exhibition and then scans of some of my etchings and paper constructions; they’re here:

    I think in some ways many of us don’t feel a strong ‘authentic’ connection to a historical heritage–by ‘us’ I mean Americans–maybe because we come from a place that is so young and where we have the particular benefit of *many* different cultures influencing one another. I (and this is really personal–not a general assumption, but an explanation of/musing on my own subject position) would feel as disingenuous making things to reflect a culture I don’t really feel I am part of as I would making something exclusively because the motif was saleable. But I *do* feel strongly affected by the places I’ve lived (Italy, France, England) and the ways those places have taught me things about where I grew up (MN) and who and how I am. I think especially now that things are so global, this kind of experience is resonant to many of us–the crossing-over of themes, motifs, images.

    Thanks for this post!!

  • Reply kasia October 29, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Hi Holly,

    how fantastic to read about your turkish inspiration! it made me get all excited on the inside. I’ve been creating my own polish folk art pieces for a few years now and it gives me great joy to be creating products which have great meaning to me. having been born in poland i find i still miss a lot of the things that were so special to me, but through my work i feel i can always connect back. what inspires me more than anything else about it though is the philosophy of no personal authorship that ran through the villages and the craftisans. that people did it because it was part of their culture and tradition and the work connected them together. its how i feel when i create my pieces. see my blog for one of my recent wrapping paper creations and where the inspiration came from. THANK YOU FOR YOUR THIS POST HOLLY! i’ll be a regular visitor.

    kasia :)

  • Reply Ann October 29, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    My original plans for my blog were to find those interesting cultural and arts links. things are so much more appreciated when you know the story behind them. i love to travel because of the connection to the place. and the crafts and arts are a connection to the people. somewhere along the line of blogging, i lost focus and either blogged about a person or a place. not that connection. then today, about 45 minutes ago to be exact, i was watching this new reality show called stylista. a bunch of people vying for the jr. editor position at elle magaizine. the editor made a great point when she gave the contestants their assignments. their finds had to adhere to three rules. it reminded me that i was missing that in my blog and this post reiterated it for me. a purpose. i’m not a designer and i really only craft for myself. but, i have this love of learning about places and a strong appreciation for the people who helped to give destinations their distinction. and i like sharing this information with my friends in real life and i want to find a way to share it in my blog.

    i know you wrote this to inspire artists, but it really did help me refocus on other things, so thank you…

    i love how that artist in boston finds her inspiration. reminds me of franz kafka’s amerika. he wrote about the u.s. without having visited the country, so it’s just what he thought it would have been like. that’s got to be fun.

    and i LOVE turkish delights.

    Anns last blog post: This Weekend in Berlin

  • Reply Sam October 29, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Such an inspiring post Holly! I already find myself trying to create designs that I haven’t seen before, even though I fear I might be missing out on sales for not having the latest trend. I’ve been using inspiration from my own home/yard, but this idea of exploration my local culture and historical culture is one that I am fascinated by…off to look for some new inspiration.

    Sams last blog post: Sneak Peeking

  • Reply Melissa de la Fuente October 30, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Gorgeous! Gorgeous bowls, what a lovely evening and a great idea for design Holly. So inspiring! Thank you…*sigh* my new obsession, violet.

  • Reply Rikkianne October 30, 2008 at 12:46 am

    I feel the same exact way about Selvedge. It is such a treasure. You said it perfectly! Each issue finds a home on my book shelf. Definitely worth the money.

    Rikkiannes last blog post: Pillow placement…..

  • Reply michelle October 30, 2008 at 10:21 am

    those bowls are so fabulous, they will love perfect in your new home.

  • Reply magikquilter October 30, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Wow Esra sure knows what works for you…love the depth of colour in those bowls and fascinating reading about the history with the tulips design as such.

    We have a different kind of history here in Australia and a different kind of beauty so it is always interesting to see what inspires our designers today.

    magikquilters last blog post: Reborn Baby Blanket

  • Reply Sara Moriarty October 30, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    This post really has me thinking in a new direction. Thank you for that. I hope that you realize the impact you make on others. How great is it to inspire others toward greater creativity. A wonderful post and inspiring blog. Thanx! ~Sara

  • Reply Tara October 30, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    What beautiful bowls! I appreciate your post — I think it always shows when someone truly takes inspiration from their own unique experiences and surroundings.

  • Reply Erin October 30, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I adore those bowls! Such great pieces in a beautiful color.

    Erins last blog post: Costumes

  • Reply Carrie October 30, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    such lovely bowls, what a nice prezzy from a sweet friend!

    i have to say i really enjoy these posts that give us something to think about and to consider.

    Carries last blog post: pushing daisies

  • Reply alis November 6, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Holly, such a lovely post… And Esra must reveal where she got the bowls because I haven’t seen such a pretty shade of purple in Istanbul! These ones are definitely more original and somewhat modernised compared to the usual tourist stuff. Oh, and if you read about the tulip era you probably know that lifestyle eventually led to the demolition of the ottoman empire so it’s an era that is usually frowned upon. It is only a few years ago that the city of istanbul(and some other cities) decided to plant tulips everywhere, that decision being based on the tulips symbolizing our heritage, and I have to say if you ever come to Istanbul make sure you do when tulips are in bloom :)

    aliss last blog post: Yes You Did!

  • Reply New York Muhtari November 6, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Holly,

    great inspriational post, it makes me wanna go out and do something.

    The bowls are great, everytime I go to Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I buy it for loved ones in US, as well. But I do not have one in my apt , as whoever sees them, takes them away from me :-)) because I can always replace it in my next trip :-))

    New York Muhtaris last blog post: The New President of the United States of America

  • Reply CrossRoads Istanbul February 14, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Amazing delights! Nothing could be better a gift for a friend from CrossRoads:) Howdy from Istanbul-

  • Leave a Reply

    Scroll Up