Photo finish: Tania Johnson Design

July 17, 2020

Tania Johnson designs contemporary hand-knotted rugs inspired by her photography

Nature inspires every aspect of the rugs designed by London-based designer Tania Johnson. The subject of nature is vast, but rather than focussing on the big picture, Johnson turns her lens (literally) on the often overlooked beauty of nature’s seemingly inconsequential minutiae. The ghostly meander trail left on glass by a vanished branch of ivy. The pattern of rain falling on a windscreen. The rippled reflection of reeds in a lake. Each rug is inspired by a photograph taken by Johnson, and each is inseparable from her methodology as artist, designer, and photographer.

Johnson’s background is richly diverse. ‘I studied woven textiles at Brighton University and did an MA in weave at the Royal Collage of Art in London. I used a lot of my own photography as a starting point for designs and this developed further once I started working professionally as a textile designer.’ Her technical tenure at a weaving mill in Switzerland was followed by a position as a designer in the Home department of Calvin Klein in New York. ’I would spend hours taking photos whenever I was out and this continued when I began freelancing.’ Photographers she admires include Uta Barth and Richard Misrach, but her style is her own. ‘I’m drawn to the shadows and reflections and microscopic textural details that are all around us in nature. My husband has to remind me on holiday to take photos of our family in-between training my camera on close-ups of the ground!’

It wasn’t until Johnson’s eponymous company had been in business a few years that she realised almost all her rug designs are based on her photographs. ‘Clients started to ask where my design ideas came from. I started to talk more about my photography and show the original inspiration along with the rugs.’ One of the joys for Johnson is the process of translating her photos into rugs. ’I have quite a technical weaving background. I love the challenge of how to retain the intricacy of the photograph while creating a design that can be woven.’ Johnson colour reduces each photo herself and then creates the weaving graph she sends to her weavers. ’The rug designs are extremely intricate and difficult to weave. I’ve worked with the same manufacturer since I started my business. We have a good relationship and he understands my aesthetic. We talk about the photographs. He told me once that when his weavers first saw the graph for Waterlines they didn’t think they could weave it. Now it’s our bestselling rug and he says the weavers love to work on this pattern.’

Read on for Johnson’s description of the inspiration behind four of her designs.

London: ’I took this photo just after I moved back to the UK after living in New York for 12 years. Much as I love England, I was quite worried about living again in an often grey and rainy country and, I have to say it did take a couple of years to get used to it again! However, I love the inspiration to be found on rainy days including this single drop of water as it makes its way down a window pane of condensation.‘ 

Ripples: ‘A lake in New York provided the inspiration. It shows a reflection of reeds briefly transformed into a pattern of ripples as a breeze blows over the water’s surface. This theme is something I’ve always loved: the idea of capturing fleeting moments in time.‘ 

Smudge: ‘Taken on the outside a greenhouse. I love the patterns created over time as the leaves and tendrils make their way across the misty glass.’

Rainy Daze: ‘Frequent family car trips to Wales usually involve rain. I love watching the patterns of water build up and run down the edge of the car’s windscreen.’

Tania Johnson

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