Local Heroes: Ploterre's designs inspired by the natural world

We meet Rebecca J Kaye, the designer behind Ploterre, an Edinburgh-based design studio creating prints, textiles and apparel informed by systems found in the natural world

Feature by Stacey Hunter | 01 Nov 2021
  • Ploterre

Rebecca J Kaye is interested in bringing environmental data to life by combining mathematics and design to visualise the patterns in data or quite literally, ‘plotting the Earth’. Originally from North Wales, Kaye first studied mathematics at the University of Manchester, followed by visual communications in Edinburgh. Here, she began combining the three things she loved most: mathematics, design and the natural world; and so began Ploterre – a studio that researches and analyses the natural world with the aim of unearthing stories and insights that have been “hibernating among spreadsheets.”

Ploterre have just launched the Natura blanket, a collaboration with Fold, a craft and design shop that is part of The Barn art centre in Banchory. The blanket uses the natura dataset; a European-wide data collection that records areas of special conservation including animals and species that are at risk of extinction.

“The design focuses on Scottish sites – each square represents a different site and there are four sites in Scotland that have species at risk. Every element of the blanket has been created in Scotland, from the wool in Fife to the knitwear in the Borders. As a nice twist of fate, both these manufacturers are close to sites that have been woven into the design. The horizontal lines depict marine sites and vertical are terrestrial sites. There are also sites that have species of conservational interest but don’t have any legal protection status. Both the sites without protection status and sites with species at risk are signified in turquoise. The sites are also arranged by grid reference so St Kilda is top left and Dumfries and Galloway is bottom left.”

Working with data to inform her design work allows Kaye to bring her skills as a mathematician together with an eye for colour and pattern. “The challenges are coming up with formulas to translate what I want to happen in the design. This ultimately means writing a programme that translates the values in a spreadsheet to marks and points on a page. Maths and visual communication really complement each other in terms of skills. They’re both problem solving to some degree and I find that I can come up with a design framework but then allow the data to make what would ultimately be the aesthetic choices. I really love this element in particular. The data element adds a story (and purpose) to the design.

The Rivers screenprint illustrates the 127 rivers running through the British Isles and uses data from OS Maps to calculate each of their lengths and locations. The rivers have been listed from the most northerly, River Hope, in the north of Scotland at the top of the print to the most southerly, River Kennall in Truro at the bottom. These are limited editions and printed in Somerset using teal and white water based inks on imperial blue paper.

The Dazzle T-shirt is inspired by the dazzle camouflage used to conceal the location, direction and speed of naval ships. The data has been used to literally create the marks and the shapes for the pattern and are based on a snapshot of real-time data on wave height, swell direction and location of 56 buoys dotted around the British Isles. The design revolves around a grid pattern where each square indicates a different buoy. These have been arranged by longitude and latitude with the top right representing the northern tip of the Shetland Islands and the bottom left indicating the southern coastline of the Scilly Isles. The flashes of fluorescent pink/orange are a nod to the faded buoys seen from harbours and bays and highlight the areas where the wave height was more than 1m for a given day.

Ploterre have an upcoming exhibition in Glasgow with Concrete Nature: Walk the Talk is a multi-site exhibition set across the West End and Southside of Glasgow from 1–12 November which coincides with COP26. The studio will also be selling work at the V&A Dundee Festive Design Market with Tea Green Events 6-7 November; the Spot Design Market on 5 December and the Bowhouse on 11 December. The Natura blanket is available at Barn Arts (Banchory) and most products are available to purchase online at ploterre.com.