As I stare at the paper in Sarah Jane Palmer’s hands, I’m stunned to see the wings of the butterflies start to beat.
The Sheffield artist grins as she continues to twist the sheet from side to side.
And she has good reason to smile. She’s holding in her hands a prototype for the world’s first ever animated wallpaper - which she designed and created in her city centre studio. If she plays this right, it’s a move that could see her name go down in the history books.
So how does it work?
“The image is broken down into strips and the frame rate you see depends on when you’re standing,” explains Sarah.
“Over those strips is a curved lens, which only allows you, from different perspectives, to see different parts of the image. It’s a highly precise process; as you move across the room, the image appears to move, but only because of the tiny little lenses showing you one part of the frame.”
The effect is stunning - and revolutionary. And it’s already attracting a lot of buzz and attention to the 38-year-old designer and maker’s work.
“I had a Tweet from interior designer Linda Barker the other day.” says Sarah, who lives in Burngreave.
“She said ‘what a beautiful, original idea, this is amazing! I can’t wait to see where you take this.’
“I was honestly thrilled.”
Sarah is keen to get her new product on the market as soon as possible and is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise £8,000 of investment to allow her to design and create the first ever collection of animated wallpaper.
“I’ve raised half of that already,” says Sarah.
“Once I get the rest, I think I could turn this around and have it ready to buy within three months.”
Sarah’s passion for pattern goes back a long way and she has been designing wallpaper since she was studying for her BA in Fine Arts at Sheffield Hallam University, 15 years ago. Her traditional wallpaper brand, named ‘Muriel, is already earning her a reputation, selling to private clients all over the world. She recently sold one of her designs to a high end lingerie boutique in America and her wallpaper is now on the walls of their La Petite Croquette store in New York.
But while all her dreams seem to be coming true these days, things haven’t always been so peachy for the woman who, as a dyslexic teenager, was labelled ‘daft as a brush’ at school.
“I struggled all the way through school,” reveals Sarah.
“I always wanted to be an artist - making, inventing and creating were so true to my heart - but the idea was incomprehensible. I remember being asked ‘but how will you earn a living?’ and not having any answers. Like many children at the time who were dyslexic, it was unclear what the problem was, so I was placed on the naughty table and began to believe that’s what I was. I loved to dream and was quickly conditioned to believe that meant something was wrong with me.
“My home life was difficult too and, at 17, I left and lived in an old caravan on a travellers site by myself. It was far from the romantic idea of independence I’d had in my head, but for the first time in my life, I felt free.”
Following a few years of drifting and being in and out of employment, Sarah decided it was time to pursue her dreams and went to university - the first in her family to do so. Afterwards, she set up Moving Art Space, a mobile workshop space runnig creative activities for children and families. This earned her the Princes Trust Young Entrepeneur of the Year award for Yorkshire and Humber in 2006.
After this she spent seven years working in schools as a leading artist for Creative Partnerships, taking a break to study for her Masters in Fine Arts. After a year-long residency at Nottingham Lace Market, absorbing everything she could from the artists and designers she met, and feeling thoroughly inspired by the beautiful lace designs and patterns she was working around, she exhibited her designs at her first ever solo show.
The show inspired her to create her wallpaper brand ‘Muriel’ and - most recently - her work on ‘MurielMotion.’
“I started to believe in myself, that’s what changed,” she says, clearly emotional at the memory.
“I was so lost as a child and, as a young adult, it felt like my life and family had fallen apart, I had no stability - just a dream. It’s terrifying, in that moment, to know what you want, but to be so paralysed by your financial situation.
“I’d love to be able to go back and tell that little girl that things work out for her. It just took time to realise that I wasn’t stupid, my dreams were valid and that I could do anything I set my mind to - we all can.”