It’s strikingly obvious that the two women we’re here to meet are identical twin sisters. But theirs is a story of life imitating art around the fabled connection between twins.
Doncaster artists Caroline Perkins and Louise Draper have been inextricably bound to each other since doctors failed to spot one baby hiding behind the other in the womb.
That was in the late ‘70s, long before ultrasound scans became the norm in antenatal care. Finding out at 36 weeks pregnant there were two babies came as a shock for first-time parents, Margaret and Ian Wilson – so much so, Margaret went into labour that very same day.
Born just six minutes apart, Louise and Caroline were always destined to share a togetherness. But they are intrinsically alike in many ways, sharing much more than just DNA and a birthday.
Their lives and careers have been somewhat symmetrical, having both carved out successful paths as textile designers for acclaimed brands. They went to the same art college, graduated from the same course at the same university with the same grade, and were both talent spotted by high-end designers.
Jobs saw them spend some time apart in their 20s and 30s, with Louise relocating to London and Caroline to Manchester. But even then, their connection never dwindled. Louise laughs as she tells us about a time Caroline came to visit her in London and they were both coincidentally wearing the same top!
“I had to run in a shop and buy a new one so people didn’t think we’d planned it,” she says.
After kids, marriage, and redundancies, they both moved back home to Doncaster and have now joined forces to start their own art business, Wilson Design Collective, named in honour of their maiden surname.
“It’s exciting to be on this new venture with your best pal and it’s the first time we’ve worked together. We were very close as kids and you couldn’t tell who was who. Mum used to dress us in different clothes but we’d argue over who had the nicest dress, so she started to buy or make the same dress in two different colours. She always encouraged us to think of ourselves as individuals, but we are naturally very similar people,” Louise says.
They’re so in-sync they can finish each other’s sentences. But sharing a visions has enabled them to utilise their individual skills and work collaboratively on each piece they create in their signature collage technique.
“We’ve both got fire in our bellies and want to make this work. Louise is a traditional fine artist and she draws these beautiful designs by hand or will paint the textured backgrounds. I’m more technically savvy so can digitally add in dictionary definitions or extracts from books to convey hidden meanings,” Caroline says.
We visited Fox Gallery at Mexborough Business Centre to see their debut exhibition ‘Coming Home’ which was on in January. The exhibition had a Yorkshire thread, with hints of humour, twang and comforting colours like treacle sponge and cobalt blue to give a nod to their upbringing in Doncaster.
Originally from Balby, the family moved to Conisbrough when the girls were 11 and they went to Edlington School where they both began to shine in art. They’d been drawing and colouring since toddlers – presumably so Mum could have five minutes peace now and again – but their work would regularly surpass that of their classmates.
After school, they both decided to study at Church View, Doncaster’s former art school, and soon enough it was time to apply for university. Louise had settled on a textile degree at Loughborough University, which was also in Caroline’s top two choices with Manchester.
“We were adamant both of us wouldn’t get in at Loughborough, but we did. So off we went together,” Louise says.
You could be forgiven for thinking twins might have a competitiveness amongst them. But it has always been quite the opposite for Caroline and Louise. They’re in it together, each other’s biggest cheerleader, and proud of what one another has achieved.
It was actually some prize money Caroline won at university that inadvertently set them up for their respective careers.
“I’ve always been the twin that’s the more negative about myself. But I’d done some work experience for Dorma and got a letter through the post afterwards saying they’d liked my work that much they had put me forward for a scholarship. I thought I’d got no chance but I won it and it was a few thousand pounds. I’d always wanted a music station so I bought myself one and spent the rest of the money on materials to make both our graduate exhibitions the best they could be,” Caroline says.
And it paid off. The sisters were chosen to exhibit their work at the Mall Galleries in London where Louise was spotted by Osborne and Little, an upmarket fabric and wallpaper manufacturer. She was offered a job at their London office after she finished her degree.
Caroline was then spotted at the New Designers Graduate Show by fabric designer, Gill Nono. She moved to Manchester to become Gill’s right-hand woman doing a variety of jobs from shoot styling to going to European trade shows.
After just a couple of years cutting her teeth in design, Caroline went out on a whim and applied for a senior designer role at Next Home which she says was well above her station. But the hiring team were impressed by her work and offered her a trainee position instead.
She quickly progressed to become head of downstairs textiles, responsible for designing multi-million-pound ranges of cushions, throws, curtains and rugs. She was then headhunted to work for George at Asda to design, develop and produce ranges for all homewares.
At the other end of the country, Louise had built up her credibility for producing innovative and trend driven designs and had become the main designer for Harlequin, part of the Sanderson Group, where she stayed for over 20 years. She oversaw the design and manufacturing processes on various campaigns for Anthology, Scion and Zoffany.
“My collections have been shown in national magazines but I’m most proud when I see them in real homes as it means someone chose my design because they loved them. I once went to the spa at Centre Parcs and all the voiles and wallpaper were what I’d designed. It was a woodland collection with pine cones and it looked bloody great in that setting. That was pretty cool to see,” Louise says.
“I remember my husband taking me to this posh Michelin star restaurant for a treat and it was full of Lou’s stuff. I sent her more photos of cushions than I did the actual food we had,” Caroline adds.
The dream had always been to one day work together. But it came to fruition in 2019 after both sisters had been made redundant. Caroline also had a period of ill health which she says changed her desire and ability and was keen to find a new direction.
Just as before, family would prove to be the bigger picture. When redecorating her young son’s bedroom, Caroline was struggling to find any artwork she liked. She started to sketch some of her own work and created a giraffe in collage. Louise could see the commercial potential and they decided to approach Yorkshire Wildlife Park about stocking a range of animal artwork.
“The pieces were bright, colourful, and really quite different from anything else they stocked so I don’t think they could really say no. They asked if we could draw their animals and it led to us being Artists in Residence there,” Louise says.
“I’d go there every Saturday to draw their most popular animals and would get chatting to the visitors around the park. I think it helped people relate to what they were buying as they could see us crafting it from scratch,” adds Caroline.
They have a large display in the shop at the wildlife park and have since built a portfolio of other collections based on nature and animals inspired by everything from the woodland to the rainforest. They also offer commissions for people looking for personalised art, with Caroline using her digital skills to recreate family or pet photos in the signature Wilson Design Collective style.
Caroline and Louise welcome customers to book an appointment at their studio barn, based at High Melton, to discuss private commissions or browse their originals and prints.