This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 24 edition of Style of Wight magazine. Words by James Rayner. Photos by Julian Winslow.
Amongst the undulating green fields just south of Whitwell, in a converted stone outbuilding, you’ll find the characterful new home of Studio Delma. After a sturdy knock on the door of Unit 6, Dean Farm, we step inside to meet artist and creative India Allin who uses this space to make her distinctive 3D sculptured wall art and unique hand-painted surfaces. Following a quick tour of the showroom, where freshly finished pieces sit side by side with India’s lush, green houseplants, we’re whisked through a curtain and into the studio, where our interview starts in earnest.
‘I was born in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage’, India tells us, ‘and spent my mid-teens on the Essex-Cambridgeshire border. Growing up, if I wasn’t reading, I’d be doodling and I was definitely encouraged to be creative by my artistic parents. My gas engineer dad is amazing at drawing and my mum, who has been a support worker for the past ten years, is quite nifty with a paintbrush. Work-wise, I started out managing charity shops and absolutely loved putting together the window displays. It prompted me to enrol for a visual merchandising course at the London College of Fashion but I dropped out after a year, realising my heart wasn’t really in it.’
It was at this moment in time that a close friend suggested India take a look at prop-making courses, even ringing up the universities to ask if they were still accepting new students, despite the fact it was rather late in the year. Incredibly, they were, and soon India was making her way to the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (located close to London’s Swiss Cottage tube station) to be given her first prop-making projects. ‘There was absolutely no hand-holding’ she explains, ‘they’d just give us a task and say “make it!”. I’d be sat there thinking what do you mean just make it? Actually though, I learnt an awful lot in those lessons and still use skills picked up then in my artwork today’.
After graduating, India took on her first prop-making role with a chain of magic-themed immersive hospitality venues, creating everything from wizard’s wands to cocktail-dispensing dragon’s heads for their London, Edinburgh and New York locations. Here, her skills in sculpting and painting continued to grow and soon she’d come up on the radar of Ben Piner, founder of Benjamin Raymond Atelier – a decorative arts and interiors studio operating right next door to India’s workplace.
‘I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave props but I’d spoken to Ben a few times and he offered me a job if I was up for the challenge. It was the best move I could have made though. Ben trained me in interiors, paint effects, finishes and textures. He taught me all the things you’re assumed to know, like the difference between eggshell paint and matte, and where best to use them. Mostly I’d be making the paint-effect textures for walls, kitchen cupboards and splashbacks for high-end clients both in the UK and around the world. I also hand-painted cloudy skyscapes for interior ceilings and created bespoke resin finishes for kitchen worktops too’.
However, it was one particular project in December 2022 that would set India on a new path and ultimately lead to the founding of Studio Delma – a bas-relief sculpture. Ordinarily sculpted on a solid background of the same material, bas-relief sculptures have been chiselled from wood and stone since the Ancient Egyptian era, with famous examples including the Parthenon friezes and the historic carvings at the crumbling Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat.
‘We’d never done something like that before’ India tells us, ‘but Ben was confident I could do it. I enjoyed sculpting but was a bit intimidated by the thought of a standalone 3D sculpture. Being able to carve into a flat panel made it much more accessible and a bit less scary too. After the piece was finished we posted a photo of it on social media and it just blew up! So many people got in touch about it and soon I was getting many more chances to practise this exciting new technique’.
In August 2023, India, together with her mum and illustrator sister Fife decided to relocate to the Isle of Wight to be closer to her paternal grandparents. ‘I was tired of London after living there for nine years, tired of the cost of London and fed up with having to get the tube just to go to a park. We’d been visiting my grandparents in Freshwater since I was four, swimming at Colwell Bay every day during our summer trips. I’d always wanted to move here and after realising that we had no real ties to the areas we were living in, we decided to get together and find a house in Cowes’.
After setting sail for the Island, India next secured a workshop space at Dean Farm which would become the new home of Studio Delma – her creative company specialising in decorative artwork and surface finishes (named after her maternal grandmother). From direct-to-wall ombre paint effects, faux stone surfaces and unique textured copper effect wall panels, India creates a stunning array of tailor-made finishes, alongside her growing range of nature-inspired bas-relief panels, with each one (when seen in situ) having the power to utterly transform a room.
Swivelling round on our stool, attention turns to India’s latest flamingo-themed bas-relief creation which has just reached completion. Made from a layer of gypsum plaster applied to a board, it’s first smoothed and primed before India sketches out her design and begins sculpting. ‘It needs to be pretty dry before you start to sculpt’ she explains, ‘and almost completely dry before sanding and adding detail. I use a craft knife for the outlines and clay gouging tools to start picking out the design. I’ve also got some metal implements which I call my ‘dentistry tools’ that are great for the finer features. When I’m finally happy with the piece I sand it and then spray the whole thing with a white acrylic sealer to protect it. I’d like to experiment with colour in the future but right now I just think they all look so good in white’.
Whilst she’s only been on the Island for a few months, India has already started to make her mark. Her recent live sculpting demonstration at the Isle of Wight Homes and Interiors Show gained her a considerable number of intrigued followers and many locals are already on the waiting list for India’s private tuition and signing up for her sculptural plaster workshop at the Quay Arts that starts in February. ‘I’m hoping to cater to the current gap in the market for specialist finishes on the Island. I’ve already connected with the local interior designers and I’ll be exhibiting in the Quay Arts café this month which should help get my name out there. With everyone here being so lovely and encouraging (especially through the Isle of Wight Creative Network) and with so much fresh air around it’s surprised me, actually, how much I haven’t missed London at all’.