A couple months ago, Catalina Rodriguez, a current design student at SCAD (where I went to grad school), reached out to me to see if she could interview me for her Business Strategies and Entrepreneurship class. She was interested in my work as a freelance designer and asked great questions about my process and professional development. I thought I would share the interview here as well for anyone that is curious or has questions about the same things!
How did you get into the field and get established as a pattern/textile designer?
It’s been a winding journey! My mom is a seamstress, so I grew up going with her to fabric shops and collecting fabrics. I’ve always painted and I got into digital design as I got older. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that I could bring my love of painting, design, and fabric together to design patterns for textiles. I finished my undergrad degree in painting and worked in graphic design for several years, taking online and in-person workshops with surface pattern designers I admired to build my pattern design skills. I ended up going to grad school at SCAD and got my Masters in Fibers with an emphasis on textile design/print & pattern, and I interned in the print design department at Lilly Pulitzer’s headquarters while there. After grad school, I continued working on my freelance art/design career — making work and sharing it online and reaching out to companies I wanted to work with.
How does your process change when you are working on a commission?
It depends on the commission, but my process generally stays about the same because people are typically commissioning me to create the type of work I already do (painterly florals mostly!). There is obviously more input on color, subject matter, the way the pattern repeats, etc, from the client, but generally we are working together because they like my style and they want that to stay in there. It probably helps that I maintain a consistent brand/style of work for people to seek out.
Where do you get your work from? Social media, contacting clothing/fabric companies (email, mailers, an agency)?
I share my work and process regularly on social media (instagram) and have had some clients reach out to me on there. I also have had people find my work through Pinterest and contact me via my website. I have fabric lines on quilting cotton coming out this year and for that, I contacted companies (via email) and also traveled to International Quilt Market (a trade show) to meet with the art directors of fabric companies in person. In the beginning it can be hard to constantly be putting your work out there, but you have to be sharing your work for people to see it! (and reaching out to companies you want to work with!)
How did you decide to go freelance?
It has always been my intent to freelance so that I could have freedom over where I live and so that I could have the ability to be a work-from-home mom. It is hard to do both, but I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love and also be able to stay at home with my daughter. My husband’s job is also in New Orleans, and there isn’t a large corporate textile atmosphere here for me to work in if I wasn’t working freelance. The corporate textile industry is so location specific!
How do you handle licensing and not being “too precious”about your work? How can you find a balance between what you want and what the client wants in the negotiation?
This is such a great question and something that I’m constantly learning about myself. My work comes from such a personal place, but it helps to remind myself that this is my job, not my baby. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic has a great section about this that really resonated with me that I recommend to anyone struggling with this (p. 229-235)! In the end, I have to be okay with letting go if something gets cut or needs to be re-worked and not take it personally. If you keep an open mind, it usually works out in the end. I’ve had to tweak patterns that I ended up liking better in the end because of something the client wanted. I just went through the strike-offs for my first quilting cotton collection and the company I’m working with cut several of the patterns to make the collection tighter. It’s a little sad, of course, to see designs you like and spent time on not make the final cut, but the collection we ended up with is still lovely and I have to trust that they also know what will sell! Some days you just have to stay the course and trust that it will all work out in the end! And remember to see your work out in the world, you have to let it go!
What is the most difficult part of being a freelancer?
So many things! Consistent work, consistent income, balancing all the hats (making work, marketing it, behind the scenes business work and expenses, etc…), figuring out how to best spend your time to make money, I could go on and on! Freelancing really is a dance that isn’t always the easiest road, but the payoff (getting to spend more time with my daughter and having more control over where my art goes in the world) is worth it to me!
How do you get inspired?
I’m fortunate to live in New Orleans — a really beautiful city. I’m always taking photos of flowers, plants, architectural details, etc on my walks around my neighborhood or any time I’m out and about. I keep those photos on my computer to reference when I have time to paint. Pretty much all my artwork comes from painting from life or from the photos I take when out and about/traveling. I’ve trained my eye to always seek out pattern inspiration!
What is most important in your work?
Ooh, hard question! I’d say probably color. You can create a beautiful painting/pattern, but it can be all wrong if the colors aren’t working together. I’m very particular about color!
Who is an artist that you look up to/admire?
I love Lulie Wallace and how she maintains both her art studio practice and creates textile work. I’ve always admired Anna Maria Horner’s rich textile designs and Bonnie Christine’s willingness to share her process. Others: Carrie Shryock, Raven Roxanne, Teil Duncan, Juliet Meeks, Anna Rifle Bond, Margaret Jeane, Emily Jeffords, I could go on and on!
What kind of advice would you give to someone that wants to become a successful surface pattern designer?
Keep making work and keep putting it out there! It took many years for my work to get where it is (and I still feel like I’m just at the beginning of my journey!). Consistently making work is the only thing that will improve your skills and help you get to creating the work you want to make. Don’t be scared to put your work out there, that’s how you get people to notice it!