Artists seem to inhabit the nooks and crannies of the world. We're holed up and hidden away making things - things that don't always see the light of day. Despite the fact our orbits were overlapping, it took years before I met my neighbor Holly Emidy. Both of us were plugging away on our own little creative planets. Fortunately for everyone, Holly's beautiful work does see the light of day. In fact, you might even have some of it in your home. I asked her this week about the process of designing patterns, and she obliged with an interview that gives great insight into that world, with all its highs and lows. How did you get started as a pattern designer? My parents both worked in the design department of a large textile manufacturer - my mom as a design director, and my dad as a textile designer. As a kid I spent many vacation days and afternoons after school waiting in my Dad's office, drawing and doing homework. One day one of the VP's asked if I could paint something for the line. I had never worked in repeat or painted with gouache, but I did it and never looked back. I was seventeen years old.
What do you love about pattern? Just a little bit of pattern can turn the everyday into something artful and interesting. A geometric can look cool or retro. A Jacobian can be traditional or fanciful. A beautiful floral can make you think of a spring day. A bright graphic really pops in an otherwise plain space. There are so many possibilities.
"A good pattern can make you feel happy & inspired."
How would you define creativity? Being creative is like having an extra sense that allows you to see possibilities where others just see what is right in front of them. It is a sense of wonder that can be expressed in writing, making music, creating visual art, or doing crafty stuff with the kids. You don't need talent or skill to be creative. You just need ideas.
Where does your inspiration come from? A lot of my inspiration comes from nature. There are so many colors and patterns, so much fabulous flora and fauna. It's all around us, and it's amazing. Of course, I also have to stay on top of trends since I'm trying to sell my patterns to the home fashion industry. I find out what's going on now through Pinterest, magazines, and window shopping, then I put my own spin on the trends. I like to take a look and move on. I don't ever want my work to be overly influenced by someone else's.
Tell me about the process of developing a pattern. Some start with photos I take myself or ones I find online, anything from flowers and animals to African kuba cloth or vintage toiles. Intricate motifs may be worked out on paper then scanned in. I do most of my drawing in Photoshop & Illustrator. Anything I've done in the past 8 years is on file in the computer, and copies of what I had done in the 10 years prior to that are in my file drawers. So I have a large library to look through if I get stuck.
When the company I worked for many years ago switched from painted work to CAD I was disgusted and wanted to quit. Now I really enjoy the ease of it. It is so much better for working out repeats and changing things around. It is also easier on my hands. I don't hold the stylus quite as tightly as I held those #00 paint brushes. I remember not being able to use my hands after finishing a highly detailed design.
What are the challenges and rewards of being a work-for-hire artist and having to navigate clients' needs and desires? My work seems to come in cycles of all or nothing. When I get a bunch of assignments at the same time, it's hard to balance life and work. I often wear myself out. When there is no work I freak myself out and question what I've done with my life. Trying to figure out what someone else wants is not always easy, but I've had pretty good luck with being on target. My biggest challenge is getting paid and getting paid enough. It's difficult for companies to realize that this is my living. I am just a small part of their operations, but they are all big parts of mine. If I don't get paid in a timely manner, I don't have money to live. I also have a habit of putting way too much work into a project that may have a small budget. Honestly, I could use a manager.
"The biggest reward is the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a great pattern, especially if it had been really challenging in the beginning."
What kinds of things have your patterns been featured on, and do you have a favorite item? Most of the patterns I've sold have been used on upholstered furniture. I've also seen them on journals, cards, bedding, packaging, and apparel. It's cool to see my work out and about, especially when I can afford to by it. Of course my name isn't on them, and I don't get any royalties after the initial sale. Pattern designers don't make the big bucks. I have favorite patterns, but I'm not sure what my favorite item is. Maybe my Nate Berkus throw (featured above). Handy Living's Angelo Home is putting out some cool furnishings featuring my patterns, so I'm hoping to buy something for my family and for me. My grandmother told me she walks through stores wondering if any of the patterns are mine.
Do you have any daily or weekly habits and practices? All of my habits are bad ones. I waste too much time. I don't exercise. I don't drink water. I take my computer to bed. And, I stay up too late. I want to change, but maybe not enough. It is really dangerous working at home without a daily schedule... another thing to add to the list.
Favorite artist(s) or influence? My father was my biggest influence. He was always drawing and painting. He taught me everything I know. Also, living in a community of artists is a constant inspiration and influence to keep going. My boyfriend wants me to have a show at one of the local galleries some time, and I have two friends in town who want me to put some of my work in their shops. It's so nice to have that kind of support.
Any advice for aspiring pattern designers? I can't say I would recommend it to anyone. I've been doing it for 24 years and I love it, but I often wish I was good at something else. It isn't easy. If you really want to do it, one tip would be to start with your drawing and painting skills. Don't skip that step to go directly to the computer. If you establish your style with a paint brush and gouache, you should be able to carry that same hand over to CAD. If you start on the computer your look tends to be less organic and more "computery." I would also go to one of the surface design trade shows in NYC: Printsource or Surtex. See what people are doing. Ask questions. Make connections.
Holly Emidy is a surface designer and day dreamer living in a charming waterfront town in Rhode Island. She enjoys hearing seagulls and fog horns as she creates patterns for home decor, upholstery, apparel, stationary, and wallpaper markets. View more of Holly's work at her website HERE.