Guest Expert: Yetunde Rodriguez

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Photo by Megan Bickel of Five-Dots

This month we have the privilege to welcome Yetunde Rodriguez to the Textile Design Lab as our guest expert. Yetunde is a Graphic Designer by training. After becoming a self-taught Block and Screen Printer, she launch her online business and Etsy store in 2007. On Monday, October 29th, Yetunde will be in the Lab sharing her thoughts on growing a product-based business and how to combine digital design practices with hand-prints. We invite you to explore this interview with Yetunde to learn more about her work!

Tell us a bit about your design background. How did you become interested in textile design?

It’s funny how something can be all around you but you do not ever wonder how it got there. Even now, when I tell people that I design fabric, they respond with a blank stare. Up until about 12 years ago, it never occurred to me that designing fabric was an actual job. I studied Graphic Design in college and really enjoyed all my classes. I particularly enjoyed the printmaking segments, but did not really see a career use for it. Right around 12 years ago, I started really studying Adinkra symbols.

“Adinkra​ are visual ​symbols​ or ideographs that represent concepts and aphorisms originating from the Akan people, the dominant ethnic group of present-day Ghana and the Ivory Coast located in West Africa.” -Hilary Dockray

I loved the idea of symbols conveying meanings, and thought it would be really great to interpret these designs in home decor, so that we could have those meanings around us all the time.

 

What inspired you to launch your own product line?

Considering that Adinkra symbols are typically found on fabrics anyway, my idea was not novel. However, I wanted to see the symbols interpreted in new fresh ways with fun color combinations. So I set about designing with the symbols. (I have since moved past using adinkra symbols in my work). Since I had no clue about manufacturing and marketing a product line, I did what I knew how to do, which was make it myself, and sell at craft shows, farmers markets and other events of the like. This era coincided with the renaissance of the DIY and Artisan Markets. I figured that the most direct way for me to realize my vision was to actually physically print and sew the items myself, under my own brand name.

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Photos by Megan Bickel of Five-Dots

Could you talk a bit about your design process and the techniques you use to create the prints and products for your brand?

I started by teaching myself screen printing. I also dabbled in Block Printing. After struggling with screen printing for a long time, I settled on Block Printing with Stamps. Block printing satisfied my need for simplicity and instant gratification. It is a very basic and rudimentary process that yields beautiful results. I will pretty much carve or cut any material that will carve or cut well and transfer ink/paint. I mostly create my stamps out of craft foam mounted to a either wood or acrylic backing. When I need a little more intricate detail than what cut up craft foam can provide, I will carve up rubber or vinyl in the form of ceiling tiles. I stuck with hand printing fabric because because I really love the organic, slightly imperfect hand. When I discovered Spoonflower, I started digitizing my designs to be printed. As more and more print on demand services have sprung up, it became easier to get some manufacturing assistance. In the beginning of transitioning to digital printing, I struggled with retaining the look I loved so much. Designing digitally also opens up so many options that it is important for me to place limits on myself, otherwise a design might never reach the finish line. There is also so much possibility with digital design…sometimes too much! I have since learned how to use design software to retain that look in the digital prints, but I still struggle with knowing when to call it done.

 

Do you develop your artwork with a specific end product in mind from the get-go, or design first and then decide which products and patterns are a good fit?

When carving stamps of abstract motifs, I prefer to improvise. If I try to sit down and pre-think, I will disappear down the rabbit-hole of overthinking and second-guessing. My designs feature a lot of line work, so it’s fairly easy to be improvisational. I usually create designs first, then match them to specific products later. I am partial to home decor items as opposed to apparel so I design with that line in mind. I think I tend to shy away from apparel because with apparel, you have to carefully consider how the print will lay on the body. My designs also do well with bags and gift items.

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What does a typical day look like for you running your own product line? What are the different roles you take on?

I am the only person in my business, therefore I do everything. I am in charge of designing, manufacturing, and marketing, as well as management and bookkeeping. I am better at some things than others :-) In the new year I am moving more in the direction of just designing and managing the business side of things. I want to focus on what I enjoy doing and am good at. I have also been taking a lot of business classes so that I can get better at what I’m not so good at. Up till this point my days mostly revolved around printing fabric, sewing and fulfilling orders. I used to join a lot of markets and craft shows, as well as selling through consignment and on my etsy shop, so I was always building inventory and doing everything related to running a retail business. A typical day will find me responding to emails, if there are any. Then I will consult my calendar of upcoming events and decide what needs to be followed up on for the day. I will do some printing, and some sewing (if need be) before the day is out.

 

What have been some of the challenges or surprises, as well as the exciting moments in having your own product line? Do you have any words of advice for designers considering this path?

The main challenge for me is choosing shows and markets to participate in. All markets/shows are not created equal. It is important to really do your homework to try to figure out if a show will be a good match for you. When I first started out, I would sign up for any and every show that I found out about or was invited to. Do not be flattered that a show organizer really wants you! Make sure that the clientele will be a good fit for your product line. I have had some really exciting moments as well. I was accepted as a Whole Foods local artisan vendor in 2015. Having that partnership was super exciting and gave some social clout to my brand. As great as it was, I learned some hard lessons there. I had no idea how to work with a chain store of that magnitude. I did not fully understand how to leverage my product offerings for that store, and therefore it has not been as great as it could have been. More recently I was commissioned to create a mural/design for the exterior facade of our local soon to be built Food Co-op. I have been working with the Architects to create the Art, as well as direct the Interior look of the space. That is probably my most favorite project so far! Being involved in this project has opened my eyes to how I could extend the use of my designs beyond textiles. Also, my work is going to be included in the Uppercase Magazine’s upcoming anthology, Print/Maker. I’m very excited and honored to be included with such fine printmakers and I look forward to seeing the book in print.

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Over the course of your career, what actions or decisions have made the biggest impact on your design business?

I think what has been most impactful for me is to be fearless, focus, and keep going! It is easy to get disappointed and want to quit, but if you are really serious, you have to keep going. Almost every other day I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I keep doing it :-) Also, I went all in. Mind you, I do not advise this for anyone but myself. I have a good support system in my husband. He has always believed in me, no matter what I want to do. When I decided to focus just on my design business, he believed, even though we could have used the additional (steady) income. Being able to focus, even through doubts, fear, and worry, has really propelled me forward. I am getting opportunities that I would not have if I had not decided to focus. Also, I’m very curious, so as a result, I’m always learning. Even if I already know a lot about something, I still learn something new about it. Also, do things that are outside your comfort zone! Put yourself around people you might not ordinarily meet. I love going to our local Pecha Kucha night to hear about different subjects. I took a chance and signed up to speak at a future event. I was chosen and I decided to speak about block-printing. I showed all my colorful prints, as well as my inspiration and origin stories. As it turns out, the Architect that later commissioned me for the Mural of our food co-op was in the audience that day. You just never know!

 

Can you give us a quick preview into the training you will be offering to our Textile Design Lab members? What can people expect to learn?

I would like to show how I combine my hand prints with digital printing. I will also share some of print resources that I have discovered. I will also discuss how and where I first started selling, how I found my first customers, and what I’ve done to market my business.

Please explore Yetunde’s website and Etsy store to see more of her beautiful products!

Textile Design Lab members can access Yetunde’s Live Training here. Not a member? Get started here.

Partnership with Blurb

It is with great excitement that we announce our new partnership with Blurb, a self-publishing platform that makes it easy to design, publish, promote, and sell professional-quality printed books and ebooks. Blurb recently added notebooks to their offerings and we were delighted to test out their BookWright software to create a small series of custom notebooks. These notebooks are now for sale on our page in the Blurb Bookstore, and feature the work of six of our talented Textile Design Lab members, as well as a workbook that Chelsea and Michelle developed with surface pattern designers in mind.

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Using the BookWright Software

Blurb’s BookWright software was easy to pick up, and as Photoshop users, many of the tools were familiar and felt intuitive to use. Blurb’s excellent Help Center was also a fantastic resource when any questions did arise.

We chose to create a 6″x9″ softcover journal, and from there we were able to add images and text to the front and back cover, and to fill the notebook with layouts of our choosing.

One of the fun features that we enjoyed using in creating our journal was the option for each page to have a different page style, either blank, lined or a grid. This was controlled for each page individually and was nice to have that flexibility to make a more varied and interesting notebook.

We also appreciated that there was an option to set up our own palette, as we use a specific set of colors for Pattern Observer’s branding, so this was a great time-saver throughout the process of putting together our journal.

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The Textile Design Lab Journal Contest

We had so much fun creating our pattern design journal, that we wanted to extend the opportunity to design journals for the Blurb Bookstore to our Textile Design Lab community. With the help of our studio agent Melissa Schulz, we put together a series of briefs for Lab members focusing on five themes we currently see trending for journals: Confetti, Feel Good, Geometrics, Refined Doodles, and Retro. We then asked participants to apply these trends to any of the five following journal concepts: a quote journal, children’s gratitude journal, list journal, book journal, or a beverage journal. Using the BookWright software, designers had one week to create cover art as well as the interior layouts for the journals. We received over 100 beautiful submissions and in the end selected the following winning designs:
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Claudia Negru (Quotes Journal), Esther Jongste (Beverage Journal), Nikkita Cohoon (Lists Journal), Chris Olson (Children’s Gratitude Journal), Patricia Hooning (Book Journal) and Cynthia Jacquette (Children’s Gratitude Journal)

Congratulations to the winners, and a huge thanks to all the participants who put in such hard work to create their journals!!

Please check out our new storefront in the Blurb Bookstore and let us know if you launch your own!

What Happens When the Art Director Draws a Blank?

Becoming-your-best-art-directorOpportunities to design on your own, outside of the direction of a client, art director, or agent, offers a liberating creative experience. We all dream about this type of opportunity, don’t we? Sometimes the experience is just as we imagined and then there are those other times…the ones where we are the art director and find ourselves feeling lost, overwhelmed, and the worst—unproductive. There you sit, staring down at your computer, iPad, or sketchbook, wishing it would come to life with an answer to your biggest question. What should you draw today?

These moments can cause you to doubt what you are meant to create and where you fit in within this vast design industry, eventually leading to the waiting game. You wait for someone to tell you what to do. You wait to be “discovered” by your dream client. You wait for someone to show you the way. There’s one word in these examples that is the hint to your solution—and that is the word “you.”

We are often our best guide, teacher, and art director. Accepting this on the surface level is easy; however, tapping into this ability is not. Often enough, it is buried deep under self-doubt and information overwhelm. And all this “guck” doesn’t go away with the snap of our fingers.

Most creatives long for a way to dig themselves out of this situation. I know I find myself in similar situations from time to time. I have found that the best way to move out of this “waiting” mode and into a creative mode is to tap into the core of my artistic style and what I love to create. You can explore the first step of the process in this video.

Over the years I have learned an important lesson. With the right information, and the right level of focus, you can remove those barriers that cause you to doubt your creative vision. Just because you work in a vast industry doesn’t mean you don’t have a fresh approach that agents, clients, and art directors are longing to see. You owe it to yourself and your passions to tap into what it takes for them to see your talents.

Where I’ve found this level of confidence to be really helpful is with the big question of “what to design each season.” Wouldn’t you love to be more confident in your decision making skills in this area? How about determining who to market your work to? The more confident you are, the more easily you know the answers to this pressing question.

You can become the art director of your brand and career. Hopefully you’re up for it. I’m here to help, and what I suggest doing first is a reflection of your own work, using this quick video exercise.

Get ready. Get set. Action!

Featured Designer: Alice Acreman

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I would describe Alice Acreman’s work as a breath of fresh air, a peek into another world, an escape from the mundane. The layers of motifs, rich colors, and mysterious storylines she creates all work together in such a dynamic, cohesive manner.

Alice was awarded a bachelor’s degree in Fashion in 2014, where she focused her studies on the influence of nature and technology on print design. After designing for a global retailer in the USA, she became frustrated with two things: 1) the wasted resources; and, 2) the speed at which garments became irrelevant. She turned this frustration into motivation. The outcome was the creation of her own ‘slow fashion’ brand with a focus on timeless artwork. Alice’s artwork can now be found on scarves, kimonos, pillows, and wall hangings.

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Each print is handmade by Alice, using a mixture of watercolor painting, sketching, and collage. Once ready, it is digitally printed. When we asked Alice about how she creates the collages, shared this with his: “By layering artwork printed and drawn on different papers, I arrange the collage until I’m happy. Then, the collage is scanned in the final layout to be printed onto silk. Each scarf design can take days or weeks to finalize.”

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Alice’s goal is to grow her brand to be able to help charities and spread awareness of global issues through her prints. Please explore more of her work at www.aliceacremansilks.com.

Featured Designer: Erin Dollar

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With the support of SURTEX, each month a new post will be highlighted on Pattern Observer, featuring the work of one of our Textile Design Lab members. This month we are thrilled to feature the work of TDL member Erin Dollar. Erin Dollar is the designer and maker behind Cotton & Flax. With a background in fine art printmaking, Erin brings a simple, modern aesthetic vision to Cotton & Flax, which she founded in 2012. It’s an honor to have Erin in the Textile Design Lab and we look forward to bringing her work to the SURTEX show in February 2019.

This is some of the fascinating insight into Erin’s background and drive that she shared with us. Enjoy!

“I studied fine art at UC Santa Cruz, where I focused on printmaking. I was obsessed with old-school techniques like lithography and woodcut relief printing, which was very labor intensive, but offered such a distinctive look. I spent so many long days and nights in the print studio, completely in love with the process of creating images that could be reproduced in such a hands-on way.

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“After college, I joined a co-operative printmaking studio in Portland, Oregon, and continued to create fine artwork. While I was a member of that studio, I learned to screenprint by watching my friends create their own artworks. I started experimenting with screenprinting, which led me to printing on fabric to create more utilitarian pieces that fell more under the umbrella of ‘design’ than ‘fine art.’ I felt pulled toward creating a brand around my new textile experiments, and Cotton & Flax, my home decor company, was born.

“Since then, I’ve sold my home decor products online, as well as through indie boutiques and even major retailers like West Elm and CB2. I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with other brands to license my designs, which has led to lots of products featuring my artwork, including two fabric collections with Robert Kaufman Fabrics.

“I’ve included a mix of designs to share with you in this post. Some are from my textile design work for my home decor company, Cotton & Flax, and others from various client projects. The fabric bolt I’m holding is from my new collection of fabrics for Robert Kaufman, called “Balboa”—29 new fabrics that will debut in stores in November. The notebooks were created in collaboration with Scout Books in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I love their use of natural materials in their production process. The throw blanket shown in this post was created as part of a class I taught for The Crafter’s Box, where we stenciled throw blankets with an original pattern design.

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“Joining TDL helped me find a community of other surface pattern designers, and I’ve learned so much from them in the time I’ve been in the Lab! It’s been a wonderful resource to me as I continue to collaborate with brands to create one-of-a-kind patterned products . This industry is so vibrant, and I’m grateful to have found a group that has supported and guided me along the way.”

Please visit Cottonandflax.com to see more of Erin’s beautiful work and bring a bit of her style into your home!

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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.