This month we are delighted to welcome Stephanie Peterson Jones to the Textile Design Lab as our guest expert. Stephanie and I both live in Asheville, NC and it has been wonderful getting to know her over the past year!
Stephanie is a talented children’s illustrator who
licenses her artwork for products such as books, cards, calendars,
puzzles and more. She is also the author of Drawing for Joy, “a one year
program for the beginning artist formatted as a fun and creative
progression of daily prompts.”
We are so excited to
bring Stephanie’s wealth of experience to the Textile Design Lab guest
expert role. On Tuesday February 26th, Stephanie will be in the Lab
sharing her thoughts on meditation, drawing, creativity and working in
this inspiring industry. We invite you to learn more about Stephanie in
Please tell us a bit about your design background and career path.
artist seed was planted as a child. I was fortunate to be brought up in
a neighborhood where all the kids would sit around a coffee table and
draw for fun. In college, I had almost enough credits for a degree in
Graphic Design but left to go to NYC and study illustration at Parson’s
School of Design, and would take the train once a week from CT. This
brings to mind the song, “The long and winding road….”. My career path
evolved in response to what was and wasn’t working at the time, which is
how it has gone for me. Some people are so clear about exactly what
they want to do and don’t waver, but that’s not how it’s gone for me. I
spent a few years in Corporate America as a graphic designer, and I
started getting freelance illustration gigs. One was a weekly grocery
store ad which I created the illustration and lettering for. It was a
steady gig for 7 years so enabled me to become a full-time freelancer.
Eventually I signed up with Cornell & McCarthy (now Cornell &
Co.), a children’s illustration agency and they provided me with a lot
of great work in educational publishing and kids books. I also started
licensing with an agent and did Surtex twice, which was great fun. and I
met a lot of people there, both artists and clients.
years I did a lot of freelance work with C.R. Gibson. I took over an
art director position there for someone going on maternity leave, which
was a lot of fun and I learned so much there. They gave me a lot of
illustration work too and became a very long term client. I also
illustrated Peek-a-Moo in 1998, which became a huge hit, and has been
reprinted over 25 times and in several languages too!
with the licensing came burn-out, because I was always trying to create
exactly what the client was looking for and meanwhile keeping up with
the latest trends. I was living in Boulder, CO and had developed a
passion for Pilates, and decided to train to be a Pilates Instructor. I
moved to CT and got married, and for the next ten years I ran a small
boutique studio. I did a few children’s books during that time but not
too much illustration, and eventually I missed art. I decided to follow a
life-long dream and become an art teacher. I finished my degree and
enrolled in a teacher certification program, sold my Pilates Studio but
still continued to teach. I taught in the public schools for a couple of
years part-time, and it wasn’t easy for me. My independent and
entrepreneurial nature didn’t fit in with the public school’s
bureaucracy. When my husband and I moved to Asheville, NC I decided to
commit to being an artist again, but I made some changes.
my art career these past few years hasn’t been easy. The economy was
suffering and the internet affected both what and how people were
buying. I reached out to some of my former clients who gave me work but
often the fees were smaller than in the past and it’s been harder to
land a licensing deal. I produced some speculative work, and those ideas
have turned into wall art and puzzles that are licensed to the likes of
Target, Sam’s Club and TJMaxx. I also connected with Quarto
(publishers) and presented a book idea which became a book that I wrote
and illustrated called Drawing for Joy. Facebook and Instagram have
become a great source of connecting with other artists and art buyers
and I’ve grown an etsy site by posting there.
After three years I
decided to open a studio/gallery in the River Arts District in
Asheville. It’s been really nice getting to know other local artists,
and meeting the tourists who come and visit the studio. I sell paintings
and prints here, as well as my books and puzzles. I also have some
print on demand products that I also sell on etsy such as flash cards,
tea towels, pillows and t-shirts.
Things seem to be going well
now, and I am happy. In addition to having my studio, I teach Pilates
one day a week, and have a fellowship with Arts for Life, for who I am
creating an art program in the adult oncology department.
I am completing final illustrations for a journal for Peter Pauper
press, preparing presentations of fabric design for Robert Kaufman, and
creating artwork to be licensed with Metcolors. I am also pursuing
clients who I met at the Atlanta Gift Show in January. I am also getting
ready for Blueprint, where I will be showing my art with a friend and
art agent, Lisa Larsen.
us about your design process. What media/design tools do you like to
use? What are your go-to sources for design inspiration? (Any books,
websites, magazines, etc. that you would recommend)
like to use traditional media for my illustrations and paintings;
watercolor or acrylics and lots of black and white pens. When I first
moved to Asheville I did a lot of line art for the adult coloring market
and I fell in love with fountain pens. Sometimes I add collage and
block printing to my paintings. I love recycling materials so I use
clippings from magazines and found paper. I scan my work and make
adjustments, or combine backgrounds with foregrounds, and put things
into repeat, using Photoshop and Illustrator. I bought an ipad Pro last
year, and made a new year’s resolution to learn Procreate this year.
am inspired quite a bit by ethnic patterns and folk art. You will see
it in my style and there are almost always patterns involved in my work.
I am inspired by artists who incorporate lots of pattern and color in
their work. I’ve always loved surface pattern. My mother was a
seamstress and I loved to pick out fabric for her to make my dresses.
We’d go to the fabric stores and look at the rows of bolts of fabric and
I loved the colors and patterns. I loved Merrimekko. I wanted them all.
love to look at Pinterest. When I am working on a particular theme, I
find a lot of good reference material there and also refer to my
collection of art and reference books. I love Uppercase magazine for eye
candy, a magazine highlighting my peeps.
An important part of my
day I call “my daily meditation”. This started as a practice I developed
in graduate school that consists of meditation followed by a short
period of art making. When I wake up (I am an early riser), I grab a
beverage and go to my studio. Using watercolors on Strathmore 500
postcards, I paint and draw with a focus on mindfulness and flow (mental
state of complete absorption in the current experience). The image can
be completely freeform but sometimes I am inspired to do an animal or
pattern. I breathe as I meditate through the process and intentionally
let go of my thoughts along the way. When I first started this process I
committed to 15 minutes of art making. Lately, I might take up to an
hour or more, depending on the day ahead of me. My daily meditations
often lead to paintings or illustrations.
you talk about your experience with buyers in the illustration market
and what they are looking for? What can designers do to stand out?
think that buyers of illustration are looking for a fresh new look.
Finding your unique voice as an artist, and sticking with it is the best
way to stand out. The burn-out I experienced years ago was the result
of trying so hard to please my clients that I wasn’t focusing enough
attention on if the art represented me. One way this happened was that I
was creating art for products that I didn’t believe in environmentally,
to a point where it took the joy out of the process. Spend some time
regularly making work that is just for you. When you are true to
yourself, your work will feel joyful, and that energy will appeal to
both you and your clients.
Art buyers are super busy, and are
contacted daily by many artists. One of the best things you can do to
stand out is to show your work mocked up on the potential client’s
product. Be professional, cheerful and easy to work. If you can make it
easier for a client to see how your work will enhance their product, you
will be ahead of the game.
The illustration I do is primarily for
the gift, stationery, fabric and children’s markets. I attend Gift
Shows, Surtex, and the Stationery Show to seek out clients, connect with
my peers (so much fun), and identify trends. Most of my success finding
the right clients has happened when I approached them. The reason this
has worked is because I expressed passion about what they do and also
show confidence that my artwork will make them shine.
Since I was
essentially out of the business for over 10 years, these last few years I
have focused on developing my portfolio, creating collections that are
current to show to potential clients. I do a lot of speculative work,
which is good and not good. The good part is that you get to create
exactly what you want from the theme to the style. The not so good part
is that you can also end up spending a lot of time doing work that will
never be licensed or used, which is frustrating and exhausting.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced throughout your design career and how have you overcome them?
of the experiences that put me over the edge was a client who hired me
to illustrate a complex children’s book with flaps and dials. They had
me do sketches and each time I handed them in, there were major
revisions in the book’s format, and I had to start from scratch each
time. I realized that I was being used to help them figure out the
format of the book, meaning, they had no idea of what they wanted before
putting me to work. There was nothing in the contract specifying
compensation for these major revisions and each time it required many
hours of additional work. My agent eventually negotiated some extra
money, but a lot of damage had been done along the way. So when you
negotiate a contract, make sure there are provisions in place for every
It seems that more and more companies are
asking for art for licensing deals without providing an advance.
Licensing art can be profitable, but not always and sometimes a flat fee
is the better way to go. This is a complicated topic, but I would
suggest that you find out the company’s plans for distribution, and do
the math, before accepting their proposal. Insist on some payment up
front. I’ve had disasterous outcomes with prominent companies that have
severely affected my ability to pay my mortgage.
fortunate to work with good agents who have stood up for me, and I have
learned from them to leave my emotions out of business as much as
possible. I am far better now at standing up for myself, negotiating
contracts with kindness and calmness, and walking away if necessary. I
used to feel that I needed an agent to handle my contracts so that I
could stay separate, and maintain the joy I needed to make artwork, but
now I feel like I can handle contracts for myself most of the time.
consistent income can be a challenge as an illustrator. You never know
what to expect from your licensing contracts and often your payments
don’t come when expected. Many artists have several sources of income to
balance the irregularity of a freelancer’s pay. It can be teaching,
having an etsy shop, a part-time job at Starbucks, or something
completely unrelated. I am ever grateful for my Pilates training which
helps me maintain consistency of income.
What inspired you to create your book, Drawing for Joy?
I mentioned before, when I was in graduate school I did a daily art and
meditation practice which was designed to see whether meditation
practice before art making would create a more mindful, flow art making
experience for me. After doing this for 3 months, and writing about the
results, I realized what a profound impact meditation had on my art
making. With the intention of being in the present moment, art became
meditation. This is what became what I call “my daily meditation”, which
I still continue to do almost every day.
I was so moved by this
experiment, and excited about the results, that I started to write a
proposal for a book about art and meditation. I worked on it
occasionally, but it mostly sat in a pile on my desk. When I finally
sent it in in January 2015, it was accepted!! The book changed some from
what I proposed, and is a book for beginners about having a daily art
practice. It includes daily prompts and art starts, guiding the reader
to draw for 15 minutes daily, improving with the addition of skills and
practice, over the course of a year.
Can you tell us a bit about your meditation practice and how that affects your work as an artist?
so many people, I can be my own worst critic when it came to making
art. I felt like an imposter and that I was fooling the world and one
day soon, I’d be found out. My art wasn’t a reflection of my most
authentic self, and I felt like I was running to keep up rather than
growing. When I had a chance in graduate school to design a culminating
project, this is what I came up with.
Since I have been doing my
“Daily meditation” since around 2012, it has evolved from a separate
meditation and art making time to a combined one, where I put watercolor
on a postcard while incorporating meditation practices of mindfulness,
breath and letting go of all thoughts. This keeps me in a flow
Having this practice in my life is the best thing I
do. It gives me a period of time every day that I am completely myself. I
am not in a critical mindset, as a matter of fact, I have no
expectations at all for what I am making. It’s fun and relaxing. That
spills over into my regular art making time, which has flow, and where I
am more able to let go of expectations. A nice outcome of practicing
anything with that kind of regularity is that it also helps you improve
at that thing, without trying. It’s just a result of doing it all the
advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or
influenced you? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers
trying to build successful careers of their own? Any advice for
designers hoping to break into illustration in particular?
of the most important and memorable things that has stayed with me was a
portfolio meeting I had with a potential client. The art director was
looking through the pages of my portfolio with genuine interest, and
asked me questions along the way. At the end of the meeting he said that
he loved my work, but it wasn’t the right fit for his needs. The way he
said it hit home and I got the important lesson that you will never be a
fit for everyone, and that is perfectly OK.
Get to know people in
your industry: other artists, agents, printers, manufacturers. The
people you know are really important, they become your friends, and your
people who live a similar life to you. They can all be wonderful
resources. And you never know who might refer you to some wonderful
Another thing I would say is that timing is important.
Don’t give up on a potential client if they say no once, or even twice.
Having your work show up in front of them regularly will make you easy
to reach when it’s the right time.
I would also say that I think
it’s important to have a side hustle that you can depend on, if you need
the income. I am the kind of person who has a lot of interests so for
me it’s somewhat easy to figure out. But more importantly, it can really
help you when you need it to.