Friday, May 22, 2015

We've Moved to Squarespace

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I've moved me and all of my stuff over to Squarespace. Nothing personal, Blogger. I was just looking for a place to host my work, blog and store, all under one roof. Also, it's really pretty over there. Not free, but really pretty. Come visit me at the new Wing+Tree website and blog. I'm not completely unpacked - but I'll show you around anyway.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Naming a Business: Tell Your Story

I am a story teller. I find comfort in the steady cadence of a story well told, the way life and love and loss are woven out of shapes and sounds. My life is full of stories. Yours is too.

Your business name has a story behind it, even if it's named after you. Who you are, who you love, what makes you laugh, why you chose self employment over punching a time clock - yours is a story that your customers want to hear. Give them a reason to choose you over anyone else - show them your heart, your hands at work, your triumphs, your mistakes. Share your process, your epiphanies, your plans for the future. Tell them your story.

Here is mine: This is my baby brother Russell. He was five years old in the fall of 1961 when we moved to our new house. As he and our 26 year old mom stood in the back yard exchanging I love yous, Rusty reached for the biggest, tallest love he could see, lifted his hands to the sky and cried "Oh mummy - I love you as much as the trees!" In the 50+ years that have passed since that autumn day, the word Trees as an expression of love has made its way into every card & letter, every moment of tenderness, every goodbye. This tree story has been told and retold so many times that it is an integral part of our family history.

In 2011, I bought 9 metal channel letters at a local consignment store. Four consonants. C-C-R-T. Five vowels. E-E-E-E-I. They didn't seem to have much to say and spent the first year scattered around our dusty studio. When my new desk was installed, I cleaned them up and arranged them randomly across the top of my new wall cabinets.

Months later, I looked at that odd assemblage and broke into a wide smile. There, hidden among the gibberish was the name my little niece Taylor called me - REE. And so REE it was, until one day the letter T finally caught my attention. I laughed out loud, called it serendipity and added another chapter to my story.

In the summer of 2012, our new assistant suggested a use for one of the Cs. For a time, TREE was rearranged to spell ERECT, which we found endlessly entertaining.

This is my baby boy, Neal. He was five years old in the summer of 1998 when we moved into our new house. Surrounded by tall trees that waved and danced in the wind, our woods were alive with wild life and bird song. My favorite was the Chickadee. This little black and white bird has been a part of my memories since I was a tiny little girl.

Each time we heard its song my mother would feign surprise, look around and whisper "Listen! That's your bird! Do you hear it?" She'd mimic its three note call - one high note followed by two repeating lower notes - "Where's Sheree? Where's Sheree?" She'd hold me in her arms as I looked around in awe, never seeing that bird but knowing that its call was only for me. It was my bird.

When Neal was born, that early morning bird sang a new song. Like my mother, I held him in my arms, looked up at the trees and exclaimed "Listen! Do you hear that? That's your bird!" And I'd repeat his name in that same three note call - "Neal Michael, Neal Michael." It was his bird.

At 18, Neal was a 6'-4", 230 pound man. I remember the day when he poked his head in the kitchen door and yelled "Mom, do you hear that? That's my bird!" Outside the window, our bird was singing our songs. It was a bonding moment, the two of us smiling, each warmed by our childhood memories. I could see the future in my mind so clearly: Him singing that three note song when he passed on his bird.

Neal died in a motorcycle street racing accident on August 20th, 2012. He was 19. That winter, after our first real snow, I went to check on his grave. The roads leading to his place beneath the pines went from plowed to tire tracks to virgin snow. There was no place or way to turn around so I continued on. An hour later, as I stood beside my hopelessly stuck car, I heard the sweet, familiar song of Neal's bird. His body may be gone, but his spirit is always with me. He is my angel and it soothes me to imagine him blazing across the skies on strong, wide wings calling "I'm with you, I'm with you."

Choosing a name for your business takes time. You'll turn away hundreds of possibilities before the right one presents itself. When it does, you'll know. Saying no leads you closer to yes - to the right meaning, the right sound, shape, story. For me, yes began with a reminder from the universe. My new business name and tag line speaks to house and home - perfect for my new line of home decor and art prints. Wing & Tree. It's easy to pronounce and remember, looks good in print and has a meaningful story behind it. I love it.

This is the third in a series of Naming a Business posts. Read the first here and the second here.
What is your business name and how did you choose it? Let us know in the comments section below.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Naming a Business: Brainstorming

The process of choosing a name for my new art/design business was so complex, I'm wondering if it's even possible to reconstruct it here. If you follow the path described here, you'll at least have a list of possibilities to brainstorm - or present to your family and friends. In the end, the name you choose will have to speak to you, whether or not your best friend or co-workers like it. 

In my last post I referenced a few Skillshare classes I'd taken. The worst class - in terms of polish and presentation - actually gave me the best direction. In Name Your Product in 60 Minutes, Sorin Amzu introduced me to the concept of mind mapping - a form of brainstorming. The object is to write down everything that comes to mind about a particular thing. Since I couldn't completely relate my quest to his presentation, I Googled the process and watched a few videos for clarification. One suggested using myself as an example, which I did in the map below. The only thing that keeps an exercise like this from continuing forever is running out of paper. There's much more to my awesome, complex self than listed here, but it was a great warm up. I'd like to continue it on a larger sheet. With more pictures. 

This exercise generated four additional, two sided sheets. One listed the characteristics of my target audience - my perfect customer (female, ages 25-55, college educated, art appreciator, loves house & home, decorating, nesting, bit of a DIYer, etc.) Another was covered with words to describe the characteristics of my product offering (abstract, colorful, sophisticated, artsy, floral, geometric, pattern, word art). A third focused on me - what I care about (humor, design, language, consciousness, spiritualism, law of attraction, seeking) Still another contained lengthy notes on branding - taken while watching the Skillshare classes - Branding Your Creative Business: Define Your Brand and Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity.

Both instructors suggest beginning with a short brand mission statement - describe your business, what you offer, what you do. Virgin Airline's Richard Branson recommends using the 140 character Twitter template. As an example, my day job statement is "hand painted, personalized pottery gifts for weddings, new baby & family celebrations."

Identifying your customer: Understanding who will buy your offering is so important. Knowing who this person is helps you speak specifically to them. On the list of questions: Name, age, gender, job roll, education, relationship status, children, pets, income, music - you get the idea. Knowing your customer will help you figure out how to market to her - not the gal wearing a hoodie and pajama pants in Market Basket.

There is so much more to branding than the little, incomplete paragraphs I've crafted here. Part of being successful in a creative business is being a sponge. Read everything. Watch everything. Ask questions. Hang out with other creatives, even if it's only online.

{Uncompensated endorsement: Skillshare offers tons of classes on design, business, photography, DIY, writing and more. If you're in or are starting a creative business, I earnestly suggest you look into this great site. It is totally worth $10 a month.}

In the middle of all of this brainstorming, I found Elle & Company, owned by a most adorable Lauren Hooker. Her logo design portfolio made me realize that I needed a logo and it had to look good in print. And because I fell in love with her lovely little ampersand, my search for Something & Company begun.

After three days of note taking, video watching, muttering under my breath and not sleeping, I knew to avoid odd spellings, the difficult to pronounce, the too much like someone/something else. I'd read credible advice to use my own name, something known/unknown. Something descriptive. Abstract. Historic. Pets. Vacation spots. Latin. Misspellings. People, places, things. WTF. This is the song that never ends.

Another weekend came and went. I'm back in the studio, standing at my desk in front of a blank Photoshop document. Tick.Tick.Tick. Something & Company. Ree (my nickname) & Company. No - too heavy on the right. Every word I can think of that stands for Design & Company. Every word I can think of that stands for Art & Company. EWICTOTSF Humor & Company. I rifle through my notes. Read "stories help people feel connected to the brand." I love a good story. My coffee's gone cold, a great excuse to get away from this exercise. On my way back from the microwave, I glance up at this sign above my old desk.

Hey, can I tell you a story?


Monday, May 11, 2015

Naming a Business: Branding

I am a project driven person. I approach each new {big} idea with single minded purpose - throwing myself into my work to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep. Some might call this a form of OCD. Whatever. It's what I do and I've been this way for so long, I'm barely aware of how insane I may look to others. Just get out of my way and let me get this thing done. Once I'm done, my interest, energy and adrenaline are depleted. I'm cooked.

After completing the launch of our new Sketchbook Collection last month, I found myself in my usual directionless, post-project funk. My desk and work table are littered with the remains of that project - piles of sample plates, brochure rejects and a growing stack of unanswered, un-dealt-with correspondence. Which includes my 2014 taxes and worker's comp insurance. I know. I publicly promise to deal with them Monday morning before I do one single other thing. Pinky swear.

What's been keeping me up these days is our new line of art prints. When I first got the art print idea, it seemed like such a simple thing. Design some prints. Put them up for sale on our site. Ya. No. That was before my Number One, Nicole questioned my un-thought-out decision to sell them under the Museware Pottery brand name.

She pointed out that because we are known as Museware Pottery, some might be confused by the new offering. Kind of like Coke all of a sudden deciding to sell batteries. Or that they might choose a print over pottery wedding gift - effectively causing us to cannibalize ourselves. While I did not agree with the latter, her observation combined with My Guido's relentless insistence that Art Print Company be a completely separate entity - gave me pause. Thoughtful Sheree is a student. Don't tell me what to do Sheree barrels ahead and does whatever the hell she feels like doing. Because she knows everything. Just for the record, I don't. I just act like I do, which explains why self employment suits me better than getting fired from yet another job.

Student Sheree recognized that she needed to understand branding before she made any more decisions. One of my first Google searches led me to Iowa State University's Building Your Brand page. I have to tell you, I fricken love the internet. Everything in the whole wide world, the good, the bad, the sacred and profane - all of it - right at my fingertips. And me, in my bathrobe. Anyway, the post helped me to define, from a business perspective, what a brand represents to the consumer mind, and why I should care.

Recognizing the importance of branding led me back to my go-to place for learning creative and business stuff, Skillshare. In the last months, I've taken dozens of classes through Skillshare and almost without exception, have come away learning really important stuff for refining and developing my business. My last two classes - Branding Your Creative Business and Branding the Logo - Crafting a Brand Identity made me realize that Art Print Company needed its own identity. Possibly even its own website. Which meant I wasn't just selling art prints. I was starting a whole new business.

Once I got over the enormity of this revelation, I realized that Art Print Company needed a name. Naming a business may be one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur faces. Names are permanent. And people respond to them as if they matter, which means they do. My first inclination was to name it after myself. I've been in this business for 10 years and a quick Google search reveals pages of stuff associated with my moniker - none of which I'm ashamed of. Thank God the internet did not exist in the 70s. Since I have at least some name recognition, it seemed like a good - if uninspired idea. Armed with direction and resolve, I grabbed my reserved domain name and applied it to my new, unbuilt Squarespace site and called it done.

Then, like a bop on the head from The Universe, I found the blog post Naming A Business After Yourself: When Is It A Good Idea? by the practically famous Emily McDowell. She did exactly that. She also made a credible case for not doing the same. Since her entire fan base finds her by her name (or by Googling "the Emily that makes cards") she had to find a way to transform her one-woman-show self into the growing, staff supported, product producing powerhouse she and her brand has become.

Once I read Emily's argument, my whole running with scissors momentum ground to a slow, disappointing WTF halt. Once I got over myself, I enrolled in another Skillshare class called Naming Your Product in 60 Minutes. In spite of being poorly organized (videos uploaded in reverse order) and difficult to follow (sorry, Sorin) it did contain enough useful information to get me all excited about finding a real, lasting name for my new ... stuff.

Sorin introduced me to the concept of mind dumping - brainstorming ideas by drawing them out rather than linear list making. While my efforts were not nearly as clever as this one, they were a useful way to organize a ton of random information. I spent the entire week brainstorming - writing out pages and pages of ideas in a form known on the interwebs as MindMapping. In some ways, it was the same kind of fun as giving birth - an analogy I regularly apply to the creative process. In other ways, it was a creative project just begging to be developed. What I eventually came up with makes me so happy, I can't wait to share it.


Friday, May 1, 2015

On Age & Beauty

I turned 60 on April 10th. Becoming 60 and being 60 are two different things. The first is somewhat entertaining. The latter is something of a surprise. First, and I know it sounds cliche - it sneaks up on you. I've stared at a motionless clock. Endured an endless week. Wondered how much more winter or summer or rain or waiting I could take. But the years - they slid by like a deep, silent river.

My 19 year old son, Neal, used to tell me I had no idea what it was like to be a teenager. To him, the decades that separated us were lifetimes. In some ways they were. One gathers a lot of wisdom between 19 and 57. But the heart, the fundamental part of our being, the part of us that always was and always will be - that part doesn't change. I may not be the wing nut I was at 19, but my core self remains unchanged by the passage of time. Nineteen may seem a lifetime ago, but to me, it was yesterday.

It was yesterday when I stood in a featureless brick building, raised my hand and took an oath to serve in the US Navy. I was 19. Yesterday when I carried a sleeping newborn into a tiny, empty apartment and began my life as his mom. I was 38. Yesterday when I watched them lower him into a grassy lawn, surrounded by our family and friends. I was 57.

When I started this post, I was laughing - at the passage of time, the saggy boobs, the chicken neck, the absurdity of how little time we have. Right now, I'm crying - a little over the loss, but more over the sheer beauty of life. Of his smooth, handsome face, smiling at me from the lock screen of my phone. Of the fact that he picked me - imperfect, wonderful me - to be his mom. I'm crying over the overwhelming love I feel when I think about him, and how he continues to return it, showering me with feelings so intense, crying is the only way to bear it.

While searching Facebook for a picture of Neal to add to this post, I came across a note I'd placed on his page:

I wish you could just come home. I wish your leaving was a bad dream. You can't. It wasn't. Here are my wishes for you: I wish you by my side every day, guiding my hand. I wish to always hear memories of your laugh and the way you called my name (mom mom mummy mumma ma mom mom.) I wish to find the wisdom of your new life in the choices I make for mine. I wish for your happiness, your fast and free flight, your knowing. I wish to spend the rest of my life honoring you - my only son and my absolute best teacher. I love you, Neal.

I turned 60 on April 10th. I've lived more years than I have ahead. And as the days unfold, I'll use the wisdom I've gained from the long road, the forgiveness I've received from my mistakes, the softness I've learned from the loving. I'll use the wishes I had for my son and the hopes I had for his life to guide me. And I earnestly, sincerely share those wishes with you, whoever you are.  To quote Abraham - there is great love for you here.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

In My Dreams

Yesterday was not my best day. Even as I drove to my favorite breakfast diner - a decade long ritual, I could not shake off the urge to sleep. I yawned through breakfast, causing my table-mates to joke about my wild relationship with my Guido. What they don't know is that we have been together for nearly three years and no long feel the urge to romp all over the place. We still romp, but in a more controlled, we'd better get this done because it's nearly midnight and we're both tired kind of way. Too much sex is not my problem. My problem is a brain that I cannot switch off. 

I left work at 3 yesterday and made a bee-line for the couch. Just before I went under, I checked my phone - 3:33. Since 33 is a significant number for me, I took it as a sign that this was the right time to shut the brain down. Stop planning, scheming, making, doing. I fell into a dreamless sleep and awoke at five, feeling - better. 

Dreamless. Lately all of my dreams involve settings that look like obstacle courses. Steep, slippery mud covered inclines. Me - scaling, sliding, falling, reaching the top, strong and tan and muscular. A snow covered mountain side sliced by gaps and fissures caused by a spring melt. Me - jumping, clearing, landing - scrabbling my way to the top. Vast, truss supported mill buildings filled with doors and passageways and machines and strangers. Me - wandering the halls, wiggling locked doorknobs, making my way up long flights of stairs, moving equipment from one room to another. The crest of a huge mountaintop, overlooking roads lined with buses and trucks and the black soil of newly tilled fields. Me - lifting my arms and flying down the mountainside, gliding over the roads and fields, feeling the sun and wind on my face. 

What the fuck. No wonder I'm exhausted. I plan and design all day then climb mountains and fly at night. Wait a minute! I climb mountains and fly! Ha! In not one of my dream do I fail. I always make it to the top. Always. According to the teachings of Abraham - dreams are a highly creative state. So while all of my dream themes involve struggle, I manage to find a way around, through, over. Which has always been the story of my life. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Art Print Mockups

I've spent the last couple of months shopping around for a mockup program to feature our new, in development line of art prints. Yesterday I purchased Mockup Scene Creator from Creative Market and am very pleased with the results. This program includes a resizable desk that can be personalized with accessories like lamps, plants, books & magazines, coffee cups, Chinese takeout and even this fluffy grey cat. Particularly cool is the large selection of posters, photo and picture frames, which was the whole point of my search.

Placing our art prints in the frames was easy - it just took a couple of clicks and and the results are pretty credible. It's also easy to switch up the scene to reflect the use of the room for which the print was designed. The items give the print a sense of scale, which will be useful to potential buyers.

I'm kind of psyched about these art prints. We've been pottery people since the beginning, so having a new, well priced offering that can ship in a couple of days will be a refreshing change for us. It will also give Nicole and Kris a break from me and my big ideas. A couple of months ago, this stuff was all tucked away in a photo box. They encouraged me to find a way to use it in my work. I thought they were nuts. If the early response to this new work is any indication, we may find that I'm the nut. Which would not be news to a lot of people. 


Friday, April 24, 2015

Designing For Museware

At the end of the month we launch a large new pottery collection called Sketchbook. The last time I introduced new designs was back in 2009. My retailers long ago stopped asking us what's new. What's new is that we cut our lead time in half. Launched a new website. Produced our first print catalog in 6 years. Found out that there's life after the loss of a child. Learned that if you hire enough meh workers, eventually a gem named Kris will materialize. 

The bulk of our business is wedding gifts, which means that from April - November, we are balls to the wall. Come January, we clean. Paint. Organize. Tweak the site. Count the weeks til wedding season. And since I am the designer and the only one who produces any designs, if new work doesn't happen in Q1, it's not happening until the following year. 

This year, it happened. I got over my fear, lethargy, grief - whatever and made a decision. 2015 is the year of Finally, New Stuff from Museware. This decision was followed by a creative block that lasted for weeks and made me question myself as a designer. Getting over it required my stepping out of my comfort zone and sharing stuff I do in secret when no one is watching - my own really naive drawings.

Our new pottery collection is based entirely on my own Sharpie on copy paper while watching bad TV sketches. So is my in-development line of art prints. Or fabric panels. Digital downloads. Clip art. Or anything that we can offer during Q1 when everything grinds to a halt. I don't know where this work will lead, but I do know that that I find that little house up there so stinking cute, I just wanted to show it to someone. Anyone. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Keeping It Simple

A few weeks ago I came up with the big idea to create and post a pattern a day. What I did not know was that this idea would soon feel like a pair of cement shoes next to my bed. I took a fun new thing and turned it into a third shift, minimum wage job. So I quit. I'm going back to creating patterns only when I feel like it. 

Last night I did not feel like creating, so I spent time on Pinterest looking at pattern boards. Here's what I found. I don't like my stuff. It does not jump off of the page at me. It does not ask me to look at it. And I'll tell you why - because it tries too hard. It's filled with too many shapes and too many colors and too much too much.

I'm at work and should be working on my website but don't feel like it. So I created this simple little pattern instead. Feels pretty good. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Finding My Style

My fabric design journey began in 2011 when I picked up a copy of Kimberly Kight's new book, A Field Guide to Fabric Design.  I was lead to her new publication by a link on her popular blog, True Up. Kim has since moved on from blogging about fabric to a collaborative fabric design effort for Cotton & Steel, a division of RJR Fabrics. Yay Kim! 

Most of my attention was focused on the pages describing the mechanics of repeats. Because to the untrained eye, it kind of looks like magic. In the section "Designing Repeats by Hand" she explained explained step by step how to physically create a repeat. There was something about the act of drawing, cutting and reassembling the design that solidified the concept in my mind. 

According to Kim, textile designs fall into three distinct categories: Floral, Geometric and Novelty. With the exception of my first ever Illustrator (Ai) teacup pattern, most of my patterns fall into the floral category. While I was not consciously aware of the choice, florals are a good choice for the me because stylized flowers are easy to draw and are happy even when rendered in non-traditional colors.

Because I've been designing in black and white for almost a decade, working with color does not come naturally. And since it slows me down so much, my last several designs feature the same recycled color palette. The cool thing about Illustrator is that recoloring designs is incredibly easy - literally the touch of a button. 

Finding one's personal style is an organic, evolutionary process that can't be rushed. It took me more than a year of creating abstract design collages before a distinct style began to emerge. It was fun to hear followers say that they recognized my work before even seeing my name. My newest pottery designs are based on hand sketches and are a real departure from my earlier work. Even they have a Sheree-ness to them. Eventually, so will my pattern work. 

In my 30 year long design career, all of my mistakes and missteps have been made in private. I've shared my work only after it's been worked and reworked and scaled and tweaked to death. Sharing this very personal design process, along with all of its imperfections, is a bit scary. And a bit fun. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

On Becoming a Mac

This pattern repeat was created using three of the motifs from yesterday's unfinished pattern along with an additional flower motif. Start to finish, this took about 90 minutes to complete. It would have taken less time if I hadn't gone wacko deleting programs from my computer yesterday. Like, half of the programs listed. So now my computer won't open images in Photoshop, Illustrator or any other program. I did this because Adobe Creative Cloud is a memory hog and I wanted to free some up. My 6 year old PC is perfectly happy running QuickBooks and Word. Photoshop and Illustrator? Not so much. 

I used my antique work computer instead of my shiny new Mac because lately, my Mac hasn't been very happy, either.

Back story: In January, I decided to learn surface pattern design and signed up for Jessica Swift's Pattern Camp. And since the entire design community uses Mac, I got the big idea that I needed one, too. So the plan was to learn a new operating system at the same time I was learning Illustrator. Totally Not Recommended. 

I purchased a 13" MacBook Pro and a seriously gorgeous 27" Thunderbolt monitor. Oh. My. God. Even the box the laptop came in is gorgeous. I set up the new system - which took minutes instead of hours. And had practically no cords. My PC is festooned with cords and wires. 

I was perfectly happy with my purchase until I started producing actual patterns in Ai. Shortly after finishing my class, I was introduced to the spinning Pinwheel of Death. A close cousin to Microsoft's Blue Screen of Death, the pinwheel is a candy colored, smiley faced warning. We became friends. Messages like "not enough memory to save/preview" began to appear. Not a good sign.  

Concerned, I lovingly carried my new MacBook Pro to my local Apple Genius Bar for a check up. And learned that running Adobe Creative Cloud used all of my RAM. All 8 gigs of it. There was nothing left for saving or any other command. And there was no way to upgrade the memory. 

Yesterday, while lamenting my dilemma, My Guido suggested that I return my laptop. Since I bought it nearly 4 months ago, the thought never occurred to me. I packed it up and drove to the mall. I can not tell you how impressed I am with Best Buy. They took it back and gave me full credit for it. I handed them an additional $1140 and brought home the biggest, baddest 15" MacBook Pro made. It's a sleek, shiny, low slung race car with dual exhaust. I can't wait to drive it.  

When I do, I'll need to rework this pattern to eliminate those holes. Because rushing almost always produces mediocre results, I'll take my time. Add some variety. Work on the colors. Or not. Maybe instead, I'll start researching the Mac that's going to replace my work computer. Since I spend all day on it, this one will be a rocket ship. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

30 Minute Pattern Design Fail

Yesterday I had the big idea to create a pattern in 30 minutes. It was a fail. I thought I'd save time by using existing artwork and used these from our soon to be released Sketchbook Collection. The time I saved was spend futzing around with color. I've been designing in black and white for over a decade - color is a new and scary component of pattern design. I'm compelled to play with it but find it hangs me up every time.

The plan was to group a collection of motifs together and to repeat that group several times. Easy, right? Missing was something soft, solid and round to balance out the long, skinny and open. Finding this new element will be easy. Creating a cohesive design without this balancing component will take forever. So while the time challenge was a fail, I've decided this pattern won't be. I'll put some time into it tonight and post the results tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Minute Pattern Design

I love the work I produce when I set design and time limits. Some of my best collage work on Polyvore was created in less than 5 minutes. Minute design forces me to shut down the critic and to make choices based on intuition. With only three months of Ai experience under my belt, day long design marathons are common. I finish my patterns exhausted, wondering how I'll live long enough to fill a portfolio.

For this personal challenge, I set a limit of two motifs and seven colors. And a really loose time limit: Not All Day. And I surprised myself. In less than an hour, I created this cute little hippie print. Tonight I'll see what I can produce in 30 minutes.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Road to Design-Land

join me for tea? 
Since embarking on my Surface Pattern Design journey, I find myself immersed in a world filled with incredible talent. Pattern design was barely on my radar before taking my first online course with Jessica Swift. I was busily consumed by my day job at Museware Pottery, happy surveying the world's creative output on Pinterest and wondering when I'd jump back into my own. 

Until very recently, I was one of the few designers I knew, so my design journey has been a more of a walk down a quiet dirt road. Through my new found community, I'm part of a happy group of creatives, rolling down a pattern embellished highway, my head hanging out the window and the wind in my hair. It's way more fun than the dirt road, and since I don't even have to leave the house to participate, suits my homebody life style perfectly. I join in when I want company and log off when I don't.  

What particularly impresses me is the generosity of the design community. In our "don't touch my stuff" world, it's refreshing to find so many creatives sharing their journey and process with those of us just beginning. Jessica encourages us to pursue our wild and colorful dreams. Bonnie Christine assures us that in a world full of talkers and makers, there is room for us. For me. I love their attitude of plenty in a world focused on scarcity. 

Because I am hungry for information, inspiration and direction, I spend a lot of time looking at the work of other designers. This is a double edged sword as I'm both inspired and overwhelmed by what I see. It's easy to wonder how I can stand out in a world so filled with talent - a world that's so accessible. Part of me thinks I should shut it down and concentrate on creating my own direction. The other knows that without inspiration, I am a small boat adrift in the middle of a calm sea. 

The other day I found the site Designers for Hire, through a link on the Print & Pattern Blog. OMG! What a wonderful look into the colorful world of pattern design and illustration. There are well over 100 designers listed on this curated, invitation only directory - each chosen for design excellence. It's become my go-to place to hob nob with other creatives. Talk about design blog heaven! 

And so, I begin my journey down a yellow brick road that winds through fields of flowers, giraffes, owls, teacups and birdies. I'll follow it past the geometrics and abstracts, the paper cut and hand painted. Where it will lead, I cannot say. I just know that it's a road worth traveling. And I won't be alone. 


Monday, April 13, 2015

Offset Repeats in Illustrator

Completing my first complex pattern repeat in Adobe Illustrator (Ai) gave me a confidence boost. I've become a pattern making machine and have even challenged myself to create a pattern a day. I'm better at starting things than finishing them, so we'll see how this goes.

This pattern was created using an offset rather than basic repeat. At first glance, creating offset patterns seems complicated - it requires a little bit of math and a lot of concentration. Because offsets repeat in a vertical brick configuration rather than side by side, offset repeats are more difficult to detect, making your pattern more seamless.  

This pattern began with these simple hand sketches on photo copy paper. Sketching is a new art form for me - though calling my drawings art is generous. Copy paper is less intimidating than any kind of art paper, it's smooth-ish under my Sharpie and my scans come out clean. It's also everywhere I want to be, which means I can create on the fly - at home, at work or at My Guido's kitchen table. 

Unlike sketches brought into Photoshop, which retain their wonky, shaky hand-drawn flaws, sketches brought into Ai are made lovely. Through a process called Image Trace, Ai fairy dust smooths out crooked lines and other hand drawn imperfections. It can also wipe away small details, like it did with the tiny inner and outer dots on these sketches. There is probably a setting that controls that - one day I'll discover where it lives.

Here is what my repeat block looks like before final pattern creation. Since I didn't want to get hung up on color, I used the same color palette as my last design. Here's what I learned about color: Lines that touch all end up the same color. Period. This taught me that if I want a flower with different  color parts, they need to be drawn and scanned separately. 

My final repeat makes me happy. I find this whole pattern repeat thing a lot of fun. As I become more familiar with the mechanics, I'll shift my focus more to design. And then color.  I've spent the last decade designing in black and white for my day job. It's time to dust off the color theory book.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Learn Pattern Design - Skillshare

My first introduction to pattern design was Jessica Swift's intensive, weekend long Pattern Camp in early February. When I first decided to learn this craft, I approached it with a great deal of self confidence. I figured that once I learned the mechanics of pattern repeat, the design part would be easy. Ya. No. I finished Jessica's course an exhausted, deflated pile of whaaah, which of course had nothing to do with the course and everything to do with me. I spent the next weeks starting and abandoning dozens of patterns and even began to wonder if I should find another calling. Oh, please, Sheree. Get over yourself. I'm rolling my eyes and shaking my head just remembering my pitiful lamentations.

After recovering for a couple of weeks, I found a course on Skillshare called Intro to Surface Pattern Design. Offered by licensed designer Bonnie Christine, this class was another wonderful introduction to surface pattern design. And because every designer is different and brings something new to the table, I thought I'd give it a try. Armed with new resolve, I dove in. Again.

Like Jessica's, Bonnie's course was all about learning Adobe Illustrator (Ai.) Comprised of 26 videos (almost four hours worth) the course assumed no previous Ai experience and started with the most basic commands. Adobe Illustrator is a huge, complex program used by design professionals internationally. It is behind just about every large scale design you've ever seen, from the ad on the side of the building to the shower curtain hanging in your bath room. It is seriously like magic.

I've been a Photoshop (PS) user for over 6 years and know my way around this program pretty well - at least for the kind of work I do. Predominantly a photo editing program, PS is so wide and deep that creatives extract an endless variety of work from it. We're using that program to accomplish things its creators never imagined. There are a lot of things that PS can do that Ai can't touch, and the absolute reverse is true.

Bonnie's class came with the following assignment: "Create a repeating pattern inspired by your favorite things found in nature." We were instructed to photograph and sketch the natural things in our surrounding world. Though most of my natural world was buried beneath a never ending snowfall, I managed to snap the following images in my sideyard:

The next part of this project was to create a mood board. Mood boards gather color and inspiration and are a great way to create design direction. I've been a lover of warm colors since forever and have only recently fallen for cool colors. Since everything in my yard was some version of grey, beige, brown or white - I decided to reinterpret what I saw. Creating this mood board was a lot of fun. I pulled it together using one of my favorite online design programs, Polyvore. I taught myself abstract art collage on Polyvore and found it a really easy tool for this segment.  

I began drawing really rough, really naive sketches on photo copy paper about a year ago. I am an entirely self-taught designer with no art background, so when I say rough, I mean stick people rough. In spite of the fact that nothing I drew looked much like the reference image, I forged ahead. I have literally hundreds of pages of cartoony drawings of everything from tea cups to toadstools. I drew this collection of sketches while trolling nature images on Pinterest. You know, before I decided to follow the instructions, put on boots, go outside and take actual pictures. While none of these images ended up in my actual pattern, a number of them did end up in my new pottery collection, Sketchbook. 

This group of sketches was drawn directly in Ai using the "blob brush tool." This easy little tool creates lines and shapes and does not require a college degree like the infamous pen tool. Just grab it, size the blob and draw away. Even though I've done a fair amount of sketching on my iPad, I found drawing directly in Ai challenging and deliberately kept things simple. I mean really, just look at those trees! I also knew getting hung up on technique would give me another excuse to add this project to my abandon pile. 

The next phase was to bring our sketches into Ai and apply what we'd learned about pattern creation. This is a screenshot of my desktop. Seamless patterns are made seamless by carefully copying everything that extends beyond the top of your artboard - to the bottom, and from the left - to the right. That's the easy part. Choosing color, motif scale and location, that's the designer part - the part that can't be taught. This little repeat took me hours to craft. Like, an entire afternoon. 

There were a number of times when I was tempted to ditch the work and start over, but I was determined to complete at least one pattern, even if it wasn't awesome. Any technical challenges I ran into were addressed by watching and re-watching the video and occasionally referring to my stack of really cryptic notes. 

Here is my first complex-ish Illustrator created pattern repeat. I am completely in love with this pattern. It is so gratifying to see those silly little sketches transformed into this charming print. One of the magical things about Ai is its ability to completely recolor images with just a touch of a button. The recolor tool randomly replaces this color with that - transforming the work into a new version of itself. It's like magic. 

After completing the course, I set a goal to create a pattern each evening - and have pretty much stuck to it. Each time I save my work and close Illustrator, I am worn out - in a really good way. I crawl into bed with a head still full of ideas, moving this here and placing that there, until I eventually fall asleep. Sometimes, when I awake in the middle of the night, the designs are still rolling around in there. I think I'm hooked.

It's 10:15 PM on Friday, April 10th. Today is my 60th birthday (?!) I've had cake for breakfast and corn chips & hummus for dinner. I've designed my pattern, finished this post and am headed to a place where the sheets are smooth, fresh and clean. I already have my morning planned.