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.