Not So Clueless After all??

Even I’ll concede that four months between blog posts is probably not conducive to rallying interest in my little surface pattern adventure. You don’t need to be a marketing guru to surmise that if this becomes a habit, I might not ever reach an audience; make meaningful contacts; build a brand; grow my business; blah blah blah. True. But such goals are unlikely ever to be attained without products and designs in the first place. In short, that’s exactly what I’ve been beavering away with this first half of the year.

My shortcomings as a blogger can be, in greater part, blamed on The Art And Business of Surface Pattern Design’s final Make it in Design module; the Ultimate Portfolio Builder. Not only has it done what it said on the tin, but it has granted me a pulse-raising, fantastically exciting opportunity. You see, somehow I managed to win myself a little competition. I say ‘somehow’, because I still find it difficult to believe that a design which came about accidentally during a collage activity (which in itself was meant purely as therapy after three days getting nowhere with the design brief), could actually be a contender for such an amazing prize.

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Said prize permits me to exhibit one of my designs (from process to product) as part of the Make it in Design’s stand at New Designers, London. For those not in the know, New Designers is the annual showcase for design graduates. It gives these “3,000 Breakthrough Talents” an opportunity to put the accumulation of four years hard graft out there for the world (and potential buyers, employers, agents etc.) to see. I’ve been designing for a year….. on a very (if enforced) part-time basis. And I’m not 21. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bricking it. Just a little bit. But excitement and  a sense of child-like adventure are still winning the day. So off I shall trot tomorrow. To The Big Smoke. To exhibit at an actual exhibition.

Holy Cow.

Kabuki

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Tomorrow marks the last day of the Make It In Design Winter School. My final submission has been uploaded and (thanks to life-saving, child-care-providing friends) submitted with four hours to spare; result! This week’s brief is entitled ‘Kabuki’s Kingdom.’ While roughly able to to cobble together a definition for ‘Kingdom’, I drew a total blank at ‘Kabuki,’ (note to designer-self: get more cultured. It’s getting embarrassing). So I did what any self-respecting moron does; I put all my trust in Wikipedia. According to said holy grail of internet knowledge, the history of Kabuki can be dated back to 1603. As such, there are reams of information relating to this art form on the world wide web. Short on time and devoid of inclination, I satisfied myself with the nutshell definition: ‘a classical Japanese dance-drama.’

I was tasked with creating a decorative Kabuki inspired design. It had to stand out, be detailed and invoke the Japanese theatre. Key words to prompt the design process included:

 

Theatre           Ornate           Pictorial          Decorative           Placement           Beasts

                     Embroidery           Abstract           Japanese           Symmetry

 

I’ll admit …. I struggled with this one. Drawing motifs: not too much of an issue. Translating motifs into some spectacular display of visual theatre: non-starter. My first attempt resulted in some kind of tedious Japanesey patchwork thing. It did nothing to fulfil the brief, and it certainly did nothing for me. If Kabuki was an insipid Plain Jane, then I had reached new design heights:

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A night’s sleep later, I adopted the layering technique. Whilst nothing about the two final outcomes screams ‘Kabuki!!!” at me, I do think they possess decorative qualities, and have an air of the Japanese about them. If nothing else, they’re an improvement on the patchwork car crash.

And my friend said she liked them.

 

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Design process: in search of a method

After the trauma of Top Drawer, I have thrown myself into design with the online course: Make It In Design Winter School 2018. The first creative brief is to design a ‘bright and bold bloom pattern.’ Key words to help prompt and inspire the design process include:

Bright,  Blooms,  Ditsy,  Retro,  Bold,  Intense,  Overcrowded,  Graphic,  Stylised,  Layered.

Bright, bold and graphic I think I can manage. Distsy, retro and overcrowded? Hmmm. But hey, it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone (or so they say), so off I went ….

Now it’s recently come to my attention that I’m becoming decidedly more confident in the way I put pen to paper; I’m less precious about drawing and mark-making; I’m going with the flow. As a result, the process has become altogether more fluid.

 

 

Translating my drawings into actual patterns through layout and colour though … that, I find quite the challenge. Even when I’ve decided on a colour palette, and have all my motifs ready to go …. well, nothing seems to go together; there’s no cohesion. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start. That’s just what happened here:

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So I thought I’d try another tack: layering. After all, that’s how we apply paint to a canvas, makeup to a face … why not patterns to an Adobe Illustrator file? These inexcusably bad quality screenshots illustrate what happened next (you get the gist):

 

It’s not a method I’ve used before, but it did make the whole process more manageable and less daunting. The outcome is interesting, and not like anything I’ve designed to date. (Stepping outside comfort zone: tick) I’m yet to figure out if it’s ‘my style’, or the start of a new ‘my style’ (??!), but I think at least it’s ticked the Bright Blooms brief:

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Courage to Conquer

Earlier this week, I deserted the cozy life of my Somerset bubble, and ventured out to The Big Smoke in the name of research. Top Drawer is ‘London’s international lifestyle event for creative retailers across the U.K. and beyond‘; AKA …. a big massive trade fair where designers can exhibit their newest stuff to flog. I rather thought  I might fancy exhibiting at something like this a bit further down the line. So duly I spent lots of money on train fares and a ’boutique’ hotel (one of those places where you pay extra for a window), just so I could ‘get a feel’ for what goes on at these things.

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Naturally I was rather excited. After the obligatory bag rummage courtesy of the G4S brigade, I was hit with a visual sensation; vivid colours, beautiful objects and sensational designs ….. on an industrial scale:

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With such greatness came the biggest sensation of being overwhelmed I have ever experienced. In one fell swoop, I lost my ability to talk; smile properly; make eye contact. I was an intruder on the fringes of exposure. I clutched onto my bag as I might an errant child – not for fear of theft, but in lieu of a stress ball (and a triple G&T.) I spent the first hour actively avoiding exhibitors; slightly problematic when there were 1500 of them to contend with. With no foundation, I assumed that a) they’d not be interested in speaking with me once they ascertained I wasn’t a buyer, b) they’d tell me where to go if they found out I was a ‘designer’ on the look out for things to copy. Oh the frustration, when all I wanted to do was just talk with some of them …. about their work, their inspiration, their process. But intimidation got the better of me and I simply didn’t feel  on an equal enough footing to be worthy of anyone’s time; I was just a housewife in need of a reality check, thrown stratospheres from her comfort zone and rendered mute (unless an opportunity to talk ‘family meal-planing’ presented itself. It did not.)

Strong coffee beckoned. As I sat – down-hearted, drained, dejected – I began to write this blog entry (might as well use my time effectively.) Whether it was the act of writing, or the effect of the sugar consumed from a large bag of jelly babies gifted to me by a wonderful friend, I felt my spirits lift… nearly as quickly as they had be thwarted. It was really rather odd. Still, I wasn’t about to let this miracle lay idle. I got up and started again:

Head up: tick

Shoulders back: tick

Teeth exposing smile: tick

Eye contact with other actual human beings: tick

Approaching The Higher Beings (AKA The Real Designers): tick

Beginning conversations with The Higher Beings: TICK!!!

 

The people I spoke to – turns out – were pretty normal. Stupendously talented, confident, business savvy, crème de la crème …. yes. But when it came down to it, they were just human beings doing what they loved. And wasn’t that what I was too? Maybe at some point on their design journeys they’ve even felt the way I did in that vast space. Who knows. Mostly importantly I achieved my aims of experiencing a trade fair and being  inspired. I’ll take that for now.

 

The Wanderer returneth!

Returneth I have. Wandered? Not so much (save the obligatory one mile stroll into the village on New Years Day). What is it about the Christmas holidays that renders anything other than cooking, changing bedding, and mediating between offspring, pretty much impossible. Okay; so ‘impossible’ might be a slight exaggeration. To say that chaos reigned king for a month, however, was pretty much reality; a reality which promised to lead me down the path of certain insanity unless something in life got left behind. When it came down to it, the only contenders were work or sleep, so in the interest of self-preservation, I clung on to the latter.

Still, complain I mustn’t; the turkey didn’t poison anyone, no life-altering injuries were sustained, and we actually have some half-decent drinking material leftover. And as if that weren’t enough, my ‘beautiful mugs’ collection has tripled in size (thanks to family and friends), I was introduced to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (#howdidIneverknowaboutit??!), and I got to watch my niece perform in (an actually half decent) panto. Oh, and my one and only Christmas event – The Christmas Fair – actually wasn’t a disaster!

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Yes. I survived The Fair. More than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even made a few sales to boot, the first of which was hands down my most memorable to date; from a complete stranger who took one look at my one cushion design, said it would look fabulous in her lounge, asked if she could reserve one for later, and “I’m happy to pay for it now.” I admit I did try to play it cool, but success on this score is debatable; in my rather excitable new designer head I was screaming “I don’t care about the money! You like my stuff!! A complete stranger actually likes my stuff!!! I love you I love you I love you!!!!”

Conversely, when one of my dearest friends came to buy a cushion of the same design, my immediate reaction went something along the lines of: “Really? Are you sure?? You know you really don’t have to, honestly….. really???” Needless to say I have yet to find my happy sales banter middle-ground ….. or at least that of a normal person.

On the plus side, I made a steady stream of sales from my tea towels, and have been left with roughly a third of my stock, which was better than I’d anticipated. The giftwrap gamble didn’t quite pay off. With the amount left over, I had no need to look elsewhere for my giftware requirements; here’s what was positioned under our own tree!

 

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That said, it was absolutely worth doing from a design experience point of view. Plus, it’s one less thing for Santa to have to think about in our house next year ….. or should I say this year?! Holy Moly ….

Finally, before I crack on with what I hope will be an exciting, fun-packed, learning filled 2018 for Cat Christopherson Design, I want to say a big THANKYOU to all the wonderful people – friends, family, even strangers! – who have helped me get this far since I set up last September. I am so very lucky to have such a supportive network of positive people around me. Your support means the world to me.

Thankyou.

The Big C

A crisp, frosty, blue-skied Somerset has marked the last day of November. As of tomorrow, I will no longer be marginally irritated by the icicle lights adorning the  village pub, the garlands of ivy dressing the village railings, or the sizeable spruce bedecked with red baubles, standing pride of place outside the village cafe. Tomorrow I shall be ready to embrace the village festive spirit, not least because Saturday marks my first Fair, exhibiting and selling as an actual designer (though I still feel a bit of a fraud describing myself thus). So while some might be seeking out the perfect tree, or making wreaths to welcome visitors to their home, this is what my floor looks like right now:

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And while I probably ought to be working out what Santa will be bringing the kids this year (not much as it stands), the only thing occupying my mind at this moment is: will my room still look like this on Monday?? Dear lord, please let somebody actually want to buy this stuff!!!

I also had a panic last week that I had nothing festive to sell at the Christmas fair. (When was the last time you saw a nativity shepherd sporting a watering can towel on his head?) Having abandoned my failed attempts at Christmas cards last month, I (slightly hastily) threw together some last minute ideas for gift wrap.

Here’s what I came up with:

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And here’s the outcome:

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All things considered, I’m quite pleased with the result. Fingers crossed for some buyers who think so too.

 

Making Sales

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of 2017’s (not so extensive) tea towel collection ….. ta da! Thus far I have been incredibly lucky to have wonderful family and friends who – albeit, quite potentially out of pity – have purchased enough towels to make a little dent in my stock. Whether this level of purchasing plays out in the ‘real world’, where customers don’t know me from Adam, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it has given me a confidence boost for the forthcoming Christmas Fair next weekend.

Since my last blog, I have also taken the plunge and approached several local retailers with a view to having them stock a few CCD items on a Sale or Return basis. The outcome of this was mixed: On the plus side, those I spoke to were receptive and honest; they’re interested in promoting local artists, they like the designs and quality of the products, and they could see them fitting into their shop. I might, however, like to think about selling them in a bundle with an apron and/or oven mitt, as this would probably generate more sales.  I couldn’t agree more with this latter point, but it’s not something that’s going to happen with this particular collection owing to both financial and time constraints.

On the down side, most places seemed to want between 30% and 40% of sales. 30% I could live with. 40% would leave me with about 45p profit per unit. While I’m not in this line of work for the money (!), this makes no business sense at all. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m striving to make a small profit in my first two years; I want to be able to reinvest in my business …. to make things like aprons and oven mitts!

As someone who this year, has done about 90% of her Christmas shopping online, I’m also very aware that I need an online presence and sales facility. But this is going to have to wait until after the Big C. It will be my big step forward of 2018!

 

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Oooh, also ….. here is my first manufactured cushion. One of 20! I’m pleased with the quality and design, but I have a lot to learn when it comes to a design on a computer screen vs that same design on fabric; the final item isn’t quite as bright as I’d hoped. That said, I know how to remedy it for next time. Plus, I’ve bought two for my bedroom, and they look rather nice.

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Creating opportunity

It’s been a while (three weeks in fact), but after the chaos that half-term and illness  bestowed upon life, I am back in the driver’s seat ready to propel this design machine forward. Yes!

Well, maybe not so much of a machine as a moped.

A learner on a moped.

A learner, with no sense of direction (or satnav) on a moped.

Still, a learner is a learner, and learn I must. This means being ready to swoop down on any opportunity that presents itself. Except that opportunities don’t always just present themselves. That much I do know. Opportunity has to be sought, chased after, hounded down, until its only option is surrender. Any successful, self-made business person, has created their own opportunities and pounced. Creating them I can do. Pouncing? That, I’m much less sure about. I’ve always been more of a tiptoer, nervously meeting her target, then fleeing, lump in throat, heart pounding, hoping that somewhere en-route, a large hole will offer an escape route from which no one has ever returned.

Here’s the thing. Last week, my very first bulk order of t-towels arrived ….. all 125 of them. Am I pleased with them? Yes. Did I spend a fair chunk of my business investment on them? Yes. Are they sat in a box, in my hallway, screaming ‘money down the drain!!’ every time I walk past them. Yes.

I have stock. And it needs shifting.

The good news is that I’ve booked my first sales gig (whoop!) at our local village/school Christmas Fair. But unless all the good people of Chew Magna have ‘t-towel with pictures of watering cans’ on their shopping list, chances are I’m going to be left with a fair bit of kitchen linen on my hands by the end of the day. I need to create some alternative sales strategies. Online is an obvious choice, but I’d also really like to connect with local businesses ….. to see if  some of the local gift shops might consider sicking a few t-towels on their shelves and seeing what happens. It’s not like I’ve got anything to lose …. except perhaps confidence, credibility, reputation …. oh, and money. Thinking about it, I have not the fist idea of how much commission these places take. How will I know if I’m being ripped off? Completely clueless. Still …. it’s no excuse for not pulling my finger out.

In the meantime, here’s the front and back of my first business card. I’ve sent it to print regardless of whether I think it represents my design style or not. Maybe I’m acting prematurely, but I figure I need something other than my vacant mug to represent CCD when introducing myself to  potential stockists.

 

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From Concept to Creation

Last week I spent a good while getting back to basics. And it was blissful. Much time was spent cutting shapes out the textures I made the other week using printing implements various, from onions to sponges to leaves. I took much inspiration from the plant below …. no idea what it is.  But I found it on the side of the road and thought the leaves were just beautiful.

Next up, I chose a couple of prints, drew a rough shapes, and got cutting!

 

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Finally, time to scan, and let Illustrator work its magic. I’ve come up with one design concept in two colourways, as seen below. I rather thought they would lend themselves to fabric, so have mocked them up on cushions. It’s taken a day, but think I like them. And how very refreshing it is, to actually be firm in my opinion of my own work. It doesn’t happen very often!

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And the second colourway ….

 

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Getting Real

Last week brought two events, one of which had me flying like a kite, the other of which brought me down to earth with an unforgiving thump. The former was the exciting arrival of my sample t-towels: the quality is good, the colours are how I envisaged, and ultimately ….. I actually like them! I sought honest feedback from friends and family, which in hindsight was most likely biased whether consciously or not. Nevertheless, people were free in expressing a preference for one over the others, and I even got a few “I’m not sure about that colour”s, but generally, it was all very positive. Then came the thunderbolt:

“Oooh, it’s very Orla Kiely”

Ouch.

Now don’t get me wrong …. I’m an Orla Kiely fan as much as the next person, and I have products at home to prove it. I have huge respect for her as a designer and person; her talent, her business mind, her perseverance among other things. BUT …. I don’t want my designs to be very Orla Kiely. I want them to be very Cat Christopherson. I’m not remotely interested in copying another designer. Aside from having far too much respect for the work other people put into their own design processes, I actually want to create my own style …. something that, if not ‘uniquely’ me, is at least ‘distinctly’ me. That’s the whole reason I embarked on this journey in the first place.

But how do I stop my work resembling another artist’s, when I’m not even consciously thinking of another designer’s work while designing myself? How do I become Distinctly Me???

Two words: Time and Experience …… neither of which can be magically forced. You see, Kiely, like many other highly successful designers, went to Art College. She also worked in industry for several years before setting up her own label. Through years and years worth of time, she has gained years and years worth of experience. And through this experience and experimentation, her own unique style has evolved organically. Nothing is contrived. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Even the freshest of art school graduates have had three years to experiment and focus solely on their art (and have most likely picked up a few useful industry contacts along the way).

  • I have have not been to art college
  • I have no industry experience
  • I have exactly 18 hours a week when I don’t have small children various hanging off my legs.
  • I have been doing this for three months.

I think I need to get real. I need to remember that style cannot be forced. That it takes time to evolve ….. a lot of time. That it’s OK to use those 18 hours a week just experimenting. That I don’t need to be manufacturing shed loads of products. (That I can’t afford to either!) I need to trust that in time, my style will come, but that it could take years. I need to learn to be okay with that.

I need to learn patience.

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