Monday, April 8, 2013

Sophisticated and Wearable Palettes - Artist Victoria Johnson

Most of my art supplies for the Surtex booth have arrived and I am about to order my booth wall panels - the artwork is completed and I cross my fingers that once printed they will match my design! I also completed the artwork for my Surtex postcard that will be mailed out to all my contacts at the end of the month. In about a week or so I will start printing my tear-sheets and begin the endless process of composing my collection "binders," although this year I will present my art in a different way...but I won't show it until just before the show!

While continuing to prepare for the show in May I will keep posting interviews and articles featuring artists, agents, and manufacturers from around the world. This week I am happy to introduce to our community artist Victoria Johnson, my English print designer friend living in Rome, my favorite city of all!

Artist Victoria Johnson
The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Before Rome I lived in New York for twelve years, during which time I co-founded and ran a successful design studio specialising in women's wear and paper product design. I came to Rome with my Roman husband and four year old daughter four years ago. Now we also have a little boy who's two and a half. During the "baby years" I continued to design periodically, supplying a licensing agent with work whenever I could. This enabled me stay to involved in my field and become familiar with licensing. When my son was old enough to go to nursery I decided to dispense with agents and promote myself as a brand. My close friend Lara, who has a background in advertising, helped me research and build a client base and re-establish contact with key industry names.

© Victoria Johnson
TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? My work is illustrative and designed with the homewares and paper products markets in mind but I think it is heavily influenced by years spent designing for clothing. I like to use sophisticated, "wearable" palettes and a lot of my imagery and compositions are suitable for use on fabric. I used to incorporate a lot of vintage elements into my women's wear designs and I think my appreciation for vintage fabrics and motifs is evident in my work now. I produce nearly all my work in Illustrator. I used Photoshop for ten or more years but spent a grueling three months mastering Illustrator because it is simply so much easier, quicker and more editable. Changing colourways in Illustrator is a dream.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I'm very excited by the possibilities that can be explored in my work both artistically and entrepreneurially. I like the parameters set by the industry. I like the fact that I have to problem solve with my art: find ways to be innovative while sticking to seasonal themes, think about the context in which the art will be used, and create something different yet broadly appealing.

© Victoria Johnson
It's immensely satisfying to see my artwork featured on a product, to arrange and photograph it and post it to my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and then receive feedback. It's fantastic that with the help of social media I can see my work complete a full cycle from designing to selling to production to promotion to feedback to designing again. It's also fantastic that the design world and all its influences are at my fingertips through Twitter and Pinterest. I feel that the digitalisation of the design world has opened up so much opportunity and that there are so many ways that my business can develop and grow while I'm sitting in my studio in Rome. I love the fact that my work is in fact a giant, multi-faceted puzzle and I get to spend my days building and putting the pieces together.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? I'm about to do some Easter designs. I haven't done any for years. I'm quite interested in Ukrainian painted eggs as I have a close friend from the Ukraine who has offered to show me and the children how to do them. They are very intricately decorated so I'm hoping I'll be inspired.

© Victoria Johnson
TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. My experience with licensing has been varied. It's a long process and it can take up to eighteen months to see a royalty payment. With an agent I felt very disconnected from the clients (and the agent!) and often wondered if I was producing the right type of work. However, I did sign a number of agreements and gained a lot of insight into how licensing works. Some licensees paid well and others very little and I quickly realised that there are few guarantees. Since I decided to dispense with an agent I've signed several agreements that look promising and for the most part am waiting to see the outcome. Last year I licensed five designs to a leading fabric manufacturer and they paid a reasonable advance immediately and sent samples promptly. Since then I've licensed another two designs with them. I think the key is to have as many agreements in place as possible.

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share about your work/art? My biggest tip to anyone hoping to build a creative business would be to make a plan. It doesn't have to include spreadsheets and financial projections but it should be a skeletal map of your intentions – where exactly you're trying to get to and the various steps you will take to get there within a loose chronological framework. If you're working with someone else I would pass on some advice once given to me by an accountant – delegate! Have clearly defined roles that don't overlap. That way nothing slips through the cracks.

© Victoria Johnson
Artistically, I would say that a key component to commercial viability is trend awareness. Pay close attention to what your peers are doing, check their blogs, follow them on Pinterest, see who's winning the online design competitions, look at what's selling in stores and online, visit a tradeshow and make notes.  Above all, listen to your potential clients and use their suggestions. They know better than anyone what's selling and what isn't.

Generally I'd suggest that motivation – or a lack of it – can determine the outcome of any endeavour and maintaining a level of faith in what you're doing is vital. This is what makes you able to show up at your studio every day and think creatively. Positivity and optimism are skills (they don't come naturally to everyone) and you can learn them.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I've been working as Victoria Johnson Design for just over a year now and feel that it's been a year of positioning the chess pieces. I have a comprehensive online presence, a well-organised, expanding database of clients (many of whom I've built a relationship with), and a sizable collection of work that covers many commercial themes.

© Victoria Johnson
Lara and I are still trying and testing ways in which to reach clients with my work but we're steadily establishing a rhythm that appears to be working. This year I would like to focus on producing a much higher volume of work to be sent out at a faster pace and getting more online exposure. I'm also looking into the possiblity of producing a limited product range of my own. I'm quite excited about this but am a little bit intimidated by the logistics. If anyone has any advice to offer I'd be happy to take it!

Find out more about Victoria Johnson here:



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