Monday, June 18, 2012

Surtex Designext Award-Winning Artist Kirby Lee Smith

Surtex is an amazing place where you find talents and see so much beautiful artwork all together. As mentioned in my earlier editorial, there were also four student finalists of the annual Surtex-sponsored student design competition called Designext. It's my pleasure to introduce you to the winner, the very talented artist Kirby Smith. The day before Kirby won the award, I stopped by her booth and asked her about her art as I was drawn to it by the unique yet beautiful colors she used in her designs.

Artist Kirby Smith
The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? I recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Fibers. I have always been involved in some kind f art program since I was in high school and have a love for drawing. When I started school at SCAD I had become more interested in the textile industry and creating surface designs for fabric. I love working with watercolor and sketching my designs on paper first and then scanning them into the computer to be placed into a finished design. For me hand drawing is always the root of my designs.

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? For me I love to see how the designs will be used in the end, seeing a print transformed onto a fabric or a product is always exciting. I also love to play with color and the way colors interact.

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I grew up on a family farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I was always encouraged to explore and go outdoors. I feel this has influenced me the most. My colors are very warm and natural like the colors I was surrounded with on the farm and I try to always leave an evidence of myself as the artist in my prints, such as a sketched line or hand drawn elements. I also look to artists for inspiration; some of my favorites are Katie Daisy, Lulie Wallace, and Luli Sanchez.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? Now that I've graduated from SCAD and have some more free time, I am planning on working on some pieces I've wanted to try for a while. I recently began creating these fabric collages that I use scrap fabrics and free motion embroidery to create - there is an example on my website. I would love to do more of those as well as continue to do more illustrative work.

© Kirby Smith

TMFMA: Tell us of your recent experience at the Surtex competition. Surtex was an amazing experience and unlike anything I had ever taken part in. I was overwhelmed by the scale of the show as well as the many different attendees from every niche of the design world. I spoke to manufacturers, designers, trend forecasting agencies, and a variety of other companies from around the world. I had no idea of all of the many ways to license and sell my work before coming to Surtex, but leaving the show I felt that I gained so much understanding of the industry and made so many contacts to help me out down the road. I also got great feedback on my portfolio work and to have my work reviewed by professionals in the industry was a great opportunity in itself. This experience helped me grow professionally and has been a great way to launch my career as a designer.

© Kirby Smith

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share to other students and emerging artists in this field? I think it is important to stay true to your own aesthetic as a designer and beware of following trends or what other designers are doing. Today's technology has made it so easy to share ideas and to see what everyone else is doing and it has caused many people to reproduce the same thing over and over. At Surtex a lot of people told me how much they enjoyed seeing something totally different. I think it is important to look for inspiration from other sources such as books or observation rather than finding images on the internet. The outcome is always much more unique.

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I have been offered a position as a Pattern Designer for Target Inc. where I will start this fall. I hope to continue my career in the surface design field and hopefully one day have my own line of designs.

Kirby Smith's website:

Sketchbooks and Drawing - Artist Marilyn MacGregor

As several eco-green and handmade craft trends got mentioned at Surtex, I pulled out a set of paintings I did sometime ago while I was experimenting with my acrylic colors on fine cork paper – a marvelous sustainable medium. To my surprise, the colors have been holding up pretty good over time so I think I'll try some new ones.

© 2012 Alex Colombo
I get inspired by many other types of art in addition to arts and crafts. The particular one I am about to show below is from artist Marilyn MacGregor. Her style is classic and vibrant at the same time, a very good combo!

Marilyn and I started in this licensing adventure pretty much around the same time without knowing each other at all, but eventually we ended up in the same agency, Montage Licensing. We've been having a good time playing newbies together.

Artist Marilyn MacGregor
The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? My art always begins with drawing, whether it's for illustration, licensing, or works on paper that I show in galleries. I love to draw and have always kept sketchbooks. My habit of drawing is the basis not only for the way I do art but also the way I see the world – I love the connections and details that hide in plain sight. 

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? My style is very loose and spontaneous – I think the most exciting thing is that it is so fresh and unforced. It took a while to develop my own trust in the process I use, and avoiding fussing over a drawing to make it 'perfect.' I value the life in my work rather than a stiffer sort of perfection.

© Marilyn MacGregor - Wild Cats Calendar Collection
TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? My hefty inventory of sketchbooks, especially from my travels, is a great source of inspiration and ideas. The sketchbooks recall to me so many interesting places and people. I've spent a lot of time in Paris so many of my drawings keep the beauty and pleasure of that favorite place fresh in my mind. I'm also a teacher and art historian so I often find ways to incorporate ideas from art history. As for people, my father was an early influence – he was the one who urged me to draw all the time. We used to go on sketching day trips together - a nice memory.

© Marilyn MacGregor - Fleur Collection
TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. I spent quite a few years as an illustrator in New York, working for various publishers and magazines. I then moved to California and started teaching, particularly studio art and art history in high schools. I'm back on the East Coast now (in Philadelphia) and am new to art licensing. The work feels very familiar to me as a long-time illustrator, but I'm learning and exploring the field. I’m grateful to have an agent, Kimberly Montgomery of Montage Licensing, with extensive experience as both an artist and agent. Her help is invaluable. I'm also very grateful to be meeting and connecting with so many other licensing artists, starting with you, Alex! I love the sense of community I'm finding among licensing designers and artists. I've been at the last two Surtex shows, first just walking, and then this year as an artist with Montage Licensing. I saw so much great work, got tons of ideas, and met so many great people!

© Marilyn MacGregor - Cupcake Collection
TMFMA: What project are you currently working on and what's exciting about it?
I'm presently working on some follow up requests from Surtex, a mix of sketchbook-like drawings and more composed designs. It's all exciting – I love it when Kimberly says, "what about this? Can you do something with this idea?" - I like the challenge of trying something new!

© Marilyn MacGregor - Baby Collection
TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals as an artist? I hope and intend to keep developing a strong portfolio of designs and illustrations and building a reputation and client base for my particular style. I am a believer in the on-line possibilities for artist entrepreneurs so I maintain Esty and Spoonflower shops – I can sell work directly but they also function as labs for ideas. I also intend to continue showing my work in galleries and writing about art – reviews, articles and a weekly blog about art and art history. It seems like a lot of plates spinning sometimes, but I feel that each aspect informs all the others.

© Marilyn MacGregor - Cook Collection
TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you'd like to share about art licensing? The most important thing is to feel comfortable and confident with your own style, rather than changing to chase after a particular market. Also, don't be afraid to experiment and teach yourself – I've found Photoshop, for instance, to be an amazingly elastic resource that rewards time spent figuring our what you can do with it for your particular needs.

Find Marilyn here:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Surtex 2012 Press Kits - Artist Sharyn Sowell

As I mentioned in my earlier article on Surtex, press kits are an opportunity to be published by blogs or other publications. While at the show, several press kits caught my attention so I am going to publish a few artists that had one.

Artist Sharyn Sowell

"Sharyn Sowell's studio is a tiny cottage in the garden awash with snips and scraps of paper, pots of ink and glue, scissors, clattering old printing presses, several Nikons and far too many tubes of paint" - Sharyn says. Her mixed media work has been "more successful than she ever dreamed possible," featured on products from best-seller Kindle and iPad covers to home decor, fabric, giftware and much, much more.

A calligrapher, silhouette, and watercolor artist who loves her vintage printing press, Sharyn combines cut paper, type, photography, watercolor and pen work into layered mixed media designs. When not working in her studio, Sharyn can be found working as artist-in-residence on cruise ships, teaching workshops nationwide, digging in the garden or hiking rugged mountains, where she sings a very off-key hymn of praise for the miracles that surround us.

Sharyn's love of visual image and the written word fill her blog and her website.

Sharyn Sowell in her Surtex booth

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trends Special Edition ...;)

This just in from New York, a special 2012 summer trends, 
by my friend and trendsetter expert Chris Reed!

© 2012 - Chris Reed

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art of the Beat - Artist Kate Thomas

I am so excited to announce that in a couple of months I will start publishing a new series of editorials called "Tell Us a Story". It's focus will be to showcase art that tells a story. Often artists create narratives by using a sequence of images to signify events throughout the story, or by choosing a specific moment to represent the entire story. In addition to using images to create vocabulary, stories can be told visually by using color, line, gesture, composition and symbolism. Most of us are also illustrators and fine art artists in addition to being licensing artists. I'd love to hear the story behind one of your favorite drawings, collections or paintings. Share it with us!

Email me at and send one (1) low resolution image (or sequence of images) of your visual story, with a brief tale behind the artwork, plus one (1) link to your website, shop or blog, whichever you prefer. I will start posting in September 2012!

Back to art licensing - while walking through the colorful ailes at Surtex I noticed some really cool patterns hanging on the walls of artist Kate Thomas.

Kate Thomas Surtex 2012 Booth
So I picked up a brochure she had on her table and read this cool manifesto called "Art of the Beat," written by Kate. Here's an excerpt from it:

"Definition of order: the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern, or method. That is what the act of designing is, making order out of chaos. This is why I am so drawn to patterns. Patterns are the drum beat.

Patterns bring multiple beats and melodies that create the story. Boom Boom Dum Clash! Mississippi artist Walter Anderson said, 'The form is there. The stories are told. Consider it and them as a succession of flowers opening.'

© Kate Thomas
One of my mentors Brent Funderburk told me, 'You must never stop telling the bigger story.' I have learned that I make patterns to tell stories. Anderson also said, 'The magic of pattern occurs regardless of effort and it is magic and musical; it is infinite variations on the same theme.'"

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? I've always been drawn to patterns. My sketchbooks are full of the same marks repeated over and over and over. Patterns are the basis for all human order. Patterns are the drum beat for the bigger story. Repetition is merely decoration. But pattern is so much more. It grows, moves, evolves.

I started life over at 27. I was working in the corporate offices of a bank going nowhere. I left my job and went back to get my second undergraduate degree in Graphic Design at Mississippi State University. I had not taken an art class since I was eleven. I didn’t even know there were different weights of pencils.

© Kate Thomas
I did this because life is too short to not spend it doing what you want to do. You only get one shot at it. I feel like I got my life back. I've never been happier.
I live in Jackson, Mississippi with my cat Weezie. Little Things Studio is my business where I sell prints, journals, stationery, etc. My amazing mother Cynthia is my momager who manages my Etsy shop. I sell in retail shops across the country and travel all over to craft fairs. Awards: HOW Magazine named me one of 16 Young Creatives to Watch 2012. I've been featured on lots of blogs, including: Design*Sponge, DailyCandy, HOW Magazine, Design Milk, HGTV Canada, babble, Print & Pattern, Pattern Observer, cmybacon, DesignWorkLife, Where the Lovely Things Are, French Sample Room, UnderConsideration, omgPosters and now The Moon From My Attic!

© Kate Thomas
TMFMA:  What is exciting about your creative work? The fact that I even get to do it and I make work that is true to myself. If it ever becomes just about a paycheck or being better than that person, then I need to either reevaluate my life or change careers again to hairdressing! haha! 

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? I am heavily influenced by folk art (including Fraktur, Dutch, Russian and Native American), Alexander Girard, the art of quilting, Bauhaus, and mid-century record label design. Vera Neumann is one of my heroes. I aspire to a similar career path as hers.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? Little Things Studio is what I'm always working on. I'm always trying to expand my product line and push myself as an artist. I will be soon opening up an "art of the beat" Etsy shop as well. I'm creating one-of-a-kind pieces for that. Still have a ways to go. I also have a part-time job at a local magazine and I have several clients that I do graphic design work for. 

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. I am technically not an art licensing artist because I have not signed any contracts yet! Surtex was my first time to have exposure in the surface design industry. But I hope that will change soon!!! 

© Kate Thomas
TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share?  If you are wanting to get into this field, FIND A MENTOR. Read, research, and don't be afraid to ask for help. I have been amazed at how kind so many surface designers are, how willing they are to share and help. 

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I want my own line of Little Things Studio stores. I also have dreams of fabric and wrapping paper. It has been a long time dream of mine - to walk into Target and see my Christmas wrapping paper. But truthfully, I want to make work I'm proud of, edgy and fabulous, and that is affordable for normal everyday folks. 

Kate's links:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Surtex/NSS Press Kits, Giveaways and Trends

As I mentioned last week in my post on Surtex, NSS and ICFF, I am going to explore a few topics that caught my attention in the last few weeks while walking the shows and learning more about licensing. Let's start this week with these three:

Press Kits: I know, I know, I am a newbie - or at least this is what I've been told over and over since I started in licensing. And as a good newbie, I think that Surtex Press kits are a good tool to promote your art if you ever exhibit at the show ... that's how I found several great artists that I will publish on this blog very soon.

Giveaways: And then, there are the little, but yet beautiful promotional giveaway gifts given out to friends, press or clients. It makes the person receiving them feel welcomed and also inspired - and helps them remember you.  

Trends: Some say trends don't mean anything, some follow them closely, some think they are experts at them, and finally some are fascinated by this topic but don't really know how to use the information in conjunction with their licensing work. Part of this confusion is no doubt because there are many trends out there, for different types of product categories and consumers. Plus, the terminologies vary from one design trade to another.

A simple dictionary definition of a trend is: (noun) a general direction in which something is developing or changing; a fashion; a movement.

Another word that goes well with the term trend is intuition, which means: (noun) the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning; a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

For those who are interested, views and ideas on trends can be found everywhere. Here are a few of some that I've come across that interested me: just before Surtex, Home Textile Today came out with two articles on trends: Vol 33, No.11 said that Texture, Good Earth, Color and Craft (as a movement) were a few stand-out product directions. Vol 33, no.12 came out with more trend forecasts such as that bright colors and rich textures are starting to emerge. More individuality, uniqueness and appreciation of crafsmanship were also stressed by a Europen design forecaster, while another U.S. based design forecaster said the eco-friend is taking hold by the consumer. The color yellow was also mentioned as a key color. Some call it the new pink.

Gift & Home Today published a nice article on Surtex and upcoming themes and trends, which included Color, Mix & Match, Burlap, Organic as well as Eclectic Mixes of Patterns.

Home Accents Today's 2013 Color Forecast also talks about Brighter Colors, Americana, Art Deco, and The Old West. 

At Surtex, Trendtablet by Edelkoort Inc. gave a very comprehensive rundown about life style 2013 colors and trends for textile/home. Again, the Natural, Earthy, Handmade and Warm Colors were mentioned throughout for specific trends: Greens, Yellows, Reds, Fresh Colors, Soft Pinks and Grays but also Terracotta, Indigo and Earth Tones like Browns.

Another good site for trend forecasts is Design Intuition by Katie Hatch. Yellow and Gray are again key colors featured on some of her boards.

Courtesy of Marina Paper -
Regardless of whether one believes it's important to follow trends or that they should be ignored, it is one facet of this field of art licensing that seems important for each of us to answer for ourselves. For my part, the one trend I personally like a lot is the natural, handmade eco-friend one because I create my art with natural elements, by hand, and it's whimsy-folk, colorful and crafty - so it all fits perfectly with that "new" style direction. As you know, there isn't really anything new; but we artists and designers indeed do like to re-interpret, and it is a constant evolution in how we do this in relation to our changing times.

What could be better than to do what you love and also have the forecasters predicting that it's becoming or is already popular ... sweet!

So, what's your take on the subject?