Monday, July 6, 2015

Putting the "U" in Unique! - An Interview with Margo Tantau, Vice President of Design & Creative at Midwest-CBK

I have been traveling around Europe for sometime and am seeing some new trends and innovative designs. I will post more about this adventure but in the meantime it's my pleasure to publish this exclusive interview with the wonderful Margo Tantau, Vice President of Design & Creative at Midwest-CBK!

I met Margo at the Atlanta Mart last January and walked through her beautiful showroom. She is one of the most fun, loving and professional people I've met in the design world, a pleasure to talk to! I share with her a few passions: art & design, traveling and helping artists find their ways. 

Here are some very inspiring insights she shares with us today: 

Margo Tantau
Tell us about you, your background and your own experience as an artist and art director. I come from a creative family. My Mom has spent over 40 years as an Interior Designer, so from early on there was always lots of talk about color, pattern, shapes, rooms, details...and my Dad was a pilot, so we were able to take advantage of very low fares and see things in far away places. Plus someone was always singing. That combo just puts color in one's step.

I was the "creative one" growing up, always asked to hand letter the signs and draw the pictures. I was encouraged all along the way, which I truly appreciate. Career-wise, I have done several different things...retail, wholesale, selling, entrepreneurial and corporate forays, creating, and more creating. These have all added up to more years of experience than I sometimes care to admit. My passion, though, is helping other artists and makers further their own careers. Watching someone grow and flourish and find personal success is just my favorite and most rewarding thing.

© Amy Rice - Cottage Bloom
What is exciting about your work, what inspires you as artist and art director? The best part for me is twofold. Finding great talent and then working together to turn ideas into fresh, interesting products. I completely enjoy the learning curve. I like to have my nose to the ground, so to speak, and discover what feels new and interesting. I push myself to be aware of what is happening in the market and to trust my gut and push for great style. I love to travel (cue Pilot's daughter!) and therefore having my hands involved in the creative process, wherever that takes me in the world, is truly inspiring.

What are your views in regards to trends and art styles? Style and trend are subjective to the market. I look at it kind of like the food triangle with "high trend" or the latest newest coolest things at the tippity top. That's a very exciting place to play and is highly creative. It's where one can try things and see what sticks. It's hot and happening, and often expensive. Then as you move down to the wider bits of the triangle, the trends grab a broader market share. They become more the norm, more affordable. You start to see the subject matter showing up in many more places, more markets.

© Zoe Ingram - Decor
Think of the last few years; owls, foxes, indigo, shibori, Moroccan rugs, quotes on everything. The bottom of the triangle, in my mind, is Mass Market. Big box stores that sell to the masses. Lower prices, cheaper product, the trend is becoming old. New things are always brewing up at the top of the triangle, and making their way down. There is room for good product every step of the way! People are buying, and companies need design. It's an endless cycle.

Tell us about your new e-course in collaboration with Lilla Rogers. What are you hoping to achieve through it? I'm super excited and honored to be collaborating with Lilla and Beth Kempton on the new Make Art That Sells course. It's called Creating Collections for Home Decor. What I hope to pass along is the idea of designing for three dimensional product, as well as techniques and information about different materials and how to use them. I want to demystify the process.

© Zoe Ingram
We're playing with the concept of taking flat art, learning to visualize how to dissect and shape it, and beginning to think about product. The industry needs more diverse and better goods. We rely too much on the familiar. This class will produce people who will have the power to shake it up. That's pretty thrilling to me. The talent is definitely there.

What's your philosophy about commercial art and licensing? I think many artists consider licensing to be the end-all, the pinnacle. For me, the most meaningful creative practice is that of doing something you are proud of and of putting products you believe in back into the market. There are several ways of doing that and licensing is only one. Licensing is a fantastic way to go if you have the right connections and/or agent. If you are going to make a go of it yourself, you do need business sense, a stick-to-it attitude, and a way to pay the rent as you get your work out there and grow your business. It's a balance.

What is some key advice you can give to an artist who wants to make a living through their artwork? Network network network. Understand your competition. Pay attention to the market. Stay fresh. But above all, more important than anything else to me, is BE UNIQUE. It may feel daunting, but if you continually put your own creative energy into the world, there will be a payoff. If you keep it to yourself and just timidly play in your studio, who will know your intentions? Who will see your talent?

© Susan Black
I can think of many artists now who post on social media a lot. They get noticed. They are trying, they are growing. That kind of energy and dedication goes a very long way. When people can see that you are trying, you gain respect, and you grow your own talent. You might be thinking, "How do I make the time? I have kids, I have another job..." If you want to make money eventually with your own art, MAKE THE TIME. Take classes. Meet other people who can support you and who you may be able to collaborate with. Push through the scary bits. That's the golden are already holding it in your hands.

Anything else you'd like to share about art and licensing? The creative community is amazing. My best and dearest friends are part of this global community and most of them don't live anywhere near me. But we share the same passions, goals, challenges and defeats, and we can therefore knowingly support each other. I have great respect for anyone who is putting their creativity out in the world. After all, one of the hardest things is to share of yourself. But it is also one of the most generous and rewarding. The world will always need product. There is a new groundswell of appreciation for art, for artists, for good, fresh design that will set a company apart. Artists are the keepers of that talent. What do YOU want to see out there is the world? Your ideas hold great value. Find your boldness. Share it.

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