This month, we’re exploring resources and opportunities for creative business folks. Today we sit down with Emily Sanford, a NYC-based artist who visits the blog to share how she stays inspired and provides tips for budding textile designers. 

Emily Sanford started exploring surface design while pursuing her undergraduate degree in ceramics. The opportunity to explore textures and pattern opened her eyes to the world of surface design. Using watercolors as her medium, Emily creates a range of beautiful textiles. Here, Emily shares more about how she started designing textiles, where she hopes to take her surface design career and how she stays inspired.

Emily’s Studio | Kaylan Buteyn Photography 

How did you get involved in fabric design?

As a ceramic artist in college I fell in love with color, texture and pattern. My favorite part of my process was researching vintage fabric, wallpaper, and embroidery patterns, and developing linoleum cuts based on those designs to use as stamps on my slab work. Through the years I continued to draw patterns, make paper cuts, and learn graphic design. After my daughter was born, I began working with watercolor as an easy way to stay creative. I fell in love with the texture, vibrancy and movement of watercolor. I began scanning and manipulating my paintings, and learning about repeat patterns. Paint, pattern, and graphic design came together in an amazing way. My new process, as it related to surface pattern design was a perfect fit for me. As a sort of weekly art assignment, I began entering Spoonflower’s contests. My submissions were really bad in the beginning, but I’m so glad I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there. I made my first pattern available for sale in 2013. I have been so pleased to see my business grow so quickly. I have loved working with boutique businesses and manufacturers to see my designs on clothing, home goods, and accessories. I am so grateful to my clients for their support of my work.

Is it your full time job?

When I am not working as a surface pattern designer, I am a mother to my beautiful, brilliant and inspiring 3 year old daughter, Clara.

Emily working in her studio | Kaylan Buteyn Photography 

What has been your biggest challenge?

I am always trying to move my work forward to art that is new and exciting to me and my clients; while also ensuring it feels consistent with my brand. It’s a fun challenge to overcome and one that’s helped me grow as an artist to find new ways to build my business and expand my portfolio.

Fabric Swatches | Kaylan Buteyn Photography 

What has been your biggest success?

The success I’ve had on Spoonflower has been the most rewarding of my career so far. It has increased my exposure, and connections in exciting ways, and opened up opportunities to work with companies like ZÜCA, and Carousel Designs as well as many more currently in the works.

Watercolors | Kaylan Buteyn Photography 

What’s your creative sound track?

I regularly listen to audio books from LibriVox as well as creative and business podcasts. Here are some of my favorites: Monica Lee’s Smart Creative Women, Pencil vs Pixel, Elise Get’s Crafty.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone pursuing a creative career?

Stay true to you. Our own creative perspective is our greatest asset. If we consume too much inspiration, we can become crippled with competitive comparison and overwhelmed by the success of others. Find out what makes your work unique and commit to it wholeheartedly. I’m so delighted to know that my work has is own unique value. When we truly believe in that value, it will help us to share, promote, improve and ultimately sell our work more effectively.

Emily’s Studio | Kaylan Buteyn Photography 

Who/what inspires your work?

My artist friends inspire and encourage me to continue working, they share their struggles and triumphs, and have been so essential to my artistic health. I love following other artists and brands on Instagram. Looking behind the scenes at their process, inspiration and studio space encourages me in my own work. I’m always learning new techniques, tools and methods from my fellow artists.
I am daily inspired by my pattern-filled city. The vibrant people, fashions, architecture and museums are a perfect stimulus for creativity. My iPhone is full of inspiring images I’ve taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and other amazing sites around New York. I am daily pulling from them for inspiration.  I try to stay current on print, art, and fashion blogs that keep me up to date on trends such as: The Jealous Curator, Pattern People, and Color Collective.

What resources have you found really useful?

Pattern Observer has a nice community full of great interviews, tips and classes.
I also love Creative Live classes and could spend all day watching their photography, art and design classes. YouTube always has the answer to almost any technical question I have.
The New York Public Library has an amazing digital image collection. It feels like digging through found vintage papers at a flea market, which is right up my alley.

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