In the latest iteration of our Meet the Designer series, we discuss life and creativity with Kate Fearn (Petite_circus), a designer and illustrator who works from home in the Stroud Valleys, UK. With 14 years of in-house experience designing and illustrating children’s books, she has more recently broadened her portfolio to include surface design. Her work is inspired by everything from historic textiles, to English heritage, and fairy tales. Visit her Spoonflower shop, check out her recent winning “Vintage Christmas” design, and keep reading to find out what she’s up to these days.
Where do you currently live?
I live in the Stroud Valleys in the heart of the Cotswolds, UK. I live with my partner and 2.5 year old son in a rather decrepit red brick Victorian cottage overlooking a valley which has a river and canal running along the bottom of it. It’s the green and pleasant land where Laurie Lee drank cider with Rosie.
How long have you been designing? Where did you learn?
I started designing for children in 2001 when I joined a leading children’s publisher in London. My days were filled with cutting and sticking and lots of glitter. I would be illustrating or making the artwork for activity books and also design books for other illustrators, depending on the project it could be a picture book or sticker book etc. I learnt all the skills I have during those 14 years, it really pushed me to learn all the computer programs I now use and how to tackle any brief with a fresh eye, how to research, work quickly and efficiently with tight deadlines and unique subject matter, how to juggle projects and prioritize. Working in-house has been an invaluable experience. I stepped away from the world of children’s books when I had my son and since then have been working on my art work and loving every minute exploring new areas of design and illustration including pattern design which I’ve completely fallen in love with. I’ve enrolled in a few online courses which are really helping to refresh my portfolio and learn new skills.
When did you open your Spoonflower shop?
I opened my Spoonflower shop at the beginning of 2015. My son was a year old and I really wanted to challenge myself to work to a brief and see what I could come up with. I hadn’t worked on anything since leaving my job, so I chose to sign up for a Spoonflower competition and that was it–I was quite hooked. I loved designing patterns so much and being part of the Spoonflower community was so lovely along side looking after my son. It really was just for fun and as a little challenge and it’s turned out to be a change in career direction, or rather expansion, for me. I love it.
My day starts very slowly. A little sing-song voice wakes me, perhaps a little earlier than I’d like, I’m not much of a morning person so a nice cup of tea is essential to wake me up. Then we amble along at the pace of a 2.5 year old taking rather a long time to do everything. I’m sure this will all change with the introduction of playgroup and timetables very soon but for now I’m enjoying the free flow.
I fell in love with design…
I would find that very hard to pinpoint. I think perhaps I didn’t so much fall in love with design as it’s just a part of who I am and it always has been. I come from a very long line of creative people going back generations so the way I live has always been surrounded by creativity. I’ve always drawn and made things, it was never a conscious decision to go into this industry; it was more the only thing I was going to do in some form or other. I thought I would go into textiles or interior styling, but somehow I veered off into fine art and philosophy before working in publishing, and then came full circle to where I am now.
Who or what influences or inspires your work and why?
Literally everything inspires and influences my work– from the old flaky paint in my old outhouse to places I’ve seen on my travels. I take everything in, sketch, write notes, take photos and collect copious amounts of reference. A major passion of mine is historic textiles from all around the world; I could dive into that and get lost for weeks. I love Japanese culture, past and present– how old and new seamlessly live side by side. I also love children’s books–especially fairy tales, English heritage, and flora and fauna of all kinds.
The secret to a strong collection is…
Looking at other illustrators, I admire how they always have a very strong and distinctive style, have interesting and engaging themes, and very strong sense of colour. Their coordinates always compliment each other with a range of scale and complexity that sit well together side-by-side. With my own work, I feel my pattern journey has only just begun and this is an area I need to work on, so I shall look forward to enrolling in a class or two to learn more.
The best advice I ever received is…
Oh I’ve recently received so much wonderful advice from different creatives, but one that keeps following me about at the moment is ‘Make more art.’ No matter what your circumstance, if you want to improve, you’ve got to do the work. It’s so true. For me, I’m always expecting to come to a point where I have more time, but I never do, so I’ve got to make the time. Make more art in spite of it, or with it, or around it. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway.