It’s the month of May and we’ve got four brilliant artists for you to meet as part of our Artist Spotlight series. First up is Anastasya Mutovina of penguinhouse who joins us from Siberia, Russia. In one sentence Anastaysa describes her designs as, “full of wonderful creatures and funny animals”. Next comes U.K. artist Emery Smith of emerysmithstudio whose idea of creative inclusivity means, “rainbow watercolor goodness for all”. You may recognize our third artist, Fern Leslie of the U.S., whose recent Pollinator Design Challenge win was one of the most popular images ever posted to our Spoonflower Instagram feed! We also can’t wait to introduce Karin van der Vegt, a Dutch artist whose designer name, revista, is inspired by her passion for traveling.
We first want to know, what influences or inspires your work?
Anastaysa: Journeys! The spirit of freedom, the unknown and adventure. There is nothing better than a plane ticket in your pocket and the anticipation of exploring a new country, its people and nature. I’m an absolute fan of new places!
Emery: Anything and everything, but I’m particularly passionate about creating gender-free designs for kids. A lot of people think gender-neutral or unisex just means grey or yellow—but my surface pattern design ethos has always been: all the colors for all the genders.
I think the heavily gendering of children’s clothing and décor reinforces the idea that boys and girls are inherently different from each other. I don’t believe this at all. I think boys and girls have many more similarities than they do differences, and that gender is in fact much more complex and wonderful than we give it credit for. So I started creating the designs you won’t find in the shops; like pink dinosaurs and rainbow rockets, as well as creating a range of bright, colourful patterns that I hope kids will love irrespective of their gender.
Fern: I live on a forested hilltop, so nature is always a source of ideas. My inspiration also comes from museums—especially pottery and all types of fiber art. Also, my travels—I have 5,000 photos from a recent two-week trip to Morocco that will be feeding my design ideas for a while. As a mother who has raised minority children, I’m sensitive to the need for diverse images in art. So when there are people, usually children, in my designs I give them a variety of skin colors. Behind everything is color. I see color palettes everywhere. I’ve been known to stop a recorded TV program so that I can snap a photo of the color palette on the screen.
Karin: Traveling, playing with my one-year-old, food…Anything I am noticing on a walk, like birds, buildings or trees. Literally, it could be anything, like the weather. I am used to working on Christmas designs in hot summer weather. But when spring is coming and the sun starts to shine I want to make happy, colorful designs.
How do you get out of a design rut?
Anastaysa: Three times a week I try to attend Yoga23 classes. After class, the mind becomes calm and clean, energy is added, and the body feels fresh and grateful. Any active sports can work for me. Biking or snowboarding, swimming, hiking, exploring new places, meeting friends, reading a book or playing with my nephews. After all this, new ideas may appear and the next day I will sit down to work with new forces.
Emery: I tend to go through cycles in my creativity. When my surface pattern design ideas dwindle, I don’t force it; I paint abstract landscapes instead or sew myself something new with Spoonflower fabric. Eventually, the urge and drive to create patterns comes back round again!
Fern: I tend to have the opposite problem. I have so many ideas floating around in my head that it can be hard to narrow things down. I run two successful Etsy shops as well as design for my Spoonflower shop so there is always something demanding my attention. With so many irons in the fire, when one cools off, I just pick up another. I feed off of variety. When a crack opens in my life I tend to fill it. It makes me crazy. I’ve recently filled one of those cracks and started a blog. We’ll see how it goes. Tune in to see if I sink or swim.
Karin: Take a walk, go outside. Read a book or go to a museum. Just start with the one thing that gives you the most energy. Sometimes you have a lot of to-do’s on your list, but the one thing that isn’t on it will get you in your flow again and give you new energy to tackle your other tasks.
Sketching, painting, linocuts and paper-collage are made in my home studio. Three days a week I work from a co-working space for female entrepreneurs, to do all my digital work. It’s an inspiring place with all hard working talented women who are happy to help!
Share a defining moment that shaped your creative path:
Anastaysa: After graduating with a degree in graphic design from a local university, I was working in a studio that was about to close. I didn’t know what I would do. We have a very small town and there were no more design creative studios at that time. My best friend and husband said that I should start working for myself, take interesting projects, enjoy the process and not be afraid of free swimming. He strongly supported me in that moment. And for many years I have been able to draw only what I really want. And it’s amazing.
Emery: After my son was born in 2015 I had post-natal depression and other identity issues and I lost myself for a while. I stumbled upon surface pattern design and Spoonflower and it unknowingly helped me find my way back. I’ve always been someone that thrives on both analytical and creative tasks, and learning surface pattern design gave me a chance to do both, in the small snippets of time I could carve out for myself in the early days with a new baby. Mastering the technical side of repeats gave me something to focus my brain on, whilst creating the handpainted rainbow backgrounds allowed my creativity to run free when my brain had had enough. I quickly became addicted to surface pattern design and have never looked back!
Fern: There were three critical moments that shaped my creative path. When I was 12, my neighbor recognized talent in the drawings I left lying around the house. She was an artist and taught me oil painting in her basement. She gave me an identity. Later, when I entered high school, my father fought the system and insisted I take art classes. Because of him I had art five days a week for four years and learned every 2D and 3D medium out there. His insistence taught me to believe in myself and gave me a wealth of invaluable skills and knowledge. Many years later, after raising my children, everything changed when I said “yes” to renting a studio. Looking back it’s hard for me to believe how nerve-racking that leap was. But one small step after another and here I am, living the maker/designer’s dream.
Karin: I started my own business in 2013 as a graphic designer and have been working for clients in the health industry, food and restaurant industry. In recent years I am moving more towards illustration and refound my love for patterns.
I love working for clients and doing commissions, but when I realized I could also make what I wanted and make a business out of that, it felt like everything felt into place. This way I can keep experimenting with materials to grow as an artist and keep my work fun and refreshing.
Whether it is a drawing with a fineliner pen or watercolor on paper, a linocut print or paper-collage, I like to start with handmade items and arrange them digitally. This way I can use the best of both worlds; the loose and fun look of handmade and the possibilities of playing with color and composition on my computer.
What’s your advice for new designers on Spoonflower?
Anastaysa: Participate in the weekly contests! This is so fun—you read a new theme thinking: What!? How should I draw this? Then you start looking at pictures for inspiration and at trending color palettes. Step-by-step you are drawn. And in the end, it turns into something you did not expect. Each new theme is a joy of discovery. Don’t be afraid and try to participate, the result, in any case, will pleasantly surprise you and be a great experience!
Emery: Create, create, create, and don’t be afraid to share, share, share. Get on Instagram and get involved with all the amazing communities on there. Be inspired by others, but try not to be envious or copy—all artists and designers are on their own personal never-ending journeys of self-improvement. Be yourself, dedicate time to your art, and have fun.
Fern: Stay true to your own voice. No one else can create the designs that will come from you in quite the same way as when you listen for that hum in your gut that belongs to you alone. Secondly, don’t be afraid to learn something new; take whatever time you need. I entered the Spoonflower challenges in order to keep learning. I’m finally at the point where my tool belt of Adobe techniques is solidly strapped on and I can begin to focus more on the designs I want to create. Lastly, it’s never too late! At fifty, I remade my life. After being a stay at home mom, I acquired a studio and kept putting one foot in front of the other until I was running two successful Etsy shops and designing fabric for Spoonflower. I’ve learned to take new paths as they come along and not get too far ahead of myself. The future is always wide open.
Karin: Just make what YOU want to make. There are so many designs you can get lost easily. Ask yourself, what subject appeals to me? What style do I like or want to work on and improve? Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new.
What’s one tool you can’t give up?
Anastaysa: I’m absolutely addicted to my Wacom graphic tablet. Now I use Wacom Cintiq and I just adore it! More recently, I started to use an iPad Pro and drawing in Procreate gives me so much pleasure! This portable tablet and pen are absolutely made for every artist!
Emery: Probably my watercolour palette, which is a carefully curated selection of colours I’ve developed over many years. My Wacom tablet is pretty useful too—my productivity jumped up massively once I’d invested in one.
Fern: Hands down it’s Adobe Illustrator—with my iPad Pro running a close second. Learning Illustrator was an uphill battle. The tutorials were for the up-to-date CC version while I have an ancient CS3 version to work on. And the tutorials all assumed I knew the bare basics. If I hadn’t wanted to learn so badly I would have given up.
Karin: That’s a close call between my brush pen and MacBook. I need my computer to create my pattern, but I love bold brush strokes. Sometimes you get an unpredictable outcome that could bring your design in another (possibly better) direction. It can also help me to not to overthink.
Before we go, tell us three fun facts about yourself:
Anastaysa: I have a twin sister and we are absolutely not identical. As a child, I thought I would work for Disney. Last, our cat’s name is Snowball because we live in Siberia.
Emery: I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, I’m nonbinary and I collect Transformers!
Fern: I have four grown children adopted as infants from three different countries. During college, I worked in a traditional “sweatshop” as a member of the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union). Every spring I make all our maple syrup from the Maple trees in our yard.
Karin: I’ve been playing table tennis since age 7 and can get pretty fanatic. I’ll buy something just because of the pretty packaging. (Especially chocolate!) Lastly, I love reading thrillers.