Meet the Artists: Anastasia Mutovina, Emery Smith, Fern Leslie, Karin van der Vegt

MAY 12, 2019 updated Nov 23, 2021
Anastasya Mutovina portrait
Fern Leslie portrait
Emery Smith portrait
Karin van der Vegt portrait

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!

Anastaysa Mutovina and her adventure cat Snowball, a cream cat with brown stripes, whose head you can see peeking out of navy backpack on Anastasya's back, are walking in nature.
Anastaysa and her adventure cat, Snowball

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.

Some of Emery Smith's designs. The image on the left has a small children's dress with long sleeves and pink and purple dinosaurs with a dark green zipper-front hoodie around the left half of the dress. A toy red-and-cream Jeep is to the top left of the image and small plastic dinosaurs are to the dress's bottom and right. The image on the right is a close up of a design with watercolor rainbow-hued dinosaurs.
Emery’s colorful Dinosaurs collection is perfect for all kids

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.

My designer name, Revista, is inspired by my passion for travel. When traveling, you look at the world in a different way. ‘Re-vista’ means; look again and the view might surprise you.


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.

Some of Anastasya Mutovina's designs. On the left is a drawing of three sloths. One is floating on a flamingo raft in water, one is a mermaid drinking a drink poured into a pineapple and one is sleeping on top of a watermelon slice. On the right is a small child wearing hat with two gray fabric ears and a design with monsters skiing and snowboarding. The hat comes under the child's chin and is covering their chest.
Anastaysa’s cute character sketches

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.

Fern Leslie in her work space. Fern is sitting in a cream chair with her feet up on an ottoman. A keyboard is propped up on her thighs and a large computer screen, with hexagon-like designs in process on it, is angled off of a work desk. On the work desk is a cup full of large brown-and-white bird feathers, paperwork and folders.
We’re loving Fern’s super comfy work space!

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!

Karin van der Vegt in her work space. On the left is an image of Karin at her laptop. She is sitting at a wooden desk and there are designs of fruit on the screen. On the right, Karin is painting watermelon slices.
Tropical Summer Fruit collection by revista

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.

A photo of Anastasya Mutovina at work. Anatasya is photographed from the back. You can see a drawing of whales in progress on a computer screen.

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!

On the left is a photo of a design by Emery Smith printed on a small romper. The design is a watercolor forest complete with trees in purple and yellow and green and pink and purple and blue mountains, blue raindrops and rainbows. On the right, Emery is working on a watercolor painting. There are dozens of small containers of paints in all colors on a desk above the painting of jagged stripes in a rainbow of colors.

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.

Two Fern Leslie designs: on the left is a design with a light blue-gray background. There are small white flowers repeating in the design, with lemons on branches and small bees flying around the image. On the right is a close up of bees at work on individual honeycomb pieces. There are also small white flowers outlined in black.
Fern’s Bees and Lemons design won first place in our Pollinators Design Challenge

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.

Two Karin van der Vegt designs. On the left is a butterfly design by Karin with pink butterflies and purple butterflies on a cream pillow on a pink velvet couch. On the right is a close up of the same butterfly design but with a mint background.
Vintage Butterflies on Mint by revista

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!

Two designs from Anastasya Mutovina's Fairytales collection. On the left, woodland creature are camping. There are yellow platypuses, blue and yellow bears, and blue whales. They are all going on an adventure, some of the bears are rowing small boats. On the right is a design with ominous looking gray wolves, a small black cabin and a young girl wearing a red-hooded jacket with brown pigtails and carrying a yellow basket.
Fairytales collection by penguinhouse

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.

A design in progress by Emery Smith of watercolor rainbows on a large page of paper. There are also mountains, trees and raindrops that are either pink or green or blue or turquoise or orange. Paintbrushes are lying next to the page of paper. The paper is on a brown wooden desk with green, red, blue and yellow paint marks.
Emery is definitely not afraid to proclaim their love for rainbows!

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.

An image of Emery Smith's workspace. There is small computer monitor with Emery's Spoonflower shop up showing several designs in small squares. There is a blue and white painting on the wall to the left of the monitor. Fabric designs, some with rainbows, and another with white dots on a black background appear on and around the desk.
Emery’s magical studio space has us in absolute awe

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.

A trio of designs from Fern Leslie's "Ocean, Fish, Coastal" collection. On the left are large cream, gray and white sea shells on a mint background. In the middle are small sea shells with mint insides and outside they are cream with either gray or brown accents. On the right is the sea shell design on a mint background on wallpaper.
From digital design to fabric in hand | Ocean, Fish, Coastal collection by fernlesliestudio

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.

Karin van der Vegt is photographer from the back. She is looking at pages with her fruit designs on them. There is a page with various purple fruit, a page with watermelon slices, a page with lemons, a page with green onions and a page with strawberries. She is holding a page with beets in her left hand and a page with carrots in her right. The pages are laying on a large brown wooden desk.

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.

On the left is Anastasya Mutovina's design with happy sharks in a bright blue sea. One shark is holding an orange surfboard. One shark is going after three small orange fish. Some sharks are smiling and waving. On the right is this design made into a two-piece bathing suit. The suit is sitting on an orange background.
Anastaysa’s Spoonflower shop: penguinhouse

Emery: I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, I’m nonbinary and I collect Transformers!

On the left is a design by Emery Smith of watercolor rainbows in various sizes. On the right is a design by Emery of watercolor rainbow seahorses floating amidst rainbow coral and starfish and shells.
Emery’s Spoonflower shop: emerysmithstudio

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.

Fern Leslie's designs made into a quilt. Some patches are floral, others have small gray foxes. A baby is lying on the quilt wearing a cream long-sleeve one piece and someone is looking down and cooing at the baby. On the right,  a baby is lying on a quilt made up of geometric pink, black and white squares in varying designs, some are stripes, some have white flowers.
Fern’s Spoonflower shop: fernlesliestudio

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.

Two of Karin van der Vegt's designs. On the left is an alphabet with letters in all different colors, from yellow to blue to green to orange and more. Each letter has an animal whose name starts with that letter. (So there is a horse in front of the "H" for example.) On the left are small watercolor animals. There is a gray penguin, a brown donkey, a green turtle, a pink flamingo with a light pink flamingo baby, a gray dolphin and brown foxes, monkey and squirrel.
Karin’s Spoonflower shop: revista

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  • Wow! This is so inspirational. Sometimes I get in a creative rut and hearing how other artists deal with that is super helpful. I also love seeing other designers’ work spaces.

  • Loved reading about the designers. It helps me to appreciate the fabric that I have bought .Made a pillow for a little boy from Enery’s Water color dinasaurs and he was delighted.