Meet the Artists: Monika Suska, Jay Trolinger, Kim Johnson, Vivian Ducas

SEP 8, 2019 updated Nov 24, 2021
Monika Suska portrait
Kim Johnson portrait
Jay Trolinger portrait
Vivian Ducas portrait

In this month’s Designer Spotlight, we’re especially happy to introduce four designers from our diverse Marketplace that have (at least) one thing in common: They all submitted their best work and stories via our Featured Spoonflower Designer interview questionnaire. Interested in submitting your application to be a featured designer? Follow the link at the end of the interview to learn more.


Meet September’s Featured Designers

Monika Suska from Poland: My style is fun and cute with just a touch of nostalgia here and there, and very character-driven.

A character work in progress from Monkia's drawing board featuring a pink elephant wearing a red beaded necklace with a white flower with a yellow center on a gray background. Small sketches of other animals, including an alligator with an apple its mouth, appear around the elephant.
A character work in progress from Monika’s drawing board

Jay Trolinger from the United States: My work is textural, abstract, and painterly, with a strong undercurrent of geometry.

On the left: Jay Trollinger standing next to a large life-size blue and purple geometric quilt in wire and thread. On the right: a close up of Jay's Masala Quilt design, which features, small purple and maroon geometric triangles and squares outlined in cream.
Featured design is from Jay’s Masala Quilt collection

Kim Johnson from the United States: My style is fun, bright, nature-inspired and hand-drawn.

On the left, eight fabrics from Kim's Surfer Girl collection, featuring designs with rainbow striped hearts, watermelon and kiwi slices on a light red background and tropical plants. On the right, a shoulder bag with the print of watermelon and kiwi slices on a light red background is on the shoulder of a person turned to the side wearing a white blouse and a yellow, blue and red striped skirt. They are standing in front a green bushes.
Surfer Girl collection by kimjohnsonstudios

Vivian Ducas from Canada: My designs are original, vibrant and a fabulous mess.

A watercolor piece by Vivian in progress of a red flower on green stems with green leaves sits on a dark wooden table next to paintbrushes on a large white piece of paper. Fabric with another floral watercolor design sits to the left of the painting.
From paper to fabric: Browse Viv’s many watercolor collections

What’s one design tool you can’t live without?

Monika: I work in Photoshop using a tiny Wacom Bamboo tablet, but I do also sketch with regular pencils that I buy in bulk whenever I’m in Bangkok. Those pencils have cutest kawaii prints on them and somehow never break.

Jay: In the digital world, I’m most at home in Photoshop. I also use SketchUp, which is useful when I want to work with 3D shapes and unusual geometry. I also use it to mock up physical spaces for sculpture and installations. For physical media, I love block printing, natural dye, embroidery, and ink on paper.

Jay's design Chalk Strings - Paprika is on the left as shown as wallpaper, it has a cream background and strings of orange thread geometrically scattered throughout in triangle shapes. On the right, Jay's design Strung Out - Rust is shown as wallpaper on a wall with an orange background and cream thread tangled and woven throughout the design.
Chalk Strings – Paprika and Strung Out – Rust by ormolu

Kim: Watercolor, inks, my iPad and various other art tools. I love to sew and knit, and I’m just getting into weaving.

Small pieces of fabric designed by Kim lay on a brown table with a small turquoise tape measure, scissors, rotary cutter, a seam ripper, a spool of thread and other sewing tools. Kim's designs are overlocking black lines on a white background, small squares of blue, purple, yellow and orange on a light pink background and small purple half circles with small dark purple lines inside on a white background.
We cannot deny our love for neat and tidy tools — and we love them just as much as the mess we’ll make while creating!

Vivian: Well, I can tell you about tools (and the role of good health) but really, SPOONFLOWER is the HUB my designs cannot live without. Thank you to all the good folks at Spoonflower for making a place to meet human connections, and for making creative transformations accessible for all.

Aw, shucks, Vivian. You’re making us blush!

Vivian's design Gingham Watercolors, which features a gingham pattern with white sections and blue watercolor sections as seen on a pair of custom bunkbeds with a small narrow white wooden staircase in the middle of the two bunkbeds
Custom curtains featuring gingham watercolors in blue by vivsfabulousmess

What inspires your work?

Monika: I travel quite a lot, so that is my main source of inspiration. I love folk art from around a world and I create a lot of patterns loosely inspired by things like Mexican Alebrijes or Chinese cut paper. From a different angle, my fellow artists inspire me to constantly work on my craft, push my boundaries and grow as an artist. I’d call it positive envy. 🙂

On the left, Monika's design Miss Exotic, featuring cats wearing fancy dress and flowers on their heads amid butterflies and a green background, as worn by a sphinx cat. On the right, a close up of Monika's Spirits of the Emerald Forest design, where green cats, bears and rabbits blend in with green trees, except for the crowns of purple, blue and white flowers on their heads!
Designs: Miss Exotic and Spirits of the Emerald Forest by monika_suska | Cat photo provided by Simply Sphynx

Jay: I’m no scientist, but I’ve always been drawn to scientific imagery; bubble chambers, x-rays, antennae, microscopic animals, fractals, tilings, and so on. I love the natural elegance of Japanese textiles, the opulence of Indian fabrics, and the bright, structural pop of Scandinavian design. Architecture always interests me. I love to see the bones of new buildings as they go up. I also enjoy the frayed, decaying textures of old buildings as they return to earth.

Kim: Nature, music, vintage art books and pattern. I am also in love with Art Deco right now.

On the left: A close up of a design by Kim as seen as wallpaper. The design has a gray blue background and white whispy lines throughout. On the right: a sheet set with a white background and blue-gray flowers flowing throughout on a dark wooden bed. A tall green plant is behind the bed as is a window with white curtains.
Kim’s Vintage Island Breeze collection is the remedy we need for a relaxing space

Viv: I’m inspired by the sun, gardens, water, and all the things that interrupt passing time…and the misunderstanding of chaos.

Vivian's design Cestlaviv_Lemontwist as seen as a table runner on a wooden table with a white ceramic bowl filled with apples on it and a tablecloth with glasses and a glass of nuts and a vase of flowers on the table. The design has a white background with yellow wavy lines going across it horizontally.
Sunny and bright; Cestlaviv_Lemontwist by vivsfabulousmess

Share a defining moment that shaped your creative path:

Monika: When I was 16 my friend gave me a children’s picture book illustrated by Delphine Durand. It was a bit of an inside joke but I remember very clearly that it hit me: “This is what I want to do! I want to illustrate awesome books like this one.” Nineteen years and over 60 books that I have illustrated later, this is still my “day job” and I love it! My background in children’s publishing strongly influences what I do as a surface designer. My patterns are usually full of fun characters that tell a story.

Some of Monika's character black-and-white sketches. Small mice are having a festive day amidst mushrooms that look like party tents.
Character sketches by monika_suska

Jay: In 2000, I got a job at a small architectural firm in Berkeley, California. I had no formal education in architecture or computer graphics, but I loved playing with Photoshop, so I handled a lot of their digital graphics and also served as printer-whisperer. That meant I could also print my own designs on the wide-format printer when nobody else needed it. I got really into making custom gift wrap this way and, when I left in 2005, I felt I was ready to start selling my own gift wrap. Turns out, I had a lot to learn about starting my own business, but I kept working on digital repeats and eventually got a degree in Textiles from California College of the Arts in 2015.

A close up of a textured design called Gnomon by Jay. A maze of cream, khaki, orange and brown triangles merges to a yellow square.
See more textured geometry from Jay’s Gnomon collection

Kim: About 10 years ago one of the felt pillows I made was featured on the Today Show, later followed by several magazine features. That was my first taste of selling in the market and I was hooked.

Viv: I’ll tell you about the defining moment of how I got the name C’est la Viv. When I travel, I make my own postcards—usually out of found cardstock—and after writing my message, I top it off with a big colorful stamp to mail off to friends and family back home. On a long and bumpy bus ride through France in 1995, I decided to paint with my Aquarelle (watercolor) paints on beautiful french Arches 130lb paper to make picture-perfect postcards of what I could only see through the windows. Well, needless to say, the wet colors spilled and splat all over. “Well, such is life,” I thought, so I signed my cards C’est la Viv, a more personalized twist on the french idiom, c’est la vie.

On the left, a small child is wearing a flower crown and curlers in their heair while wearing a jumpsuit with Vivian's design Watercolor Hearts, which has a white background with small pink watercolor hearts dotted throughout. On the right, a close up of the Watercolor Hearts design.
Watercolor Hearts by vivsfabulousmess

How do you get out of a design rut?

Monika: For me, that’s an easy fix—I go outside. Nature or city, alone or with company, it doesn’t matter. The point is to take a break.
The second thing that works are Spoonflower’s Weekly Design Challenges—those themes are usually not my typical go-to and very often outside of my comfort zone and that’s very refreshing. Pinterest also works!

Jay: When I get stuck, I always go back to basic geometry. I get up from my computer, pull out a pad of graph paper, a compass, a straight edge, and a good black pen. Sometimes, I will try to learn one of the old-school tricks for constructing sacred geometry. Before long, I usually find myself riffing on the original shapes and then I’m back in the game. Color usually comes after shape for me. When I want to break away from my go-to palettes, I find a photograph I like and isolate a few key colors from it. I’m also a big fan of chance in design, so the “Randomize” button in Photoshop’s Gradient Map tool is always my friend!

On the left: A close up of Jay's Darn - Fog design, which has a gray background with squares outlined and bisected by white lines. On the right: a portrait of Jay standing in front of small triangular mirrors.
Inspired by shape: Darn – Fog by ormolu

Kim: I usually grab a blank piece of paper or my iPad and start scribbling. Once I get in the flow something usually emerges. If that doesn’t work I watch old movies, especially from the 1940s. The fashion and furnishings always have unique and interesting pattern and design.

On the left: Fabric with a blue floral design on a white background by Kim sits with a seam ripper, scissors, a small metal bobbin and green thread. On the right: the small floral design made into a handbag with a yellow and white gingham fabric on the inside.
Sanibel Island, Palm Trees Blue and Water Jungle Leaves Linen by kimjohnsonstudios

Viv: Go outside.

An in-process photo of a watercolor painting of flowers by Vivian. A piece of paper still wet with paint, sits on the ground outside next to paint brushes, paint and jars of water used for cleaning brushes.

Share three fun facts about yourself:

Monika: I can pack my bag and be ready to travel anywhere in 30 minutes (that includes makeup), I can’t drive and I lost my last baby tooth when I was 18.

Jay: I’m a drummer who spent years playing for dance classes. I love to cook international cuisine—Korean is my current obsession. Lastly, I got my BA in Textiles at age 50.

Kim: I have lived in 2 countries and 6 states. My great-great-aunt was commissioned to paint a miniature portrait of The Duke of Windsor. Milk is my favorite drink!

Viv: I make homemade yogurt, I once won a dance contest and I spill and splat (watercolors)!


Which color best expresses your personality?

Monika: Pink. It’s playful, not very serious (in a good way) and I draw cute animals for a living so…

On the left, Monika is sitting on a tree root surrounded by rabbits, some of which eating food out of Monika's hand. On the right, a close up of Monika's Girls Will Be Girls design, featuring girls from all over the world and a few cats, are drawn in black ink on a white background. There are pink accents in the girl's cheeks, and on what they are wearing, like a pink hair ribbon, collar detail, or design on their dress.
Girls Will Be Girls by monika_suska

Jay: Orange. It usually stands out, can occasionally be loud or obnoxious, but can also be deeply nourishing, like citrus or sunsets.

Kim: Yellow. I’m a happy person, a Leo and I love the warm sun on my face. I’m from Toronto, Canada originally and am now living in South Florida.

What advice would you give to new designers in the Spoonflower Marketplace?

Monika: My advice is more about a creative career in general: Don’t give up too easily or too quickly! When you feel like it’s really time to give up that means that you still need a couple more years of work to succeed.

Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, meditate, sleep enough, be social, etc. Artists tend to neglect this far too often. I believe that being in shape—both physically and mentally—helps me be more creative and more prolific.

On the left, Monika's design Born to Meow on a tote bag. The design has a cream background with cats and fish drawn in a vintage tattoo style. On the right, Monika is sitting at the edge of a pool wearing a blue bathing suit and reading a book. Lush flowers and vegetation is behind Monika.
Browse Monika’s Born to Meow collection | Left photo provided by Bags by April

Jay: Learn to make a good repeat. Mirroring tools are helpful in a pinch, but the kaleidoscope look will never be as compelling as a well-designed repeat. And if you really want to do a deep dive into how symmetry works, check out Peter S. Stevens’ classic, Handbook of Regular Patterns. It’s also really helpful to enter the Design Challenges. You may never win, (I’ve only made the top 10 once!), but it stretches your boundaries and gets your designs in front of other people.

On the left, Jay's design Chalk Strings - Sportsball as seen on a sheet set on a wooden bed. The design is green with white geometric strings weaving throughout. On the right, Jay's design Astroboy - Black & White as seen on a wooden bed. The design is on a white background with black lines woven throughout.
We are loving Jay’s designs on Spoonflower bedding! Featuring: Chalk Strings – Sportsball and Astroboy – Black & White

Kim: Just have fun! Don’t worry yourself with what other designers are doing. Create from the heart, and create what makes you happy. That’s all that matters.

Kim is working in her studio on a sewing machine on a yellow table in front of a large window with greenery outside.
Kim of kimjohnsonstudios in her sunny studio

Viv: Be original. Be creative. Be fabulous! Support your fellow creative. When a customer or client asks you to do something “like this” or “like that“, offer to do it authentically with original work. Or refer them to the original artist/designer. When someone copies, they cheat themselves and lower their value. Put value on your special twist. Those that can see it will find you.

On the left: A close up of Vivian's design Cestlaviv White Blue Ribbon, which features thick bright blue watercolor lines alternating with white lines. On the right, a photo from the Spoonflower Fall 2019 Magazine, of a person doing yoga in front of the White Blue Ribbon wallpaper on the wall.
Viv’s Cestlaviv White Blue Ribbon wallpaper was featured on pg 35 of Spoonflower’s Fall 2019 Magazine

Want to know more about how to be a featured designer? Learn more here.

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  • It’s always so inspiring to read the monthly Spoonflower’s spotlight. Thanks for letting us know wonderful designers with so different styles!

  • I loved reading all of these! I\\\’m especially impressed with Jay, getting his MA at 50. That is so cool! And makes me feel like I don\\\’t have to learn everything young to be successful.