Meet the Artist Katie Hayes

Color Nugget by katie_hayes

Nestled in the beautiful woods of Hillsborough, North Carolinajust a short drive from Spoonflower HQ livesprintmaker and surface designer Katie Hayes and her family of four (five including her fun-loving pup!) From Covid-19 pivots to working on designs while balancing parenthood, come along as we give you an inside peek into Katie’s Spoonflower journey in our latest Meet the Artist spotlight.

Where do you live?

Hillsborough NC, which is located about 20 minutes from the Spoonflower headquarters in Durham. It’s a small, progressive southern town that still feels connected to rural life,  which is pretty perfect for me. I live in the woods, a few miles outside of town.

My day starts with…

My kids. But once I get everyone fed, clothed, and dropped off at school,  I like to go for a walk in the woods with my dog. By traveling the same path every day, I get to experience my environment changing in real-time. I get excited about the first redbud blooms of the year or seeing how high the creek gets after a big storm. The plants and animals I see in the woods definitely influences what I create in the studio. 

Person wearing a backpack featuring illustrations of owls and moons standing near a body of water with a forest in the distance

Totepack made by @tbirdleather with Snow Flight by katie_hayes

I fell in love with design when…

I moved back to North Carolina after living for 6 years in the Midwest. For me, it was a wonderful feeling to be back in such a familiar natural setting, but my daughter, aged 5 at the time, was really depressed. She had just moved away from the only home she had ever known, and wasn’t yet connected here. My design journey started when I began drawing coloring book pages for her of the native North Carolina plants and animals to get her excited about her new home. When my sister said “Hey, I wish I could have those drawings made into sheets for my son’s bed,” I discovered Spoonflower, and that’s where it all began.

What’s in your toolbox?

When I was first starting out, I used paper, sharpie, and Adobe® Illustrator®.  These days, I usually begin drawing on the iPad, because I love the way digital drawing lets me experiment. I also sometimes carve linoleum blocks and print/scan those in.  I love block printing, and really appreciate the textures I can get through that process. Whether it’s digitally drawn, or carved and scanned, most of my patterns are still finished in Adobe Illustrator. 

Carved linoleum block with carving tools by a print on paper of Cardinal Flowers with a deep yellow circle behind it

What is your process when creating a new design?

When I create for Spoonflower, I almost always try and think about how I could make a niche design. So, maybe I’m not just trying to make a floral, I’m trying to make a floral with native wildflowers, or an art deco design with pinecones. I try to always start with an idea for a surface pattern design that you can’t find anywhere else. I think that’s what Spoonflower customers love— beautifully crafted designs that are unlike what they could find in a traditional store.

When I’m in my studio I feel…

Focused, calm, and happy.

Katie holds a piece of paper that says "I deigned your fabric" in front fabric swatches hanging off of a clothesline

Katie standing in front of swatches of her fabric designs participating in Fashion Revolution, a global movement that calls for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion and textiles industry. 

Who influences or inspires you work and why?

So many people. I make a lot of art with my kids, and that is a really fun way to get inspired by playfulness and color. I also love to ask my friends to share pictures to inspire me. For example, for the recent Spoonflower Mushroom Design Challenge, I asked my friends to share their favorite fungi pics. I ended up with hundreds of photos to use as reference material, and it was a great way to involve folks in my network who don’t sew but still want to support me as a designer. 

Katie's children flip through a book near some of their toys

Katie’s two children getting inspired!

If I could live in a painting, I would live in…

Pileated Woodpecker, by John J. Audubon. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a naturalist, and his detailed illustrations of birds were endlessly inspiring to me.

Illustration of four pileated woodpecker perched on a tree eating berries

I’d love to see one of my designs turned into a…

Wallpaper or upholstery fabric in a historical renovation.

The secret to a strong collection is…

Not to put it off. I don’t know about y’all but my favorite pattern is usually the one I just finished. I like to build my coordinates as soon as I’m finished with my leading pattern, while I’m still excited about the subject matter and colors. Sometimes a pattern I make as an afterthought ends up being the best one in a collection, and that’s probably because I’ve stopped “overthinking it” by that point.

Katie’s block prints drying and on display in a handmade trade show booth

My mantra is…

Hmm…I’m not sure if this is a mantra, but like many artists, I’m always struggling with imposter syndrome. If you create things that are beautiful and meaningful to you, then you ARE a real artist.  Don’t wait for others to validate you. 

What drew you to Spoonflower?

I got started because I loved the idea of turning my artwork into something functional, like fabric. I’ve stayed with it because the emphasis Spoonflower puts on sustainability and fair living wages mirrors my own values, and I love being part of their community.

For someone new to trying Spoonflower’s Weekly Design Challenges, what advice would you give?

First of all, DO THEM! I never went to art school, so for me, the challenges have been sort of like a crash course in design. If you work through the prompts, you’re guaranteed to learn something new and grow as an artist. Also, the challenges are a great way to get real-time feedback from your peers. Finally, remember that even if you don’t rank highly in a design challenge, it doesn’t mean your pattern won’t sell well, so don’t get discouraged!