The Value of an Offline Education

I decided to write about my experience of offline education because ever since I stopped going into a live classroom environment, I have actually appreciated what I got out of it more.  I’ve been lucky to have had some great tutors along the way who inspired me. Perhaps this is the biggest advantage of offline education - the people aspect. I’m not for one or the other (online vs offline); I think a combination of both is best, especially if you work in an arts related field.

As an adult returning to education, the thought of committing to a course and schedule for 3 long years (the average length of a university degree) was too daunting for me.  I dropped out of the first year of a two year foundation degree course. I’m glad I did and the reasons for leaving are etc. but I knew even then that it wouldn’t just end there.

For a start, London the city I live in is full of wonderful educational institutions offering a huge variety of courses.  Education in the UK is big business after all!

Anyway, I was familiar with one college in particular located in central London (Covent Garden) where many years previous whilst holding a full time office job, I took an interesting textiles related course.  Little did I know then that so many years later I’d be going back to do similar courses there and have a ton of artwork to draw from in my current practice.

The institution in question is City Lit College.   I was most impressed with the quality of teaching there and their facilities.  I found the expertise and friendly approach so great. Everyone was showing up to have fun and learn from each other - support was great.   Unlike my previous university/college experience were there was a real issue with motivation with the students I was around (kids!).

The practical textiles courses I’ve taken at City Lit involved creative stitching, learning various fabric dyeing methods and of course fabric screen printing.

I chose to also diversify my learning by taking a printmaking course which involved visiting the British Museum to draw inspiration for our project.  I loved the physicality of the process the most and to my satisfaction, never left class without dirty pair of hands! :)

Lastly, I couldn’t recommend enough taking the various courses on Photoshop for pattern design there.  The first one I took was called “From Art to Digital” and was so much fun as we got to do lots of playful mark making in week one followed by scanning and putting our work in repeat the following week.  The latter was a revelation for me and got me hooked straight away into learning this craft.

Since then, I’ve taken courses exclusively online with Make it in Design and The Textiles Lab which have a lot to offer from beginner to advanced level designers but I am also missing the classroom and considering giving City Lit another go.

As I want to develop my floral drawing skills and there’s a course there just for this, I’m ready to sign up! Watch this space...can’t wait to share the results and work in progress!

Working Freelance with Studios

There comes a point in a budding freelance designer’s career when a decision is made to approach potential studios to work with. With this post I’m going to share what I’ve learnt from working with a number of studios who contract freelancers from around the world to design prints for women’s fashion.  Studios work differently and offer different rates of artist commission which vary between 30-60% for each piece of sold artwork. The studios I’ve worked with have been based in London, New York and LA although I’ve noticed there are quite a few also operating from Australia and Brazil.

The process of finding the right studio involves a fair amount of web research to find companies whose aesthetic closely match your design handwriting.  This is a very important step to get right to avoid wasting your time along the line. It’s easy to just contact anyone who remotely shows work that you like or aspire to do but doesn’t resemble your current work output...or to contact studios who actively encourage applications from designers on their contact page just to see how it goes.  I wouldn’t recommend applying for the sake of it as my experience of this is that if it’s not a good match from the beginning you’ll soon end up frustrated with the work they expect you to produce.

When researching a studio it’s important to know the following:

  • How many designers already work for it a small team or are there several dozens? This will impact you on the basis of competition and may be a sign of poor retention if they work with several dozen designers.

  • Which trade shows do they attend?  Some successful studios don’t attend any and still do well but ideally you’ll want your studio/s to show at a couple at least (preferably the big ones such as Premier Vision/Printsource/Surtex).

  • Do they require the work to be in repeat or not?  Colour separated? My experience has been that most don’t as this gives the client flexibility to adapt it as required.

  • Does the studio retain your work for up to a year after either party terminates the contract or are you able to “get it back” after 30 days of terminating the contract?

  • How much feedback will they give you on your work?  Some studios don’t and this can be quite frustrating especially if they don’t sell much of your work and you don’t know why that might be.

  • How organised do they seem? How good are they at communicating with their designers?  This is sometimes hard to tell at the beginning of a relationship but has had a major impact in my experience so far.  

  • Lastly, some studios impose an exclusivity clause which means you are contracted to work with them only.  This isn’t ideal in my experience as working with up to 2 or 3 studios simultaneously (full time commitment) makes more sense from a financial and creative perspective.

It’s also good to check their social media feeds to see how engaged they are and how actively they are promoting new work.  Instagram is the main means by which I’ve found studios to work with as they tend to post there every time they are recruiting freelancers.   I have also used LinkedIN to research studios and contact some of the artists they work with to ask them questions about working with the studio.  Both Instagram and LinkedIN are definitely good channels to be on as some studios directly look for designers to recruit via these channels. Do bear in mind that it’s a big no-no to show in social media any original motifs you are creating as part of the work you’ll submit to a studio.  This is mostly the case for apparel where the studio sells the artwork’s copyright outright and not on a license agreement.

Once you’re signed by one or more studios, you’ll receive design briefs on a weekly or monthly basis.  The scope of direction given by the studio varies immensely from company to company. You may be asked to submit anything from 3 to an unspecified number of designs (you decide) or there might not even be a submission deadline at all which makes it very flexible for you.  For women’s fashion, you’ll generally submit a group of designs fitting a chosen theme with 6 individual and unique motifs. For other markets such as stationary or quilting you may be asked to produce a collection group instead which consists of say 2 “hero” prints, 2 complimentary prints (less detailed work) and 2 filler prints (e.g. dots/stripes/one small repeated motif from one of the main prints).

Some studios like to have more control than others sending you moodboards or individual picture files to reference for the theme of the brief they’ll want you to complete. Some include a colour swatch to work from as well.  Some also require you to send initial work completed for approval first (say the first 2-3 designs) so they can give you feedback along the way and know that what you’re working on is in line with the overall brief aesthetic.

Once the work is completed you’ll be asked to submit a layered (Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator) file with copies of the file in other formats and resolution as well such as JPEG or TIFF.  This is for the purpose of their online catalogue and sample printing requirements. You may also be asked to place the final artwork onto a template which may also show a unique artwork file reference number.  Files are usually sent via We Transfer or Dropbox.

Interested buyers will be able to see your work online after requesting a password to access the studio’s online catalogue (valid for a limited time)  or at a trade fair where your work may be displayed on paper or on printed fabric. Buyers also get visited by the studio’s sales reps whose job is to travel around the world on an ongoing basis making appointments to showcase the studio’s latest collections.  Depending on the market your work fits in and how detailed it is, it may sell for anything from $300-$800.

As a freelancer you’ll be asked to raise an invoice for every sold piece and may receive notification of a sale as soon as a client buys your print or you may just receive a monthly notification of sales.  Clients are requested to submit payment between 10-30 days of purchase and it’s important to know this so you know how long you may need to wait to receive payment yourself.

Final points - working for a studio on a freelance basis is a great way to develop your skills as a designer completing lots of briefs which may challenge you to design themes you may not have thought of working on before.  The pros of working for yourself and being location independent are great but like with any freelance work contract, there is no guaranteed salary at the end of day hence why it’s so important to find the right studio that is most likely to sell the type of work you enjoy producing.  It’s important to remember that freelancing with a studio is a mutually beneficial relationship and shouldn’t be one-sided in favour of the studio. You need to be as happy and comfortable to work in collaboration with a studio and vice-versa.