“Go for It!” Says Fabric Designer Carol van Zandt — Part One

CarolVanZandt_headshotHave you ever thought you might like to try your hand at fabric designing? Jennifer touched on this subject in an earlier post while writing about Spoonflower, a popular online design site. I have the pleasure of knowing the talented fabric designer Carol van Zandt. Carol has been designing fabrics for Andover Fabrics and recently released her new line, Pop Rox. I’m happy to say that I received a packet of these beautiful little gems and am in the process of making a new sampler quilt for an upcoming class.

Since Carol was kind enough to provide me with a wealth of information about her background and design experience, and many photos of projects made using her lovely fabrics, I have decided to break this post into two parts. Be sure to check back on Friday for the second half of this post.

Being curious,  I first asked Carol about her background in color and design. Here’s her response.

 Before I went into fabric design I was a fine artist. In college I majored in studio art and initially focused on printmaking and ceramic sculpture. That led into a long period of painting on paper using mixed media—watercolor, acrylics, and inks. Then we moved to Japan and I studied Japanese calligraphy and sumi-painting seriously for ten years and incorporated that into my paintings. I’ve had about 15 solo shows over the years and have participated in 30+ group shows. In addition to my fine art I have also painted and sold silk scarves, sewn pillows, and made jewelry.

Strawberries: sumi painting scanned into Photoshop to create pattern. By Carol van Zandt.

Strawberries: sumi painting scanned into Photoshop to create pattern. By Carol van Zandt.

After admiring and then collecting select textiles in Asia and Europe during our travels, I signed up for the program at The Institute for Textile Print Design in Berkeley, CA when we moved back to the States. I spent a little under three years in an intensive study of classic textile design and surface pattern design with a strong emphasis on color. I also taught some of the painting courses at the school for three years. When I finished I put together three collections in three color ways and went to International Quilt Market and showed them and ended up signing with Andover Fabrics, Inc.

Hand painted designs by Carol van Zandt done during classic textile design training.

Hand painted designs by Carol van Zandt done during classic textile design training.

None of those initial three collections went to print. We ended up going with a newer collection. My style has evolved so much since then . . . and still is!  I also license my designs for other products so I spent those first couple of years designing a wide variety of collections to have a good base to work from.  It was great to really throw myself into it and worked to get a lot of the kinks out and develop efficient work flows, and define my style. Design design design!

Licensed products using the designs of Carol van Zandt.

Licensed products using the designs of Carol van Zandt.

Here’s Carol’s response when asked to give advice to anyone interested in designing fabric.

If you are interested in designing fabric, go for it!  I would say this for any creative endeavor. If you are inspired, go forth. These days it is so much more accessible. With Spoonflower and other print-on-demand places, you can put your designs on fabric and sew with it yourself or share with your friends and family, or even put it out there for the public to buy through their site.

You may find it is more difficult than you thought, as it can be quite involved designing fabric. You will need to learn  Photoshop and/or Illustrator. You do need to learn to do repeats. There are plenty of resources for these things. I list some on them on my website here.

Connections: sketch and final pattern in Illustrator by Carol van Zandt.

Connections: sketch and final pattern in Illustrator by Carol van Zandt.

If you are interested in creating a fabric design collection for the quilting and sewing industry, study the collections that are out there to know what makes a good collection.  If you sew, work with one collection exclusively on a project, to understand what makes it work well together.  Make sure what you are doing is either unique or has a signature that relates back to you or the quilts or other creative work you do.  If you already have a successful blog, pattern business or following as a teacher or author, the fabric companies will collaborate with you more readily. There is a lot of design out there and a lot of people that want to put their art on fabric, but the companies are always looking and always looking for something new.   So it’s a bit of a matter of having the right kind of collection at the right time for the right company. 

Fleur: sketch and final pattern in Illustrator by Carol van Zandt.

Fleur: sketch and final pattern in Illustrator by Carol van Zandt.

In a nutshell, design fabric for fun at first, then if it clicks, up your game and create a collection.  If you then want to take it further and submit to fabric companies, put together a very professional presentation. Be prepared for rejection, then be surprised if something works. It is very competitive and it doesn’t always make much money by itself, but can dovetail nicely into related creative endeavors. Most fabric designers have multiple streams of income, whether a pattern business, teaching, writing books, licensing their art elsewhere, or being a paid designer elsewhere, heck-real estate, shopkeepers, dental hygienists, doctors, lawyers, etc. 

All creative go through times when we get “stuck” on a project. Here’s what Carol does to work through it.

Stuck, stuck, all the time!  Once I realize I am actually stuck, I just move on to something else, then I have fresh eyes when I come back to it.  Often I get stuck on the most complex design of a collection, so I just make myself goals of rendering 1-2 motifs a day and then work on simpler coordinating designs that might go with it. So as the main design is taking shape the collection around it takes shape too, giving it more momentum.

Some of Carol's many textile design books. Always a great source for inspiration.

Some of Carol’s many textile design books. Always a great source for inspiration.

I know from experience that some designs just hit a dead end so I always overshoot and have several designs that don’t end up making it into the collection.  It’s always good to cull the ones that don’t fit as well.  Let’s face it—it’s always nice to have things to choose from!  It is also super fun editing the collection near the end, getting feedback from people and tweaking colors and scale, and then sometimes the fabric company may suggest further edits based on what they have been hearing.

I have reused designs, sold them, licensed them to an unlikely product, or built new collections around them or add them to another collection after resizing and recoloring. Nothing is a waste. If a design is in limbo, six months later you might decide to simplify it, or add something to it and it might be a real winner. If a collection doesn’t get onto fabric, it may find another home someday, or with a redesign, might still yet make it on to fabric. 

Pop Rox fat quarter packs by Carol van Zandt for Andover Fabrics.

Pop Rox fat quarter packs by Carol van Zandt for Andover Fabrics.

That’s it for today. Be sure to check back on Friday to learn about Carol’s favorite style of quilts, and PopRox, her new fabric line, and her generous giveaway of two fat-quarter packs. You won’t want to miss this one!

In the meantime, please enjoy visiting Carol at one of these  sites.

Website:www.carolvanzandt.com

Blog: www.theplaidportico.com

Etsy site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CarolVanZandtLLC

Have a creative week everyone!

L1-Signature

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One Response to “Go for It!” Says Fabric Designer Carol van Zandt — Part One

  1. elle says:

    Pretty fascinating!

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