Multi award winning young surface pattern designer and illustrator Abigail Borg is riding high, having just been awarded ‘Best British Pattern Design 2010’ by Elle Decoration at The British Design Awards.
Just two years since winning New Designer of the Year 2008 award for her collection of hand-drawn and digitally-printed wallpapers, Abigail’s wallpapers, cushions and fabrics are now stocked in Liberty of London and in stores across the world. She also has freelance illustration clients like Laura Ashley Home. I talked to Abigail about her phenomenal success, and how she is managing her rapidly growing creative business.
Ever since you graduated from Leeds College of Art your feet haven’t touched the ground – what has been the most exciting thing about your journey so far?
I think just being able to do what you want to do, and feeling happy with that is the most exciting thing. No restrictions, trends to adhere to, colour palette to work with. If what I design looks nice and people who I show like it, I’ll go ahead with it. This formula has worked for me so far, so I’m happy to carry on working like that. I am also very excited to move into a brand new studio in the New Year – it’s in an old Victorian hall, surrounded by woods in the Worcestershire countryside. I went for a viewing the other day and there was a deer, squirrels and a pheasant in the courtyard! That totally won me over.
When did you first realise that surface pattern design was your thing?
From an early age I was always drawing and painting for friends, of course then it was just something to do to get out of doing maths and biology homework. As I got older I decided I wanted to go to University so took a surface pattern degree. For the first year and a half I didn’t know what I was doing and felt uncomfortable, until we had a brief set by Graham & Brown to design a collection of wallpapers. I think this was the turning point for me, and I knew from then on I wanted to design for the interiors market.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like classic looking things with lots of colour and pattern to them – that goes for in the home and clothes. I especially like mid-century design, as well as late Victorian – there was no compromise in colour or density, and the designers really went for it.
Did it take long for your particular design style to develop? Was that evolution organic or did you specifically try to design with certain inspiration in mind?
I’ve always loved flowers, nature, anything organic. We were encouraged to set away from florals during University, as everybody designed with them and we were told to develop our own individual styles. I’ve always loved vintage and Arts & Crafts design, so on designing my final collection decided to delve deeper into the workings of archival designs. This was when I decided to hand draw all of my work, and concentrate mostly, but not exclusively, on florals.
You set up in business on your own this year, just 18 months out of college. Can you tell us a bit about the learning curve you faced to get where you are now?
I have been on a massive ongoing learning curve since graduating. This has mostly being the business side of things, marketing, sales… All the things you weren’t told very much about at Art School. I was really lucky to be involved in the New Designers exhibition on graduating, as I think it opened a lot of doors for me. As for Liberty and Laura Ashley, they both got in contact with me – who knows where they saw my work! I think a major part of learning is being nice to people and listening to what people have to say. You may not like or agree with some things, but if you try and take something from everyone you meet on your way this can only be a good thing.
What do you wish you had known when you first started your business?
That you shouldn’t take what everyone says as gospel, and that you don’t have to be in London to be a designer. I think I put some pressure on myself in thinking this to begin with, but when I was working there for four months I didn’t feel at anymore of an advantage, just paying twice as much for the privilege.
What is the ratio of time you spend designing vs marketing and managing your business?
I definitely do not spend as much time designing as I would like, I’d say probably 30% on an average day.
And what about your life outside the business? What else do you like to do?
I like visiting friends around the country as well as friends at home I’ve known since I was in first school, also cooking, going to gigs, car boot rummaging, going for walks in big gardens in the summer.
What is the big dream for the business in the next five years?
As I said I will be moving into my new studio in the New Year, so I would like to be based here with a small team of people around me taking care of the business side of things leaving me more time to do what I love. I would also dream of having a shop front somewhere, selling my homewares which I would also like to expand. Finally I’d love to do some more big commission work, maybe designing a range of ‘Abigail Borg’ patterns for a big design house.
You can see more of Abigail’s gorgeous work on her website, along with her first foray into letterpress card design with this Christmas card:
[This interview first appeared on Do What You Love on Dec 10 2010]