Our designer interview today is with artist Bley Hack, who works in watercolour, pen and ink, and digital media to create beautiful and charming surface patterns. Bley has most recently been wowing us with her work during The Ultimate Portfolio Builder and Summer School 2015.
When did your interest in design first start and how did that come about?
I have always loved to make things, but my interest in design started when we moved to London when I was a child. The beauty and history of our surroundings was overwhelming and very formative for my young self. I studied art history and fine art in college, and began my career as an elementary art teacher. Children’s creativity has always inspired me; it is so pure and unselfconscious!
After leaving teaching to raise my young children, I found that I needed to start creating again myself to fill a creative void. Textiles have always been an inspiration, and I am an avid sewist and knitter, so surface design seemed to just naturally flow from that.
What steps did you take to get to where you are now as a designer?
It was thrilling to learn that there is a whole career field devoted to surface art and design! Once I figured this out, I started to teach myself the Adobe programs, and take as many online classes as I could afford. It is amazing to see how much growth can happen in your work over the space of a year. I started my surface designs with the wonderful MIID Summer School last year in 2014.
How would you describe your style?
My style is a mix of vintage, retro and traditional inspirations with a contemporary twist. I favour a hand-drawn look, and aim to create designs that are “simply charming.”
What kind of designer do you want to be known as?
I aspire to design work for many markets: bolt fabric, stationery, children’s and apparel are some particular favorites. I love to create unique novelty prints, and am excited to see the application possibilities for these designs.
What are you working on currently?
Currently I am working towards building and polishing my portfolio in preparation for my first trade show, Surtex, in May of 2016. I have some fun personal projects too: each year I design a new yearly desk calendar to give to friends and family at the holidays. I am also continuing to explore the possibilities of collaborating with my children.
Working with my daughter
Creating a pattern from my oldest daughter’s artwork was really a thrill, for both of us! She surprised me one day by drawing a lovely coloured pencil piece of a dolphin, based on a picture she had seen. I initially wanted to somehow preserve the drawing, and thought making it into fabric would be perfect. We decided to add another sea creature drawing of a manatee mama and baby, and we had our design. I surprised her and sewed it into a dress, which she has worn with great pride. We have lovely observant friends who have appreciated her work and the joy in her creation has been exciting to see! I can’t wait to see what else we can come up with! The print “Houses” was created from a variety of her blue pen drawings; it’s always amazing to me the variety of icons that come from a child’s mind.
What advice would you give emerging designers wanting to build their portfolios?
Take classes; it can be so hard to create in a void, so if you need some outside “assignments” to get the creative juices flowing, classes can be just the ticket. There are a multitude of ways to find creative challenges that are free too: Spoonflower weekly contests, Tigerprint, and other competitions to get you making new work. Be sure to develop your work in collections; if you create a stunning pattern, awesome! Now be sure to add some coordinates to fill it out.
What would be your dream design gig?
I would adore having my work on stationery, apparel, or home goods for Anthropologie. Bolt fabric is a great personal love, and is at the top of my list of aspirations!
Looking ahead what are your major goals for the next couple of years?
I will be doing my first trade show, Surtex, in 2016, and hope to generate interest there to continue creating new work and begin the licensing portion of my business. Down the road I may be interested in launching my own brand.
If you were a pattern what kind of a pattern would you be and why?
Definitely floral, I’m afraid Pretty staid and traditional here!
Bley Hack, an artist living in the glorious Midwest. My work is done in watercolor, pen and ink, and digital media, and I am inspired by all things vintage and lovely to create charming surface patterns. My studio name, Esther Bley, comes from the great grandmother I am named after. She was a hardworking, practical farmer’s wife who tried to bring beauty into the everyday.