Close Up with Artist & Textile Designer Natalie Ryan

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I’m a freelance textile designer specialising in hand painted artwork for bed linen and homewares. I have somehow managed to avoid using CAD during my career as an in-house designer, but it didn’t take me long to realise that to survive as a freelancer I needed to sharpen up my Photoshop and Illustrator skills pretty quickly! In February this year I relocated from Melbourne to live and work in my Grandparent’s beautiful old farmhouse (wide verandas with iron lace, large garden, freezing in winter and lovely in summer) in the Victorian countryside, about two and a half hours north of Melbourne. I’m loving the tree change after many years of city living, and am finally getting to grips with meal planning for the week ahead, as the closest town (Bendigo) is a forty five minute drive away.  The other big plus for country living is that I have room to plant whatever I would like to draw in my garden – an ongoing side project of mine is a collection of Australian native flora textile designs. Hopefully the red Banksia I planted a few months ago will flower some day…..

Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love in your creative business?

I love the gentle process of painting with watercolour and the random effects that can be achieved through printmaking. As for inspiration, I love the painterly and beautifully coloured fabric and wallpaper collections from Designers Guild, and the whimsical, colourful and fashion forward designs of the Dutch clothing company Oilily.

Where do you get your inspiration from when you design / paint?

I always start my morning with a quick trawl through the design blogosphere and the latest offerings from my Pinterest community. I subscribe to a variety of Australian and overseas interiors magazines and I have collected quite a few art and design reference books over the years.  Design books are my Achilles heel (and a big nuisance when moving house!). I also love to collect fabrics – such as vintage fabrics from op-shops, from my overseas travels, and fat quarters from my favourite fabric designers.

What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?

Creative, calm, inspired, determined, motivated.

Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?

My very first job was located on a neighbouring tomato farm, a short bike ride from my home. I returned to this ‘glamorous’ tomato weeding job every summer holiday until graduating from RMIT University with a B.A in Textile Design.  During my third year at Uni I was lucky enough to win the Sheridan Design Award, which included work experience in the Sheridan Design Studio in Surry Hills, Sydney. At the end of my two weeks in the design studio, the CEO offered me a full time position as a textile designer. Very exciting! I worked for four years in the Sheridan design studio before travelling to the UK on a two year working holiday visa.  I was fortunate to work alongside some very talented and generous design mentors at Sheridan including Chris Chun, Fiona Lenord, Fiona Budzynski, Catriona Terris, Peter O’Keefe and Alisa Ford.
Christmas Bush
In London I freelanced for a furnishing textile design studio in between back-packing trips throughout Europe  and temp work to pay the rent.  On my return to Australia I applied for a variety of homeware textile design jobs, deciding on a position as a bed linen designer for Linen House in Melbourne. In 2004 I was given the opportunity to create the designs for the newly launched children’s bedding collection named Hiccups – Linen House for Kids. After a couple of years the Hiccups brand grew to the point where I was designing for the collection full time. After ten years at Linen House I decided it was time to spread my wings and explore the world of freelance textile design and illustration!

Describe a typical day in your studio space?

I’m definitely not a morning person, so my working day rarely begins before 9.30am! I usually spend an hour or so reading and answering emails, trawling through my favourite design blogs and other social media sites, updating my blog, and completing any scanning or design touch-ups on Photoshop. After a session on the computer I move to my painting desk where I create my design work. The majority of hand painted bed linen designs take me around a week to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the artwork. I find that my creative spurt tends to occur in the early evening, so if my morning is slow it’s not an issue. I enjoy working at night, usually in front of the TV with a glass of wine…

As a designer, what is your biggest frustration?

I’m left handed, so smudging freshly painted or pencilled artwork is always frustrating! I am also trying to re-learn using the Wacom pen in my left hand after many years of operating the mouse with my right hand. I manage to muddle the left and right click options every time. My computer makes a lot of unhappy noises.

Tell us about how you prioritise your work?

I keep an ongoing ‘To Do’ list, and in between client work I try to schedule in my own ‘spec’ design work.

Can you please tell us about how do you connect with other artists, and your customers (i.e. how do you network?)

I’m still in contact with most of my fellow RMIT Textile Design graduates, and I have found Facebook to be great for catching up with the news of old textile design workmates. I have attended quite a few Craft Victoria seminars during the past year  – a great place to catch up with the latest design trends and successful creative business stories. As for connecting with customers, my blog has served me very well over the past year. Many of my clients have contacted me through my blog: I am more than happy to answer any enquiries from new designers too!

What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passions?

A blog is very important – you never know who might come across it!
Ask lots of questions, most established designers are more than happy to help out fledging designers.
Draw from life. Sketch a bunch of freshly picked flowers on a spare Sunday afternoon.  So many textile designers use the same floral motif and simply reverse it or shrink it to create a pattern. Take the time to create a harmonious pattern using a variety of well observed floral motifs.

What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfil in your life?

I would love to illustrate a children’s picture book one day. And launch my collection of Australian native flora homeware designs. And work as a volunteer art teacher for a programme such as this one run by New York Art Teacher Timothy Lomas whom I recently met in Chiang Mai…. I could go on and on.
Mono print1

What is your proudest moment so far?

I always get a buzz when I see my relatives or friends using my designs. My aunties, uncles and parents all use the same set of mugs I designed way back in 2000. Seeing them in use all these years later always outs a smile on my face!

Who do you most want to meet and why?

Tricia Guild from Designers Guild – I met her quite a few years ago when Linen House held the Designers Guild bed linen license for Australia, but it was a very brief morning tea meeting. I love the painterly designs and inspiring colourways that Designers Guild is renowned for, and the way that the company continually embraces new textile technology to create their fabric, wallpaper and bed linen collections.

What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?

Everything will work out in the end.

What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book you would like to recommend?

I’m reading ‘The Wine of Solitude’ by Irene Nemirovsky (author of Suite Francaise), a melancholic tale that explores the distant relationship between a young girl and her self-absorbed mother during the Great War and the Russian Revolution. I’m nearing the final pages and can guarantee that there won’t be a happy ending….
As for recommendations, anything written by Rose Tremain is always a reflective and enjoyable read

Where do we find you and your  work?

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.

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