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Meet February's Featured Designer, Carrie Cantwell

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a surface designer. I live in Atlanta, Georgia with my boyfriend and our three rescue kitties. For as long as I can remember, I've found the rhythmic repetition of patterns soothing. There's something very calming about seeing a motif repeated in a balanced, structured medium. I'd been working as a graphic designer in film and TV for sixteen years—designing all the stuff you see on the set: everything from prop products and company logos to signs and police cars, all designed for a fictional world—when I realized that artists like myself designed the patterns on my shower curtain, my purses and my clothes. Once I realized I too could be one of those designers, I lept at the chance. Working in film and TV can be stressful and unpredictable, and I typically worked twelve hour days, six day weeks. After all those years spent making someone else’s vision a reality, I got burnt out. I wanted a change in my life, and I wanted to create the art I wanted to see in the world. The thought of my art being turned into surface patterns on physical products for the real world just felt like a dream, and it was the perfect fit for me.

What influences your art the most? I grew up overseas (in Saudi Arabia) in a landscape pretty much devoid of American popular culture. I moved to the United States with my family when I was eleven, and a whole new world opened up to me. When I saw my first American cereal box in the 1980s, all the colors and illustrations and typography blew my mind, and I knew I wanted to do that. I’m kind of a history nerd, and when I started looking at commercial art from the 50s and 60s, it struck a chord. I fell in love with the tongue-in-cheek style of mid-century graphics; I adore the heavy use of illustration, unconventional color combinations and whimsical themes. I’m especially drawn to retro art that echoes American post WWII pop culture. I’m also influenced by Arts & Crafts patterns from designers like William Morris, because they have the perfect harmony of color and structure while incorporating beautiful botanical and animal elements.

What mediums do you use to create your art?

I'm primarily a vector-based artist, so I use Adobe Illustrator more than anything else. I like to draw by hand or with Procreate, but I always turn my art into vectors so it's easier to edit and scale. I also love the flatness that comes with vector art, probably because it mirrors the mid-century illustration style.

You worked for many years as a graphic designer. What made you want to focus on pattern design?

There’s something in my brain that really lights up when I create patterns. Designing patterns is like putting a puzzle together, and the satisfaction of turning a single motif into a harmonious, structured repeat design just feels good. It satisfies the part of my brain that needs order in the chaos of life.

Do you work with a licensing agent or do you approach companies on your own? I approach companies on my own, for now, though I am considering working with an agent in the future because some companies seem to prefer represented artists.

You've been featured on NPR and interviewed for All Things Considered. Tell us about that as well as your time working in film and television. I’d been a web designer for six years during the dawn of the internet when I decided to go back to school to get a second Bachelor’s degree in graphic design (my first degree was in English). Although I’d been drawing pictures since I could hold a pencil, I was unsure of myself. My professional experience up to that point had been writing online articles and programming which image went where on a web page. One of the first pieces I created and shared publicly—a Get Out the Vote poster for AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts)—got international recognition. Early on in my graphic design journey, I got a phone call from All Things Considered, asking if I wanted to be interviewed about the poster design. Not long after that, I was approached by a woman who was publishing a college art school textbook about putting my poster in her book for students to learn from. It was a real confidence-booster, so I kept at it. I’ve been a movie buff for as long as I can remember, and I started working in film in 2005 once I’d discovered that graphic designers like myself created all the stuff you see on the set. I really loved my time in that industry, and I got more recognition for my work. By the time I retired from film and TV, I’d become one of the sought-after graphic designers in that field. I enjoyed accolades including recognition from the Art Director’s Guild, TED, Wired Magazine and The Washingtonian.

In addition to licensing your artwork, do you have any other streams of income that are art related?

I teach pattern design on SkillShare, and I plan to start teaching through my own platform. I also sell quite a bit of art through print-on-demand websites, and I sell my paintings, primarily abstract works in acrylic.

Would you like to share any advice you have for designers who are considering licensing their artwork?

Don’t give up! Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t talented, it just means your style may not be right for that company. Stop scrolling through Instagram and comparing yourself to others who are on a different path. Figure out what your dream collaboration is and just keep working towards that goal.

What's next for you in your artistic endeavors? Are there any other companies or designers you would like to collaborate with? I’ve been really obsessed with cats recently. Well, maybe not just recently, but in the last few months they’ve been invading my brain, and I want to create more work that features silly cats doing silly things, which is what they do. I also enjoy painting in my spare time, and I’d like to get more into creating fine art patterns. My current dream client list: Target, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Roark, and Sourpuss Clothing.


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