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Meet January's Featured Designer: Kate Lower

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a surface designer. 

I’ve been an artist of some kind for as long as I can remember, but it took me a while to find my way into the world of design. After earning a degree in theater, I performed for a time and then taught voice and piano lessons for over 15 years. In 2019, I took a break from New York to spend a year traveling the world with my husband and young son. During this time I set out to write a series of piano books to use in my lessons when I returned, and I decided it would be fun to do the illustrations myself. It started to become clear that the illustrations were way more fun than working on the music! Then the pandemic hit, and it didn’t look like I’d be returning to teaching any time soon. It was the perfect opportunity to take a leap and explore a totally new path that might allow me to spend more time at home with my family, so I dove into art and learned as much as I could online. When I stumbled across surface pattern design, all the pieces fell into place and I haven’t looked back since. I joined several SPD Facebook communities, committed myself to making one new pattern every day to refine my style, invested in a few key courses to learn about the business, and began licensing my work in 2021. I now have two kids and I’m thrilled that this career allows me to work from home and spend so much time with my beautiful family. 

What influences your art the most?

My art is a reflection of what makes me feel balanced and calm. As I move through the world, I make a mental note of things that feel satisfying to me - combinations of colors, architectural details, the natural world, anything at all. Every day I check out other artists and try to figure out why their work feels good to look at, and why it works. This process feels as though I’m fine-tuning my inner awareness of harmony, and my instincts as a designer. Then, I let it all go and just draw. I allow myself to simply create whatever feels good to me, and I trust that if the end result feels balanced and harmonious to me, it will to others as well. 

What mediums do you use to create your art?

I’ve always been a crafter, and I play with all kinds of materials as a way to destress and unwind. But in my pattern design career, so far it’s been strictly digital. I draw motifs on my iPad using Adobe Fresco (I love drawing straight to vector) and then I move things over to Illustrator where I piece it all together, play with different arrangements and colors, and create the final repeat.

You recently created a fabric collection for a dream client. Tell us how that opportunity came about.

That was a real “pinch me” moment. I woke one morning to find an email in my inbox from Cloud9 Fabrics, proposing a quilter’s cotton collection of 8 existing designs they’d chosen straight from my Instagram feed. I think I read that email ten times before it started to sink in. I hadn’t been pitching at all at that point, just sharing new work as much as possible and building up my following. Having a fabric collection out in the world was always a huge dream for me, and I learned so much from them about how collections come together. It just goes to show the importance of sharing your work, and utilizing social media to its fullest extent.

Do you work with a licensing agent or do you approach companies on your own?

I came very close to signing with an agency not too long ago, but ultimately decided that I’m happy finding and managing my own contracts for now. I enjoy negotiating contracts because I learn a lot and gain confidence with every new experience. I also really value the personal connections I form with these companies along the way, and I think that’s an important part of thriving in this industry. 

Has it been difficult getting companies to purchase or license your artwork?

While I’ve done my fair share of pitching and sending out artist submissions, all of the contracts I’ve signed have actually come from someone finding me on Instagram. There have certainly been times when a deal didn’t move forward, but in general, the companies who find me already have a clear picture of what they want and they’ve seen it represented in my feed or in my portfolio. At some point I’ll start pitching more proactively, but at the moment I’m happy with my work-life balance and I take the opportunities that come to me.

Do you also sell your designs on retail Print-On-Demand sites? 

I do have quite a few designs for sale on Spoonflower, and for a time I was putting energy into Society6. I haven’t had a ton of success with either of those, but I think it’s because I’d rather spend my energy elsewhere and you really have to give a lot to get a lot on those platforms.

Do you make your own products for retail or are you strictly doing licensing/buyouts?

Making products is something I may explore in the coming years. At one point I listed a handful of items for sale on my website, using the Art of Where POD/drop shipping program. It took up a lot of time, and ultimately wasn’t worth it for me. For now my focus is entirely on licensing and commissions.

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

Licensing is such a great way to make money from our art, and while every deal is different, and at first contracts can be overwhelming, it does start to feel like riding a bike after a while. I’d definitely recommend investing in courses that will help build confidence with contracts and negotiation. For me it was Artful Pricing by Shannon McNab. That was truly invaluable to me! And in terms of finding those deals, I’ll say it again: share, share, share. When we’re sitting alone at home making art it’s hard to imagine that there’s a huge audience out there, just waiting to discover our work. Post a lot, all the time, especially at first. It always surprises me when companies want to license old, forgotten work I made years ago, but if it’s up there in your feed, it’s still available and relevant to somebody.  And do your research about hashtags - they matter. That’s a big part of how our art gets discovered in the first place.

What's next for you in your artistic endeavors? Are there any other companies or designers you would like to collaborate with? 

I’m working on a few super exciting projects, both of which happen to involve custom wallpaper designs for some pretty exciting spaces. One will be displayed in the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington year (another pinch-me experience!). Projects like these have inspired me to go deeper into the world of custom wallpaper and connect with some interior designers and local businesses to see how we might collaborate. Other than that, I plan to keep on making patterns and see what comes my way!


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