top of page

Meet June's Featured Designer: Catherine Davis

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

I was always creative as a child. Always drawing, always cutting ‘pretty’ bits out of magazines and cards and keeping them in a box under my bed. But I always thought of it as a hobby, not a job, and it took a few jobs in insurance (boring!) after my ‘A’ levels, to realise I wanted to, and more importantly, COULD do it as a job. So, I went back to my studies at the age of 23 and studied Textile Design at the University of Huddersfield and it was definitely the right decision. After graduation, I got a job at Mamas and Pappas for a few years as a junior designer before continuing my career as an in-house designer in the design industry working on an eclectic range of products (travel cots, changing bags, printed luggage and accessories, cushions, rugs, bathmats, draught excluders, bedding sets, etc), through different jobs, before working my way up to senior designer.

What influences your art the most?

Cliché to say, but everything. Everyday things. I love Kandinsky, Esher, Willian Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Lucianne Day. I would say these amazing artists and designers influence my own style in my use of colour (I love to use colour in my work!), creating intricate designs and floral patterns. Nature is also a strong influence for me which is why I enjoy doing lots of floral designs and illustrations. My great-grandmother was an undiscovered artist. During the second world war she sketched some brilliant satire illustrations which I am told, through the family, that a London newspaper wanted to use. They wanted to hire her. She declined and stayed home here in Yorkshire, but I do still have some of these illustrations by my grandmother and it’s nice to know where the creative gene came from.

What mediums do you use to create your art?

I like to sketch and scan in and then digitally manipulate, colour and create patterns, but I also just digitally create motifs, patterns and illustrations in CAD and I also enjoy watercolour painting. A bit of a mixed bag, but I think this also shows my versatility and all-round creative

Your work has been licensed with 2 companies. Can you tell us about your licensing experiences?

The first licensing deal was via a post I saw on LinkedIn from the co-founder of Instawrap looking for designers. I didn’t have an agent at that time, so I didn’t hesitate and a rang him up! We chatted and got on really well and he said he wanted to work with me right there in that first phone call – which was amazing! I ended up creating a number of surface pattern designs for both their SS and AW ranges that year. The second was through my agent DBK-Licensing. A very simple design for Valentines Day that a German retailer wanted to use on napkins originally, but that soon expanded to other products in their range from mugs, to candles, etc which again, amazing!

Are there a lot of opportunities for licensing in the UK?

I personally find it tough. I have spent many, many hours contacting companies via phone, email or at shows, asking if they would be interested in licensing my work and I’ll be honest, 95% of the time they don’t even reply. But consistency is key. Keep going. I love what I do and don’t want to do anything else, so I’m not ready to give up on my dream just yet.

Being in Europe, is it easy to find licensing work in other European countries?

Based on my personal experience I think it’s easier with an agent. My personal clients who I design for under their brand (so work not licensed or through my agent) are mostly UK. I am open to more and would love to get into the US market, but it hasn’t happened yet. Never say never though. The last 12 months of my business has seen real growth, lots of connections (and always being a positive person), so it’s just a question of when.

You were employed full-time creating art for a company. How did you eventually become a freelance artist?

I started my own business when I was pregnant with my second child and wanted to reduce my hours to part-time work. My then employer refused, so I decided right then, to start up my own freelance design business so I could be flexible around my children. I wanted to be able to take them to school or pick them up and do homework with them, but I didn’t want to give up what I loved doing, which was designing. It’s another life-changing decision that I do not regret. It’s hard juggling both family and business, but totally worth it for me.

How did your work change during the pandemic?

It changed dramatically. Not least because I’m a single parent now and therefore juggling my business and having to school two young children was hard. I was also going through a divorce at the same time, so life was busy and full and had a lot of ups and downs. Nobody was looking for surface design work, but what I also do as a creative, is origami. I love making origami flowers and so I started making and selling these locally, delivering them to family who couldn’t see each other because of the pandemic. This side of my business has actually grown with the addition of running origami workshops and still making and selling bouquets of them. I love the calmness that origami gives me, and the recipients of these bouquets love them, which is just lovely.

Would you like to share any advice you have for designers who are considering to freelance?

Becoming a freelance designer is hard work. I’ve been doing this for 8 years and work a lot of hours in the evenings and on weekends. You have to hustle and be confident to pick up the phone and ‘sell yourself and your work’ over and over. There are few freelance designers who come straight from design college or university and have clients/retailers chasing them.

I love seeing my work in the high street, whether its under my brand or my clients. It’s such a buzz! Someone once told me that ‘if you want something hard enough, you’ll find a way to get it’ and I believe that. Through hard work, staying focused, you just keep going until you get to where you want to be. Be flexible, adapt when necessary, but keep going.

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

More licensing please! I’d love more surface design clients and to have more books published. Another one of my creative streams, is my books. I’ve self-published two books via Amazon, but would love to have a book agent and publish more colouring books and more children’s books. In terms of surface design collaborations, I’d like to work with John Lewis, Habitat, Anthropologie or Paperchase. These are on my vision board along with Reese Witherspoon who, as we know, is a famous actress, but also a fantastic entrepreneur with her own successful publishing company, production company and a fashion business. She is number one on my list to work with!


bottom of page