Sue Ellen is a very creative and productive surface designer. You have to visit her shop at http://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/fireflower . Sue Ellen happens to also so be a sweet kind soul that I have enjoyed getting to know. I wanted to share her with you. One of my favorite collections Sue Ellen has done is Blue Ridge Summer. I would love to know which ones are your favorite.
Lana: I can see you love to design. When did you first discover surface design?
Sue Ellen: When we were in primary school, my sister and I got a dollhouse, which was round, and open on all the way around, and we got Lionel train sets with plastic houses for the village. We set about making wallpaper and carpets and curtains for the both, using crayons and memo pads and cotton balls and glue. So that was my introduction into seamless repeats!
Later, in elementary school, I drew paper dolls for myself and all the girls, and designed and drew the clothes for them, including all the fabrics for the clothes. I didn’t worry about repeats … of course the designs all matched at the seams
I’ve only been doing fabric design for two years. Before that I did gift wrap for a couple of years. And before that I did gift enclosure cards and note cards and I’ve done many of our Christmas cards. In the many years until then, I painted, mostly acrylics used as watercolors, and true watercolours. And I knit, both multicolored patterns and textures.
Lana: Do you visualize the whole collection before you start designing? Or do you start with the main design and let that inspire you to create the rest of the collection?
Sue Ellen: I haven’t “seen” a collection as a whole yet, so I guess the answer is I start somewhere, and go on from there. The Blue Ridge Summer collection started with a design I already had, in turquoise and green, around which I built the quilt design (for the contest it had to be a chevron cheater quilt), adapting & adding new designs to fill in the spaces on the quilt top, and inventing borders to go with it. Tiny Tesserae (one of my favorites) started with one design that I kept playing with, and then a couple more that ended up shrinking into the tiny range, and now there are a lot more iterations than I have uploaded to Spoonflower. It is often a matter of playing, of saying, “I wonder what will happen when I do this to that?” or “I wonder what this will look like with that?” and then trying it out. Sometimes it’s a bust, but often, after a day or two of playing, I have quite a few designs that are reasonable to use, and either already go with each other, or can be adapted to do so.
I am not the best organizer and categorizer, so many of my designs aren’t even in collections yet!
Lana: What inspires you the most when you are creating? I know for me color inspires me.
Sue Ellen: Oh, I’d have to agree — color is the beginning of many things. One day last year, I sat down and said, “I feel like making something in hot pink and lime.” So I put the two colors into the two squares in Photoshop, and started playing with them. Before the end of the weekend, I had 4 strong patterns, and more than 20 variations of them. They just seemed to pop up while I was having fun.
But, sometimes, it’s a shape or a line. When my sister-in-law, Karla Bernstein, sent me a close-up of a basketball taken for her 2013 photography project, I immediately wrote back and asked for permission to use it in a design, which she granted, and I came up with a collection based on the lines of the basketball as shown in that photo.
Another time recently, I saw a window grille in a scene on TV that looked just wonderful, so I paused the show, and made a sketch of the shapes the sun was making coming through the grille. Then I tried to figure out what positive shapes would make these bright negative shapes (sounds like something straight out of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” doesn’t it?), It wasn’t until I was done that I realized I’d made a classic interlocked octagon design. But, being a classic, it lends itself to many possible interpretations, and I’ve been having fun exploring them.
Also, I have been having dreams that give me instructions for designs, and give me titles. This is a bit disconcerting, but the dreams seem to know what they’re talking about, so I’ll keep following their lead.
Lana: What mediums do you enjoy working with the most?
Sue Ellen:I think it’s hard to beat watercolor for a painting, and I even try getting that watercolor look on the computer sometimes. For sketching, I like pencil, plain or colored. And, I have to say, I love working on the computer, and printing my work out on a variety of papers.
Lana: Do you have a favorite design?
Sue Ellen: I suspect it’s rather like having 14 children and 34 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren … there’s enough love to go around. I made 21 pillows for various family members last Christmas, and I had just an awful time choosing which designs to use, and which to leave out. Yet I sewed happily on the ones I finally chose, enjoying each of them as I worked.
Lana: Some designers love to sew as well as design. Do you like sewing too?
Sue Ellen: Yes, I like sewing. I have sewed since I was quite young, and on the machine since I was 11. I started making my own clothes a couple of years after that, and have sewn at least special things for myself and my family ever since. And home-made gifts are big with us, too.
I haven’t made anything for myself out of my own fabrics, only gifts so far, but I look forward with pleasure to doing so in the future. The first thing I made with the first design I uploaded to Spoonflower, was a tablecloth for one of my daughters-in-law, who had admired the design on the wrapping paper I’d used for Christmas that year, and whose desire to see it on fabric brought me to Spoonflower. Last year, I made those boudoir-size pillows, and this year I am making potholders.
Lana: What is your favorite thing you have created with your designs?
Sue Ellen: Well, since I have only done a few things with my Spoonflower designs, I have to say that my favorite creation was the wrapping paper (not Spoonflower) for our elder grandson’s 9th birthday. It was blue with a rosette in white and gold and red (the Barcelona Football colors), and his smiling face in the center of each rosette, and “Happy Birthday” in the same colors in between the rosettes. I had done the rosette for another project, and it had come out all wrong, and not at all circular. But I noticed that it was in the Barcelona colors, and that it was the right shape for a face, so I repurposed it right away, and came up with the wrapping paper design idea. I printed it out on large sheets of paper (it took an entire container of ink!), then I glued it all over the outside of a big box into which I put his present.
Lana: If you weren’t pursuing designing what else do you think you would enjoy as much. I love to ask this question because I am usually surprised by the answer.
Sue Ellen: Gosh! What a poser! I think I’m designing now, because it’s the right thing for me to be doing now. But, in the past, I have enjoyed dancing (of many sorts) and singing (as a member of the choir) as much as I’m enjoying this. And the Dances of Universal Peace have the same meditative & restorative effect as artwork has for me. So, I guess I’d say I’d use the time/energy made available by not-designing to indulge in those activities. The other thing I enjoy as much as this, is being with children, cooking or crafting, playing or reading, singing or gardening, splashing in the pool or touring with a camera. (I’d probably also get more housework done, but you did ask about something I would enjoy as much as designing.)