Inspiring : Ali Benyon, surface design

“Not all who wander are lost.” It’s an appropriate quote for Ali Benyon, designer, maker, blogger and author. Originally from the UK, she started her career studying Textile Design at Loughborough University, and emerged 7 years later with a degree in Multi Media textiles. She spent a few years with her then boyfriend (now husband) travelling around Europe, and needing a break from creative life, she threw herself headlong into being an aerobics instructor, ending up working as a dance instructor and personal trainer.


ali benyon - flower power

ali benyon – flower power


After moving to Melbourne from the UK about a decade ago, her first few years were spent looking after their two small children, but about five years ago the creative urge bit her again and she started a small business called Cheeky Pickle creating stitched paper designs for children. After a few years and  some soul-searching, she returned to textiles and started in surface pattern design. Now she runs Ali Benyon Designs as a second business, which focuses on pattern.

Lots of hard work has landed her a licence with DENY Designs, Keka Cases and The World Art Group. She has also been featured on the Print and Pattern Blog  twice, and  was a finalist in the recent Robert Kaufman/Spoonflower competition.

And that’s not all. Ali also has a new book, Stitched Paper Art with C&T Publishing Group in the States, which focuses on my stitched paper work, and has launched her own self-published e-book “From Little Things”, packed with helpful advice and tips on how to run a successful creative business. AND she writes a popular blog too.


Ali Benyon - butterfly garden

Ali Benyon – butterfly garden


It was the AHA! moment she had after a trade show early last year that gave her the nudge back into textile design.

“After working solidly to prepare for the show and actually doing very well with regards to sales, I sat back on the last day of the show and decided that I really wasn’t working to my full potential.  I wasn’t proud of any of it and I knew I could do so much better. So about a week after returning from the show, I signed up to do a surface pattern design course, created a brand new business and literally started all over again! It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I’ve never looked back. I’m now working to my full potential, I’m proud of the work I produce and I’m so much happier.”


ali benyon - ditzy in blue

ali benyon – ditzy in blue


ali benyon - flowers

ali benyon – flowers


All her patterns are based around her own drawings, and inspiration comes from many sources – Lotta Jansdotter, Marimekko, and nature in all its infinite beauty.. She’s big on texture, and also incorporates paint, felt tip pens and crayons or whatever else takes her fancy at the time – toothbrushes, twigs, sponges, string… Colour is enormously important, and she usually has a palette picked out (often inspired by her favourite place to be – Pinterest 😉 ) so she’s ready to go when her designs are translated into Illustrator.


ali benyon - POW

ali benyon – POW


ali benyon - geo 1-01-01

ali benyon – geo 1-01-01


Ali’s new e-book is the culmination of five years of writing about the ups and downs of small business on her blog. After spending lots of time on social media over the years, she soon realised that she was not alone with her “business fears, anxieties and constant obstacles. I was determined to find out the answers to all of our many burning questions; how does wholesale work? Which are the best selling platforms? How do other designers do their accounts? What happens at a trade show?”

“So five years on I have decided to put all of my experience and knowledge into one pot and write an e book to help the people just starting out in the creative business world, but also to help the more established designer to look at things from a different perspective.

“Once I started writing the book I found I couldn’t stop. You don’t realise how much you have learnt sometimes, until you physically stop and start to think about how far you’ve come. I felt I had so many tips and odd bits of advice to give on so many subjects that I just spilled it all out and held nothing back. So I’ve ended up talking about everything I know about being a small business owner; the ups, the downs, the many, many mistakes and the truly joyous moments.”


Ali's studio

Ali’s studio


Her best piece of advice?

“At 17 when I went for my interview for Art College, the teacher asked if my parents were supporting me in my art career. When I said no, he gave me these words of encouragement that I remember clearly to this day.“Look around you. Look at the chair you are sitting on, the table I’m writing on, the pattern on your skirt, the pattern on the carpet, the car in the car park, my pen. All of these things have been designed by someone like you; someone with passion, determination and talent. Someone who turned their back on what they were told they should do with their lives, but instead went ahead and did what made their heart sing. These people chose the path of the designer. Just like you are doing now.” ”

You can find Ali’s book Stitched Paper Art through Amazon here, her designs at DENY here, and her website at You can purchase a copy of her e-book From Little Things on her blog here.

Surface design + opportunity : Stuart Hungerford

Imagine you’re standing at the intersection of visual arts, mathematics and computer programming. What do you see? The framework of endless possibility? Such is the inspiration for Stuart Hungerford.


stuart hungerford - 010 009

stuart hungerford – 010 009



In his day job Stuart works with computers, but at night, he turns that knowledge into patterns.  Geometric, bare, minimalist patterns, hungry for colour.

“The universe of possible geometric patterns is so large that I usually start by using software components to create a range of patterns completely at random. Most of these are either too messy or too boring to be usable, but there are usually beautiful or interesting examples scattered here and there.” Relying on machines of course means that not everything is good though, and he estimates he has sifted through around 6,500 randomly generated patterns to choose the 200 or so he has featured on his website.

“I could make good use of a virtual assistant that can distinguish interesting or pleasing patterns from the boring or randomly messy.  As far as I know such a tool does not exist, although I suspect researchers in AI and machine learning are working on it somewhere.”


stuart hungerford - 001 015

stuart hungerford – 001 015


Inspiration comes from many sources, and he is particularly appreciative of the pattern designers and ornamentists from the late 19th Century, especially Lewis F. Day, Christopher Dresser and Owen Jones. Of course, the Op Art movement of the 1960s has a large part to play, as does the work of more recent researchers into the intersection of art, computing and maths; in particular Andrew Glassner and Craig Kaplan – key figures in the development of modern computer graphics.

Based in Canberra, he has the advantage of having access to some wonderfully large libraries and resources, but says that “really, my creative space is anywhere I can position a laptop, monitor and notebook!”


stuart hungerford - 003 019

stuart hungerford – 003 019


Stuart admits that despite enjoying colour and fabric, they are not his forte; and so he is offering up his patterns freely under a Creative Commons licence for other designers to use and adapt. He explains, “I don’t see myself as a “real” pattern designer, but more of an explorer or pattern curator using mathematical ideas and software components for exploring interesting patterns and their generation.”


“I have benefited for many years from the open publication of mathematical and computing research and open source software, and so in that spirit I am publishing the geometric patterns I’ve been generating for designers to take and freely use, adapt or combine.”



stuart hungerford - 014 011

stuart hungerford – 014 011


stuart hungerford - 014 018

stuart hungerford – 014 018


A computing researcher he admires once gave him this favourite piece of advice. “He told me you haven’t really understood a problem until you’ve tried to program it. He was right.”


Stuart would like to express his thanks to the artists and designers of the ANU School of Art and Megalo Print Studio and Gallery for sharing their working methods and their advice with him, especially Erica Seccombe and Alison Munro.

You can find some of Stuart’s ever expanding range of bare-boned patterns for use by anyone at

If you totally love colour and fabric and would like to collaborate on a particular project with Stuart, I’m sure he’d love to hear from you too!


Inspiring : Cheerful Madness {Nathalie Jean-Bart}

Nathalie Jean-Bart has carved out a career for herself as an animator. But animation wasn’t enough and she started searching for other ways to express herself. So about 10 years ago, she started writing stories and illustrating them. But it still wasn’t enough and around 5 years ago, she started designing illustrations for t-shirts and making patterns.


cheerful madness - fried aubergines in summer

cheerful madness – fried aubergines in summer


She’s big on florals, and she imbues them with something of that cartoon-character – slightly skewed, exaggerated, and fun. Colour is a playground, and for every design there are often several variations. Subdued hues with pops of neon-bright add another level of quirkiness.


cheerful madness - tender calico

cheerful madness – tender calico


cheerful madness - mellow folk rock

cheerful madness – mellow folk rock


Nathalie of course admits to watching lots of cartoons as a kid, but also adds that she spent an awful lot of time drawing too – and when she wasn’t drawing, she was reading. Especially comics. All of this feeds into her designs, overlaid with her obvious love for animals and nature.


cheerful madness - igor and oleg dandelions calico

cheerful madness – igor and oleg dandelions calico


“An absolute highlight  was having a children’s book and a comic book published, which was something I had always wanted to do, alongside being an animator.”


cheerful madness - sayonara my dearest

cheerful madness – sayonara my dearest


Her best piece of advice? “Strangely enough the best piece of advice I was ever given was by a musician.  He told me not to worry about how a piece of music or art will turn out; not to worry about what other people think. Just do it and enjoy it .”

You can find more of Nathalie’s work in her Spoonflower shop, cheerfulmadness_cartoons.


Icon : Stig Lindberg

Icon: Stig Lindberg

Hellooo!!! I can spend hours ogling and sighing over the beauty of things from artists and makers throughout the ages, especially the amazing proliferation of items and artworks since the industrial revolution. So it is with the incredibly talented Stig Lindberg – a Swedish designer most famous for his homewares and ceramics produced while working for Gustavsberg Porcelain in the middle part of the 20th century.


stig lindberg - reptil - vases

stig lindberg – reptil – vases


stig lindberg - ornamental bowl

stig lindberg – ornamental bowl


Welcome to my new segment on design and craft icons!! There’s a good reason that people like Lindberg have earned themselves a place in the history books, and I think that we can always learn more from taking another look at them and their work, so in amongst presenting fresh work from emerging designers and small business help, I’ll be delving into these treasure-troves every now and then.


stig lindberg - platter - randnat

platter – randnat


Stig Lindberg - leaf platters

 leaf platters


stig lindberg - coffee pots

coffee pots


Stig was a master at design, inventive, often whimsical and humorous. He designed prolifically for Gustavsberg, everything from elegant, plain white tableware, right through to his distinctively bold graphic surface decorations. His forms were quintessentially mid-century Scandinavian, with their graceful curves and clean lines.


stig lindberg - 5-part vase

5-part vase


Stig Lindberg - cups and saucers - Bersa

cups and saucers – Bersa


Born in 1916, Stig studied painting at the University College in Stockholm, and went to work at Gustavsberg when he graduated in 1937. He became their Artistic Director in 1949 and stayed there until his retirement in 1980.

Principally a designer of tableware and probably best remembered for his leaf-decorated dinnerware, Bersa, he also produced a number of handcrafted pottery pieces, and also designed patterns for homewares and fabrics, and even several television sets for Luma.


stig lindberg - pottery fabric

pottery fabric


stig lindberg - herbarium



stig lindberg - bulbous



You can see more of his work here.


Inspiring : Heleen Van Buul

Looking at Heleen Van Buul’s geometric patterns, it may come as no surprise that she originally studied to be an industrial engineer. But she says these patterns are often more inspired by nature than anything else – yes there’s symmetry, but there are also translucent overlays and the subtle variations of multiples.


heleen van buul - stripes in coral

heleen van buul – stripes in coral


heleen van buul - beads beads beads

heleen van buul – beads beads beads


Another string to her bow is the collection of cute prints she designed for kids – monkeys in spacesuits, foxes, whales and lions all make an appearance. Her style is clean and vector-based, with a beautiful palette – there are lots of soft, clear brights like watermelon, powder blue, mint and old gold.

While completing her degree in industrial design at the University of Delft, Heleen discovered that she had a real affinity for 2D work. She decided to continue her studies and got into graphic design, graduating in 2009. Now, she combines her work as a freelance graphic designer with with her pattern designing.

“I had been a graphic designer for a while, mostly doing corporate identities and advertisements. I frequently used patterns as part of my designs and loved making them. Then one day I stumbled upon Spoonflower and just loved the idea of making patterns for fabric. I started by designing a few geometric patterns for some pillow covers in my home.” Now, she’s hooked.


heleen van buul - retro geometric 2

heleen van buul – retro geometric 2


heleen van buul - circles 2

heleen van buul – circles 2


Sometimes just doodling is the spark for a new design, and she often just uses pencil and paper to form her initial ideas. But time is always short, and so Heleen tries to be quite disciplined when designing; “To keep track of the amount of time spend on the design I use an hourglass and give myself a certain amount of time for sketching, before getting to work on the computer.”


heleen van buul - pure wood design 4

heleen van buul – pure wood design 4



heleen van buul - hexagon2

heleen van buul – hexagon2


Her creative haven and workspace is a small room of her home, filled with all the things that inspire her – plants, seashells and a LOT of drawing and painting tools. Sounds like the perfect place.





You can find more of Heleen’s work in her Spoonflower shop, as well as on her own site,

Design fundamentals: Gestalt (rhymes with Salt)

Well OK OK OK, Gestalt NEARLY rhymes with Salt, but it depends  a bit on where you live in the world and who taught you about it.

Anyway the question really is, what IS Gestalt and why is it important to design?

Gestalt theory came about in the 1920s when a group of German psychologists realised that our minds love to organise things because it makes them easier to understand. We tend to look at the whole rather than the individual parts, and compensate for missing information. We tend to group things together if we can, and we’re pretty good at recognising differences and similarities within a group.

These ideas are absolute gold when it comes to graphic design, but they are also fabulous for other types of design when you want to create something that’s very satisfying to look at and use.

There are five main principles – Similarity, Proximity, Closure, Continuation, and Figure and Ground.



When we see objects that are similar, we tend to see them as a group, like in these ceramic teacups. We also tend to appreciate the small differences between them more – I love these beautiful textures and small, delicate patterns.

{all images are linked to their respective sites]

tisaneinfusion -ceramic cups (unfortunately the site is all in japanese)

tisaneinfusion – ceramic cups (unfortunately the site is all in Japanese, so I can’t give you any more information)

It’s also a perfect principle in graphic design; for instance, using the same font throughout a piece gives it cohesion.


When there are multiple elements that are very similar and one element is obviously different this creates a disruption, which is useful for creating an interesting focal point, as in this necklace.

Kaspia Gasparski - necklace

Kaspia Gasparski – necklace



When elements are close together, we often perceive them as a single object, even if the elements are not the same. The effect is heightened here because of the obvious reference to another, different object.

yetiland - sweet music

yetiland – sweet music

Likewise in graphics, you can group different types of information together. For instance on your business card, you would group all your contact information together, and separate it from the logo/company name.



This is where your eye is drawn along a line or curve, and even if there is a gap or interruption your mind will project that line and connect it to any line or object beyond to form a continuous flow. Kind of like how you see leaves along the length of vine, or a teeny weeny flower at the end of a stalk, or your eyes follow a dashed line across the page.


figure and ground

Figure and ground refers to how we interpret the 2D shapes in front of us. In most instances, we see objects (figure) on a background. However, sometimes these can be cleverly swapped to become an alternative image. Often, we can’t see them both at the same time so we constantly switch between the two.

I love this poster for its succinctness. I certainly don’t condone smoking, but Jim Jarmusch is pretty cool. And I do like coffee.

 jim jarmusch poster

jim jarmusch poster



This is definitely where our head fills in the gaps, so it can make sense of what it sees. In this wonderful illustration by Emiliano Ponzi the missing person is obvious, as is the emotion of the situation.

emiliano ponzi - divorce with regret

emiliano ponzi – divorce with regret



There’s heaps more to Gestalt of course, it’s an absolutely fascinating area of design, and so so useful in helping you make designs that are satisfying, interesting and very appealing!


I’ve written more about Gestalt in my new book on branding for small biz, due out shortly… If you’d like to get onto the early birds list and nab yourself a copy REAL cheap (like around half-price), REAL soon (like about a week!), just jump on board with your email address below (and you’ll get your bonus Biz Style workbook too). I’ll be sending out all the details in the next newsletter.


Do you have any burning questions about Gestalt or about branding? Or you just don’t know where to start? Leave me your questions in the comments below – I’d love to hear!