Inspiring : Emily Julstrom {surface design}

Emily Julstrom says it’s good to get as many terrible ideas off your chest as possible so you can get to something interesting. I think she must have done an awful lot of work, because what I see is utter skill and total clarity of vision.

I first came across some of Emily’s surface designs on Pinterest (oh yes! I still love it – I’m here)– lush florals in a modern illustrative style, full-bodied and sensuous. So delicious!


emily julstrom - magenta flowers

emily julstrom – magenta flowers


But when I dug a bit deeper, I discovered her work jumps from illustration through art direction to surface design and lots in between, AND in every format from digital animation right down to absolutely stunning pencil drawings, and traditional figure painting. SO good, that even though she only graduated from design school last year, she’s already worked with Tupperware and Skippy Peanut Butter, to name a few.


emily julstrom - blue bulbs

emily julstrom – blue bulbs


emily julstrom - jungle

emily julstrom – jungle


After graduating from Ringling College of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration in 2014, she now freelances full-time, and works from her tiny studio home in Chicago.

When working for a client, Emily stresses that communication is key. “At Ringling two ideas were stressed to the students – to ideate extensively, and to respect, understand and commit to what a client asks for. Often times you cannot do both. So, be incredibly clear about your intentions – I show the client my ideas each step of the way first in sketches, then thumbnails, color studies, value studies, and final tweaks. Whether I’m working for me or a client, it’s important to always have a plan so that I know I’m meeting my needs or the needs of my client and won’t get stuck along the way to a good finished product.”

“When I have the opportunity to be creative, I sit down and write down as many ideas and sketches as I possibly can. One way to move away from the cliche and into something new is to create word lists – each word relating to the last in slowly more and more remote ways until you have something strange and unexpected.”


emily julstrom - brights

emily julstrom – brights


emily julstrom - brights

emily julstrom – brights


It doesn’t hurt to have a great atmosphere when you’re growing up either. “Growing up in Indonesia I was surrounded by a constant supply of intriguing textiles and arts that probably jump-started my need to live a life based heavily on aesthetic designs. I also was lucky enough to have a mother who would let me sit down and draw as long as I wanted any and every day – always supporting any avenues I wanted to explore from my ill-fated attempts at jewelry, or sharing with me her love of paper flowers.”


emily julstrom - magenta geometric

emily julstrom – magenta geometric


“One of the things I miss most about being in school was having all the time I wanted to explore and learn. I’m so thrilled to have a steady income and job but I do miss the days of having all the energy I need to learn more new and exciting techniques. I’m still grappling with it myself, and so far all I know is that to gain one thing you must lose another and that might mean one weekend I don’t do much socializing in exchange for sitting down and making an effort to learn, or not eating out for a month so I have the funds to try a new software.”


“I truly believe anything is possible if you are able to think and prioritize what matters to you. “



emily julstrom - the mother of dragons

emily julstrom – illustration – the mother of dragons


from emily's sketchbook

from emily’s sketchbook


What’s the best piece of advice she’s ever been given? “I’ve been given amazing art advice, on all kinds of subjects…but the most helpful thing I’ve ever heard was during a period where I was out of work. I was told to invest in myself and believe that I would find the work.”

“It ended up being true and I know that if in that period I hadn’t have been spending my time working hard and investing my time in learning and creating I wouldn’t be where I am now.”


“So believe and invest in yourself or you have no chance of achieving what you’re hoping for.”



You can find more of Emily’s work on her site,



emily's studio, where she surrounds herself with books and colour

emily’s studio, where she surrounds herself with books and colour


Inspiring: Julie Emmerson {surface design}

Based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Julie Emmerson is making her mark in the world of pattern. And just like her location, her patterns are filled with sunshine too – bright colours, simple shapes and warmth.


 emmerson - vintage spring

emmerson – vintage spring


After a long career in graphic design, she says it was a natural progression. “Creatives are always looking for new ways to express themselves and learn so for me, exploring the freedom of drawing, painting and digital design then converting it to pattern has been my next step. I started approx 3 years ago, have sold patterns through my US agent and my dream is to have my own ongoing signature line of products sold worldwide and to also teach up and coming designers.”


julie emmerson - indian summer

julie emmerson – indian summer



julie emmerson - cutesy flowers

julie emmerson – cutesy flowers


Having that career background with constant hands-on in Photoshop and Illustrator has meant that some parts of the new career direction come easily and naturally – but not everything. “Understanding colour and loads of other technical skills have been helpful when designing, and knowing Photoshop and Illustrator have been invaluable in creating patterns and product mockups.”

“But Accounts … Web Coding … Marketing … these things make my eyes glaze over. My brain just switches off. When I do eventually tackle these things, I take a deep breath and get it over and done with. I leave my End of Year finances with my accountant and everything in between I manage myself, albeit grudgingly. Coding for my website makes my head spin so I outsource this and I am still pushing through with consistency in marketing. I’m quite shy so it’s a challenge for me to promote my designs and products on all the social media platforms but I’m getting better.”


julie emmerson - springtime buttercups

julie emmerson – springtime buttercups


She’s received recognition for her work already – design sales through a US agent, as well as subtantial sales of artwork locally, and she says that that acknowledgement of her skills and style has been really important for her. But her sights are set higher still – her desire is to secure a licensing deal with a manufacturer of globally distributed products.

Fortunately, fear of high places is not an issue for her – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. For real. Julie explains, “I experience “High Place Phenomenon”, not a fear of heights but the opposite, a desire to jump … be it a plane, hot air balloon, high building… Don’t worry, I’m not crazy! It’s more common than you think. Authors of a study on “high place phenomenon” at Florida State University’s psychology department concluded that this feeling is a positive trait implying “an urge to jump affirms the urge to live.” and this definitely sums up how I feel about life.”


julie emmerson - secret flowers

julie emmerson – secret flowers


Her best piece of advice? “One thing I have always missed in life is a mentor to guide me careerwise, so I have sought advice through friends, family and various books and online resources. The best advice that resonates with me in relation to my creative journey is from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art. ‘The more important a project is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel to it.’ ”


You can find more of Julie’s designs on her website,


Inspiring: Laura Olivia & the Mekong Delta {surface design}

laura olivia - floatingflowermarket

laura olivia – floatingflowermarket


Laura Olivia has a long-term fascination with Vietnam. So much so that she has designed her latest collection around it – from the floating markets where the locals trade from boat to boat, to the lush tropical flora and fauna of the area – especially around the massive Mekong River, which is the lifeblood of Vietnam as well as so many other countries in South-East Asia.

Perhaps it’s a foil for her home-base in not-so-tropical Nottingham, but Laura has built up a career and portfolio based around these lush, vivid themes. Vibrant colour and bohemian style, in lots of handpainted, layered textures, she focuses on supplying designs to the interiors and soft furnishing industries, and her clients now come to her from around the world, including Haiti and Malaysia.


laura olivia - Market Day

laura olivia – Market Day


Although she does work with some major retailers, she often finds herself being sought out by small start up companies. For instance, the client in Haiti requires stationery and homeware designs for the launch of a new brand strongly reflecting the Haitian culture, and she’s also working for a fashion designer in Malaysia who wants to produce a new line of dresses aimed at ladies who are respectful of their faith yet want to wear beautiful clothes. Laura loves it, and says it’s great for keeping everything fresh – “My projects are very random but always exciting!”

It’s taken some time and very hard work, but since she established her studio in 2010, she’s built it up to include a small team of designers, and now offers clients a bespoke pattern design service, a print library and a luxury boutique homewares brand.


laura olivia - Mekong Flora

laura olivia – Mekong Flora


Branding is something that has grown naturally over time. “It’s still a work in progress but I know I’m on the right track. The best method I have found to help with this is creating a huge story board to refer back to and develop; it’s a big visualization tool. This could include pictures of your work and other inspirational images that best fit your brand, but also props such as furniture and accessories that would work well when styling product photoshoots, to ensure everything is working well together.  I’d also display your colour palette and include some key words to describe your brand.  A great way to do this is imagine for a moment that your brand is a person, if they entered a room how would you describe them?”

“I do use a photographer for my product and lifestyle images and I’d say that is a must, but I didn’t get any help with my branding because I thought there wouldn’t be anyone who understands my brand better than me, and a lot of branding companies I looked at were geared towards a more corporate look.”


laura olivia - Vietnam Floral Blush

laura olivia – Vietnam Floral Blush


laura olivia - Mekong Lily

laura olivia – Mekong Lily


Her best piece of advice?


“The best advice anyone gave me is don’t be too hard on yourself, and try to learn how not to ‘self sabotage’ . We are our own worst enemy sometimes and it is true that we can often stand in our own way! . Oh and also don’t compare yourself to strangers on the internet, no good can come of it!!”

You can find more of Laura’s work on her website, where you can also purchase prints and homewares with her lush designs.


Inspiring : Laura Mysak (2 years on) ~ florals with romance

laura mysak - roses

laura mysak – roses


“It’s funny how sometimes, the thing which daunts you the most is the area that you should be pushing yourself towards.” Two years after I first featured Laura Mysak‘s surface designs, she took a brave step into the unknown world of large-scale wall art. And suddenly realised that her particular style of painting actually looked great in this format. She hasn’t looked back.


laura mysak - peony

laura mysak – peony


Designing repeats is still an important focus for her, and two years counts as a substantial amount of work; It’s no surprise that Laura’s watercolours are more confident and richer than ever before. “I think the feedback I’ve had from the various people I’ve worked with has helped me develop my style to what it is today. There have been several successes from which I have gained more confidence in my work and just the realisation that other people like it, and are willing to buy into it helps.”


laura mysak - hyacinth

laura mysak – hyacinth

laura mysak - large rose

laura mysak – large rose

“I also think that a general maturity naturally arises when you’ve been trying different things out until one thing fits. Having said that, I do believe my work will always change and grow. And I actually think that’s better than staying stagnant. It’s important to try new things but to always remember what you’re essentially good at and, with me, it’s the original watercolour painting which always remains the starting point for each of my pieces.”


“It’s important to try new things but to always remember what you’re essentially good at”


Since her last interview with me, Laura has been working hard at honing her style and making connections within the industry. Now her work has been spotted by high profile licensing consultants, and she is currently working with some clients she loves. And last year she was chosen to be part of Artistic Britain’s slot on QVC TV. Laura calls it “lucky” to have these things happen for her, but I’m thinking that it might also have something to do with hard work and perseverance…


laura mysak - poppies

laura mysak – poppies

laura mysak - iris hydrangea hellebore

laura mysak – iris hydrangea hellebore


She has her eyes set firmly on the future. Laura is working on gaining more momentum through additional licensing, so that she can grow her brand and get to work with more varied products and clientele. “I hope, one day, to have a range which I can be really proud of and perhaps see it in a high street store!”

I’m sure she will.

You can find more of Laura’s beautiful work on her website,


laura mysak - wildflowers 3

laura mysak – wildflowers 3


Inspiring : Marijke Arkley {surface design}

Marijke Arkley counts her experiences in the traditional textile workshops of India as one of the most inspiring things she has ever done. Surprisingly then, at first glance her own textile designs sit in remarkable contrast to the intricacy and flamboyance of those traditional designs.

With their abstract geometries in black and white, Marijke’s work is reminiscent of the work of Bauhaus pioneers, Gunta Stolzl and particularly Anni Albers, and she says that they are indeed amongst her most favourite weavers.


marijke arkley - velden handwoven cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven cushion


Marijke’s work is the sum of many experiences. It was while she was at uni at RMIT that she won the Tranzbiz award, which took her to India to visit weaving mills, weaving co-ops, embroiders, hand-tufters and to see block printing first hand. “It was quite an incredible experience and opportunity that I will never forget. The idea was the range of woven fabrics I designed would be put into production by a weaving co-op, but unfortunately funding ran out before this could happen. It was such an amazing idea and way of supporting local artisans. The trip was incredibly eye-opening and inspiring.”

After graduating in textile weaving in 2008, she went to work for an international carpet manufacturer as a designer of custom-made commercial carpets. “Having clients who were predominantly architects and interior designers was an invaluable experience. The company was global, so I learnt a lot particularly from working with the Indian design studio. Being able to pass on briefs to someone in another country whose first language is not English is quite challenging but I learnt a lot about communication from this experience.”

The company relocated her to Sydney which gave her further industry experience, but it also had its drawbacks. “I was really missing weaving and working full time in a creative role was not allowing me to explore my own creative ideas as much as I would have liked too. I took the plunge and resigned, which gave me the time to think a lot about what I wanted to do next; there are not a lot of design jobs in Australia for Textile Designers so I decided that it was time to try my hand at my own business. Around the same time, my partner and I (both originally from Melbourne) were feeling that it was time to move on from Sydney. We had had been floating the idea of moving overseas around for a while and by the end of 2012 we decided that Amsterdam was our next stop.  It was really exciting decision to make! I took my loom over with me and felt so inspired by what was around me.


marijke arkley - velden throw - handwoven

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven throw


marijke arkley - velden handwoven cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven cushion


It was the stimulus for her current collection ‘Velden’. Flying over the Netherlands, she was struck by the beauty of the green fields and the block patterns made by the controlled farm grids.“The grids that I was seeing from the sky really stuck in my mind, they were textile designs waiting to be woven, with canals, roads, fences and lines of trees running across and through the middle of the fields. It was really beautiful.”

For this collection, she wanted to expand past weaving and felt that the designs would translate well into screen printing. “Branching out into screen printed products was scary and exciting, it is a completely different medium to hand woven and lends itself to a different range of applications. Coming from a background predominately focused on hand woven fabrics the parameters of screen printing proved to be a new and interesting challenge. It was definitely rewarding to see the results.” The individual quality of her work continues to flow through screenprints and woven pieces alike, and all her textiles are hand finished and made into homewares in Australia.


marijke arkley - velden broken stripe cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – broken stripe cushion


marijke arkley - velden stripe cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – stripe cushion


marijke arkley - velden junction cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – junction cushion


The business side of things has been a steep learning curve for her. While she had plenty of industry experience, it was the financial side of things, and the whole idea of branding that had her stumped. So in 2014 she did a short course in Small Business Management at RMIT, which she describes as being like a condensed version of NEIS. “It was really great. I had no background in financials and this has taught me the basics and I do have a good accountant to call if I ever get stumped!” Branding is something she has also reached out for help with. “My partner comes from a creative background so being able to bounce ideas off him is great. He helps me out with styling and we worked on my branding together. It was the first project we collaborated on and I think it came together really well.”

You can see more of Marijke’s textiles on her site,


marijke at work

marijke at work