Interview: Jessica Swift on Giselle

 

 

Everything about Jessica Swift just radiates warmth: The colors of her website, her thoughtful and inspirational blog posts, the love she infuses into her custom portraits, her dazzling, mysterious paintings. Even her yet-to-be-fully-unvieled new project The Declaration of You looks to be a wonderful, warm, supportive whatever-it-is.

So I was really excited back when Jessica announced that she was going to be designing fabric. Giselle, produced by Red Rooster Fabrics, hit the shops earlier this summer. The collection is pure Jessica, from the distinctive lines of the florals to the warm color palette. She recently answered my questions about her fabric world debut, and about what makes her tick as a multi-media, full-time artist.

Please introduce yourself and your work to those who might not already know you and your work.

OK, hello! My name is Jessica Swift, and I’m a full-time artist and surface pattern designer in Atlanta, GA. I’m originally from Boulder, CO and I went to college in Ithaca, NY, where I earned a BFA in painting (although most of what I do now is self-taught!). I create a variety of things in my business, from surface designs and illustrations for products and fabric to paintings, prints, and other products that I sell in galleries, boutiques, and in my Etsy shop, and I also do custom design work for clients (logos, website headers, postcard design, etc.). A little bit of everything, really!

 

{ Hope, Or Let’s Just Be (2010) by Jessica Swift; acrylic, pencil, and linoleum block printing on wood, 10″x10″ }

 

{ Campout by Jessica Swift; acrylic, gouache, india ink, and linoleum block printing on wood, 8″x10″ }

 

I notice that you use a lot of block-printed patterns as backgrounds in your paintings, and that layering and filling with pattern is a theme in all your work. How did your relationship with pattern evolve? Did it sneak in slowly or did pattern work come first?

I’ve been pretty obsessed with patterns since I was a kid. I used to make these giant bubble-lettered posters for my family’s birthdays and holidays that I filled in with different hand-drawn patterns in each letter. I loved making them — I think that as the beginning of my love for pattern and color. I decorated everything I could get my hands on when I was growing up, so I think it was a pretty natural evolution for me. I went to school for painting, not pattern or textile design, because I don’t think I realized that was a career I could have. I discovered that I could create a career out of designing patterns when I started reading a lot of blogs, maybe five years ago or so, and my whole world changed! I taught myself to create repeat patterns digitally (I’d been experimenting with block-printed repeat patterns before that, which is how the block-printed patterns started making their way into my paintings as well.)
So I guess pattern came first, in the form of hand-drawn patterns as a child, then painting took over in college and afterwards, and then the two began to mesh several years ago.

 

{ In addition to her famous prints, Jessica also sells goods like coasters, stickers, and these little pocket mirrors, all adorned with her artwork, through her Etsy shop. }

 

What is a typical day like for you as a freelance artist/designer? Which are the draggy parts and when are you most in your happy place?

A typical day for me consists of lots of WORK! I check my email and respond to what needs to be responded to in the mornings after I’ve eaten breakfast and caught up on a few of my favorite blogs. I keep a running list of things that I need ot do during the day, so I basically just look at my list and start with whatever looks the most appealing. I have a variety of things that need to get done everyday, including working on projects for clients, updating my Etsy shop (possible taking photographs of new pieces and such), packing and shipping Etsy orders, writing blog posts, working on paintings for upcoming shows, creating products for upcoming shows, communicating with potential or existing clients … every day is different but consists of the same types of things. I usually go to the gym in the afternoon to work out, and then my husband and I make dinner together (or go out if we’re not up for cooking!) Then I typically work for several hours in the evening as well — lately I’ve been loving painting in the evenings. I can focus better than I can during the day for some reason.

The draggy parts … none, really. I mean, I work from home and I get to do what I love everyday, so I try not to complain! There are certain parts of making some of my products that I’m not crazy about, like when I have to go outside in the intense Georgia heat to spray glue my coasters together (I can’t do it inside because I don’t want to kill myself or my cats with the fumes!), but most everything I do is pretty fun. Another draggy part is when I force myself to work when I really need to take a break and do something to rejuvenate and recharge my batteries. I can easily make everything no fun at all if I overwork myself. So when I look at my list and everything on it seems like a hassle, that’s a clear sign that I need a time-out! My most favorite parts of my day are when I’m creating new patterns. I say it to my husband all the time: “I think I could create patterns forever and never get sick of it!” I love it that much. I can lose my sense of time when I’m in the middle of creating a pattern!

 

 

{ two pattern collections (available for licensing) by Jessica Swift }

How did you start working with Red Rooster? This seems to be the most contemporary collection of theirs to date — do you think this is the beginning of a new direction for them? If you’re allowed to say at this point, will there be a follow-up fabric collection?

I met the creative director of Red Rooster Fabrics at Printsource in 2009, where I was exhibiting for the first time. She stopped by my booth to chat and look through my portfolio, and she mentioned that they were looking for a young, fresh designer to begin working with. I took her card and contacted her after the show, and then several months later we connected again and began working together. I do think they’re branching out a bit and trying out a more contemporary look, in order to reach more people. And I think it’s working! I’ve had several people contact me to say my line is the first they’ve ever ordered from Red Rooster, so I think that’s a good sign! And yes, a second collection is in the works. :)

 

{ the complete Giselle collection }

 

What inspired the name Giselle, and the individual prints in the collection?

One of the prints in the collection is called Giselle, and we all thought it was just a lovely name. It sort-of encapsulates my designs, too, because a lot of them have women’s names … I’m not sure why, but I’m really drawn to beautiful names and often title my patterns that way!

The color is really the main thing that ties the prints together. They don’t have a “theme” per se… I wish I had something deeper and more insightful to say about them, but the prints are just meant to be playful, pretty, and fun! Many of them are inspired by flowers and plants, as is much of my pattern work, so there’s a nature element to the individual prints as well. We actually played with the colors a lot to make the collection feel cohesive, since the prints are so varied. I think it’s a nice representation of the way that I work, tying prints together with color that might otherwise feel very disjointed.

Thanks so much, Jessica! Giselle is widely available in stores now. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

5 Comments

  1. Cathy A says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I saw this awhile back, but couldn’t remember the name or who made it. It’s lovely!

  2. amy says:

    Great interview Kim and Jessica – congratulations to Jessica on the fabric line. I love how her designs translate to fabric.

  3. Wonderful interview with a wonderful artist!! Jess is such a genuine soul – and her work exudes exactly that same vibe! I’m always excited to see any/all of her new art and designs b/c they make me smile (and think sometimes). (So some good came out of Printsource, eh?! Yay!)

  4. Fabulous! Thanks for introducing me to Jessica’s brilliance!

  5. Thanks, everyone! And yes, Jan, some good came out of Printsource!! That was so fun, all of us in our little corner. :) And thank you again, Kim, for interviewing me!