Today we’re going to get a behind-the-scenes chat with Jenean Morrison, the sweet and extremely talented designer behind Free Spirit‘s Moondance, Picnic Parade and her latest, just-released collection, California Dreamin‘.
Jenean is a prolific artist and pattern and surface designer, designing everything from rugs to stationery to (you guessed it) fabric. She often shares her paintings, drawings and craft projects on her blog, and everything she makes has an almost Seussian sproinging vitality that I love, full of densely packed motifs and bright colors.
Thank you for having me! I love True Up and I love all of the interviews so I am happy to be a part of this. With regards to that adorable bag, I must thank the talented Jennifer Ladd, who made the bag, for providing me with a great way to show off the collection. I’ve met so many talented, creative people online and they have all been so generous in helping me get ready for the markets. This year I was thrilled to show off beautiful quilts made by Ashley of Film in the Fridge and Blythe dresses made by Valentine Westphal.
You are a prolific designer extraordinaire — fabric, stationery, rugs! How did you get started in design? What has your career path looked like so far?
I love all types of art and have tried a million different art projects over the years so my career path has taken me in many different directions. Aside from designing, I also paint and that has been a big part of my life in recent years. But because this is a site about fabric, I’ll focus on that aspect of my career.
My favorite area of any store has always been the stationery section. From the time I was very young, if I was taken to a store, I would seek out the school supplies and spend my time drooling over the cool art and designs on the notebooks. We had a Hallmark store in my hometown in Oklahoma and I loved going there and looking at the cards, the diaries, the calendars, the notebooks––I would get lost in there. Most of my allowance would go toward these types of items. It’s the same today. I go into a bookstore and head straight for the stationery section. So I’ve always been attracted to this area of design.
Untitled painting by Jenean Morrison
I didn’t get serious about pursuing a career in design until I was in my early thirties. I think part of why it took me so long was my lack of confidence in my artistic abilities, a feeling that is probably quite common among self-taught artists. I loved to draw and paint, yet because I didn’t have the skills to perfectly draw people, places or things, I didn’t think my work was very good. I drew all the time but I considered the drawings “doodles.” I looked at all of these people (my mom being one of them) with amazing skills to draw and illustrate anything and I felt intimidated and like I wasn’t a “real artist.” When I think about it now it seems like such a narrow-minded view of art, but when it is your own work sometimes it is hard to see what you have to offer.
I decided to take some courses at Memphis College of Art and it was there that I began to feel more confident about my work. I loved the graphic design courses that I took. I loved (and still love) the problem-solving aspect of design. I stopped seeing my artistic limitations as a hinderance and instead of focusing on what I didn’t have to offer, I began to focus on what I did have to offer. I learned that there are many ways of solving a design problem. While others might use a beautiful illustration to fill an assignment, I would approach it from a different direction and would achieve equally interesting results. I still think it is important to learn new skills and to push yourself in new directions. I’ve just learned that it is also important to embrace your strengths and realize that everyone has something different and unique to offer!
Fabric covered journal using print from California Dreamin’
It was at MCA that I learned Adobe Illustrator and it seriously changed my life! I LOVE that program! With my newfound computer and design skills, and with my newfound confidence in my work, I began making handmade spiral-bound journals and selling them at local bookstores. I put my designs on the covers, something I had always dreamed about. I focused on abstract patterns and bold color combinations. The problem was that the journals were expensive to make and there wasn’t much profit in them for me or for the stores that were kind enough to carry them. Also, I found myself spending more time assembling the books than designing the covers. In an effort to find a cheaper and quicker way to create the notebooks I started researching manufacturers. I thought that if I could get someone to produce them for a lower cost, then I could try and distribute them myself.
Once I got to researching, however, I realized that there was a much better way for me to go about all of this. Through licensing, manufacturers would actually pay me for my designs and then they would put the designs on their products and take care of all the sales and distribution. While this may sound obvious and most designers are familiar with licensing now, at the time, this was completely new to me and was the most exciting thing I had ever heard about! I bought a copy of the Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market. This was around the end of 2004, so I created a small graphic calendar and sent it to about 100 manufacturers and licensing agents. While I got several rejection letters in the mail, I also got one great phone call from the Solo Cup Company. They were looking for designs for their Spring 2005 line of beverage and dinner napkins and they didn’t have many geometric designs on hand. My calendar had landed on the desk of the Art Director on the exact day that she was trying to round up those types of designs. Several emails and phone calls later I had my first licensing deal! I was so pumped up and encouraged that I kept researching and trying to find more manufacturers to connect with. After learning about Surtex and Licensing International, two trade shows at which surface and textile designers may show their work, I decided to jump in and set up at both shows.
Part of Jenean’s scrapbooking album kit for Publications International, releasing this winter
My then-boyfriend-now-husband Joel Rose and I traveled to New York twice in the summer of 2005 for these shows. The trade shows were extremely scary, but also invigorating and thrilling and tons of fun. We hung my designs on the back walls of our booth and filled several portfolios which we displayed on the desk. It was all so exciting! I was very nervous about doing the show and as I walked around looking at all of these well-known and experienced artists I worried that I’d gotten in over my head. Then, the show opened and the first group of people that walked up to my booth were really nice and very complimentary about my art. We chatted for a while and they took my business card and as they walked away I was able to sneak a peek at their name badges. They were from Target! I got a huge rush of adrenalin and things just kept getting better from there. Contacts made at the two shows led to deals for stationery, giftwrap and scrapbooking kits. I absolutely love doing this kind of work. And there is so much more that I want to do. I wake up every day and can’t wait to get started on work!
That is so awesome. California Dreamin’ is now your third collection for Free Spirit Fabric, following the debut Moondance and then Picnic Parade. What led you to Free Spirit and to designing fabric?
I worked with a licensing agent for several years and it was while I was working with her that we decided to approach FreeSpirit. I was really excited about the possibility of having my designs on fabric, but over the years I had learned not to get my hopes up. We had seen our fair share of rejection. Still, that didn’t stop me from going all out on my presentation. I don’t recommend presenting in the manner that I did because I think that most companies like printouts of your work that they can keep on file. I was so excited about the opportunity, however, that I created six collections of 12 designs each, printed them on 4 x 6 swatches of inkjet-printable fabric, bound them together with grommets and rings, rolled them up, put them in a pretty Martha Stewart box and tied it with a bow! In order to show as much of each design as possible on the 4 x 6 swatches, I shrunk all of the patterns in size. So everything Free Spirit looked at was very small in scale. It just so happened that at that time Free Spirit was looking for someone to do small-scale prints. I don’t think many of the other designers were doing those at the time, so my designs filled a niche for them. To this day I am so happy that I decided to do the presentation that way. I’d like to think that Free Spirit would have signed me no matter what size the designs were, but I think a lot of it came down to having the right designs at the right time!
Would you say your designs have evolved over time? If so, how?
Yes, I hope so! After signing with FreeSpirit I took Moondance, which was one of the original collections I had submitted, and I expanded it from 12 to 35 prints. I love this collection and love that it offers so many small-scale prints. I designed it much in the way I do most of my design collections and I gave consideration to basic design concepts, but it wasn’t until I went to Quilt Market in October of 2008 that I really started to understand fabric collections from the quilters’ point of view. Not only was it great to see first-hand the quilts and fabrics in the show, but I also got guided educational tours from both Verna Mosquera and Janet McCarroll (a longtime quilter and Jay McCarroll’s sister). They each walked me quilt by quilt down the FreeSpirit aisle and showed me what quilters look for in fabrics, how they put them together, how quilts are designed. The information was invaluable! I learned about tonal values, contrast, scales, the different directions of prints and more importantly I learned why those things matter and how they come into play when people are creating quilts and other projects.
I went home from that market so filled with inspiration and excitement that I immediately created Picnic Parade. My mind was full of all the things I’d learned, the things I had seen and the collection fell together easily. And California Dreamin’ came together even easier and more organically than Picnic Parade.
So I definitely think the designs are evolving and I hope as a designer I continue to grow. Also, as my confidence grows, my willingness to experiment grows and I think that is where a lot of great design comes from.
What is your fabric design process? What is your favorite way to work?
I like to work directly on my Mac using Adobe Illustrator. I keep sketchbooks around and sometimes I use hand-drawn elements in my designs, but I like to play on the computer and the quickest, most efficient way for me to get my ideas out is to go from my brain straight to the computer. I seem to work best in the mornings and in the evenings. Sometimes I experience mid-day lulls. The best days are when I wake up to a Venti Vanilla Latte brought to me by my husband and I go straight from bed to the computer and start working. I love those early morning ideas, those ideas that happen as your brain wakes up. I think I arrive at a lot of my designs during that time because I look at it as an experimental, playful part of my day. Nothing is forced, it just flows freely.
There is nothing more fun to me than creating a pattern in Illustrator. I’ve always loved games and puzzles and each pattern is like a new puzzle I get to solve! It is really fun. And creating an entire collection of patterns is fun as well … figuring out how they will all work together is one giant tremendously fun puzzle!
As a fabric designer, what do you find to be the hardest part about your job? What’s your favorite part?
I enjoy this work too much to say that anything is really hard, but if I had to pick something then I would say that the waiting is the hardest part! Creating the collection is pure joy, but once it is sent to the mill, there is a long wait before you see the first round of strike-offs. Then, if anything needs to be fixed or changed, you have to wait another long time before the strike-offs come around the second time. Then it seems like forever before the sample yardage arrives. And then there is the waiting you have to do before you can start blogging about and showing off the line! Then there is the waiting before it shows up in stores! Lots and lots of waiting!!
Favorite part: Getting to see what other people do with the fabrics! I am just learning to sew so even though I have tons of ideas, I don’t have the skills to explore them yet. The most exciting thing to me is to see what others create. I’m just amazed and in awe of all the talent out there! I love seeing the quilts, the dresses, the craft projects — every time I see something made with my fabrics I get giddy with excitement! And it has been wonderful meeting all of the creative people in this community. Working from home, I don’t leave the house a lot so I don’t meet a lot of people. Through the quilt markets and blogging I’ve met so many kind, funny, talented people- I love being a part of this creative world!
All right, let’s get down to the jelly of the doughnut. The fabulous California Dreamin’: You get three words to describe it. Go.
Happy, sunshine-y and playful? That is a tough question!
Where did you get your inspiration for the collection as a whole?
That is hard to say. Sometimes I set out with a specific direction in mind and sometimes I am inspired by very specific things. More often the designs happen organically and are most likely the product of all the things I look at and take in on a daily basis and all the things I’ve absorbed in my lifetime. I love design from the ’60′s and ’70′s and I think (hope) that plays into my work a bit. I’m also easily influenced by my surroundings so I keep magazine clippings and art books all around and I have a very colorful studio. I’m often inspired by things and don’t even realize it … my husband will walk into the room and point out that the design on my computer screen is in the exact colors that I’m wearing and I would never have even noticed.
Can you tell us a bit about each print, how it came about, and how it fits into the overall collection?
JM23 Malibu: This was the first print I created for this collection. It started with simple shapes that I copied, pasted, rotated and turned into medallions. I love creating these in Illustrator. Did I mention my love of puzzles? Well, each one of these is like a little puzzle. Where will I put this dot, this shape, this curl? The possibilities are endless! Moondance was comprised mostly of tiny, simpler medallions. With this collection I wanted to explore and expand them a bit. I originally started out making them small-scale, but had to increase the scale because they are so complex and intricate. I also wanted to infuse some floral elements into this pattern, so I added smaller medallions which read as flowers, I added some daisies, and I broke some of the medallions in half and added stems and leaves to them. This is an allover pattern and definitely one of my favorites from the collection. I’m also happy that I pushed the scale up a bit in a few of these patterns because I think it helps everything work well together.
JM24 Santa Rosa: Here I took my favorite of the medallions, limited the colors and put it into a repeat with the daisies. Patterns like these are delightful to create. Allover patterns are fun, too, but the process of creating a pattern like this is one of my favorite things.
JM25 Bodega Bay: I plucked the daisies out of the main design and gave them their own pattern. Again, I limited the colors and I brought them down in scale so that this could work well as a coordinating print.
JM26 Santa Barbara: I wanted to add a purely geometric pattern to the mix, so this one started out as just diamonds. Later I added the floral-type elements on the top layer (these were pulled from the medallions in the main print) and I liked the way it all worked together. I also tried to give the print two different views. If you look at the fabric close up it works on one level, but if you stand back and look at a large section then you can see big diagonal stripes running through the print. I love this kind of repeat.
JM28 Catalina: I have crazy thoughts where I tell myself I don’t want to hurt any of the other patterns’ feelings by saying that one is my favorite, but just between us, this is my favorite pattern in the bunch! A lot of what makes me love a pattern isn’t even the end result, it is how much I enjoyed designing it. And creating these kinds of stripes is fun, fun, fun!
JM27 Yosemite: I am a huge fan of the dot. You’ll find them in almost everything I do and I can’t create a collection without some sort of dot in it. This is a simple repeat pulled from the back of JM29.
JM29 Palm Springs: I pulled the medallions from JM23, gave them a dimensional look and layered them on top of patches of dots. This is the largest repeat I have ever done (24 inches) and it contains the largest elements in any of my fabrics (some are close to five inches). This was one of the last patterns in the collection and I can’t imagine the collection without it. I like the scale and the 3-D look of the print. The background contains the dots used in JM27.
JM30 Hollywood: I wanted another two-color print and I wanted another allover print in the mix and well, I just can’t get enough of these medallions, so here they are again, simplified and layered!
The colors are so vibrantly delicious, the pinks and oranges, greens and blues. How did you arrive at them?
I must give FreeSpirit credit for these colors. I sent them a couple of different colorways and they encouraged me to go as bright and colorful as I could. I can’t imagine this collection any other way. It feels like it was made for these colors.
As anyone who reads your blog can see, you are a busy, busy lady. What do you like to do when you’re not working?
There isn’t a lot of time when I am not working. I think part of me feels like I need to make up for lost time since I got started in design so late in life –– I signed with FreeSpirit a few months before my 40th birthday. And really, I love designing so much that there is not a lot I would rather be doing. The only thing I enjoy more is spending time with my husband and we don’t have to be doing anything special for it to be enjoyable. We watch a lot of movies and we play a lot of Scrabble. We were married in Las Vegas in April of 2007 and we have a great life together. I couldn’t be happier!
What do you have coming down the pike? Anything you can share with us?
Aside from designing, I also love to paint and I have reproductions of one of my paintings going into over 300 rooms of the Aria Hotel at City Center in Las Vegas.+The hotel opened in December and I’d love to see the paintings so I’m dying to take a trip back out that way with my husband –– maybe a second honeymoon of sorts!+I also have paintings in a bunch of rooms at the Mirage, hanging over the sofas and nightstands and I haven’t seen those in person yet.+And I just finished collaborating with my husband on an art installation for the Bellagio and that was installed a couple of weeks ago.+Other than that I have some really fun design projects coming up, but as is often the case, I can’t give specific details.+So I guess you’ll just find me at home designing, painting, working on a new fabric collection and learning to sew (in my spare time)!
Woo Vegas! Is there anything I forgot to ask, or anything more you’d like to say?
I’d just like to thank you guys here at True Up and everyone else for their support! I’m thrilled to be a part of this awesome fabric community! When I got into design, I kind of imagined a lonelier type of life, sitting in front of the computer, working by myself. I didn’t expect to meet so many cool people and make so many new friends. I love it! Thank you!
Thank you so much, Jenean! This has been really fun!
All right, Readers, are you ready for a little sunshine here in the middle of winter? Jenean’s California Dreamin’ is available in shops now, so you know what to do.