Todays “Inspire Me Interview” is with Mary Beth Freet from Pink Light Design. Mary Beth is a Designer, Agent, and Creative Director of Pink Light Design and her blog is all about Pink Happy Thoughts – how lovely is that! I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Beth at the recent Jan 2011 PrintSource show in NYC.

1) Did you always know you wanted to be a textile and surface pattern designer?

I always knew that I wanted to do something artistic. I grew up in a small town and didn’t know about graphic design. I thought that advertising would be the closest thing to what I wanted to do so I was going to business school for marketing. I was working at the university newspaper selling ads and there was a graphic designs department. I knew that I wanted to design so I changed my major from business to design and received my BFA in visual communication. I was really lucky in that I had worked at Nordstrom on the sales floor throughout college and met the right people and found out about textile design! I was so lucky to get a chance to interview and I started my textile career as an assistant in the BP dept. at Nordstrom. Then moved on to the kidswear dept. I feel so lucky because I get to draw everyday…which I’ve been doing since I was a little girl.

2) For those new to ‘surface pattern design’ can you explain what it involves?

Surface pattern design starts with inspiration and color. It’s important to know what’s happening in the marketplace and to understand how patterns are used on various products so that when working with clients, you can easily adjust your designs to meet their specific requests. Inspiration of course is very personal and can hit you at any time, so I would suggest to any artist to ALWAYS have a notebook and sketch down your ideas. Try to develop those ideas soon after sketching them so that they’re fresh in your mind. In addition, it always helps at the beginning of the design process to get out in to nature, look around at architecture and the environment, breath in some fresh air, hit the gym or do some yoga and stretching to clear your mind. Creativity has a way of flowing more effortlessly when you’re in tune with yourself.  I also like to start with color selections at the beginning of the design process because to me, color is number one. You can have the most beautiful design ever, but if the color is not right, client’s will not react positively to the design. Next in the process comes layout and repeat. Typically, a repeat pattern only needs to be developed if you’re working with a fabric company. We do not design our prints in repeat from the beginning unless they are a custom design for a fabric company. Once your designs are complete, you may work with a client on mocking up patterns or images into their product templates, which is an art in itself. I feel like Pink Light’s most successful design jobs are the ones that we have worked on from beginning to finish. It is nice to design the patterns, choose colors, and then mock up the designs into templates. It allows for your designs to come to life as you have envisioned them and really rounds out the design process and wraps it up into a cohesive product.

3) We met at Printsource in NYC, can you walk us through what happens at these kind of trade shows?

Trade shows are so important for artists! Pink Light has shown at Printsource twice, to date. All shows are a lot of prep work. Preparing your booth design, getting designs prepared, mailers designed and printed, invoices, business cards, etc. There is a lot to think about and it’s very important for artists who wish to exhibit to have a very strong business side as well as a creative side. Unless they are fortunate enough to have a partner who can focus on the business side, which is a nice setup and many studios work this way. Trade shows typically have 1 or 2 days before the show where exhibitors are allowed to set up their booths. The shows then typically run 3-4 days. The day consists of various clients stopping by to reviewing your designs. Some clients are looking for outright sales (mostly the case at Printsource), some are looking for licensing (generally the case at Surtex), and some are simply looking for new studios that they might want to do business with in the future. I have been given some great advice from other agents and studio managers which is, to look at trade shows as a huge marketing tool. Although you might not have the huge success that you expected at your first show, it is the best way to get your name and face out there. I have noticed and been told that many clients often return to the same studios that they are used to seeing and used to purchasing from. Therefore, it is important to be dedicated and committed to returning to trade shows each season so that clients know you are there to stay. Also, once they work with you and are happy and satisfied, they will keep coming back to see your new designs. Another key to a successful trade show is to take notes for each client. You may not have what they are looking for at the time, but if you know their needs, you may be able to help them in the future.

4) What made you take the leap from working for someone else to setting up your own design studio?

I had such a great job at Nordstrom and I absolutely loved the people I worked with and it was really a hard decision for me to leave. Basically, I had moved up as far as I could go creatively and I kept having this gut feeling that I just wanted to do something more. I felt like I was doing the same thing season after season so I wanted a new challenge. Khristian Howell and I walked Surtex 2008 and I saw the Lilla Rogers Studio and my heart said: ” I want to be the next Lilla Rogers.” That was in May and in December I woke up one morning and said “I’m going to start my own studio and show at Surtex in May”. I was reading a lot of inspirational and motivational books, as I still do, and many of those ideas helped me move in the right direction and see unlimited possibilities. I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I love every day. Having your own business is not an easy task and I am learning new lessons EVERY DAY. My biggest lesson to date is that what’s most important is that we ENJOY EVERY DAY…no matter what we’re doing.

5) What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in setting
your business up?

I think the biggest challenge for me was actually taking the leap. Once you make up your mind, actually make up your mind to do something and really believe in it, things seem to work themselves out and come somewhat easy. Having faith and believing in yourself is sometimes the hardest thing to do. But it’s worth it!

6) I love the name Pink Light Design. How did you get to that name for your business?
I also woke up one day and decided on Pink Light. I envisioned myself with a Pink Lightbulb above my head…with happy ideas and happy designs bursting out.

7) Can you talk us through the steps of getting one of your designs onto a product or being licensed?
The licensing process can take quite a long time. Once you meet clients at a show, they will review your designs and let you know which ones they are interested in licensing. You will then follow up with the client after the show and send out jpegs or upload those jpegs to their ftp site. The reviewing process may take many months. After the initial submission, you will generally talk with client regarding terms and once they have selected the design, you will move into a licensing agreement. Each client works so differently that it is difficult to generalize this. Some clients take your designs and have in house designers mock up your work, some may ask you to do it for no charge, while some may pay an hourly wage for your time to mock up on product. Some may send you pre-production images for your approval, and some may not. You can set your own rules in licensing and request what is ideal for you and your business.

Khristian Howell and Tara Reed are great resources on licensing.

8) As an agent, what are the key attributes you look for when representing designers?

As I am quite new to this, just two years in, I have learned a lot about this topic over the past few years. Initially, I look for happy, fresh, designs that fit with my original Pink Light style (as on our website), but that also have their own unique flair. For example, I want all of our artist’s designs to sit well together and make a bright, fresh, positive look, but for each artist to eventually become “recognizable”. Therefore, going forward, I will be looking for artists who have a wide variety of designs that have a cohesive feel, varying subject matter, an ability to do characters or icons in additional to allover patterns, and for artists who have a very unique style, something that I don’t already have in the collection, or someone that I can see successfully branding.

9) What do you love most about what you do?
I love that I get to work with a variety of people. I love that I get to work on new projects every day. Mostly, I love it when someone emails me to design for a product that I haven’t designed for before. Also, I love seeing the product come to life and having my hands in the development from inspiration to color to design and finally seeing the product pop and have a great shelf presence.

10) And finally, 
– What is your DREAM for your business?
My dream for my business is that Pink Light is one of the “go-to” studios that has the BEST artists in the business. I want to be successful in branding my artists as Lilla Rogers has done. I want my clients to be so happy and satisfied with our work that I never have a one time client, but yet continuously build successful relationships.

Also, I have some aspirations for developing my own fabric line, my own kidswear line, and also developing upholstery fabrics and creating one of a kind couches with Pink Light fabrics and upholstering them onto antique couches. They will be luxurious and one of a kind! I would also like to publish a book one day and after my boys graduate ( I have a 10 and 12 year old), I will move to the East Coast or Europe and run PInk Light from where ever I am. My dream is that I simply get to keep doing what I love every day and to enjoy every moment as I do it, and to remember, it’s not a race, it’s a journey.

– Who INSPIRES you?

I am inspired by all creative business women who are making it happen. It is not an easy task to juggle children, business, self, and other relationships and I am so amazed by all the strong, courageous, dedicated women who balance and manage all of these parts of their lives. I am especially inspired by women who are always moving further and being the best that they can be and doing it in a positive way that results in success to those around them. I am inspired by the women whose positive light shines through their eyes.

– What do you love to CREATE outside of surface pattern design

I spend most of my time creating surface design. I dream of decorating my dream home. Not quite there yet, but someday I want to buy an old farmhouse and completely decorate the entire house in unique interiors in each room. I can’t wait! Right now, when I’m not working, I like to create special family time with my boys and my partner.
Thank you Mary Beth! You can connect with Mary Beth and Pink Light Designs here
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