Being surrounded by the bush and paddocks is what inspires Australian surface designer and maker, Vanessa Holliday.
Here she chats about living on the edge of Melbourne, her addiction to Netflix, turning a hobby into a business and daydreaming about future designs.
Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?
I’m from Melbourne, Australia and have lived here almost all my life. A few years ago I took the plunge and moved from the inner city to Eynesbury, which is about 45 km west of Melbourne, for fresh air, trees, paddocks and peace and quiet.
When I’m not drawing, designing or daydreaming about the designs I would like to make (which generally remain just daydreams). I like long Sunday lunches with friends in cosy pubs, walking, traveling, ice skating (full disclosure I hung up my skates a long time ago now) and I’m ashamed to say I’m a bit of a Netflix addict.
When did you start work as an illustrator/designer?
I was interested in design for many years and even started a course in fashion part time at one stage thinking I would launch my own business designing and making garments. But I enjoyed illustration and looking at fabric patterns much more than sewing and as for drafting clothes patterns let’s just say I struggle to draw a straight line even with a ruler so I gave that up and decided to focus on pattern design instead.
I completed a Diploma in Surface Design in 2017 and started developing my own
designs in 2018. Last year I was lucky enough to have my first collection of designs released by Nerida Hansen Fabrics and that was when I think my design hobby really turned into a business.
Tell us about your design style. Have you always had this style or has it
evolved/changed over time?
I like flowers and natural landscapes that are a bit wild and rambling so that’s a major part of my design style I think. I tend towards a natural, hand drawn style that’s not too perfect, curvy lines, weird shapes and lots of pretty colours.
I grew up in Australia with a mum who was a mad keen gardener. We lived the 1970s native garden journey to the max and were taught to treat neat hedges with contempt - I think my style was sort of inevitable. But it has developed over time and hopefully will continue to evolve and improve. When I started I would agonise over whether a tree needed to be brown or leaves needed to be green - now I have no problem with turning a gum leaf pink if I think it looks pretty.
Talk us through your creative process.
Absolute chaos! I have to turn off my logic side and just let the creative process sneak up on me. I usually start with a vague idea of what I would like to draw and then just start sketching. Sometimes I will do a whole picture or scene, and sometimes separate elements like flowers or leaves and then develop the layout and colours on computer. To me, designing a pattern is like solving a puzzle.
Sometimes it all just fits together perfectly, and sometimes I need to leave a design for a week until inspiration strikes and I realise what extra element or colour should be there to complete it.
Have you always been involved in this industry? What did you do in another life?
No, I actually came to design very late. I have degrees in law and economics and have worked in that area for more than 25 years! I started designing as a hobby and a way to stop myself from working all hours of the day, but now it’s starting to take over a bit.
When and how did you meet Nerida Hansen?
I met Nerida through her mentoring program that taught me so much. My portfolio and presentation of work improved in leaps and bounds with her help. Then when she told me she was interested in using my designs for Nerida Hansen Fabrics - I was thrilled and I couldn’t quite believe it!
Talk us through your typical day.
I don’t really have a typical day. I generally make a mental list of things that need to be done (if it’s a big list I write it down and ask myself how terrible will it be if this doesn’t happen today - which usually reduces the list a lot) and then just go for it. When I’m developing a new design or collection, this usually comes first on the 'need to do list' for a couple of weeks.
I like to do most of my creative work first thing in the morning. I get up at about 7.00am, have two cups of strong black coffee and then sketch in my visual diary for a couple of hours. After breakfast I draw for a while and then depending on how things are going, maybe go for a walk to clear my head. After lunch I develop the mornings ideas further on my computer and try to knock off by about 6.00 or 6.30pm. I take breaks every hour and use that time to respond to urgent emails, pay bills to keep the house running or do some research on Pinterest (my favourite).
Who inspires you and why?
There are so many great designers out there! But I’d have to say that the ones that have inspired me the most are Julie Patterson for her amazing Australian designs and Cole & Son for those incredible wallpapers that tell stories and capture my imagination.
What would be your dream project?
I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing now, but another dream project would be to
design a collection of wallpapers. Who knows? Maybe one day.
What is in the pipeline for you?
More designs and hopefully more fabrics.
What advice would you offer to those that are starting out as
Firstly, that it is never too late. I’m in my fifties now and really just starting out in design. Second, be yourself. This isn’t always easy with so much imagery on the web and social media, sending messages to our subconscious about what’s good and what will sell, but in my experience, what works best is being just you rather than thinking you need to be a better you by fitting in with popular trends or the latest colours.