My Design Process

My Design Process

I often get questions about my design process, so I thought I’d give you a peek into my process and studio here. This is something we’ll add to the new website when it goes live, hopefully in a few weeks.

To create my large-scale floral prints, I use both traditional and digital art media.

A design begins with inspiration, of course. For me, this comes from books and the internet, from visits to shops and museums, and from my own photographs. I’m constantly collecting this material, so that, when it’s time to start a new design, I have a library of images to cull through to create what you could call a ‘mood board’, or a starting point.

Then I create a rough pencil sketch on a large piece of paper, or several pieces of paper taped together against a wall. I use this sketch as a means to pin down ‘the big picture’, standing as I draw, blocking out forms and determining the scale and proportion of elements, and how they relate to each other. Stepping back to have a look from a distance, I begin thinking about how a design will repeat, which is an art form in itself.

I then take a photograph of this sketch with my iPhone, import it into Photoshop, scale it up, and start filling in colors and details using custom-made Photoshop brushes that I’ve created to achieve different effects. I do this painting using a Wacom tablet and pen.

Just as one would do with traditional media, I start with large brushes and rough strokes, gradually layering up detail using increasingly smaller and more refined brushes. In the beginning, it’s a matter of applying the right colors in the right places. In the end, I move on to blending and sharpening details. Working with a Wacom tablet allows me a freedom and flexibility to build up in layers, take steps back when necessary, and play with color and composition in a way that traditional media does not.

That being said, I apply my fine arts background (BA Painting and Art History, Wesleyan University, 1999 and MFA, New York University, 2005) to the designs I create in this way.

Since October 2015, I’ve also been studying Old Master techniques in oil painting at Academie Renshof in Utrecht, NL with Gerd Renshof. This class has opened my eyes to 17th century insights and approaches to light, color and contrast as a means to create the illusion of space and depth, something that’s very important to my work and the concept behind it.

It’s my hope to apply these ‘Golden Age’ insights and techniques using new technology, in a new context (the interior design and fashion industries), on a large scale, to create a truly unique style of floral print which doesn’t hang on a wall but IS the wall, the mood, etc.

This process of going from a rough, blocked out pencil sketch to a detailed, finished design takes me about 6 months to a year.

EllieCashmanStudio

And once the design itself is finished, a whole new part of my process begins: testing it on different materials and applying it to different products. I hang up the wallpaper, wear the scarves and generally live with the design in its different incarnations. I photograph the new products in different situations, at different times of day. When people come to my studio, I ask for their thoughts and feedback.

In this way, a design may continue to grow and evolve over a period of years. If nothing else, each design is an education in and of itself, informing my next piece, and my next step.

Step by Step

Step by Step

Not a whole lot of time last week to write (or think) anything too thought-provoking. I take a lot of pictures of chairs these days (I’ve been taking a lot of my own product shots for the new web shop we’re launching in March) but never actually sit in any of them …

So I thought this week I’d just update you on how things are developing (slowly) in the studio. Last week the photographer and stylist came by to check out the space/panel we built and get an idea of the project brief. In a couple of weeks they’ll come and style/shoot 2 of the wallpapers in the studio, including Still Life with Shadows Gray, which I just released in January.

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After they left I was so curious to see the wallpaper in the space, with the light and all. I couldn’t even be bothered to grab a ladder, as you can see from the photo above. So this is just a rushed, double-sided tape job of hanging, but it gave me (and hopefully it gives you) an idea of the color, scale, mood and effect that Still Life with Shadows has. To me there is something really arresting, powerful, feminine and darkly beautiful about this print. Grimm’s fairytales come to mind. It really gave me a run for my money (it took me a year to feel satisfied with this print), but it’s a big breakthrough piece for me.

After unpacking it and hanging it last week (I always get a prickly feeling, a terrible tumbleweed of fear (of disappointment) when I finally see something I’ve made in its final incarnation), I did actually sit in a chair and stop for a moment to reflect on the year-long trajectory of taking this print from sketch to final form.

I started Still Life with Shadows in February of 2015 and it was  January 2016 before I felt it was complete. Then, several weeks ago my whole family spent a Sunday helping me hang this panel for the upcoming photo shoot (see this post). Once the panel was up, we created the Photoshop mockup (see this post) and had the wallpaper produced. Now the photographer and stylist are sketching up ideas, and in about two weeks this is going to be the set of my first a real, live, super exciting and professional photo shoot. I guess what I’m saying, and reminding myself as I write this, is that this has been a really long process, full of tests and trials but ultimately incredibly exciting and rewarding.

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This week we’re also going to hang 2 of these industrial lamps in the studio. They are from an Eastern European factory and have white paint splatters all over them. What’s special about them is the bulb on the bottom AND top. I happen to love them combined with this wallpaper. Each is ‘tough’ in its own way. But we’ll see if they make it into the final shoot, because the photographer and stylist had lots of ideas of their own :)

By late Spring/early Summer I will also be able to share photos of this wallpaper in the bridal dressing room of a former English estate turned wedding location/event space, and a Washington, DC-area powder room.

So, it’s a step by step process, and this is kind of the most exciting step of all: letting this thing I’ve worked on so intensively for so long go … out into the world, where it will live a life of its own.

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Stress and The Big Picture

Stress and The Big Picture

An alternative title for this post is ‘Work Life Balance.’ I feel like I’m always trying to find the right balance between time spent at work and with my family.

This week, after working a little too hard for a little too long, it was my family that helped to restore the balance.

2016 has gotten off to a roaring start and I’ve been working until 12 am/1 am every night of the week except Saturdays. I’ve figured out that if I get (close to) 6 hours of sleep, I can still function. Because it’s always up at 6 am to make breakfast, pack school bags, style hair, brush teeth (if I’m lucky, my own) and get the gang out the door. And the weekends offer no respite, with our oldest now playing field hockey and our middle child taking swim and ballet classes that start at the crack of dawn on Saturday. It’s insanity, but I admit that it’s an insanity that I (usually) find pleasantly exhilarating …

I truly love this work that I do, and feel grateful that I get to do it. I feel like I’m being challenged on so many levels and like I’m able to apply so many of my skills and past experiences to it. I’m learning SO much SO fast, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Usually I can keep it all under control with a little help from coffee, running and nightly yoga.

Where I run into trouble though, is when I need to outsource or, heaven forbid, ask for help. That letting go of control, admitting that I can’t do it all – is something I just can’t seem to get good at, and something that is becoming more and more of a necessity as my family, and this business, grow.

A couple of weeks ago our web team handed over the newly designed site, which we plan to have live in March. Now it’s just a question of uploading all the right content (images and text). It sounds simple enough, and I set myself to the task last week, only to discover that there are just too many moving parts – building photography sets, producing products that still need to be photographed, scheduling photography, taking my own photographs, editing photographs, sizing photographs, testing links, re-styling PDF documents with the new logo and font … for starters. All the while running up against my limited knowledge of how to administer the back-end of a Magento web shop.

Luckily, my weakness is my husband’s great strength. He is unfailingly stable, not phased by anything, wonderfully able to step back from a situation, see the big picture, figure out what needs to be done, and execute. He can really manage work, delegate to others and see a complicated process through, thanks in part to his background as an engineer/project manager. I consider myself truly fortunate that, in addition to running his own business (city planning), he is my partner in life and work.

EllieCashmanStudioInstallationPhotoSet

So, when this work ethic that I usually find pleasantly exhilarating suddenly becomes totally unmanageable and stressful, he stops me, sits me down (as he did this past Tuesday night) and helps me see that a) I can’t do it all and b) I don’t have to do it all.

From now on, I’ll be focused on generating the content for the new site (text and photos), and he’ll be finding/managing the person who will actually upload all of the content in Magento. Phew. It’s a much better plan. Now I can get back to the design work that I was missing.

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On Wednesday morning, I already felt relieved. It was a blessing to spend the day with my kids (they have vacation from school this week). On some unconscious level, they all seemed aware that I needed ‘big hugs’, and they doled them out generously. After a quiet day together, I planned to go to bed early for the first non-Saturday night of 2016.

I did a long, de-stressing hatha yoga practice, and headed up to bed.

It was then, however, that I noticed a strange smell coming from our youngest’s bedroom.

I went in to his room to investigate and found the poor little guy, dazed and disoriented, under a gigantic pile of vomit.

I pulled him out of bed and started running a bath. At that moment, thankfully, my husband came home and got to work immediately making up a clean bed. But that was just the beginning. Nathan was on round 2 when our middle child let loose from her top bunk. She and Nathan were further in the throes when our oldest succumbed. It was like a scene from a movie: so bad, it was almost funny.

Apparently, I had unknowingly (food) poisoned our children with an appetizer of raw green beans, a vegetable that I now know should only be served cooked. Not a scene they put on the parenting posters, but a moment I will nevertheless be adding to our ever-growing album of ‘good memories’.

Of course I wish I hadn’t poisoned them, but it was almost ‘gezellig’ (cozy): the five of us, sitting in the bathroom, playing ‘Who am I?’ and telling food poisoning stories from our past until the wee hours of the morning, when the offending bacteria had been thoroughly expelled. When so much of our family time is spent rushing from home to school to extracurricular activity to extracurricular activity #2, it takes food poisoning to bring you all together in one place.

And that is the best place there is, even when it’s a smelly bathroom full of dirty bed linen.

It’s like the universe was pressing my ‘reset’ button. Pushing me to let go, be in the moment, cherish what is instead of what will someday be

And I see now. I may have thought it was, but the truth is, so little of this is really under my control. I’ve gotten the (smelly) message, thank you. I can plod along like a machine, winding myself up about a lot of pretty unimportant things. But that would be missing the point.

Because as much as I enjoy (the idea of) being in control, I am most present, here on Earth, and most happy, most grateful – and honored – as I hold back a lock of hair or rub a little, trembling back, that I can be there, for the moments that come out of nowhere.

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The Wonder in Us

The Wonder in Us

When I started this blog almost exactly 4 years ago (I just checked and I wrote my first post on January 22, 2012) I decided to call it The Wonder in Us. I was going to (b)log about, among other things, my pursuit of a dream/goal to become a successful print/pattern designer.

I don’t think I’ve ever explained that title choice. It doesn’t, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with my work. And now that I know (thanks to my hubby, who has become borderline obsessed …) a bit more about search engine optimization, I realize I could have scored more points with Google by choosing a slightly less abstract title.

But the fact that ‘the wonder in us’ is a little too abstract for the Googlebot is OK with me. I just think that I should explain to myself, as I’m writing this blog, and to you, if you’re reading it, why I chose this title, and why it still means something to me (even more than ever, in fact) four years later.

And I write this just a month or so before I roll out my new website/shop. This blog will be swallowed up into the new site, and will cease to exist as a separate entity. No more ‘wonder in us.’ But that’s okay, because ‘the wonder in us’ is part of my work and life, my whole philosophy of being. It’s what my over-sized flowers are all about. And so, late last year when we were making decisions about the new logo/identity, packaging, collateral materials and tagline that we’ll use from the launch of the new site, I came back to these same words that had meaning for me way back then, at the beginning of what has been, so far, a truly amazing journey …

But why? Somehow, this phrase captures what I’m trying to make, say or do … It’s time to be clear(er) about that. So yesterday, I sat down to hack away at my artist’s statement, which will have a prominent place on the new site. In it, I think I (start to) explain what ‘the wonder in us’ really means to me. So here’s a draft, subject to revisions:

EllieCashmanStillLifewithShadowsBlueonSilkVoileProof

Floral Prints by Ellie Cashman

Flowers are my subject of choice, as I see them not only as beautiful, but as powerful symbols that express the full range of human experience.

I’m always trying to convey some balance of hope and heartbreak in my work. For me, flowers are the utmost symbol of vulnerability and – at the same time – ultimate courage.

As they emerge out of the darkness and into the light, flowers provide us with powerful symbols of our common human longing for transcendence, for that brief experience of the divine, the moment we are closest to ‘God’, magic, enlightenment, nirvana … or whatever one might call it.

As did the still life painters of the Dutch Golden Age, I paint flowers in all their states, with an emphasis on those that break through this threshold from dark to light, from seed to stalk to bud to full, extravagant bloom. The shadows, and the darker states, are part of, and support and indeed exaggerate, this triumphant flower in the peak of its glory.

While it’s not without foreboding, all in all the imagery provides the viewer with a sense of hope and inspiration, encouraging her on toward her moment, when a bud bursts into full bloom and her heart breaks … open, when that strongest of human longings is fulfilled, and she achieves – even if just for a brief moment – the best expression of herself.

The splendor of that moment is indeed that it is so hard fought, and won. And as fast as it comes, it is gone again.

This is why we’re here; this is what we’re after – to love, to work, to do or make or give something that has meaning for another, and to participate in the endless cycle of birth, life, death and (re)birth, a cycle that connects us to all the living world.

This essential reason for being is full of contradictions: It is known to our hearts but a mystery to our minds. It is deeply felt but never fully understood. It is intensely personal, and yet utterly universal … We are, each and every one of us, in pursuit of it.

And because names for it are as elusive as the thing itself, I have come to call it ‘the wonder in us.’

© Ellie Cashman, 2016

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Painting Like the Old Masters

Painting Like the Old Masters

In October of last year I started taking painting lessons from a teacher here in the Netherlands who specializes in the techniques of the Old Masters. I think he’s what you could call a ‘national living treasure.’

This is part of a plan I have to ‘go back to basics.’ After many years of creating at my computer, I’m craving the physical, tactile, emotional ‘whole-body-and-mind’ experience of painting with ‘real’ paint again.

From the first 20 minutes, this class has been a revelation for me. At the time I started, I was working on ‘Still Life with Shadows,’ and I’d hit a road block with it. I now know that this was because I was working from collaged photographs and painting what I saw. This is what I was trained to do in art school 15-20 years ago.

The problem is, this results in a design that looks busy and mechanical. Each part of the composition is painted with equal attention to detail, and with equal shifts in color value and equal shifts from dark to light. Working on a screen, it’s easy to zoom in and focus on each and every area of a piece with equal intensity.

Boring!

What I’m learning in this class (and what helped me finally resolve my nearly year-long struggle with ‘Still Life‘) is that the Old Masters made conscious choices about where to concentrate detail, color shifts and shifts from dark to light, resulting in a more dynamic composition and experience for the eye. They used color and contrast perspective to create an intensified experience of space and depth, while simultaneously calling out the areas of the painting that are of primary importance to its meaning. Color and contrast perspective means painting objects in the foreground with dramatic, detailed shifts in color and contrast while objects in the background are rendered with relatively limited shifts.

This is not how photography works of course. But it is how our eyes work. Whatever we focus on has an intense amount of contrast and a broad range of color, while objects beyond the periphery of our focus sort of blend together.

So Rembrandt and Vermeer used this understanding of the way we see to create paintings that seem realistic, but in actuality manipulate light and color to serve the composition and the artist’s intention, to direct our gaze toward what is most important in the scene, and to create a heightened sense of depth and dimension within the frame. They painted light and color behaving in ways that are actually physically impossible, but at the same time appear completely natural and believable to the eye. Genius!

While this makes perfect intellectual sense to me, applying this knowledge has been more difficult than I’d hoped. It is, after all, a totally different approach to the one I’ve been applying since art school. Basically, as are 98% of art students, I was taught to paint what I see (often in photographs), which is by comparison an easy feat! This new technique requires me to think ‘What do I want to spring forward? What do I want to recede?’, and to dare to put down on paper/panel/canvas something that I don’t actually see.

In short, it requires intention. And imagination. Which is what, in my opinion, makes painting (and maybe everything, for that matter) worthwhile.

This means that I’ve gone back to the beginning, in a way, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it, long term.

Last Saturday I had class again, and spent the day on an underpainting for a study of an architectural element.

EllieCashmanStudyinOil

Perhaps you can see from this image juxtaposing the subject of my study and the study itself what I mean by manipulating contrast. I’m definitely not on a par with Vermeer or Rembrandt but I hope I’m fortunate enough to have a few more years to practice and get better. The point is that you might be able to see how instead of painting what I saw, I painted intensified contrast in the areas of the object that were closest to me, and subdued contrast in the areas that were farthest. When you see this on the panel, you see that it does in fact direct your eye and create a heightened sense of depth and dimensionality. My hope is that by learning to paint and think this way, I can create images that feel more human and emotional, as opposed to mechanical. And hopefully the effect will continue to develop in the coming weeks as I persist in building upon this underpainting.

In the next class, I also get to start a painting with the subject matter of my choice. For that exercise, we were asked to choose from a collection of photocopies that have been collected and saved in a binder of ‘still lives.’ You won’t be surprised to hear that I chose a still life of flowers, one by Jan van Huysem (1682-1749). This is the tulip I’ll be attempting to render in the next class.

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Jan van Huysem and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) are considered to be the most accomplished floral still life painters of the Dutch Golden Age. I get totally inspired when I look at his portfolio of floral still life masterpieces! And now I can really appreciate on a deeper level what he’s doing with color and contrast perspective to create a composition that is interesting, dynamic and that feels 3-dimensional.

Aside from these formal qualities and the amazing skill with which he paints, I fall every time for the movement, energy, messiness, vibrance, wildness, symbolism of the life cycle, and pure human emotion that I see depicted in these still lives. I find it ironic that they’re even called still lives, when there is so much animal and plant activity going on in these scenes. It’s like the flowers, as subjects, just refuse to sit still and behave! And I think that’s exactly why van Huysem and Ruysch so loved painting them.

Anyway, this is what I’m looking at and thinking about these days. I’m close to finishing up a new piece, and I’m really happy with the way this new insight and understanding of the Old Master techniques is helping me to create a dramatic sense of 3-dimensionality, even if I am still (for the most part) creating at my computer …

The long-term goal is to combine the advantages of traditional and digital media into something completely unique! Onward …

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Silk Scarves

Silk Scarves

Today I added a new product category to the shop: Silk Scarves. Dark Floral, Dark Floral II Black Saturated and Dark Floral II Gray on Silk Charmeuse (130 cm square) are the first products in the collection.

Soon (in a matter of weeks), I’ll be adding these same prints on Silk Voile (a more transparent silk with a matte instead of shiny surface), and I’ll be testing a smaller size (60 cm square) to see if that’s a nice addition to the collection, at a lower price point.

EllieCashmanFloralScarfDarkFloralIIBlackSaturatedSilkCharmeuse130cmSquareCollage

Here’s a look at some of the product photographs I took of the first three scarves. One of the great things about my new studio is that it has fantastic light for photography. That means I’ll be taking more product shots myself, which affords me the luxury of examining and documenting the products from every angle and in every position … Did I go a little overboard?

Well, I’m a little bit excited about this product! I’ve been in the planning/testing stages with the scarves for a long time (everything was sort of on hold for a while last year, while I was hard (read: obsessively) at work on my new design, Still Life with Shadows). So it’s especially nice to finally go live with them.

Last year, I wore my Dark Floral II White on Silk Voile (also coming soon to the shop) prototype scarf A LOT. I don’t even want to say how often because you might start wondering if I ever change my outfit or bathe at all for that matter …

But that’s the beauty of the scarf, and I say this after getting to know this product intimately over the past year. It really does go with everything … I can wear it out to dinner or to a party; I can wear it with jeans and a wool blazer, a knit tunic and black skinny jeans … there’s nothing I’ve found that doesn’t look better with this scarf. Also, the colors are ideal for coordinating. There are so many to pull out and play off of. It’s truly the highly versatile – and fun! – wardrobe element that can go with me wherever I go. And I’m practicing what I preach here!

EllieCashmanFloralScarfDarkFloralSilkCharmeuse130cmSquareCollage

And let’s just talk about silk for a minute. Silk is, as it should be, a highly desirable fabric. It is the most hypo-allergenic type of fabric there is (with only 18 amino-acids) and feels amazing against the skin. Aside from that, the silks that I’ve sourced give the prints a whole new poetic dimension … the transparency, the draping, the movement … So many new qualities are revealed in the same prints I’ve been applying to wallpaper.

My silk scarves are, by the way, printed here in the Netherlands by a company that also prints for brands like Erdem and Dior.

On the occasion of this product launch, I also did a bit of research into the history of the scarf. Here are some more reasons why I’m SO excited about adding them to my product line:

  1. As discussed, they are a fun, versatile, beautiful and useful addition to any wardrobe. Unlike a dress or a pair of pants that won’t have the right cut in a few years, scarves can be worn forever and never go out of style.
  2. Scarves have been around for what amounts to forever. They’re used all over the globe, to different ends (think: cleanliness in dirty/sandy climates, warmth in cold climates, for uniforms, religious reasons/occasions …) But then again, who needs a reason to wear a scarf? If you have a neck, that’s reason enough! Necks will never be obsolete or fall out of fashion, and therefore, neither will scarves.
  3. Since the mid-twentieth-century (and even before), scarves have been an important product for couture fashion houses, who have established a tradition of commissioning artists to create truly special, wearable works of art. This process of back-and-forth between creative directors and commissioned artists often takes about a year. This kind of craftsmanship and commitment to quality sets the scarf apart in the fast-paced, deadline/season/trend-driven fashion industry and speaks to me as a maker.
  4. The scarf is a collector’s item. It doesn’t even have to be worn. Scarves can also be collected and displayed in other ways (framed, hung, boxed, etc. Collectors often collect scarves around a specific theme, for example: travel/geographic locations, or animals, or a specific brand … The value of a scarf can increase with time. A collection can always be added to, edited or passed on to the next generation.
  5. There are almost a million different ways to tie/wear them! Check out this link for inspiration.

Essentially, the scarf is a beautiful, versatile and useful fashion item that not only doesn’t go out of style, it can increase in value with time. It bridges the gap between fashion and art, at a price that makes it available to more than the happy few.

There’s an existing history of artists creating art for scarves, and I would contend that this history is entering into a new era, with the possibilities afforded by digital printing.

Initially, prints were applied to fabric by a method of screen printing, which requires that each color is applied to the cloth through a separate screen. This is an expensive process. Just making the screens is an investment, then you’ve got the labor-intensiveness of the ink application. Now, though, with digital printing (introduced in the late 1980’s and taking the fashion industry by storm) we can print an infinite number of colors onto fabric in one go. More and more digital printers are accepting small order volumes, which is great for independent designers like me. Costs decrease; possibilities increase, enormously. Now prints, instead of having a flat, graphic quality, can also incorporate all the beautiful color gradations and expressive brush strokes that paintings do.

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With my scarves, I want the wearer to feel like she has a painting, a real work of art, around her neck. That’s why I’ve chosen a luxurious fabric, digitally printed with painterly detail, in a large format (130 cm). Because of the print’s large scale, the scarf can be rotated to feature different flowers and segments of the painting. In this way, a single scarf can function as many different ones.

I like to ‘toughen up’ my floral scarves by wearing them with leather, denim or a textured knit. Next to the sinuous foliage forms in ‘Dark Floral II’, I like to wear jewelry with simple, geometric forms, for contrast.

With this product, I’m stepping out of interiors and getting my toes wet in fashion, which is something I’ve wanted to do since childhood.

EllieCashmanFloralScarfDarkFloralIIGraySilkCharmeuse130cmSquare

I hope you like these first scarves and please know that more are on the way, imminently. While writing this post I received the first tests of Still Life with Shadows Blue on Silk Voile and I’m happy to say that we’ll be putting this one into production in the next few weeks as well. It’s love at first sight, with its romantic pinks and foggy blues … The perfect accessory for a favorite pair of jeans.

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A Room of Her Own

A Room of Her Own

At the beginning of 2015, I moved out of the attic studio that had been my work space for six years and took over a little bit of space at my husband’s office, which happens to be located in a former factory building that’s been re-zoned to house artists and creative entrepreneurs.

EllieCashmanOfficeEntrance

I set myself up with a desk, a computer, some walls to display work in progress and a little shop area where we can store and package samples. I’ve also been lucky enough to have the help of my husband’s assistant, Corine, who packages up samples, handles delivery and logistics and customer service. Her list of responsibilities continues to grow, and I wouldn’t have survived 2015 without her!

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I’m at the office 3 to 3.5 days a week (but this doesn’t include hours in the attic after dinner, where you can sometimes even find me working into the early morning). This is the kind of schedule you keep when you balance work you love with caring for young children. Our kids are 7, 5 and 2 and getting better by the day.

I haven’t made easy, conventional choices. I like a challenge here and there. Why else would you expatriate, learn a second language, gain dual citizenship, have three kids and start your own business within a 6 year period?

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment …

But I did most of this in my pyjamas, and so it’s been really nice, this past year, to put on decent clothes again and go to a real place of business. I’ve gotten out of the house, held meetings, and enjoyed working as a team with my husband and Corine, and others, in this endeavor/adventure we call Ellie Cashman Design.

I wasn’t looking for a move/change, but somewhere around late October/early November, I started staying home when I wanted to paint or write. E-mail and web maintenance and meetings were office activities, but my creative process was stalled in a big, shared space that was full of other people’s energies and activities.

Home felt like the best place to fully occupy my own heart, and work without distraction or interruption. (The kids were all at school and daycare, obviously). Our kitchen/dining room became my painting studio by day. I broke out acrylic paints and something started to flow …

Around this time, I went for a morning run in my neighborhood and my improvised loop took me by Fort Isabella, a former military base that was converted to house refugees in the 80’s and then, several years ago, was opened up to artists and business people as a place to rent (temporary) studio and office space while more permanent plans are being made for the complex. It’s a really funky, charming place, and I hope your neighborhood has one just like it!

Well, to make a long story short, this run by Fort Isabella reminded me of a fellow print designer I’d met a few years ago, who was one of the first people to set up shop there. “I need to call her,” I thought to myself mid-stride. I haven’t talked to too many people during the last few years, due to the aforementioned kid/business combo. Lately I’ve been feeling the need to reach out again.

When I spoke to Sandra the next day, she casually mentioned that a studio across the hall from hers would be available as of December 1st. Would I be interested?

EllieCashmanStudiofromaDistance

I didn’t even entertain the idea at first. I had my attic studio, my office space, my convertible kitchen/dining room/painting studio by day … I was already having trouble keeping it all straight. And after all, we live in the Netherlands, where space is at a premium. I was sure I must be maxing out my quota of square meters already.

But the more I started to think about it … The more it all made sense. This space would fill a fundamental need I hadn’t yet realized I had. It would be a space all to myself, where I made all the choices, all the rules, and could be my real, uncompromising self. I could play music out loud … I could take yoga breaks without offending anyone … my creative process would have full reign! Oh my!!

EllieCashmanStudioEntrance

EllieCashmanStudiowithBike

You grow up in your parents’ home, share a series of dorm rooms and apartments, then a house with your husband and before you know it, three kids. The years go by and with each one you make new concessions. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home life, but it is, by nature, a group dynamic, a balancing act, a collective effort, and sometimes I don’t know where I end and my family begins.

So, after mulling it over for a few hours, and before even seeing the space, my decision was made. Yes! I really wanted a room of my own.

EllieCashmanStudioFirstVisit

So in early December I signed the lease (the first lease I’ve signed alone since hopping over the pond in 2007) to my very own 42 m2 of Dutch soil, and spent much of the month patching, sanding, painting, hanging curtains, purchasing a used drawing table and taking the first steps toward making the space my own.

EllieCashmanStudioLeaseSigning

For now it’s mostly just full of air and light and silence and yes, I guess you would call it emptiness. I can unpack my dusty old sketchbooks, step back, have a look, observe, see, think, hear myself …

EllieCashmanStudioRenovationsComplete

I don’t know yet what I will fill this space with, but I know there’s finally a room, and it is my own. And that’s a place, to start …

EllieCashmanStudioTerrace

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After a long silence

After a long silence

I haven’t written here at the blog in a long time. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write/blog more (weekly) in 2016, and I’m planning to start right now and stick to that.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful 2015, and are full of hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Have you been wondering what we’ve been up to?

Well, 2015 was a great, but very busy, year. I didn’t spend as much time designing as I would have liked, because so much of my time and energy needed to be devoted to managing the business side of things (our order volume tripled last year).

This was wonderful, but unexpected, and we had to make a lot of quick adjustments.

But before I go on, I just want to express how grateful I am for that. It’s my life’s dream to make things that bring people joy and I feel very lucky to be able to do that. So, thanks to all of you who support and encourage me in my passion.

When I created the initial designs that launched my web shop (in 2013), I was working in a vacuum, at my own pace. I had a dream, but no set deadlines. Nobody knew or cared who I was, and the only pressure on me was the pressure I put on myself.

I guess the pressure has mounted in the last year or two, in proportion to the sales.

And that brings me to last week, when I stumbled upon an article about how ‘wonderful’ deadlines are. To me, wonderful and deadlines are two words that don’t belong in a sentence together. So I read on, curious to hear an alternate perspective.

The article argued that deadlines are good for your customers because they help hold you to your promises. If a deadline is approaching and you don’t think you can make it, the thing to do is start cutting. Take your initial target/goal/dream/ideal and bring it back to reality.

The thing is, this just doesn’t work for me (or my product). This doesn’t even sound like one would be keeping the right promises to his/her customers if one was to operate this way. I want to do the right thing with respect to my customers, but to me that’s delivering the best product I possibly can. And if I do that in January or June, well, that’s less important to me, and I hope to you too.

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My latest design, ‘Still Life With Shadows’, has kept me occupied for nearly a year. I had hoped it would be done before the summer of 2015, but when I saw the proofs, I knew it wasn’t. I thought it would be an open and shut case. It was anything but.

I let it rest in the summer and approached it with new fervor in the fall. I hit a wall again. In the end, do you know what I had to do? Go back to the beginning, do what William Faulkner called ‘killing your darlings’ … And start over again.

Luckily, that’s an option that working digitally affords you. I think I’ve saved hundreds of versions of this design at this point. So I can go back in time and see where it’s at its strongest, take the lessons I’ve learned in the meantime, and … try it again.

I may not have been communicating much with the outside world in 2015, but I was definitely communicating with this design, and helping it figure out what it wanted to be.

There’s just no predicting how these things will go. After almost a year of being patient and persevering, not giving up even when ‘Still Life’ was giving me nothing … this design is in what I hope is its last round of proofing. And I’m really proud of it in January 2016, in a way that I wasn’t in June 2015. And I think that matters, a lot.

I also have big plans for this design. It’s going to be applied to lots of products and be available in my shop for years, and my customers will live with it for years. I don’t take that lightly.

So, for better or worse, I don’t/can’t work to the deadline. My creative process just doesn’t allow me to. It’s more important to me to be true to that process, and to craft something not around a deadline, but around the initial dream.

So, commercial success plays a secondary role for me, and being able to make that call is one of the many things I love about working as an independent designer.

I do believe that people who value purchasing products directly from makers (can come to) understand and value this process-driven way of working. It may be a test of patience, but good things come to those who wait :)

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Dressing Room Wallpaper at Goop Pop Up Chicago

Dressing Room Wallpaper at Goop Pop Up Chicago

Last weekend Gwyneth Paltrow opened her third goop pop up shop in Chicago and I’m thrilled to share with you that the dressing rooms were dressed with my Dark Floral II Black Desaturated wallpaper!

The interior design is by Kara Mann Design.

Photos of the shop are featured on Elle Decor, including this shot of the wallpapered dressing rooms.

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperGoopPopupChicago

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8 Great Ways to Use Wallpaper

8 Great Ways to Use Wallpaper

When I designed my ‘Dark Floral’ wallpaper, I imagined it being used on an accent wall. I mocked it up in Photoshop as the backdrop for a rustic wood table and an Eames chair.

What happened next, I hadn’t imagined at all!

That mockup went viral on Pinterest, and e-mails began to pour in from all around the world. People wanted to know where they could buy the wallpaper. This gave me the guts to go out on my own and find a partner to produce ‘Dark Floral.’ We were shipping the wallpaper around the world even before the web shop went live. And now, just a short time later, ‘Dark Floral’ has appeared on the pages of Vogue and Elle.

So, real life has exceeded the capacity of my imagination. I feel truly lucky.

This little wallpaper that could has had quite a journey so far, and it feels like it’s just getting started. There’s more good news on the way too (it just keeps getting better!)

But for now, I wanted to share some of the highlights from this journey so far.

Because, speaking of imagination, my clients have got it in excess. They’ve shown me that there are many more possibilities for ‘Dark Floral’ – and any wallpaper for that matter – than just an accent wall.

8 Great Ways to Use Wallpaper

1) As an invitation to ‘come hither’ into a space beyond
Le Mordant/Lucky Liam restaurant
Designed by Lucie LePage-Depreux of agence – mur.mur
Paris, France
Featured in Elle France, April 2015

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperLeMordant

 

“We especially love the breakfast table decorated with ‘Dark Floral’ wallpaper by Ellie Cashman.” –ELLE

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2) As a mood maker
Finca restaurant/tapas bar
Designed by Cody Derrick and Lauren Bald of City Home Collective
Salt Lake City, UT, USA

From the City Home Collective blog: “The private dining rooms at Finca were one of the first things to be designed. Even before the paint color was chosen for the restaurant, Cody knew he had to have that floral wallpaper. It’s bold, it’s sexy, and it’s as multidimensional as the tapas on the menu. After sourcing for countless hours, we finally tracked down the paper to Ellie Cashman. Well worth the flight across the pond. These rooms are dark, brooding, cloaked in grey crushed-velvet curtains, and my favorite space to dine. Everything looks sexy in these rooms.” — Lauren Bald

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperFincaRestaurant

 

3) As a display maker
Butik Guldkant, Boutique
Småland/Eksjö, Sweden

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperButikGuldkantSweden

 

4) To offset lovely white built-ins
Home office, private residence
Designed by Jaimee Rose Interiors
Arizona, USA

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperJaimeeRoseInteriors

 

5) As an art collection backdrop
London Terrace living room of award-winning florist Nikki Tibbles
London, UK
Featured in Vogue Living Australia September/October 2014

“Dark Floral wallpaper by Netherlands-based American designer Ellie Cashman feels like walking into a still life painting. In the room behind, Ellie Cashman’s ‘Dark Floral’ is custom printed on linen for curtains. Tibbles bought the limited edition Thomas Eyck bugs many years ago. ‘I never knew where to put them until I found this wallpaper.’ she says.” –VOGUE

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperVogue

 

6) As a space divider
Screen created by Le Moissonnier
Bourg-en-Bresse, France

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperScreen

7) As a dream enchanter
Bedroom, private residence
Brisbane, Australia

Oh, imagine the dreams you would have … This client says the wallpaper “literally stops me in my tracks every time I walk into the room.”

For the wallpaper hanger’s account of the installation process, check out Wow Wallpaper Hanging, where they attest to the fact that “The wallpaper is only limited to your imagination.”

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperBedroom
Majeka House Hotel
Designed by Etienne Hanekom
Stellenbosch, South Africa

EllieCashmanDarkFloralWallpaperCeilingDesignEtienneHanekom

 

8) As an immersion experience
Powder room, private residence
Designed by Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Featured on Cupcakes & Cashmere and Amber Interior Design, February 2014

DarkFloralPowderRoomCupcakesandCashmereUSA

 

From Cupcakes & Cashmere: “I knew I wanted to wallpaper the room and though we considered going with something subtle, I couldn’t be happier with the Ellie Cashman design we ended up using. Her wallpapers look like beautiful oil paintings and the large scale floral pattern worked remarkably well in the small space. It’s quickly turned into one of my favorite rooms in the house.” –Emily Schuman, Cupcakes and Cashmere

From Amber Interiors: “Maybe (positively ) the best little powder bath I ever did see … Em and G really wanted to make a statement in this perfect little powder bath. We searched for wallpapers that would be as impactful as possible and not something we may have already seen before. Because Pinterest is a magical unicorn, and has the power to unlock even the most buried of treasures, we were able to stumble onto this wallpaper…and the rest was history. Is it possible to even say that the pictures don’t do it justice??  In the flesh it looks like an oil painting… its “Bonkers Good” for lack of a better phrase. –Amber Lewis, Amber Interiors

So, I hope this post has convinced you that wallpaper can enhance a space in a myriad of ways, playing many roles, striking many notes. Your imagination truly is the limit!

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