Art Meets Commerce: A Conversation With Rebecca Atwood
I’m excited to introduce you all to Rebecca Atwood. Her work caught my eye on Instagram a couple years ago and I’ve been watching her career blossom ever since. Multiple fabrics lines, throws, pillows, and a best-selling book later, it’s clear Rebecca has a knack for taking her art and breathing new life into it. It is one thing to create something people can hang on their walls and it’s quite another to make art that can live on their linens and sofas. Without further ado, here’s Brooklyn based designer and artist Rebecca Atwood on her career trajectory, what inspires her daily, and what’s next for her business and craft.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got started as a designer?
I grew up in a small town on Cape Cod. My parents own a restaurant, The Red Pheasant, and we lived in the same building. We were about a 15-minute walk to the beach, so I spent so much of my childhood there. I always loved to draw and paint and am very fortunate that my parents encouraged that. I then studied painting at Rhode Island School of Design. Towards the end of my time there, I became interested in textiles. I realized this was likely the closest thing I could do to painting that I could get paid for, so I created a portfolio and applied for jobs in that field. I began my career at Anthropologie on their home design team in Philadelphia. This was my training ground for developing product of all kinds—everything from kitchen linens, bowls, mugs and candle packaging to bedding, curtains, pillows and holiday ornaments. Every week I had three to five projects I had to design and brief for production overseas. From there I moved to New York with my boyfriend (now husband) and primarily worked for a small UK-based design consultancy company before starting my own line. There I learned more about the bigger picture creating private label programs for retailers at all levels of the market, consulting on trends for major agencies, and traveling to factories in Europe and India for design development and production. When I started my own line it was because I wanted to create goods that I really cared about—product that was personal and what I wanted to buy but couldn’t find in the market. I also wanted to control how and where things were being made.
Tell us more about the launch of your recent wallpaper collection that’s inspired by yoga.
I love that feeling after a yoga class where everything feels a bit more easeful. Your mind is clearer, and your body feels like it has more space but is simultaneously grounded. This feeling reminds me of where I grew up on Cape Cod and how I’d feel after spending time on the beach. I want to create that feeling at home. I’m a big believer in spending time drawing, sketching and making. I created this paper collage of scalloped shapes and afterward realized how much it reminded me of one of my favorite yoga poses—cat cow. That sparked my decision to tie this collection together with yoga poses, so I picked patterns I had created based on that idea. I believe creating a space that’s beautiful, calm and inspiring promotes well-being. Your walls are an important foundation to a room, and these designs are ones that can easily be layered with other patterns, but can also stand on their own in a more minimal space. Pattern is a great tool to tell your personal story, and seeing your story reflected in your space makes you feel good.
Are your products available for purchase anywhere other than your site?
We work with a few select showrooms around the country for our fabric and wallpaper lines: Studio Four in NYC, Nicky Rising in LA, Paul+ in Atlanta, James Showroom in Austin and Dallas, and GSD in the UK.
Describe your design aesthetic?
I’m all about calm, livable pattern. Creating pieces that are thoughtful and personal drives me. When it comes to decorating my home I have a mix of antiques, pieces that belonged to my family, and more modern pieces. I love handmade items, and definitely collect things from other creatives.
What inspires you as an artist and designer?
So much of my inspiration draws from memories of growing up on Cape Cod, as well as daily moments in Brooklyn, and of course travel, which gives you a new perspective on your day-to-day. Life is busy, so sitting down to paint is a way for me to filter those experiences on to paper. It’s often subconscious, and I just love this discovery phase. To stay inspired I think it’s important to do the following:
- Slow down and notice things in your day-to-day. Really look at things, and notice what you’re drawn to.
- Collect things—packaging with lettering you like, an envelope in a color you love, rocks, shells, leaves, a magazine tear. Do this physically and digitally.
- Research. Once you start noticing what you’re drawn to, investigate it more with books, magazines, online articles, museum exhibits.
- Make time to make. Use your hands, show up and do the work.
- Make time for downtime. Inspiration can come in the funniest places—so also keep a notebook to write down ideas.
Who are your favorite designers and pattern designers to follow on IG for inspo?
I don’t really follow other pattern designers for inspiration, as I think it’s important to focus on your own creativity and interests rather than what others are doing. I do really enjoy Instagram though!
Some of my favorite accounts are:
- @readtealeaves – Erin Boyle’s account always has me remembering to slow down and enjoy the little things.
- @askhollyhow – I work with Holly for business consulting, and she always has something that makes me laugh or think differently about business.
- @quiettownhome – I love their photography.
- @caseformaking – New art supplies inspire me, and this account always makes me want to paint.
I could go on, but I’ll stop there!
What is the best business advice you’ve learned along the way?
Oh gosh—there has been so much! Right now, what resonates the most with me is to be a voracious learner. There will always be more that you don’t know and it’s so important to keep educating yourself. There are so many resources available to entrepreneurs today with articles on the internet, great books, and classes. It’s also so important to have a support network—friends, family, mentors and other people who run their own creative businesses.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into pattern design?
First, there are so many resources online to teach yourself. Watch videos, read blog posts and see how other people do it. Second, practice every day. The more you do it, the better you’ll become—and the more you’ll find your hand. Third, work for others in the field—even if it’s not as a designer. Understanding the industry and how what you do fits into it is really important for growth and your future. It doesn’t have to be your dream job to learn something important. I realize I was lucky to have a job that felt like a dream job when I started out, but a lot of things I learned were from people that weren’t on the design team—the buyers, planners, merchandisers, production team, etc. Ask lots of questions. There are so many different ways to take even something specific as pattern design—it could be fashion or home, it could be your own line or as an in-house designer, or it could be selling prints to brands or licensing. You’ll learn along the way what is the best fit for you.
Where do you see the Rebecca Atwood brand heading in the future?
Early 2018 we’re launching our very first bedding collection! I am so excited (and nervous!). It’s really been a dream of mine since launching the line. I love to sleep, and it’s a bit of a family joke about how early I go to bed. Sleep is such an important part of well-being, and creating a space that rejuvenates you makes a good night sleep easier. Pattern can be transportive, so I looked to my favorite calming places to inspire the collection. Our goal is to become a true destination for pattern in the home and to help our customer create beautiful, patterned, imagined spaces that tell her story.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on designs for Fall 18. I just got back from a trip to Japan, which will definitely be influencing the collection. It’s early to say what will develop, but I’m excited and enjoying the process. I’m thinking richer colors, multi-color prints, and texture.
Tell us a little about your selection process and how you choose your different color palettes?
It’s all about the edit. I make so much in the initial creative phase that never makes it to a final product. Slowly, through the process, it comes to life. At the beginning of a collection I go back through artwork I’ve created, sketchbooks, and other various inspiration pieces in my “library”—it might be a printed menu I liked the color of, something from a design book or magazine, or things I printed off of Pinterest. I also pull out our color bins and start playing with the palette. This is the start of the mood board. First I hang all of my ideas on the wall. I see how they relate. Then I like to sit with it and edit. I’ll be doing other work and come back to it—pin something up, take something else down, write a note so I don’t forget an idea. Once I’ve gotten things to a place that I like I’ll go back and work on the patterns for a new collection. I work on different options for scale and then for color. This is when the color palette gets refined further. Sometimes you need to tweak the colors based on how they’re being used to make them feel just right. Everyone in the office gives input on the designs and colorways. I think it’s important to get feedback and see what everyone is responding to. Then it’s on to sampling. We’ll get strike-offs in, and we refine again. Sometimes an idea didn’t translate the way I thought it would, or a new, better idea comes from seeing a first sample. Often, at the end, we have more things that I like than we can produce. We then narrow down again based on what we already have in the assortment, what our customers are asking for, and what we feel will push the collection forward.
How often do you announce new product lines, does that happen seasonally?
Generally, we release new lines twice a year, in spring and fall. We aren’t as seasonal as a fashion line would be because you want the items in your home to last you all year long. There should be timelessness to the designs, even if you might layer things differently depending on the season.
What is your workspace like?
Our studio is in this large complex of old warehouse buildings called Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We have an open space with a wall of windows that let in lots of sunshine. We each have our own desks (a team of four, including myself), and then we have two larger tables for meetings and working on creative projects. We have a lot of storage as space is limited. I always want more wall space so we made the fronts of our cabinets pinnable—they’re made out of homasote. This was an idea I had, and then a friend and architect, Thomas Sheridan, designed them, and another friend, Erik Gonzalez, built them. We also have a big 18-month calendar on the wall so we can plan out developments and big picture projects.
How do you achieve a work/life balance as you own your own business?
I think the idea of balance is just unrealistic, and we should all give ourselves a break. I recently was reading the book “Radical Candor” and the author, Kim Scott, talked about her non-negotiables to feel grounded. I liked this way of looking at it, because it forces you to prioritize what is most important and what makes you feel present and good. I’m pretty consistent with leaving work at 5pm, which is important to me, but I make other choices that aren’t the best, and this concept is helping me think about what to prioritize. You are constantly readjusting, and it’s going to change with time. Getting a good night sleep is definitely one of my non-negotiables.
What is your favorite type of art project to do for fun?
I love to just make time to paint in my sketchbook. Projects that have no final end goal are my favorite because my work is turning ideas into a finished product.
Favorite quote or life mantra?
Put good out into the world. I believe you get back what you put out.
Images courtesy of Rebecca Atwood