Recently, I nervously reached out to Meghann Rader and asked if she would be interested to do a Q&A for my blog. When she so politely said yes, I have to admit, I kinda had a fan-girl moment.
I have been a huge fan of Meghann for years. Just like you, I’ve seen her beautiful work on Bespoke Letterpress and Anthropologie. I wrote a post on my private Facebook tribe to called out for questions for Meghann and she very generously took the time and effort to answer every one in great detail.
Can you describe your creative workflow?
Yes! It changes depending on what I’m doing. I usually start by listing out all of my ideas in the notes app on my phone. It’s my favourite way of keeping track of anything that pops into my head as I go about my day. If I’m working on an illustration I’ll usually draw some really quick thumbnails of possible layouts. From there I choose my favourite and turn it into a cleaned up sketch on my iPad. I also like to plan my colours out on the iPad before I start my final artwork. Then I’ll move on to paint. I usually work mostly with traditional media, gouache and watercolour. I like to paint all of my icons separately so that I can easily scan, edit and assemble them in Photoshop. If I’m creating a pattern I’ll usually create a mood board and colour palette and then just start painting icons. Once I have enough to work with I’ll assemble them into a pattern in Photoshop.
How do you go about digitalising your beautiful gouache paintings? Do you use primarily use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop?
I work pretty much exclusively in Photoshop because I feel like the natural paint texture is a big part of my current style and Photoshop is the best at preserving that detail. That being said, I did learn both programs while I was experimenting with my style and I do think there is a place for Illustrator in my future work. I would say if you have the opportunity you should learn both programs. One isn’t better than the other. They are just different and many artists incorporate both into their workflow. Photoshop is an amazing tool and if you love traditional media like I do it’s definitely worth learning.
Do you work in collections or in singular artwork?
I have to say that I do produce a lot of one off illustrations mostly because I’m usually balancing commissions and I don’t have a lot of time to create full collections. Which is totally fine, however, I would encourage working in collections when you can, whether illustration or patterns. When I do set personal projects for myself that include multiple pieces that could be licensed as a group, my zodiac series for example, not only am I able to create more work in less time but I also usually have more success with licensing because there is a bit more opportunity for prospective companies to work with. In terms of patterns, if you want to pursue licensing beyond fabric you don’t necessarily need to have huge collections. Just one hero print with a couple of supporting prints is plenty.
How did you develop your own unique signature style?
Unfortunately it’s the answer that no one likes to hear. You just have to continue to create work. It’s also important to get your inspiration from a wide variety of viewpoints. I took a lot of classes from a wide variety of people. Try new things. experiment with all sorts of media and techniques. Take what you enjoy and leave the rest. Not everything will resonate. But keeping those bits that you do enjoy will add to your overall style. I should also add that I think that style is ever changing. As we go through life we are soaking up new information and learning all of the time so as we evolve it makes sense that our style does as well.
Do you follow trends when you create? And do you usually create art with a target market in mind?
Yes and no. It’s not something that I deliberately try to do. Of course I’m inspired by what I see around me and in the media I consume. Mostly I create work that I like and from that I have naturally grown a target market. Yes trends and target markets and all of that is important to an extent but more importantly you must enjoy the work you’re creating otherwise you’re in danger of burnout and resentment and the work will be dull. If you love what you’re doing that excitement will shine through in what you create.
One thing I do try to do is make work that will translate in multiple markets because then I have the opportunity to profit more than I otherwise would.
Before you worked with an agent, how did you get your work in front and seen by clients?
I put a lot of effort into social media and really focused on learning how to make it work for my business. That effort lead to my first few licensing jobs and eventually to my agent. Social media strategies are always changing so it’s really important to continue to educate yourself on best practices. Equally important, if not more so, is to start an email list and send out regular emails. Social media is unreliable and you never know who is going to see your content or when platforms are going to change or become unpopular. You have complete control over your email list and the fact that your subscribers have allowed you into their inbox means that they are more committed to you and your brand.
It’s also a good idea to reach out to your favourite companies specifically with something really special. A simple postcard or email doesn’t really cut it these days. If you can create a special package that is memorable and will help you stand out, all the better!
How did you go about finding an agent? What do you think a designer should look out for in an agent?
I was lucky enough to have my agent, Jehane, approach me but I was already looking for an agent at the time. I specifically wanted a smaller boutique agency that worked in a variety of markets. I have two small children and producing a certain number of pieces per week is not realistic so that was also a consideration for me. When Jehane approached me she was just starting her agency (I was the 3rd artist to sign!) and she just checked off all of my boxes.
If you’re looking for an agent I’d recommend getting specific about what you want. Research agencies to make sure they are a good fit and definitely reach out to some of their artists for feedback. It’s important to find out about fees and contracts, working relationships, how much work do they get their artists. What market’s do they work in, how much work do they expect from their artists a month etc.
When approaching an agent, how many collections should one have?
Collections are important, especially within the fabric industry. However licensing in general covers a wide range of industries and agents are working in a variety of markets so if you’re looking for representation I think it’s more important to show that you can create work for multiple markets rather than have a certain number of collections.
I would also say it’s less about the number of pieces in your portfolio and more about having a developed and unique style. So have enough work to show that. It’s better to show less work that is developed and consistent then a lot of work that is all over the map. Don’t get too hung up on a number, of you feel ready for an agent then there’s no harm in looking. There are also agents that offer portfolio reviews if you need help preparing, including my agent Jehane.
Could you please tell us what it’s like working with an agent?
Every agent is different but my agent Jehane basically deals with everything that doesn’t involve creating art. She does all of the promoting. She goes to multiple trade shows a year, reaches out to and meets with prospective clients, and actively promotes my work online. She handles all of the negotiating and contracts, although all work is my final decision. If it’s a license she also sends all of the artwork to the client. She deals with invoices, payments and royalties. Aside from all of that she is a mentor and is very active about making sure that she is clear on my goals and works with me to choose work thats in line with my vision. We are in contact via email daily and we often have Zoom meetings to discuss what I’m currently working on and what’s ahead.
Have you encountered any licensing geographical obstacles since you’re based in Canada but have an agent in the UK?
No, I’ve never had an issue with that.
Could you give some information about pricing? How should a surface pattern designer go about charging for their work?
This is a hefty question! There are so many factors that go into pricing. Generally there are 3 things you need to take into account to help you determine price so if not provided in the initial email they should be the first questions you ask any potential client:
Market – what type of product(s) is the license for.
Term – how long is the license for? 1year? 3 years? In perpetuity?
Territory – where is the license geographically valid? Everywhere? Only one country?All of these things will have an effect on the fee. The Graphic Artists Guild handbook has some great suggestions on where to start but my favourite resource is Jennifer Nelson’s Advice for Artists Facebook group. It’s filled with hundreds of working artists who are more than happy to answer any licensing questions you may have and give suggestions on price.
In one of your posts, you’d mentioned how nervous you were about a big project. How do you approach big projects with tight deadlines? Is it worth jumping into? What’s the best way to move forward when a big opportunity comes your way?
Working on big projects can get overwhelming very quickly when you start thinking about all the work you have to get through. The best way to get over that is by scheduling everything out. Write down all of your deadlines and calculate from there what needs to get done each day to meet the deadlines. From there you only need to think about what you have to do one day at a time which makes the project seem way more doable. It’s much easier to only focus on what’s immediately ahead of you when you know you’ve scheduled yourself enough time to complete everything else
Tell us a little about your collaboration with Anthropologie
So, last year I was lucky enough to have my work in Anthropologie. It was definitely a bucket list moment for me and also a full circle moment because the work that was featured was actually from my very first licensing opportunity with a lovely company, Bespoke Letterpress. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t actually create the pattern for that collection, I sent them 12 spot illustrations for each of the 12 days of Christmas and some individual christmassy icons and they then took those and created two beautiful pattens for their gift wrap and corresponding cards.
For more inspiration, get on stalker mode and check out Meghann Rader’s Instagram and website. She also has a free brilliant guide on how to choose a beautiful colour palette that stands out. Make sure you don’t miss this invaluable guide and go check it out here.