I threw out all of the first and second stage work — it was horrendous. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to suffer seeing those designs on even his underwear.
In January of 2021, I took a plunge and enrolled in an intense 3-month long course in surface/pattern design.
In case you don’t know, surface design means creating designs for fabric, tiles, stationery, wallpaper, wrapping paper, table coverings, sheets, duvets, place mats — anything flat. And clothing, of course.
By that time, covid had destroyed my coaching business — evaporated right into thin air. No one was wanting graphic design work, or my guidance in writing their books. So I decided that, if I liked what the course was about, I would dedicate not just the three months, but the entire year to doing surface design and only surface design. This was a really big deal for me, since I am heavily multi-disciplinary.
I jammed like crazy, diving in and designing every single day — we were asked to keep a daily record of what we did, to make sure we got in the required minimum of 15 minutes a day. I was nervous about this course, and didn’t know if I would like it enough to put in the requested time.
Hah! The joke was on me — turned out that I way over-fulfilled the requirement. The inveterate over-achiever, I ended up spending 5 or 6 hours a day — sometimes more — both learning the design program, and drawing my wee brains out.
I had done a little fabric design before, but never with the intensity of focus this course allowed me to have: usually, I have to break away from stuff I love in order to do some droll boring mundane thing to keep up with bills.
I gave myself permission to go all the way in this course, and go flat out all day if I wanted. It was stupendous.
I felt incredibly free, and hundreds of designs flowed through my fingers like the Mississippi River.
I had to remind myself that, in the beginning of something I wasn’t used to, I was certainly going to produce some crap work for a while — and I sure did. I eventually got the hang of using the design app. I began to notice trends and patterns of subject matter, shape, and color, and began to see more clearly what I liked and didn’t like.
That first year, I went through three distinct stages of design. I threw out all of the first and second stage work — it was horrendous. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to suffer seeing those designs on even his underwear.
The third stage, however, I fell in love with. The designs were fun, whimsical, organic, and filled with people, critters, shapes and gem-like colors I could (and still can) look at all day long.
I’m presently on stage five, about which I feel even more delighted. Last year, 2022, went a little slower, kind of stumbled a bit, but I still loved the images that came out. In retrospect, it was a great segue to this year’s work, stage five. I love them all.
‘Loving them all’ is a major concept.
I had to figure out a metric for love or don’t-love. It isn’t just ooh, lookee, isn’t that cute, or wow the colors, or how-did-you-do-that-complex-one? Being a highly kinesthetic person, it came to me that it’s all about The Feels.
If a design didn’t make me want to move closer, to really look at what the subject was — is it funny, is it sweet, is it a comment on something? And what are the intricate inner weavings of line and subject and color? — out it went.
If it didn’t make me kind of go ‘hughnh’ in my belly, out it went.
Because of that commitment to create only designs I loved, I ended up with very different designs than I had started out with — mostly florals, which seemed to be the rage in the course group. I got bored with them very quickly.
I had thought I’d be doing fabric design for repeat patterns you could print on cloth or wallpaper or other large-scale materials. Instead, I landed on creating designs for ceramic tiles. It seems ironically appropriate to have landed on tiles, having been a potter for so many years!
I do love the way the designs look as repeats, but they are so much more fun as a single unit — especially the ones with people, and the ones with critters and other silly beings.
Plus, in the groups I was part of, there was zero interest in my pathetic fabric designs, but all kinds of oohs and ahhs on the tile designs.
At the end of the first year, I suddenly took a left turn.
I went kind of mad. One day, it suddenly struck me that my sons really had no clue about me, who I was/am, or any of my life, outside of their brief experience knowing me as their mother. Very short, indeed, as they went to live with their dad when they were 11 and 14. In 1986. Too long ago!
It was out-of-the-blue-suddenly desperately important to me that they find out about all my hairy adventures and ridiculous mishaps, my various art achievements, and almost life-ending calamities.
I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, but I started writing like a maniac. I compiled the stories into what turned out to be a series of books, not just the one I’d thought it would be. Surprised the heck out of me. I illustrated each one of them with some of the new designs.
At this point, there are seven books, and I’m not even close to the end of the list of things I want to write about.
The first book was Unexpected Stories (of course), and the next three were the first INSIDE SECRETS books. (Go here: atlyon.gumroad.com)
TOO MUCH FUN!
Because it was so much fun and so satisfying to play with these images, I have continued on far beyond the three-month course. I love it that I‘m able to create more diverse designs than I ever thought of before, or tried to paint or carve.
Now in the third year, I still get such pleasure from them. It bowls me over that, when I checked my files recently and added up what I have created over these last three years, that I have done over 3000 of them.
At the end of the first year, I asked myself what I had learned from this intense focus, and from having created so many unique images.
Six basic things:
1. Make sure you love the designs you do.
Because if you don’t, they’ll feel ‘meh,’ and they will hunker down all limp and wimpy in your folders and hog precious space.
Loving my designs means they move me. There’s an inner awareness that catches fire and lights up when I look at one of them. If that doesn’t happen, I either try to fix it, or I just hit delete. Sometimes they are not retrievable.
2. Be brave.
Either play with your designs until they make you feel ‘YEAH!’ Or delete them. No biggie — just press that mouse, and say to yourself, ‘next!’
There are thousands more where that one came from that are probably much better designs.
3. Experiment like crazy — way beyond what you’re used to.
If you usually use green, use pink. If you have done a lot of squares, use circles. If you’re used to doing birds, do ponds, bicycles, marshmallows, abstracts.
4. Blow your own mind!
Look for inspiration everywhere. Colors, designs, lines, forms, subjects, textures, simple elements. Be alert when you cruise facebook, instagram, tiktok. Snag ideas and images from the news. You can find ideas in your garden, house, kids, cars, NASA — wherever.
Infinite ideas surround us!
Just grab one and run with it, make it yours.
5. Leave your expectations at the door.
Give yourself permission to screw up, try new things, make horrendous mistakes, be scared, do things anyway, and dip your fingers into jars of experience you never dreamed of before.
What will emerge will surprise and please you. I had expected to be selling fabric, wallpaper and other home decor stuff by the end of the first year. Instead, I ended up wanting my designs to go on ceramic tiles, instead.
I fantasize about making these complex designs huge — like six or eight foot square, placed in subway stations, or on the bottom of swimming pools, or as enormous murals in business buildings. Maybe as heat-proof ceramic tiles on space ships!
6. Start something totally new.
Something unlike you, or anything you’ve ever done before.
Something that makes your belly squeech.
Something that makes you think you must be nuts but so what.
Something you’ve always loved, maybe, but never had time for before.
I was 74 when I started these new designs.
It’s never too late to start something new.
If I can do it, you most certainly can.
Being an artist is the very essence of living right smack dab at the center of the creative Heart of the Mystery, that Divine Thing that feeds and animates us all.
We are ordinary humans in physical bodies, yes. But there’s some strange string that pulls us into realms of weirdness, wonder and delight, a connection that I think most people lose when they are kids.
When artists feel that pull, if we don’t go with it, we go insane.
Artists have to keep on keeping on — if we don’t, we go stale, become helpless and hopeless, wilt, turn into a pile of boring dust, topple over, and croak.
Thanks so much for reading my story. I hope it lit you up. Or maybe it inspired you, or made you curious, or gave you a new perspective with which to view and appreciate your own life. Or maybe take on a new exciting scary fun adventure! That’s my wish.
HOW I REDESIGNED MY FUTURE
Image: Healing Broken Birdie
© Angela Treat Lyon 2021
text © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
If you’d like a print of Healing Broken Birdie, please contact me.
You can see hundreds of the tile designs at instagram.com/angela.treat.lyon
This story is a very enhanced version of one from my fourth life-story book: INSIDE SECRETS, Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone — Volume IV: Cogitating You can get this book and most of my other books as free or choose what you pay ebooks at atlyon.gumroad.com; or in print on amazon.
I bet you don’t know the right way to write your book!
Find out (free) here:
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