xxxmarquee

How Digital Textile Designers Make Wearable Art

The silk pocket square flashes teal and fuchsia—folded, the design is obscured, and you’d never imagine that it depicts skulls that look like tattoos.... On a humble sock, simple shapes look funky and carefree, but they actually have a deeper meaning…. These garments were designed, respectively, by Patrick Morrison of Furious Goose and Kaylan K. of Lost in the Island. And they represent a tidal shift in the world of fashion.

Patrick Morrison designs vibrantly colored scarves and pocket squares that, unfolded, often reveal startling juxtapositions.

Thanks to digital design tools, textile design is experiencing something of a renaissance. The field attracts graphic designers and illustrators because it employs many techniques they are already familiar with, but it enables visual thinkers to expand beyond the page and the screen. Fabric offers new opportunities and challenges with designs that move, flutter, and twirl along with their wearers. In addition, some creatives see designing textiles as a way to make the switch from corporate design to crafting objects that are more personal. Clothes have the power to be more abstract and intimate than many client-based assignments.

HEALING TRAUMA, EXPLORING SYMBOLISM

For her part, Kaylan K. turned to drawing at the age of six to cope with “a very traumatic childhood” in Montreal.

Kaylan K. often incorporates African symbols and motifs in her textile designs. 

“Art was my way of escaping all of this trauma around me and putting my energy into something that makes me feel alive,” she explains.

Eventually, the young artist turned to digital drawing with Adobe tools, as a self-taught illustrator. She pursued branding, identity, and packaging design for local businesses and food brands such as Cap’On Food in Canada. As a passion project on the side, she created collages that incorporated elements of Afrofuturism: punchy colors and traditional golden neck rings juxtaposed with intergalactic symbols like UFOs.

But something was missing. Kaylan was searching for more of a personal connection with her design work. After reading a book about African symbolism, in 2014, something clicked, and she decided to pursue textile design as a way to explore the underlying meanings of African symbols.

“Through my patterns, I tell some of my story,” she says.

TRANSITIONING TO TEXTILE DESIGN

Patrick Morrison also started out in printmaking and graphic design, in the U.K., eventually working for brands such as Oxfam and American Express. Three years ago, he stumbled upon fabric that he knew must have been designed by vector—and he felt a longing to challenge himself creatively.

Furious Goose scarves add a dash of elegant color to an outfit—sometimes with a secret message. 

“I’ve been using Illustrator for so long, and I thought, ‘I have to have a go at this,’” he says. “I thought I could create some silk with all of that spirit and energy. As soon as I made my first textile design, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I should be doing.’ It marries up everything I’ve been doing and it still pushes me.”

FINDING A VISUAL LANGUAGE

Now based in Austin, Paige Russell studied graphic design at Savannah College of Art and Design. During her studies, she would make paper collages as a way to take breaks from staring at her computer. This practice evolved and she started combining paper and digital work to create patterns printed on scarves. Today, her fashion business is ELOI.

Paige says the cutouts spoke to her aesthetic preference for bold, graphic shapes and bright colors. Plus, people who might not be able to afford an art print can afford a scarf with the same design.

Paige Russell’s designs show off her love of strong, colorful graphics.

“I liked working with the computer and liked problem-solving with branding and web design, and then it just clicked: I was like, ‘Whoa, yes!’” Paige says. “I was obsessed with bright colors and color theory, drawing and painting. That was me finding my actual visual language. It felt really good and right; I loved the look of it. I felt like that was me.”

WEAVING IN MEANING

Kaylan appreciates the repetition of patterns, how they ask the viewer to journey through a visual pathway much like the work of artists she admires—Jean-Michel Basquiat and Salvador Dalí. She creates as many as 50 sketches first, and then she spends several hours in Adobe Illustrator CC refining her work.

“It’s a shame that people think digital art is easy,” she says. “Art is art, regardless of which medium you use. You just have to bring out new ideas and make people stare at it, make people think differently.”

She wants to be known for elevating digital design to the level of fine art.

“I want to show that it takes as much time to create something traditionally as it does to brainstorm something beautiful to come out through the computer,” she says. “It’s the same process. We just have to make people see it differently.”

Pattern designs by Kaylan K. 

This design by Paige Russell found life as a pillow cover. 

“I want to show it takes as much time as creating something traditionally as it does brainstorming something beautiful to come out through the computer,” she says. “It’s the same process. We just have to make people see it differently.”

For his part, Patrick loves the creative potential of the pocket square. In traditional menswear, it’s one of the few areas that’s colorful and playful. He adores the deep saturated color that silk gives his designs, as well as the juxtaposition of crisp, digital vector art with a classic article of clothing worn since King Richard II.

He’s inspired by punk, irreverent fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Emilio Pucci’s exuberant colors and patterns. Tongue-in-cheek designs and messages such as “Fury” and “Lust” are hidden in the folds of his pocket squares.

Furious Goose pocket square designs. 

“You can be quite cheeky with it because it’s hidden away in your pocket,” he says. “There’s sartorial elegance with classic Italian and hipster styles—I’m trying to bridge that gap and make it younger. Mine look like they could only be produced in Illustrator, and that gives it a more modern edge.”

“There’s something nice about having your counter-culture in your pocket,” he adds “What I like is the juxtaposition of luxury and a little bit of shock value.”

Paige was moved toward her medium because she grew up with her mother’s collection of Hermès silk scarves. She’s currently inspired by Greek mythology and works those stories into her wearable prints.

Paige Russell's textile designs begin as paper cutouts. She explains, "I begin by finding a color palette—a little strange to do that before any ideas or design decisions have been made, but I've learned that if I'm not crazy about every single color in a piece, then I will hate the outcome." Then she does research and sketches a bit before cutting and placing paper. After that, she takes a photo and opens it in Illustrator to trace, a process that can take many hours. To finish, she adjusts colors and makes variations (for instance, palette variations) before sending her work to the printer.

“They’re all just crazy and incestuous, and I’m fascinated by them,” she says. “It’s like the reality TV of hundreds of years ago but there’s no imagery to them. There are only artists’ representations of these stories, so it’s a fun challenge.”

PATTERNS FOR THE FUTURE

All three textile designers hope to grow their businesses and expand into new territories. Paige Russell hopes to work her patterns into surface design and home decor, creating products like blankets and towels. “I love making fine art utilitarian and just having beautiful objects,” she says.

About the Furious Goose process, Patrick says, “We always begin with pen and ink. That’s where the inspiration is. We scribble down our thoughts on paper. Then we fire up Illustrator and redraw our image in vector. We use symbols in Illustrator so we can rapidly change designs across the whole canvas. We also use named colors, to be able to change out each color…. Once we have our color ranges, we go to print. That’s where the magic happens—our colors look gorgeous on silk."

Patrick Morrison’s Furious Goose has penetrated international markets—his creations are currently available in Japan and Nigeria, and he’s looking into expanding his retailer base. For the future, he’s eyeing surface pattern design work such as ceramics and other homeware. “I’ll take it as far as I can go,” he says.

Kaylan K. has begun collaborating with local fashion designers to release collections of her work, inspired by African symbols, including her favorite: strength. The symbol is intricate, with sturdy lines that are self-contained, complete. She has appreciated working with other artists to create a wearable vision, but she says feedback is still a challenge. It’s tough when more than one artist brings their charged passion to create a work of art together. But she says it’s worth it once she sees the final result.

She aspires to create her own collection soon.

“I want to have a series of clothing where I tell stories through my art,” she says. “It’s like wearing a story on you that creates positivity and joy all around you. Art should be everywhere.”

 

Want to give textile design a try? Learn more about creating patterns in Adobe Illustrator CC