Copyright © 2007 Wendy Johnson Design
Area-rug design is part of a larger form of graphic arts called textile design or surface design. Designed surfaces surround us and impact every part of our lives. I have designed surface patterns for many different products ranging from temporary, disposable things such as tissue boxes and gift wrap to more lasting products like wallpaper, t-shirts and, of course, area rugs. Most designers will strive to do their best work on every assignment, but it’s hard not to be influenced by the fact that a well made rug will last for generations. I believe that you need to do a little “extra” when you know you are designing something that can become the foundation of a room's design for decades to come.
The concept behind the rug’s design depends on the overall objectives of the project. Sometimes I work with a stylist or art director who sends me specific references that will become part of a collection. In this case, the manufacturer’s team determines the basic elements of the design and the color palette. At other times I simply start drawing and design something because it feels good. These sketches, after many revisions, frequently end up as part of a project that goes into production. One thing that you learn very quickly when you become a designer is you always have many, many concepts and ideas in varying states of completion. My studio and my hard drive are full of those!
I am always looking for inspiration. I find it in advertisements, paintings, Japanese prints, upholstery designs, and even other rug designs. The list is endless, but, as corny as it may sound, my favorite source of inspiration is nature - not just a pretty flower, but the intricacies of the inside of a flower, a piece of moss or the colors in a fall leaf. The geometry and color schemes of nature are amazing and there is always something new to see if you just start looking. It can actually be overwhelming.
I also try to stay current with the emerging home decor trends and make designs that are related to them. But incorporating trends into your work is something that can be a tricky balancing act. Although I have created area-rug designs without considering trends that have been big hits in the marketplace, I also work closely with manufacturers to make designs that are carefully driven by trends. These can be top-sellers too! The trick is to try and incorporate the trends in a unique manner that is not boring or elicits a "seen it before" reaction. You need to keep the trend’s flavor, but make it your own.
To be honest, my greatest thrill is when I somehow manage to create my own area-rug trend! Fortunately some manufacturers will look at a designer’s work and realize it has some special appeal even if it’s not the current, “in” look. After all, trends come and go. Good design lasts forever!
A good sense of color and balance are very important in area-rug designs. I also strongly believe that traditional drawing and painting skills are keys to success in this kind of design work. If you learn how to draw and paint with traditional media first, and then move on to work on a computer, I believe you have a much better foundation than if you are strictly “electronic.” I love my computer, but am convinced that my skills with a pencil, paintbrush and ruling pen are critical.
Sometimes I do miss my old sable watercolor brushes, but time is an important factor in area-rug design work today. Technology allows you speed up the process tremendously, especially if your design involves repeating patterns. I am not sure it is the best solution, but unfortunately paint isn't part of my daily routine any longer.
My favorite computer program for designing rugs is Adobe Illustrator on the Mac. I use Photoshop, but Illustrator seems most applicable to my surface design world. Most importantly, Illustrator designs are scaleable. This means the size and color of the design elements can be easily adjusted to multiple uses. For example, I can create an area rug set or collection with a design on a long rug runner and use that same design on a small throw or accent rug without completely re-drawing it at a different size scale. What a huge time-saver!
The next time you go shopping, whether for an area rug or a box of tissues, take a little extra time to check out the design on the surface of the product. Realize that somebody somewhere had to think about the way that item looks and come up with the combination of colors, shapes, lines and letters you see. Maybe it was me!
Thanks for reading.
Wendy Johnson graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA where she studied illustration. Through the years she has used her drawing and painting skills to develop a distinctive graphic language that has been applied to a wide range of products. Area rugs are a large part of her work. Her design collections have grown out of a close collaboration between her clients' needs and inspiration from her Providence studio.