I discovered Mimi when her brilliant life-timeline got retweeted into my Twitter feed and made me giggle. As well as being a kindred spirit in terms of a history of random jobs and a deep love of Japan, she’s also a rather brilliant pattern designer.
We caught up about learning new skills, selling, and the art of taking part.
You started out on quite a different path. How did you get into design?
After a career false start in a uniquely stressful clinical specialty, I changed track early on and worked as a medical editor for a few years.
While busily correcting countless prostate/prostrate inversions, and deciphering umpteen doctors’ illegible handwriting, I became fascinated by the work of the freelance designers who did our page layouts. Their job looked like much more fun than mine.
Fast-forward a few years and having replaced my office job with freelance proofreading and small children, I took a few online Adobe CS classes out of curiosity. InDesign was a lot like the software I’d used as an editor, and my brain struggled with Photoshop’s curious logic, but Illustrator? Well, Illustrator was amazing! I was hooked, and have continued to diddle around in Illustrator pretty much every day since.
How have you gone about promoting your work and getting your name out there?
The honest answers are: gradually, haphazardly, and with no great skill. Sorry, that’s not terribly helpful is it?
If any successes come my way I jump up and down excitedly about them, metaphorically speaking, on Twitter. Meanwhile, in person, I bore all my friends to tears (or until they buy something, whichever comes first). I hope that I’m at the very start of this career path, so my main self-promotion strategy at the moment is what I like to call [clears throat] Taking Part. I know, catchy.
Basically I just try to apply for, join in with, and take part in as much as I possibly can. Eventually, people start giving feedback, making suggestions, and sometimes even offering work. I’ve been in exhibitions, won competitions, and gained the loyalty of some lovely customers, but it only happens if you take a chance, fill in the application forms, and accept that the vast majority of it will come to nothing.
You sell in several online shops, do you find one better than another for your work, and do you have any tips for fellow designers when choosing a platform?
I have sold items in a number of different places online, but this isn’t my primary focus just yet. I’m currently in negotiations to stock a bricks-and-mortar store, but until that bears fruit I produce scarves in very small quantities, largely on request, using several different suppliers depending on the finish required.
So while I do have an Etsy shop I’m guilty of neglecting it, purely because everything I produce tends to have a customer or destination in mind already. I do hope my Etsy shop will have more than a few Christmas cards in it one day though!
One platform I find invaluable is Spoonflower. Not because it makes me loads of money (it doesn’t) but being part of the community and taking part in the weekly challenges broadens my design horizons. Occasionally a Spoonflower pattern turns into something really useful. My Ballet Class pattern, which came fourth in a Spoonflower design contest, is a great example. I had experimented with a style very different from anything I’d drawn before, but straightaway I was contacted by lots of people asking for the pattern on a silk scarf. Result!
Another Spoonflower pattern that has been absolutely crucial to my 2015 plans is Cosmic Voyager. You can read why on my website here.
Your patterns and designs have featured on a number of products, do you have a dream commission or collection for the future?
Yes, this is an easy one! I’ve spent a lot of time in the Far East, and I’m infatuated with Oriental design, and particularly traditional Japanese craftsmanship. I am bowled over by the furoshiki produced by The Link Collective, hand-printed in Japan by a family business that’s been doing it for over fifty years. I would love, one day, to create a piece of art that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with that of their international stable of designers. And of course part of that dream includes me visiting their studios in Japan and pulling a few screens… and y’know, never leaving, and living on ramen and Pocari Sweat for the rest of my days.
In the meantime, back in the real world, I keep coming back to the idea of seed packets and matchboxes; I think they could be a really fun surface pattern design challenge (so if any companies want to discuss a redesign… call me?). Generally though, I’m always on the lookout for fun collaborations.
What advice would you give someone looking to change careers to do something different?
I’m not sure that there is any general advice; everyone’s situations are so different. I mean, if your career is genuinely making you want to throw yourself under a bus, then you must – very seriously – consider resigning immediately and finding something else.
In all other circumstances there will be a lot of pros and cons to weigh up, and almost certainly no right or wrong time to take the plunge. However, there is one thing I’ve learned in the process of becoming a self-employed creative, and I learned it in the past hour; don’t try to teach a two-year-old child how to use a smartphone to take your portrait for an interview. Do as I say, not as I do.
For inspiration, I’d say the best resources are those that you can actively and bodily participate in. Over the past little while I’ve been to workshops where I’ve screen printed, collaged, knitted, cooked, made jewellery, and even just coloured in.
Just the other week I went to Edinburgh to attend a one-day “scarf school” workshop with the brilliant Karen Mabon at Hill Street Design House. Armed with a few general concepts, I had no idea how it would be possible to come up with a scarf design in only a few hours (especially one that my hero, Karen, would actually see!).
Almost immediately I found myself cutting, gluing, laughing, and snaffling the occasional jammy dodger, all the while working beside a frightfully glamorous style blogger called Kimberley from Wardrobe Conversations. In fact, we worked so hard that I haven’t got a single photo of all the fun, but I will have a scarf to show for it in a few weeks time, so watch this space. It was fabulous!
If there’s an affordable (or better still, free) creative event near you, don’t hesitate; just go. Even if it’s not directly related to your field, getting out and about, surrounding yourself with creative people, and doing something new with your brain and your hands is always inspiring. It’ll be time well spent.
Site – Atly
I have learned everything about CS software, pattern making, typography, identity design, and setting up websites and webshops from two indescribably fabulous women called Alma Loveland and Melanie Burk, who currently run their e-courses over on atly.com. I simply cannot recommend these tutors highly enough; if you want to get started in Illustrator or Photoshop, these are the people for you!
Site – Make It In Design
This year I was lucky enough to become one of the 2015 Print & Pattern Make It In Design scholarship winners, so I’m continuing my online learning and development through that. I’m one module in to the programme and it’s a really empowering, liberating and creative course, run by the remarkable Rachael Taylor and Beth Kempton. There’s a very active online community too, which is really lovely when you’re starting out or working from home (or both!).
Thanks Mimi! Yes, let’s all move to Japan and live on ramen. Anyone else in?
You can follow Mimi on what promises to be another exciting year via the links below:
Twitter – @MimiDraws
Etsy – MimiHammill
Spoonflower – MimiHammill
Society6 – MimiHammill
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