Exploiting Your Own IP

Some years ago when I was working in a shared studio, we attended a seminar led by WA Belmont BEC founder and facilitator, Carol Hanlon.  Carol made it clear that artistic talent will only pay the bills if we learn how to exploit our own intellectual property.  The fact is most artists make a living through income streams other than their own art work.

Craft has evolved from the early 1980’s when I studied fashion design and then became interested in surface design for textiles.  In Adelaide it was a hands-on art based way of learning at colleges like the North Adelaide School of Art, with lino printing, screen printing, dyeing and painting.  To learn a new technique we’d attend workshops, read how-to books and subscribe to magazines such as the iconic Textile Fibre Forum.

The advent of the internet, digital cameras, image manipulation programs such as Photoshop, CAD, and social media, has opened up a different world of opportunities not available thirty years ago.  Moving from a 100% manual labour practise to 100% digital has involved a lot of trial and error.

Go Wild! landscape bags
Go Wild! landscape bags, 100% hands on design and production

It started with blogging about the art process, then posting up pictures taken with my digital camera.  I came across the Etsy website and decided to trial selling online while keeping the gallery outlets going.  It soon became apparent that Etsy was more suited to multiples of an artwork, which is impossible to achieve with the hand made techniques I was using.  Each item has to be photographed in detail before listing.  I’d only used a professional photographer for selling work previously so it was going to be very expensive.

Eucalyptus Silk Shape

It soon became clear that a transition to online selling would cost more than it was worth.  The time and space to make the work, then photograph it, list it and then prepare for shipping became more cumbersome than just selling in galleries.

The first step to overcome was the one-off surface design process.  I experimented with photographing hand painted fabric and uploading to photo manipulation programs to make artworks that could be repeat printed on Spoonflower.  The samples looked interesting but I soon worked out the cost of the custom fabric converted to AUD, shipping it to Australia, then cutting and making up and selling online would push the price up.

Digital design from handpainted fabric, printed on organic cotton

After placing the Etsy shop on hold, and with a growing interest in street art,  I started using photography as a new tool for expression.  This year I started experimenting with photography for surface design (see previous posts).  These designs could be applied to almost anything.  Print websites such as Redbubble and Zazzle offer a range of blank products for custom artwork, and the pricing was lower than any work I could make myself.  The problem of product photography was also removed with the use of their sample images of my designs.

Orange Hibiscus Chiffon Tank Top
Eucalypso at Etsy: Orange Hibiscus Chiffon Tank Top

Drop shipping the items from where they are made lessens the carbon footprint.  I completely eliminated excessive use of raw materials in fabric, dyes, paints and water, through made to order.  The items at Redbubble are ethically made.  The only part of the process I haven’t resolved yet is sourcing all recycled or sustainable materials, though hopefully they can all be recycled.  The products that feature my artworks are good quality so should last for years if handled with care.

Orange Hibiscus Draw-string Bag

My hope for the near future is an eco print and clothing design site, so I can upload patterns as well as the artwork and have my designs made to order on sustainable fabrics.  Come on, Spoonflower!

So has removing the hands on crafting of the work from start to finish made the end product suffer?  I’m not intending to give up the hands on process altogether as it is an intrinsic part of being an artist, but this new way of production frees up time previously spent in repetitive, time consuming, and unsustainable tasks.  It makes my work more competitive and I can take control of my own intellectual property by potentially building a low cost artistic empire 🙂




Snowflake Photography

Large scale photographic images are popular now we have the technology to reproduce them on all kinds of surfaces.  However, how can the same medium be used for repeat patterns ?

Green and Pink Autumn Leaves

Traditional repeats don’t work with photography when the images run over the edge or backgrounds don’t match up.


Mirroring the image not only continues the flow of the photograph on all sides but turns it into a pattern as unique as a snowflake.  Not all designs look great as a mirrored image, as with the layout of this one where the eye is drawn to a strange centre pattern.


Which was easily solved by changing the centre to the outside edge

Green Lime Pink Autumn Reflection

Green Lime Pink Autumn Reflection Throw Pillow

Green Lime Pink Autumn Reflection Chiffon Top

Green Lime Pink Autumn Reflection Throw Cushion




Photography for Surface Design

An interesting thought about photography as a medium is what works for one purpose may not for another.  For example, the last two projects of photography for street murals, the images were of buildings and chairs, so the layout was traditional with the images in sharp focus.



Lords’ Chairs


Photography for surface design has different criterea .  Coming from a textile background with lots of handpainting and dyeing, a sharp focus image isn’t part of the aesthetic, except maybe as a stylised line drawing or lino print.  In traditional textile design, an image is printed as a repeat.  Only in recent years has full colour, large scale photography been technologically available for textiles (as washable).

So how can photography be applied as a medium for decorative surfaces?

This is one of my favourite photographs, yet the foreground is dominated by out of focus leaves and a giant dark blob of colour.  It probably doesn’t work as either a stand alone print or a textile repeat, yet the tree trunk is in focus just to show it wasn’t a total mistake.


The next photograph is what I’m looking for in the perfect surface design image;  soft focus with a small part in sharp focus for contrast, interesting shapes, balanced dark and light, harmonious or complimentary colour, evenly spaced across the image.


Autumn Blush Chiffon Top


Autumn Blush Tote

Autumn Collection

There’s nothing like a drive through the beautiful Adelaide Hills in Autumn to find inspiration to create new designs.  With the last two years all about street art, especially photography, I’m experimenting with colour and light to achieve some nice surface designs.  So thanks to RedBubble for being a quality print partner here is the start of my Autumn Collection, soon to be available in a range of scarves, chiffon tops, bags, homewares, gift cards and the essential journals at Etsy.


Art to Die For

With yet another artist passing away in their prime, https://urbanwallart.wordpress.com, I thought it was time to write about the hazards of being an artist, that is, the medium*.

There is documentation of many historical artists who died from contact with their materials, including a more recent study from the 1940’s to 60’s Health Hazards Manual for Artists.  Many contemporary artist materials are dangerous and the artist is in constant close contact with often not enough protective equipment or safety in their overall set up.  Familiarity can lead to a casual attitude with safety in using materials, or the artist may just not be aware of the hazard.

In my lifetime as an artist to date, I’ve been in close contact with solvents such as white spirits for fabric printing in confined spaces with inadequate ventilation, inhaled ammonia based inks when spray painting fabrics, handled inks and powder form dyes without adequate protective equipment, and more recently, handled and inhaled eucalyptus dyes with outdoor ventilation but inadequate protective gloves or a fumes mask.

I don’t know how many printmakers have died from brain tumors from inhaling fumes from inks, cleaning solvents and plate making techniques.  I also don’t know how many aerosol artists inhaling solvents from their paint will go the same way.  Working at an artist based facility for a few years, there was a thin film of ceramic dust on our floor underneath the ceramics studio every day and MDF sawdust from the furniture studio.  Clean up methods and ventilation was addressed but how much is enough?

All commercial dyes, inks, paints, etc come with a Materials and Safety Date Sheet (MSDS), which details the risks of chemical exposure and the level of protection required to minimise risk.  What we don’t have easily to hand is the results of constant interaction with chemicals, or the interaction of one chemical with another such as the break down of dye atoms when using discharge dyes making the dye carcinogenic.   The danger of constant skin contact with discharge dyed or some chemically dyed clothing is not readily known, nor the effect of dyes released to water ways and gradually breaking down over time.  http://toxicfashion.org/chemical-txtugly.html

The problem with any chemical use is, what level of toxicity is a safe level, or is a slow build up of any level over time dangerous?  I haven’t read any data on the safety of exposure to natural dyes, such as eucalyptus.  The fumes from simmering different leaves vary and some smell downright nasty but does strong smell equal toxicity (as it usually does in cleaning solvents)?

Late sculptor Bronwyn Oliver was in constant contact with copper wire and “in 2013, it was reported that analysis of a sample of Oliver’s hair contained a very high level of copper, nearly 8 times normal.”  She died from suicide with reported deterioration of her mental health over several years leading up to the event.

I was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis after being hospitalised with liver failure four and a half years ago.  (Coincidentally the symptoms first became apparent the week I started this blog.)  What causes the disease isn’t really known,  but it can be triggered by chemical exposure.  Several years before that time but not within six months of the flare up, I’d been dyeing with eucalyptus dyes, and for several months leading up to the beginning of symptoms, handling chemically tanned leathers and skins.  The specialist said a flare up often happens slowly over time and remains undetected until symptoms appear.

How is it possible for an artist to keep their practice entirely toxicity free?  I still haven’t found the answer to that, but use solvent free water based inks, will only mix water based powder dyes (fibre reactive) outdoors with a ventilation mask, use wheatpaste glue and avoid any solvent based products.  I’m moving towards a digitally printed outsourced process where the dyes are inkjet or sublimation printed onto the fabric to reduce waste.  Having said that I still use carpenters glue or PVA to stick together paper for wheatpasting, and the PVA has low toxicity risks:

“Acute Effects
May cause gastric irritation.
A moderate eye irritant.
Repeated or prolonged skin contact may
lead to irritation.
Not normally an inhalation risk due to low
vapour pressure ambient temperatures.
Chronic Effects
Knowledge is based on that of the
constituents. Repeated or prolonged skin
contact can cause irritation.”


Working with safe methods and materials as an artist today is a massive challenge, and comes with the constant updating of awareness and vigilance in every area.

RIP every artist who has died for their craft

*Disclaimer:  I know nothing about the materials this artist was using or the cause of his death, but am commenting generally on the passing of artists in their prime and questioning if there is a link between their materials and early death.  I’m not a medical or scientific expert.