Developing My Collection

Anddd we’re LIVE!! My online shop is open, and my first collection, Light & Line, is now available for sale! I’m so grateful for the love and support of all those who have been following along with me on this journey and excited to finally reveal what I’ve been toiling away at for all of these months.

To give some context for this collection, I thought I’d take a look back at how it came to bemy early explorations with textiles, the process of honing my artistic voice, and finally landing on a body of work that felt unique and cohesive.


Scattered Beginnings

scattered

A few years back, while I was living in Brooklyn and working in publishing, I developed an interest in textiles and surface pattern design. I had always loved patterns and textures, but it wasn’t until Instagram entered my life that I began discovering tons of amazing brands and designers and a little voice that whispered you could do this too.   

I began by enrolling in a screen printing class at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I printed purple irises on tea towels and thoroughly frustrated myself by attempting a large-scale, half-drop repeat on two full yards of fabric. I also tried my hand at block printing, carving shapes into potatoes and little linoleum tiles. I took a weaving class, bought a loom, and made a few, brightly-colored wallhangings. I became enamored with cyanotype printing, creating Prussian blue prints on fabric from my photographs. And then, while interning with the amazing textile designer Rebecca Atwood, I learned shibori dyeing, and I loved that too. I LOVED IT ALL. I had several, small, distinct bodies of work, each of which looked like it came from a different artist.


Finding My Voice

patterns

So yes, I dabbled. I made a lot. I studied the work of artists, designers, and brands I admired. I spent a lot of time wandering around fabric stores in New York City’s garment district. I scribbled down ideas on the subway, trying to pin down my vision.

I envied the cohesion I saw in other designers’ work. The way I’d come across an image of their product online, or in a shop, and know immediately who had made it. There’s a kind of fingerprint that artists develop over time, a secret sauce that no one else can replicate, and there’s no shortcut to discovering it. It involves time, patience, and persistence. It’s a slow, deliberate evolution. It’s throwing a whole bunch of shit at the wall to see what sticks. And, as with any art form, if you stick with it for long enough, your own voice begins to emerge. You develop a language that is yours alone.

I knew that if I had dreams of turning this art practice into a business, I needed to rein it in. It’s not that I had to shut out all of the possibilities for good, but I knew that entering the scene as a screen printer / block printer / weaver / cyanotype printer / shibori dyer was probably a bit much.

I needed to focus. I needed to edit. I needed to find the thing that was mine alone, not my version of what someone else was already doing better. For practical reasons, as well as stylistic, I needed to simplify. For the girl who can’t make a painting without using every single one of the colors, this was not easy.

But what I made my way back to, again and again, was what I had been doing all along: taking photographs of patterns and textures everywhere I went. I had amassed hundreds of these abstract images over the years. I couldn’t help but see that world in this way. It was a concept that resonated with me aesthetically but also just as a human. It made me feel present and connected, filled me with wonder and appreciation for this world.   


Developing a Collection

collection

When I first saw my photographs printed on linen, I felt like I was on to something. I started with a bunch of swatches, all different patterns and colors, each of them with its own story. They were bits and pieces of the places I had lived, the countries I had visited, the landscapes I loved. I ordered some larger pieces of fabric and began to sew, watching these moments and places take on an entirely new form.   

I loved the idea that this work was not just mine, but a collaboration with the world, with natural forces like erosion and decay, emergence and self-similarity. The inherent properties of the universe invented these patterns. I just got good at noticing them. I also liked that, at a glance, the patterns can seem totally abstract, but there’s this familiar, organic quality to them that makes you look closer and only then recognize the subject matter.

With so many swatches, it was, once again, time to edit. Basically my editing process looked like this: I pin a whole bunch of swatches up on the wall of my studio. I spend a very long time standing there, looking at them. I stay up way too late. I move things around, noticing which ones seem to magnetize to each other. I take things down. I put some back. I find myself drawn to a neutral color palette. I sew a few zipper pouches and consider those. And at some point I look at the edited group of swatches together and they sort of sing, like I’ve touched upon something greater than the sum of its parts. Then, of course, I doubt everything and consider starting from scratch. But I don’t. I keep moving forward.

I decided to go with antique brass hardware on all of my bags with black leather straps and zipper pulls. I thought about shapes and the way they echoed each other at different scales. With similar details, the collection felt kind of like a familydifferent shapes and sizes, but definitely related.

The final collection includes prints from faraway places (Thailand, France, NYC <3), and some taken in my own living room in Portland, Oregon. It’s an ode to my love of light and shadows, stripes and lines. It’s neutral enough for everyday and unique enough to make a statement. It’s quite a ways from where I began, but I am so grateful to have arrived.

Author: ellenjuliabrown

Ellen Julia Brown is a visual artist, textile designer, and writer in Portland, Oregon.

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