Hi guys! Today I am excited to share with you the work of Michelle Parascandolo, a pattern designer and illustrator from New York City. I’ve followed Michelle on Instagram for a long time and love her illustrations and the colors she uses in her work. Her designs have such a wonderful boho feel. Today Michelle is going to share with us what it has been like to make a living as a freelance designer after working in-house as a graphic designer. Enjoy!
Hi Michelle! Please tell us a little bit about your background as an artist and how you got into surface pattern design.
I’ve always carried a pocket-sized note pad and pencil around with me everywhere. I like being able to jot down notes or quickly sketching out ideas on the spot. When I began thinking about college I knew without a doubt that I wanted to go into a creative field. I was interested in a lot of different areas of art and design, but wasn’t sure what to focus on. The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers a summer program for high school students, so I decided to enroll in classes with the hope that it would help me settle on a major. That’s where I discovered surface pattern design. I was immediately hooked! I ended up attending FIT for college and received a BFA with a major in Textile/Surface Design.
How would you describe your signature style? What has the process been like discovering your style?
I would say my style is laid back and relaxed. I love working with a bold color palette, but also never get tired of black and white.
Finding a set style was a bit tricky for me. There are so many different types of art and styles that I am drawn to, that I used to struggle trying to figure out how I wanted my designs to look. I was nervous about picking a certain style and committing to it. It wasn’t until I was able to stop putting so much emphasis on creating with a certain style in mind, that I was able to fall into my own. I realized my best work was a result of just doing what came naturally. I found I didn’t necessarily have to “pick a style”, I just had to work on building and developing the natural style I already had. Over time my art became more cohesive, but it’s definitely something that’s still a work in progress.
Where do you find inspiration? What do you do when you get stuck?
I have a ton of books that I’m constantly flipping through! I also like to go on Instagram and Pinterest and looking at other artist’s work. I look at websites of brands that I like to see what is currently out in the industry.
When I get really stuck, I try to just relax and not pressure myself. I used to force myself to power through and just get things done. I would look for inspiration and kind of just grab the first thing that caught my attention and work off of it. I was never happy with the end result and felt like I just wasted time. Lately, I have started to ask myself the question “What can I do instead of drawing or designing that will still benefit my work.” When I get stuck now, I build color palettes that I can save for the future. I gather a ton of quality inspiration with the idea in my mind that I don’t have to turn something it into a design just yet. I found this works for me because now when I am in the mood to draw, I have the color palettes and inspiration right there waiting for me. It’s a much easier process.
What are some challenges you’ve faced so far as a designer?
I worked as a surface pattern designer for a short period of time after college. Then I took a job as a graphic designer. As a graphic designer I spent most of my time designing logos, creating email marketing campaigns, and building websites. Although the experience helped me improve my Photoshop and Illustrator skills, it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to be doing. A big challenge for me was to take a step back and really think about what I wanted to do, and what made me feel happiest and most fulfilled. I knew that even if I had to take a small step backwards, it would be worth it if it helped me get where I wanted to go in the long run.
And now you are a freelance designer. Can you tell us what the freelance lifestyle is like?
One huge benefit for me is the freedom that comes along with my work schedule. Some days I don’t want to do anything else but design, and I’ll do it from the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed. Other days I might take it easy and meet up with a friend for lunch or take a long break in the middle of the day if I feel like I need it. I don’t think I would be very productive as a designer if I was forced to work during specific hours.
A drawback is that the workload is not always steady. There have been times where I’ve felt crazy busy and other times where I’ve felt like I have a lot of down time.
Do you have tips for other designers who want to get into freelancing?
Get your work out there! Having a website and engaging with people on social media has really helped me.
I also recommend attending fairs and markets. I just participated in an amazing market in Brooklyn called FAD Market. I sold products that I both wove and printed by hand. Weaving and block printing are two techniques that I fell in love with years ago and have just recently gotten back into. It’s been a lot of fun to step away from the computer a bit to work with my hands.
AND you are about to start selling products through your own online store! Can you tell us a bit about that?
I still plan on license my artwork and take on freelance surface design and illustration projects. Selling my own products is just something I will be doing in addition to those other things!
Through my online store I’ll sell the same sort of products I sold at the market. As of now I have block printed pillows, tea towels, journals, woven wall hangings and art prints. I’m just going to jump in and start. While it’s important to have a plan, it’s also important to remember that you won’t really know what works and what doesn’t until you actually get started. I’ve always learned a lot by trial and error. It’s going to take hard work to set-up an online store, but worth it because I’ll be selling products that I designed and created.
What advice can you give others who interested in surface pattern design? What have you learned so far?
I’ve learned it’s really important to stick with what you love to do and stay true to your own aesthetic. I think your unique attributes really shine through in your designs when you’re creating something that’s meaningful to you.
If you liked this interview, please check out other featured designers.
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