Guys- You are going to love this interview I did with surface pattern designer Dylan Mierzwinski. Dylan recently showed her work at Quilt Market for the very first time and shares with us what that experience was like. Dylan is a warm, funny and very thoughtful person who really tells it like it is. I think you will learn a lot by reading what she has to to say. Enjoy!
how did you know you were ready to show at Quilt Market?
I didn’t know I was ready, that’s for sure. I was on a coaching call with another designer who’s ahead of me in her career, and she dared me to do Quilt Market. She was confident I could shake something loose if I walked the floor with my portfolio. This was back in June of this year, when I had only created one mini collection (that wasn’t even complete), and had started to hone in on my illustration style by creating daily florals and character illustrations.
I’m grateful that my mentor thought that was enough and gave me that push to go, because it was crunch time after that to get everything done in time. I recently read a great article entitled “Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready,” and I do have to say that the best and biggest wins of my life were on the tails of “just doing it”. (This is not a Nike ad – you don’t have to include that terrible joke).
(Note from Jen: I had to include joke, couldn’t resist)
How did you prepare for the market?
There was a lot of BS, or “resistance” I guess is a better way to put it. There was a lot of time spent worrying, comparing, procrastinating, and generally being uncomfortable with moving forward. I spent a lot of time learning meditation and following my thoughts. I worked to craft new affirmations about who I am and what I have to share. I’m sure this isn’t the answer you were expecting, but I feel very passionate about connecting with artists on what it’s like to want to create but also being scared to create. And, by the way, it doesn’t feel how you think being afraid would feel – it’s more subtle AND pervasive, and elusive.
Emotional mumbo-jumbo aside, I did a lot of things:
- I made lists that outlined the three collections I wanted to present.
- I kept posting on Instagram and teaching on Skillshare to grow my following.
- I picked up painting and used various mediums to produce my work.
- I asked myself countless times if I would buy the fabric I was designing and how I would use it.
- I perused my fabric stash for my favorite designers and did research into the companies they work with (meaning, I Googled them and read through their websites and looked at their family of designers).
- I reached out to four companies by phone with the contact information on their respective websites, and nervously blabbed my short, typed script for their receptionist, then usually someone in the marketing department, then to the voicemail of the art director or assistant art director.
- I started envisioning myself going and feeling confident.
- I built a playlist of my favorite feel good music.
- I spoke about going to market excitedly with close friends and family.
- I registered on the Quilt Market site (providing my website URL and Tax ID for my LLC).
- Finally, I designed marketing materials (a portfolio book, 50 booklets, 100 postcards, and 100 business cards) to take along with me. Oh, and I sewed a tote bag to carry it all around.
Wow, you put a lot of work into preparing for Quilt Market! So what was the experience like?
Big. It’s really big. The whole market is split into two parts: one half is where manufacturers, mills, fabric companies, distributers and the like have their booths and show off what’s happening in their world. The second half is a brain-exploding showcase of quilts from around the world. I’m an outgoing introvert, meaning I enjoy chatting and connecting genuinely with people, but am drained by others’ energy and hate small/empty talk. I say that to set the scene for what it was like walking through the doors and feeling so many eyes on me, so many people wanting to show me their notions or talk to me about their newest stain remover. I immediately wanted to turn around and go back to my hotel. I didn’t want to shake hands and show off my portfolio and be “on” for so many people. I was afraid. Luckily, my first appointment was scheduled for shortly after I arrived so I went for it.
That first appointment broke the spell. I found myself being true to who I am, and found comfort and confidence in that. From then on the Market started to feel more and more like summer camp. Walking from area to area I’d find a group of new friends and would stop to chat for a bit, only to walk on to find another awesome group and chat with them. I kept repeating this until the market was over.
If I could do it again I’d try to go through the floor more calmly. I’d try to feel comfortable taking my time to look at everything instead of being worried that someone might come up and try to talk to me. Looking back now it’s a blur of excitement, newness, friendship, and people doing really cool things.
What have you learned through the experience?
When you find yourself at the crossroads of acting like who you think people want you to be and just being yourself, being yourself is the way to go. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to truly find where you belong and what makes your heart sing.
What surprised you the most?
This is sort of stupid, and I know that, but getting to walk right up to the designers whose work I love was surprising to me. It makes sense now…of course they’re accessible at Quilt Market. That’s the point. But it did blow me away because these people and their work have been larger than life to me while I’ve been working away in my sewing room. And despite my visions of them being swarmed by tons of people, or hard to talk with, I got to walk right up to each of them and chat a little. Heck, Heather Ross, one of my super faves, sat down and looked at my book while I was in one of my appointments! I had hoped for camaraderie while I was there, but was pleasantly surprised by an even bigger and loving community.
I know there are a lot of folks who dream of showing at Quilt Market. What advice can you give them?
I know I said I didn’t think I was ready before I went, but there’s a fine line between feeling not ready and really not being ready (your gut knows the difference). I’ve felt the pressure of feeling like a window is closing or like I need to rush to get to my dream. Don’t fall into that trap!
Take time to make a lot of art and a lot of patterns so that you can get to the good stuff. Stay away from the safe feeling of making work that looks like other successful artists in favor of finding work that looks and feels like you.
Lastly, I know it’s cliché, but learn to trust your gut. I ended up having 5 appointments at market, all of which were with excellent companies. In some of them my gut was telling me it wasn’t a good fit. Even though I wanted a contract, even though I wanted to see my stuff on fabric, I had to trust that the right thing at the wrong time, or with the wrong company, would not help my career.
What are your plans for the future?
Momentum! I’m currently redoing my website to more accurately reflect what I do and how I can help others. I’ll be launching a web shop soon with paper goods and handmade bags; I’ll begin to offer creative coaching services to help people who are having a hard time with their own artistic resistance; I’ll be growing my blog and vlog to reach more creatives; I’ll be teaching more Skillshare classes; I’ll be reaching out to companies I want to work with; and, without giving too much away, working on my very first fabric line!