Today I’m excited to share with you the work of Roger Vaughn. He’s new to the surface pattern design game, and has jumped in feet first. He designs what makes him happy and follows his own style.
I love the freedom of Roger’s work and the edginess he brings to surface design. And I’m thrilled that he has decided to enter a field that tends to be dominated by women. I think you’ll enjoy Roger’s point of view…he’ll get you thinking about the work you make and what motivates you to create.
Please tell us a little bit about your background as an artist and how you got into pattern design.
I’d been doing visual art stuff for a few years, solely for my own amusement. It wasn’t a committed practice and it arose out of a desire to do something other than music.
Initially I had no interest in turning it into a career, professionalizing it. But then I had a number of conversations with my partner, Sofia Englund. She was working towards becoming a surface designer, and together we came to the conclusion that it was probably a field that would suit us both.
Now that I look back, I realize that I’ve had a latent interest in surface design for awhile. I’ve long been a wearer of floral shirts, I have an interest in the work of Liberty London and I’m a fan of William Morris because of his political work. Long before we started looking into becoming surface pattern designers, Sofia and I visited the William Morris gallery in London. It made a pretty strong impression.
Where do you find inspiration?
The usual places really: books on art and design, wildlife, the garden, the street, photography, space, music. I do occasionally look at patterns by other people too, but that’s usually a last resort! Is that strange? I do this to create a degree of distance so that I’m not unwittingly copying anyone. I don’t want to be influenced by things that, admirable though they are, really have little to do with me or my style.
I have to say that I think downtime is the most important thing, when the background din of life is silenced. Get all the chores done. Shut the door. That’s when new ideas and energy bubble up.
On your website you say “I welcome noise, smudges, accidents and chaos into my work, and pay particular attention to the feel of the results.” What do you mean by this?
By ‘feel of the results’I had in mind both rhythmic feel and the kind of emotional or physical response that a pattern evokes. The feeling I tend to avoid is the one that prompts the viewer to say ‘that’s nice,’ (or even ‘that’s beautiful’). I need to have a bit of an edge to my work and if it’s missing I get a little restless. The work just doesn’t seem complete without it! That’s not to say that calm, for instance, isn’t a good thing where appropriate – most living rooms don’t have provocative wallpaper – just that the piece needs, for me, to have some sort of definite ability to evoke mood or provoke thought or response.
It can be pretty predictable. A sense of depth can evoke feelings associated with richness, luxuriousness, while angular leaves on a branch can evoke a little subliminal itch when your cast your eyes across it. Something can feel very natural in the manner in which it flows and develops (this is the key appeal of Morris’ work, I think).
Your work has a lot of energy, and a dark/raw edge to it that I love. However it is pretty different from most of the patterns you currently see on the market. How has it gone for you selling your work and marketing yourself? Have you found a niche?
It is a bit different and that’s fine, I think. I’m pretty committed, in theory, to doing what I feel like doing. In practice, it is easy to get partially diverted by what I see around me and to have thoughts of doing something more mainstream, more commercial. Finding the balance is just another thing to play with, something I’m toying with all the time.
A few folks have pointed out to me that there’s probably a market for my work in the fashion world and I think they’re probably right. I’m very interested in the liberated world of fashion design, particularly the stuff that I see coming out of college classrooms. There’s a real freedom there to experiment, which is inevitably suppressed a little by the market. I also see opportunities for making things for kids and maybe homewares. I’d also fancy a crack at designing for skateboards one day.
I’m not selling or marketing in earnest yet, but am taking classes and working to expand my portfolio. I’m not too concerned about finding a niche. I know there are people out there doing similar things and thriving.
Do you have any additional thoughts on the tension between designing what you like and meeting market demands?
You could be forgiven for thinking only florals sell, but is the wide use of soft florals partly influenced by a shortage of more adventurous alternatives supplied by the likes of us? From the conversations I’ve had, I’d say a majority of surface designers, at least those at the same stage of development that I’m at, are doing a lot of what they think they should be doing, with a personal twist, not what they really want to be doing. I’d hazard a guess that art directors are cut from the very same cloth – working under pressure to deliver what the market seems to want, while harboring desires to supply something a little different, push the envelope a little bit. It would be strange if this wasn’t the case, but I’ve not read many interviews with art directors discussing this matter directly. So, maybe that’s my pitch: here’s my funny stuff, let’s play.
What advice would you give other designers?
I’m not an expert or an experienced career designer yet, so I can’t offer much practical advice. However, I have found it helpful finding people and companies who are kindred spirits. Even one or two are worth seeking out. It’s helped me to stay focused.
It’s also been a huge help (it would be hard to overstate just how much) to have Sofia working right alongside of me! She points out the flaws in my work, helps me fix things, keeps me on track and lends me her excellent designer’s eyes. She also provides encouragement, directs me to useful resources and gently points out if I’ve lost sight of things and gone over the top! If you’re not fortunate enough to have a Sofia on hand, at least try to find someone you trust who can give you straight up advice on what’s working and what’s not every once in a while.
If you liked this interview, please check out other featured designers.
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