An interview with Leah Duncan
Today I’m excited to share an interview with Leah Duncan, the talented designer behind Art Galery’s new collection Tule! We can’t get enough of Leah’s gorgeous designs and amazing use of colour. Read on to find out about Leah’s inspiration for the collection, what a typical day is like for a self-employed surface pattern designer and how Leah landed her first global clients. Then head to the shop for Tule, before it’s all gone!
The Village Haberdashery: Tell us about Tule and where your inspiration for the collection comes from. Do you have any favourite designs from the line?
Leah Duncan: Tule was inspired by the vast southwestern landscape and in particular the Tule desert in Nevada. While living in Austin I had many adventures in the southwest and fell in love with the calmness of the desert. It’s easily my favorite landscape and Tule pays homage to it with desert flowers and geometric shapes that reflect the sharp ravines of the hills. All of the designs are like my children, so it’s hard to choose, but Flora’s Oasis Rosa was the first pattern I put into the collection so it’s probably my favorite.
TVH: The colours in Tule are so vibrant – they are like nothing else on our shelves! How did you choose your colours? I’m especially fond of the cobalt…
LD: I love cobalt! I surprised Art Gallery by including it in the collection. One of my favorite new palettes is cobalt blue and bright citron yellow. I thought including both would give the more muted tones in the collection a pop of vibrancy. I have specific colors I’m always drawn to regardless of the project, but in this collection I specifically wanted to bring in warm tones to reflect the desert and warmer climate of the southwest.
TVH: As a self-employed designer, you wear a lot of hats! What is a typical day like (if that even exists) and how do you manage work/life balance when your work is also your creative outlet?
LD: Oh, it’s so hard! And it’s gotten even harder since I’m doing fabric collections more regularly. As I’m heading into the holiday season now with my textile and stationery line there’s not much work/life balance, but more work/work/work. We’ll be moving back to Austin from NYC in the new year and I’ll be looking to hire someone so hopefully that will change. A typical day starts with brewing a pot of coffee and responding to emails and etsy convos. Then I get ready and head to the studio to work on production and filling orders from around 1-8. Then I come back to my apartment, grab dinner, and then work on my sofa until around 1 am responding to interviews, designing, and paying sales tax, etc. The summer is my slowest season sales-wise so I often have days that I get to dedicate to design and art. Those are my favorite days.
TVH: Your designs are licensed by a number of major brands, like Target and Urban Outfitters. How did you get from setting up an etsy shop to global distribution?
LD: I had interest from several licensors including Urban Outfitters a few years after setting up my etsy shop. In 2011 I decided to exhibit at Surtex, an art licensing show, where I landed clients like the Land of Nod. I set up an online portfolio for the show that allows buyers to log in to see my surface patterns. I’m never entirely sure how companies find my work other than it just being out there on blogs, on etsy, and in shops. I’m so grateful for all of the amazing companies I’ve had the opportunity to work with. It’s truly a dream come true.
TVH: You learned to sew to promote your work as a surface pattern designer. Do you sew for fun? What are your favourite things to make?
LD: I love sewing for fun and I wish I could have more time for it! Simple and easy projects that I can knock out in 2 hours or less work best for me. Napkins, pillow covers, pouches, envelope clutches, skirts, and scarves are the easiest. If I’m feeling like I have a little more time I may go for a dress. I’ve got several I can’t wait to sew with Tule including the Date Night Dress by April Rhodes and the Washi Dress by Made by Rae.
TVH: What’s next for you? Will you be showing anything new in Houston?
LD: Yes, I will! I’ll have a new fabric collection with Art Gallery that will be released in Spring 2014.