Creative Boss Interview No. 1: Vivian Kvitka, Surface Pattern Designer & Owner of a Stationery Product Line
Vivian Kvitka is an artist entrepreneur, a one woman business, and a kick ass surface pattern designer.
She has a fine art degree from the school of the art institute of Chicago and she has worked with clients such as Gucci and RootsStudio.
You can find her work and shop her products at www.thegoodviv.com
Viv and I did my very first live interview on Periscope this week, eeek! SO fun, and so nerve wracking - and for those of you who weren't able to tune in, we recorded the entire interview.
You can watch it here or you can read through the summary of the interview below for amazing insights into the life, creative process and thoughts of surface pattern designer, stationery product line owner and all around creative boss Vivian Kvitka.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Vivian, I am American and I've been living here in Berlin for 3 years now. I recently started a company officially - inofficially I’ve been running it for about a year as a freelancer. I’m a surface pattern designer which means that I design prints and graphics for textiles - essentially for any surface that needs decoration. I work as an art assistant as my day job which I really enjoy and I find that informs my work pretty extensively. It helps me a lot with my business sense as well.
Vivian on launching her first product line of notebooks (which you can buy here):
It’s been really exciting launching a product. It’s been really terrifying because it’s actual, tangible evidence of how people are reacting to my products and what I’m doing, but I just had to do it. I've had these products for about two months sitting in my apartment, but once I invested the money there was no way back, and that was a really good motivator to just do it.
What inspired the line?
About a year ago, I went to a trade show in New York, which is full of textile designers who are selling their prints to fashion companies. I was going as a visitor just to walk the shows, see how it was like and if I want to buy a booth and sell my work there.
I produced a small line of notebooks that had my designs on the outside and on the inside I had a small description of who I am and what I wanted to do, and I handed those out to people at the booths - and I got really strong feedback for that! They really liked my designs and they liked that I gave them a business card that they could use for the rest of the fair.
I just love the size of this notebook and I’ve always been a sucker for stationary goods. It was a product that I was extremely proud of, and I felt it was a good way of communicating really quickly what it was that I do and the quality of the work that I produce, in a way that felt more like a gift rather than being arrogant or pushing my portfolio in their face.
What’s been your journey? How did you get to where you are today?
I realized recently that I have pretty much always been trying to sell goods - from when I was really young and I would take all of the food out of our pantry, set up a little shop in my living room and then sell the goods back to my parents. I went to art school, and I really enjoyed making objects and I enjoyed the resulting product.
I like thinking about art as a product and not as this object that is so much higher or greater than a product that you buy in a shop. It’s really all the same. Art has a love and intention that products can have if they’re made well and I want to have that in what I make and what I do.
So, about two years out of college I started my business and it took me a while to get to surface pattern design. In college I studied automation, a little bit of robotics, but it was so interdisciplinary that I could take any class that I wanted. I was in fashion and textiles a bit, and then I realized that I needed to get much more specific and narrow once I finished school, which was very hard for me as a creative.
But I chose a field that allows me to I can make anything - it just has to end up as a digital file that I can then repeat. I can use photo-sensitive paper, I can use collage, I can make a sculpture and photograph it - there are so many options.
So it’s been a journey of getting more specific, and kind of resisting that at the same time.
How does your work process look like? How do you go from initial idea to a pattern?
It varies pretty strongly between projects. The notebooks were part of a series of prints that I was designing around the idea of Joshua Tree, California. It’s out in the middle of the desert and you step out of your car and it is the most peaceful place I’ve ever existed. So much sky, so much landscape, so flat, but then these jutting rocks out of the ground.
There’s some really interesting art happening out there, too!
I was interested in capturing this feeling that I have when I’m out in the desert. This freedom, and this peace, and this expansiveness, and I wanted to communicate that feeling of calm through patterns.
This is the traditional way of making a collection, but often I’m designing very spontaneously from walking around the city, taking snapshots, and creating sketches. I’m inspired by pretty much anything and everything around me and those become patterns, just because that’s how I translate my inspiration now.
I’m also often designing for clients for specific needs, so I know exactly what they want in terms of a product. It’s a bit more controlled - I create a mood board, I do tons of research, and then I put all of that aside and start designing.
How do you make money?
I either sell my patterns outright or I license them, which I’ve been doing a lot more than selling outright. It allows me to retain the rights to the products, and I can continue to use the design for different industries or different end products. For example if my design is being licensed for home goods then I can license that same pattern out to a stationary company at the same time.
You can also specify location, like “bedding only in Europe” or “bedding only in the US”. That would allow me to license the same product in two different locations.
You also have a day job - or a couple of different day jobs. How does that all fit together?
Luckily, I’m at a point where I have to say no to projects and job offers, but it took me quite a while to get to that point. I’m very careful about what my day jobs are - it’s really important for me that they don’t detract from my business or my energy or my personal life.
On her Day Job No. 1 as Seamstress for pillow company Hetti.:
I’m working as a seamstress for a pillow company named Hetti. - beautiful pillows, immaculately made, incredible fabric, super good design, and I’m getting to watch Larissa, the owner, run her business. It’s front row seats to see what she does right, what she does wrong, how she communicates, and the things that I need to think about for my own business. One of the first things that I got from working with her was realizing that when my products arrived I needed to go through every single product and make sure that there were no manufacturing mistakes.
On her Day Job No. 2 as Assistant No. 6 for photographer Thomas Struth:
I’m also working for a photographer, Thomas Struth, as a studio assistant. I worked for many artists before as a studio assistant, but this time I’m Assistant No. 6, which is very different from being Assistant No. 1.
It’s a huge studio, and three of the assistants are full-time. It’s a very big production so the attention to detail and the way that the business is run is very different from a small business, but there are still similarities because it’s in the creative spectrum.
It’s a fairly new job (I’ve been there for two months) and I’m taking on different projects as I go. Right now I’m working on an archive project where I’m housing his work in a series of archive boxes that will be housed in a reference library which students will be able to check out. I'm designing a process that will protect the prints as well as make them accessible and interesting and beautiful.
On her Day Job No. 3 as Personal Assistant for an American writer living in Berlin:
Working for her has been really a blessing - to have a constant cheerleader and motivator, and she’s become a bit of family.
These jobs replenish me in a lot of ways and although they are quite a bit of time, I feel they aid my business in a lot of different ways.
Tell us about the worst day of your career.
I haven’t had any catastrophic days, but there was a time when I was applying for a full-time job as a surface pattern designer in the United States, in London, and in Berlin.
I was trying to apply for this job in Berlin that I was what I thought would be a dream job. I’d be working as a junior surface pattern designer with a senior designer, getting a lot of experience about designing textiles for fashion for this big startup in Berlin. And I couldn’t get through to them. No matter how much I contacted them, no matter how many network connections I had, I couldn’t get them to give me the time of the day.
So I went to their office - I showed up, and I was like: “I want to talk to XYZ (the senior designer)". And the woman at the reception seemed to be really confused and kind of embarrassed that I was doing that, and I was like: “I don’t care, I’m doing it! This is my last effort!”
After about two hours of waiting, she gets a call saying that this woman doesn’t have any time to see me. At this point, I realized that if she doesn’t see that I’m this motivated it’s time to go. So I went home, sent her an email saying “Hey, I was sitting in your lobby, I want to talk to you.” - and I never heard back from her.
It was pretty hard on my ego that I had put so much effort into getting this job, but ultimately I’m really glad that I didn’t get it because the balance of my intention and my motivation and my interest in the job was so vastly outweighed by their interest in me that it would have been really hard to make that up - to get the job and feel like an equal and that I had value in the company. So - shitty day, but ultimately I’m grateful that I didn’t get it.
How is the path from designing patterns, licensing them out to owning an online shop and selling physical products been like for you?
It’s actually been pretty smooth. It’s not a big transition because when I’m working with clients I’m also overseeing production. So this time the difference is that all the risk is on me. I have to put up all the money up front and that’s terrifying, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same. I get to have the products in my hands at the end of the day, I’m not relying on the client to send me some free samples, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
On the process behind the The Good Viv x Hanna Lisa Haferkamp collaboration collection:
Viv and I are currently working on my second collection which will be based on three prints she is designing. A while ago I saw a pattern that Viv did after she took a trip to the Botanical Garden here in Berlin and immediately knew that I wanted to try and convince her to develop something similar for a collaboration. And she said yes!! (Cue Vivian: “I’m obsessed with zipper pouches anyways!”)
I’m excited with where we’re going! I’m such a visual person that I have to do a lot of mood boards. I usually do a target demographic slide, one or multiple mood boards depending on how specific I’ve already gotten with a client, and then I add images from my own archive because I have a lot of sketches that have not been turned into actual patterns. I throw them in there to show what my hand looks like, my interpretation of the mood boards , even if they’re not exactly what the client is looking for as it gives an idea of where we’re going.
I love the trend analysis stuff and I can spend so many hours on Pinterest, you wouldn’t believe it!
How do you keep yourself updated and informed about trends?
I think there’s a million different ways to do it and everyone has a slightly different take. I try not to spend too much time looking at what is on trend before I feel like I already have an idea.
I look for the trends that I see on Instagram, on Pinterest, through various fashion blogs, interiior design blogs, what I’m seeing people wearing in the city right now. I take that as information what people like right now, what people are talking about, what they’re wearing, how they're presenting themselves and then once I amassed this picture in my head of what’s happening and where we’re going, then I look for confirmation of these ideas via websites like WGSN and Lancia Trend Visions, and searching Pinterest for fashion collections like SS 17. Then I can say “Okay, other people are agreeing with me, this is what other people are looking for as well."
How do you feel Berlin has changed the way you work, especially when you draw so much inspiration from what people are wearing and what you see on the streets?
It’s interesting because people tend to be dressed very muted, lots of blacks and greys, which I also really appreciate - I appreciate this minimalist, beautiful starkness. But I also love color, and I love loud patterns, and really standing out in the street and I think there’s a lot of joy to be had when everything is so grey to bring that color in.
How I’ve been influenced by Berlin is more by my ability and the allowance of the city to express myself in whatever way that I want and live my life in whatever way that I want because there’s just this freedom of if you want to live in a particular way, go for it, do it, you are accepted here. That’s the feeling I got from the city.
That has allowed me to go inside a little bit more and look for inspiration inside, which means I’m looking for really beautiful patterns and leaves and incredible textures on the street, but I think that I’m finding that because I’m simply happy as a human.
What’s one unusual business tip that you would give people?
I would say allow yourself to find the hobbies in your life that aren’t related to your business. I’m a huge addict of podcasts like On Being with Krista Tippett, which is not business oriented - it’s spiritual and philosophical. I find that that aids the way that I’m thinking how it is that I want to exist as a human and therefore express myself through my business. My business is my purpose, it is my intention and what I’m sharing with the world.
I’d say find those things and follow those weird hobbies that you don’t know how they really fit in your business or you’re not sure what the productive, useful value of them is because it’s good to do things that aren’t “valuable” or “productive” because you’ll find value in them.
Where can people find you?
On my Instagram @thegoodviv, my website http://www.thegoodviv.com/, and occasionally I tweet (@thegoodviv as well) - not very often, but every once in a while I’m there and I say snarky, funny, weird things. Come say hello!
I loved hearing more about Vivian, her story, work process and inspiration - and I hope you did, too! Go check out her IG feed and her beautiful website - and let me know if you have any more questions for her in the comments below.