Quilt Design A Day Interview: Anne Sullivan from Play Crafts

on July 19 | in Featured Creativity, Quilting, Sewing Inspiration | by | with 1 Comment

We’re in awe of the Quilt Design A Day group, a talented community of designers with a daily design practice! We decided to ask a few of the participants to share a little about their process. Our first interviewee was with Amy Gunson of Badskirt, and our second interview is with Anne of Play Crafts. Anne originated the idea for Quilt Design A Day and now has hundreds of fellow designers joining her in the group!

Check out the group’s Facebook page and lots of amazing designs on Instagram (#qdad). You are welcome to join anytime, and you can choose how often you create a design. (It doesn’t really have to be every day!) Enjoy learning more about Anne’s work below.

What inspired you to start the group?
I was contacted to do some commission quilt design work which I’d never done before. I ended up thoroughly enjoying coming up with the designs and noticed it really didn’t have to take that long to come up with some fast sketches. I decided as a lark that I’d try doing a design every day and came up with a few quick rules to add some structure to the daily activity. I posted about it on Facebook along with the rules I was following, and a few people thought it’d be fun so they joined in.

Pretty early on (maybe Day 3 or 4), my mom messaged me to say she wished there was an easier way to see the designs other people were making. I had already started feeling like I might be missing some of them, so I decided to make the group. I thought we might last a couple weeks, but here we are at five months and 200 people! So thanks, Mom!

Having the community has been wonderful as I’ve met some really awesome people. And because we’re all interested in quilts and design, we have a lot to chat about! One of the unexpected things that’s come out of having the group is I’ve had a chance to practice my art critique skills. I’ve always wanted to be better at it, and now I get daily practice at it!

How did you get the word out?
Mostly it’s been word of mouth. I’ve posted about it on my blog and I know some of the other regulars have as well. But I think a lot of people joined because they see the designs show up in their Facebook feed. We have a lot of lurkers (there are no rules about needing to participate), but we’ve had a recent influx of new designers which has been really exciting!

How do you find inspiration?
Originally I used the Design Seeds photo of the day as a way to inspire my designs. Either a shape or a concept would stand out and I’d work with that. For instance the lightness of a flower would lead to a very airy/delicate design, while some triangles in a specific pattern reminded me of Totoro and led to a design based on that. However, Design Seeds has a lot of repeats of different subjects (which have in turn become a bit of an inside joke with the people in the group) and I found that I needed to find other ways to inspire my designs.

Some days I’m inspired by some design I saw or something I did that day. Lately I’ve been less focused on the photo and more focused on sub-goals I’ve given myself. Things like getting comfortable with designing with quarter circles, or HSTs or playing with transparency. I’m pretty goal-driven, so I’ve found I feel the most focused when I start with a goal like “today I’m going to work with HSTs and transparency.” It’s amazing how this sort of goal-driven play has led to its own inspiration.

To give a specific example, in the end of May I got a couple of quarter-circle templates and started making designs based on using those two sizes of templates. I found having that extra constraint really relieved a lot of the blank-page syndrome I would sometimes get, because I’d start by getting the shapes in and then I could just play around with them. After about a week of that, I made a design I was REALLY unhappy with and I stated tongue-in-cheek “The only way I like this design is if I think about it as the beginning of an alien flora series.”

That night I literally couldn’t sleep because my mind was filled with ideas and I couldn’t wait to get the new design seed and make a new alien flora design. I ended up doing alien flora designs from June 3rd to June 22nd (with a couple of breaks to do other designs near the end) because I had SO much fun with the idea, and have since made the first one (that I initially hated) into a mini-quilt complete with lights. I feel like the alien flora themed designs were a defining moment in my creative journey, and it really changed the way I have approach my QDAD designs since. It’s also had a pretty noticeable effect on my design style as well.

What tools do you use?
I use Illustrator for my designs because that’s what I have the most experience with.

To get off-topic a bit: I’m planning to create a week or two of starter challenges aimed at helping people get used to whatever program they’re working with. It can be really frustrating to learn new software and try to design at the same time. With a set of challenges that break down the design side of things (for instance, Day 1 might be “Make a 9-patch using the colors from Design Seeds. Extra-credit: Make the 9-patch be on point.”). It gives people permission to not feel like they have to make some masterpiece on Day 1 with new software.

The whole point of the group is to have a supportive environment to experiment, and experimentation tends to have a lot of failure along the way. And that’s okay! Failure isn’t bad, it means you’re learning! Having the group is great because they might have suggestions or see things in a different way. Some of my most successful designs started out as “design rejects.” But coming into a new group and learning new software is really intimidating, and I think adding the starter challenges would help overcome that to some degree.

Do you really limit yourself to 15 minutes?
Not really. I put in the time limit initially to give myself an out if I really was having trouble. It’s like going to the gym and saying “Just work out for 10 minutes,” with the idea that after 10 minutes you usually keep going. It’s kind of like that. With that said, most days I keep it under 30 minutes and it’s only on truly frustrating days that I go over an hour. On the days I really constrain what I’m doing (for instance when I was working on alien flora and only used rectangles and quarter circles) I find it much easier to stick to the 15 minute time limit. But I quit actually timing myself somewhere in the first month.

Do you do it at a certain time of the day?
I started out sticking to one time of the day, but I found that my designs are actually very reflective of my internal state. I have a series of designs I made that are very pointy and chaotic that were made when I was stressing about a deadline. And if I waited too late in the day, I’d end up being too tired to really focus and be unhappy with my designs. So now I pay attention to where my stress is at and try to wait until I have some time that doesn’t feel rushed. That’s generally in the early evening after I’m done with work, but it moves around.

How many designs have you come up with?
I’ve been doing this for over five months and have only missed one day (due to traveling and not having computer access) but some days I make more than one design. So somewhere around 200-250 designs I’d guess. Some of those are just slight variations which is why it’s difficult to get an accurate count.

Do you have plans for your designs?
I’m currently pursuing some opportunities, but I didn’t set out with a plan. Finding a pattern for a quilt I want to make became a lot more fun though!

In general, how do you feel about this experience of having a daily creative practice?
In general, it’s been really fulfilling. It scratched a mental itch I didn’t even know I had. Some days it has been incredibly hard, especially when I was first starting out. I had to battle a lot of inner demons. “How can I possibly come up with something new?” “I’m sure someone else has done this already. I think *I’VE* done this already.” “What if I am out of ideas?”… Those are just some of the things I went through. But somewhere in the last month and a half it became a habit. And now that it’s a habit, I’ve found the inner voices have really quieted down.

When I first started out, I also found my desire to sew lessened, I think because my creative needs were being met through designing. I was kind of scared about that but over time my desire to sew has returned, and I feel like I’ve increased my creative stamina if that makes sense! I find that I approach a lot of things more creatively than I have in the past because my brain has gotten into the habit of thinking that way.

Any advice for others?
I’ve long been a believer that mastery is a product of practice and experimentation, not talent. If there’s something you want to be good at, go do it, and then do it some more!

Creative mastery often comes in fits and starts with long stretches of artist block where your skills aren’t up to par with your creative vision. Keep practicing and your skills WILL improve to where they catch up (usually all at once in a surprising way). And then after a bit your creative vision will improve and you start the process over again. Making it a daily habit is one of the best ways to consistently practice, and gives you a reason to come back after those frustrating days where your skills are still catching up. Nothing feels quite as amazing as the days when your skills do catch up!

I’d also add that finding a nice supportive group of people to help you along the way can sure take the sting out of the process, and make the good days so much better! I know without the QDAD group, I would have given up in the second week or so.

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One Response to Quilt Design A Day Interview: Anne Sullivan from Play Crafts

  1. Allison Sews says:

    I love the idea of setting up a few beginner challenges for people like me who love to watch the group but are too scared to jump in. I still need to learn Inkscape too.

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