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  • Writer's pictureSue Halstead

Studio Stories: The making of a collection


Last month, I shared how I often create mood boards prior to embarking on a new design collection. This time around, I thought I'd expand on that by taking a deep dive into the ideas and influences behind my successful product collection 'When Doves Cry'


I first had the idea to create a fundraiser while watching news coverage on the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In February 2022 my heart was breaking watching mothers and children fleeing their homes, leaving their men behind to fight. As a mother to a child with disabilities I I felt particularly protective of those families with disabled or ill children, who were unable to travel but were also unable to access their vital services and therapies. I felt I couldn't sit idly by, just watching. I had to do SOMETHING. I decided harness the only skills I really have - making pretty patterns, to do some good. But I had no idea how I would do it.


I started researching Ukrainian folk art and traditions shortly afterwards, and amassed this little collection of images as inspiration.



As always I was careful not to collect too many images, as that can be confusing. Also, I was trying to ensure I wasn't overly influenced by any one thing on the board. I was trying to make work that still looked like mine, after all! This mood board includes an example of Pysanki, intricately dyed decorative eggs, and Petrykivka, decorative painting from Ukraine, and an example of Ukrainian art in the folk tradition by renown artist Maria Prymachenko. The other examples on this mood board were by artists I was already familiar with - the Doves by Picasso (top right) and paper cuts Matisse, and I knew the work of Karoline Rerrie having had a stall next to her, selling at art markets years before.


These images would help give my work flavour but what would the main ingredients be? What was I actually going to draw? I knew I wanted to include Doves - that perennial symbol of peace. That was a given. But what else? Listening to the news reports helped here too. Many news reports referred to Ukraine as 'The bread basket of Europe' so wheat ears and grains started appearing in my sketches. We learnt the Sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. I began doodling Sunflowers. Incidentally, Sunflowers helped to extend my colour palette for this project beyond the primary blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag - it produced some oranges, ochres and mustard and browns to add into the mix, too!


At this stage in any project, before much drawing takes place, I also write a list of words that I associate with the feeling, atmosphere or look I am trying to convey. This is like a word moodboard, the written equivalent of the visual images I have gathered. In fact, sometimes the words do simply just describe the overall mood of the images I've chosen.




Whenever I do this, the word list comes in very useful later on, when I need to think of titles for pieces, or need to write about a collection, such as now! I'm never at a loss for what to say, I never have to try and recapture what I was thinking at the time - these words serve as the perfect prompt. Words in my list for this collection include: Peace; Freedom; Plea; Prayer; Liberty; Hope; Offering.


I sometimes also use these words to craft a paragraph or a few sentences that tell 'the story' of the project. Usually I do this at the end though - not at the beginning. By the time I have my mood board, my list of words and ideas for motifs and colours, I'm raring to go!


The initial design came together quite quickly. When I create a pattern collection the first design is usually the 'Hero.' It's the most intricate repeating pattern, the biggest in scale, and with the most complex motifs. In this case however, I knew I wanted to create prints for wall art, and as greetings cards, so it was not a repeat pattern I needed to create, but a stand-alone illustration. I began, I always do in these cases, to map out possible compositions in a series of thumbnail sketches in my sketchbook. These are VERY rough drawings, designed to help me figure out what I'm aiming for. Once I had tried to fill the heart shapes with the birds and flowers (bottom right) I knew where I was heading.


The next step involves drawing out the motifs properly, ready to assemble. Sometimes I do this on paper. Sometimes I do this digitally. When time, and the feel of the project allows, I physically block-print them too. In this case, I knew I wanted to act quickly, to maximise the amount of money I could raise, so I drew on my iPad in Procreate. I drew them in the same way I would design a block print, with areas erased or 'cut away' and I added a stamped texture to my digital drawings to give them a block printed feel, synonymous with my usual style. It was fortunate that I already had some Dove / Pigeon shapes I had drawn for another project, that had gone unused. I repurposed these, and on my iPad created the sunflowers, wheat, hearts and tears I knew I needed. I kept these fairly simple (as my mood board dictated) and as always, drew them in black and white.


Then I uploaded them to my computer where I coloured them and arranged them in Adobe Illustrator. The whole thing took maybe 2- 3 hours, to put together the 'Hero' design. You can see that I also dropped a stamped texture onto the background heart shape. I made this just a shade or two lighter than the background to give a subtle texture that would add depth without detracting from the main patterns and shapes within.



I tentatively took 10 prints to the museum where I work. They kindly stock my products in their gift shop and had agreed to take some fundraising prints. That morning I sold all 10 to staff members before we even opened to the public! I knew that day that I was onto something. The prints began selling in my Etsy shop almost immediately and I've now shipped greetings cards and prints featuring this design all over the world!



Later iterations involved taking these same motifs and reconfiguring them into a seamlessly repeating pattern suitable for fabric. This fabric is available to purchase by the fat quarter or the metre in my Spoonflower store.


I also made this fabric up into some tea towels which I sell through my Etsy shop.


These designs were also later adapted to create a Christmas collection, 'Dove of Peace' which includes Christmas cards and repeat pattens.



The motifs and the colour palette here are different and there is no explicit reference to Ukraine. Nevertheless, these cards were the result of realising, as the year rolled around, that those poor families I had seen fleeing their homes in March would not be home by Christmas and many would be spending the festive season in a foreign country, reliant on the kindness of strangers.


The original 'When Doves cry' illustration is available to purchase as a print (framed, unframed, or digital download), as greetings cards and as tea towels, through my Etsy shop, where you will also find the Dove for Peace Christmas cards.


Since April 2022 I have raised over £2,500 for the DEC and still counting! Here's hoping I can raise at least £3,000 by the end of 2023. If you would like more information on the work of the DEC, and how they are assisting in Ukraine, please visit the DEC website.


I really hope you've enjoyed reading more about how and why these designs were created.


Finally, if you would like to hear more about my most recent designs, product releases and offers, sign up to my monthly newsletter. You'll get a free digital download art print, just for joining! You can also follow me on instagram for even more regular updates and behind the scenes fun!







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