Interview: Natalie Lea Owen

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Cheerful and bright illustrated products by colour enthusiast and pattern lover, Natalie Lea Owen. Designed in London and made in the UK, this independent design label aims to spread the joy of pattern through a range of gorgeous stationery, home textiles and women’s accessories.

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

I’m very well thanks! Currently enjoying the UK heatwave. 

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

I studied Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design for 3 glorious years at Leeds College of Art and this is where I really developed my own style of illustration and fell in love with pattern. 

Have you always been into illustration?

I’ve always been creative but used to be more into making things and doing crafts because I never thought I was any good at drawing! I had a few friends at school that would paint in a photo realism style and I thought wow, I can’t draw like that. But once I developed my own style of fun, abstract illustration and got over the fact that my drawings didn’t have to be perfect, I really began to love illustration. 

If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?

I would love to design a whole range of colourful patterned statement sofas or armchairs.

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What equipment do you use in your work?

To create my designs, sometimes I draw on paper with a fine liner and add shading and texture with a charcoal pencil. Then I scan my drawings into the computer and add colour. But recently, I’ve been drawing straight into Photoshop with a Wacom pen and graphics tablet as its just so much quicker. It’s taken some practice for me to get used to drawing straight lines with the graphics pen though! And then once my fabric has been printed, I use a sewing machine to make all my lovely textile products.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

My no.3 fine liner, my computer and my sewing machine.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

Working by yourself all day can make you feel quite isolated and Instagram has been amazing for connecting me with like-minded people and other illustrators. There’s such a great community of small business owners that all support each other and give each other advice and encouragement. And also because Instagram is so visual, its an amazing place to showcase my work and reach a wider audience. It’s kind of like having a visual diary and I love looking back and seeing older posts and remembering all the fun stuff that’s happened.

Who inspires your work?

I think Kitty McCall’s prints and fabrics are amazing and her colourful work really inspires me to make sure my work stands out from the crowd and to not shy away from being too bold.

Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment?

I love my monstera leaf patterned makeup bags because they’re so colourful and happy. They fit loads in them as well so they’re great for staying organised and keeping all your important stuff together so they don’t get lost in your handbag! They’re fab for taking away with you on holiday too as a wash bag or makeup bag. I definitely love using mine.

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What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram and your work?

I plan to share lots more behind the scenes shots of my day to day business on instagram and more personal stuff too outside of just work so that people can get to know me a bit more. I’m also planning to launch a small collection of handmade soaps which I’m mega excited about. I think they’ll be ready by September time.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a bespoke product range on the theme of the town of Eton that’s been commissioned by a new shop opening in the area. So once the illustration is finished I’ll be making coin purses, pouches and art prints with the design, which will hopefully look really cool.

What’s your typical working day?

Every day is totally different which is what I love about running my own business. If I’m making up a wholesale order there’s usually a lot of sewing involved. Other days I’m either designing new products, or posting out online orders or emailing new stockists. 

What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?

I think learning to be organised and planning ahead has been the biggest struggle for me personally. Having an independent business is like a rollercoaster sometimes and some months are crazy busy and some are really quiet so I think planning ahead, knowing when the quiet months usually are and putting that time to good use like designing new products is hugely important to keep the momentum going and making sure you’re constantly pushing forward. 

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Do you have any advice for anyone doing craft fairs?

It took me ages to get into the flow of doing craft fairs and remembering what to bring with me and how much stock to make in advance. I have a little craft fair survival kit that I always bring with me which includes scissors, safety pins, cellotape, thread etc. so that I’m prepared for every eventuality. Planning how you’re going to display all your products on the day is really important too. I like to do a little practice market setup on my desk the week before.

What advice would you give to people trying to define their own style?

Always make sure your work stands out and doesn’t blend in with the crowd because if your work looks like everyone else’s, people won’t remember you!

What’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever been given?

My tutor at university once said I was “suffering from attack of the white background” where there’s just too much blank space in a design. It really made me laugh at the time but it really stuck with me. So now whenever I start a new design I always choose a nice background colour first!

If you would like to see more of her work, you can take a look at the website here 'http://www.natalieleaowen.co.uk'.