Design was always a creative calling and for Elizabeth Halpern – and her story began in heart of a creative home!
First studying Architecture Elizabeth soon switched gears and took an exciting first job as a junior designer in the New York Fashion District.
Working with fabrics and prints inspired her to study Textile design and find her true passion – designing patterns and printed products for clients across the world.
We caught up with her to discover more about her business “MODERN PRINT CRAFT” – her inspiring story to date and to learn how she shares her knowledge and passion with the next generation;
What or who inspired you to choose a creative career?
Being raised in a family of “makers” was a big inspiration, as well as art classes in my early school years. I was a good student in general, but really felt relaxed and at home in art classes and whenever I was making art and using my hands creating. I also learned sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery from my mom and grandmother and spent a lot of time on these pursuits while growing up. No one in my family, however, pursued creative work as an actual career. I didn’t really have a clear direction into how one went about it, but from my earliest years, I knew that I definitely wanted to.
Where did you study and why?
I studied architecture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). I love the idea of being able to design a whole space or environment, and it definitely aligned with my very balanced “right-brain / left-brain”, creative / technical mind. It was an exciting and challenging major, and completely transformed my creative understanding of the world, of design and of my own creative thinking. It was a very formative experience and continues to influence me, even though what I do now is very different from the practice of architecture. It was also very hands-on, building models and learning different media in order to present my concepts, which was really satisfying. This was pre-digital so no computers at all! I learned to use the machine shop, but was rather terrified by it, gravitating more towards the silkscreen and ceramics studios.
Tell us about your design journey / career so far – the highs and lows?
By the time I graduated, I wasn’t as passionate about pursuing architecture as a career as I had once thought, and I turned towards another creative industry. One that I felt connected to since learning to sew as a young girl – fashion. I still consider it a small miracle that I was able to move to New York, stay with the only person I knew in the city, and land that first job as a design assistant. I also studied some more and became a textile designer. It took me a while from those early childhood creative dreams, but I eventually realized that textile design really was a perfect mix of art, design, and technical challenge for me.
The absolute best part of my work has always been being creating a design and seeing it translate into or onto a product, bringing an idea to life on something that someone will enjoy and wear or use in their home.
After working full-time for manufacturers, I transitioned to freelance work, mainly looking for the flexibility to take on new challenges. I loved being able to design for a wide range of clients and product categories. I freelanced for several years in New York but have since relocated and live outside of the city by about two hours. Initially my move became a giant obstacle to continue freelance work with existing clients, as they had little interest in working with a remote designer, even one that they knew and had happily worked with in the past. I began learning about other ways to work, about licensing, about digital fabric printing, ways to market and sell my own products in addition to finding companies that were willing to work with me remotely. I also taught myself how to build my website. It’s been a lot of growth and change for me. Five years ago, I also began teaching part-time in the Fashion program of a local college. Working with college students has been super rewarding. And because of COVID-19, I had to pivot in March to teaching remotely and will continue teaching remotely this fall. I miss in-class teaching, but since becoming more comfortable with remote technologies, I realize how important it is that we all learn how to connect and communicate in these new ways.
Define your style and go-to for inspiration and creative respite?
After working for so many other companies, and then deciding to also create my own collections of original designs to sell or license, it took me a while to find my own style. I would define it as organic, painterly and graphic, but it continues to evolve. I really love drawing. Nature, flowers, greenery, fauna are my biggest inspirations both for subject matter and also form, shape and color. I like using a mix of techniques, water-based media and digital design to create the motifs and the final repeating patterns. I also tend to combine more realistic rendering with abstraction, and work to create really nice movement in a design. Of course the internet is a big source of visual inspiration, but I find it more relaxing and inspiring to actually look through art, illustration, design, and nature books and various magazines. I especially like historical and vintage designs and find it interesting how some designs easily become dated and others are really timeless.
Did you enjoy working in the fast paced world of fashion and what was the biggest takeaway?
I have enjoyed most every fashion company that I’ve worked with and have met some wonderful people through my work. The fast pace of the business certainly has its pros and cons. The best thing is that a design idea can be realized in a relatively short time, which can be very gratifying. And companies usually evolve for the better – also a good thing. The biggest con is that the fast pace doesn’t always serve anyone or anything, especially the environment but also the consumer. It doesn’t equal innovation or forward-thinking; it doesn’t necessarily translate into better designed products or processes, and it takes a heavy toll on people and the environment. Burn-out in the industry is not uncommon. My biggest takeaway, both creatively and in business, is how important it is to be flexible and adaptable and to not take myself too seriously. I enjoy creating beautiful things and my intention is that those things add joy and pleasure to people’s lives, but I also try to keep it all in a healthy perspective. People and the environment matter more than things!
How has your freelance work been affected by the current crisis?…and how have you adapted to the challenge?
The current crisis has dramatically slowed things down. Delays and disruption all around and at many levels. I was scheduled to exhibit at a print show in New York this past spring for the first time. I was focusing most of my efforts leading up to the shutdown preparing, excited for the opportunity to put my work out there and make some new connections. Of course, the show has been postponed and hopefully will happen in 2021. In the meantime, I am planning to participate in some virtual shows if I can. I have already been working to create my own private access print library on my website for buyers and potential buyers to view work on their own schedule, but I have since decided to prepare work for anyone interested in a virtual meeting as well. I see virtual meetings as becoming more and more a part of my business, as more people are working remotely and are becoming comfortable with using the technology as well.
Tell us all about your online Designer Portfolio – What inspires you and what’s your vision?
Historically, textile designs have often been about bringing nature indoors, and I love to use nature as my inspiration. Ideas are always percolating from things I see and imagery I find, and I have an ongoing list of themes that I want to explore. I generally just pick the most interesting or relevant theme at the time and go from there with that first print in a group or collection. I will incorporate trends, but I choose ones that really resonate and align with my own aesthetic.In the past, I have worked more to a plan, but recently, I’ve enjoyed creating more design variations within the theme and experimenting a bit more with ideas and techniques. Florals and greenery dominate my portfolio, but I have been incorporating other motifs – animals, insects, figures – which is new for me. I also am planning a group of conversational prints, which I’ve wanted to do for a while. My dream or vision is to create a line of home textiles – fabrics, wallcoverings, and accessories, and to add in a pyjama line. I really love fun pyjamas!
How important is sustainability to your company?
Sustainability is absolutely essential to the future of our planet and our lives, as well as our businesses. I am educating myself more and more and like to support those businesses that also make it a priority. Sustainability is one of the reasons, among many, that I really love digital textile printing.
Has it been a challenge to source sustainable fabrics and digital print partners?
Yes and no. It seems like there are lots of options, but for an independent designer like myself who is not a sourcing expert, it can be challenging to discern the best path to take. It isn’t always clear how sustainable something actually is. Digital printing seems better for the environment, but is the printer using sustainable fabrics? Does organic mean it is sustainable? Is screen printing sustainable?
Which words of wisdom would you like to share with class of 2020?
(This question really resonates with me both as a teacher and as a parent. My son graduated from high school this spring and is now off to college. My college students that I teach finished up their degrees online this spring, had a virtual graduation and are going out into the world or on to further education. It has been such a strange, unprecedented and unpredictable time this year and we are all changed because of it; I am hoping for the better. Knowing the young people that I do has really helped me to have hope for the future during this year.)
The class of 2020 that I know is full of creative, insightful, and spirited young people.
My humble words of wisdom are to work hard, especially at the things that interest you the most, and to trust your instincts. Be willing to make mistakes and be vulnerable. Have compassion for others, make good friends and be one too, and pay attention to the world around you.
Take heart in knowing that the world definitely needs your positivity, your energy, your humor, your care and compassion, and especially your creativity now more than ever!
This content was originally published here.