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How I became a wallpaper designer

Catherine Rowe lives in Chichester, West Sussex.

I started selling my own work alongside full-time day jobs as soon as I graduated in 2013. By 2016 I was able to go part-time at my day job and then in 2019, I registered Catherine Rowe Design as a limited business. Now it’s my full-time job with a small team.

Why did you set it up?

I just knew I wanted to do my own thing and work for myself.

I did try being an in-house designer of sorts but the restrictions and limitations were too frustrating.

I’ve always been very independent and marched to the beat of my own drum so working for myself suits me perfectly!

Have you always been creative? What subjects did you enjoy at school?

I have always enjoyed drawing, to the point of it being more of a compulsion at times! I loved any excuse to be creative at school which included creative writing. I was no good at maths or science and found it really hard to concentrate at school in general.

What inspires you?

Nature, Victorian ceramics and jewellery, literature and honestly, anything that catches my eye. Sometimes it can be totally random.

A pink kitchen bin I saw once gave me a perfect idea for a colour palette and theme of some work I was doing!!

How long does it take you to come up with the designs?

If I’m working on a commission, I can spin up some ideas from the vaguest brief in a matter of days, but it is very energy consuming so it’s more comfortable to have a week or two to really dive into a project and get the best ideas going.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop worrying so much about everyone else and what they’re thinking, just concentrate on yourself and don’t take any sh*t!

What do you enjoy about what you do?

I love the autonomy of working for myself. Some days I’m super productive and creative and some days I’m not, which is ok.

I really enjoy going with the flow and not being tied to any one schedule or structure. Sometimes when I feel stressed or overwhelmed I just think “Ok but your job is literally drawing dogs and taking naps when you feel like it. How can you be stressed right now?!”

What advice would you give someone who wants to follow the same career path?

I would say (unless you are very lucky and it happens overnight!!) you do need to make a lot of sacrifices and put in a lot of graft at the beginning to get to where you want to be.

There was a time when I was doing my 9-5 day job, coming home and working on my own stuff until 2am and going on like that for months. I don’t condone not looking after yourself properly but I know I’m where I am now because I worked my arse off for a few years!

I would also say that depending on what kind of work you do, it’s really worth trying to establish multiple streams of revenue as an illustrator. For my brand, there are a lot of overheads and I don’t end up seeing a lot of the money.

Being commissioned/licensed by other companies is a really good form of income. I’ve built some great relationships with amazing clients like Liberty, Anthropologie and TK Maxx who have all been really fun to make work for. I would also advise trying to get an agent.

They of course have amazing connections in the art world but will also give you the confidence to price your time and work properly.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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