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Monday, 20 September 2010

Do What You Love interview: Jessica Gonacha Swift

Today's Do What You Love interview is coming to you from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I am recovering from four awesome days at the Squam art retreat.  Artwork and photos to follow after I have processed the details of a very special experience. 

For now I want to share this interview with Jessica Gonacha Swift, a painter, surface pattern designer and illustrator based in Atlanta, Georgia.

 Image courtesy of Jessica Swift 

I was originally drawn to Jessica's gorgeous fabric designs but have just seen some of her original art work in the Enormous Tiny Art Show here at the Nahcotta Gallery in Portsmouth and they are just as juicy. Jessica is married and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her two adorable cats. She has been a working artist since 2003, when she was 23 years old. Today she is sharing a peek into her creative life.

'King of the Mountain'
(Image courtesy of Jessica Swift) 

How did you get drawn to textiles and surface pattern design?
I've always been drawn to color and pattern, and when I taught myself to create repeat patterns, a whole new world opened up for me. My grandmother used to tell me that I should be a fabric designer (she was a quilter), so that idea was placed in my head early on, but I never knew how to make that happen. I didn't realize people actually made careers of surface design until I started reading blogs and learning about the industry, and as I learned about it I was hooked immediately!
A selection of fabrics from Jessica's gorgeous new range
(Image courtesy of Jessica Swift) 

How important has your art education been in shaping your career (or has it been shaped by other things)?
My career hasn't been shaped by my art education very much at all; I studied painting in college and not textile or surface design at all; everything I'm doing now is entirely self-taught! I love learning new skills, and I constantly strive to be better, grow, and learn from what's happening around me, so being part of the online community of creatives is really what's shaped my career the last few years.

Has anyone played a mentor role for you as you have grown your business? If so who, and what was their most important or valuable piece of advice?
I've never really had a mentor, but I'll never forget something that one of my favorite professors in college told me. He said "you have to be willing to make the bad work in order to make the good work." I always remember that when I create something that I don't think is very good-- I'm just making room for the good stuff!

(Image courtesy of Jessica Swift)

What single opportunity has been the greatest catalyst for the growth of your creative business and how did it come about?
I think exhibiting at my first trade show, Printsource, in January 2009 was a big catalyst for my business- it was the first time I took myself seriously as a surface designer and knew that I wanted to devote myself to it. I exhibited just 6 short months after I first learned to create patterns, and it was a huge leap of faith. I knew in my gut that I had to just jump in if I was going to make big things happen, so I went for it, even though it was scary! I learned about the show through an email from the director, inviting me to exhibit. It felt like a sign from the universe, because just a few days prior to that email I'd decided that I wanted to exhibit at a trade show but didn't know where or how to start. The email came and that was that!
(Note from Beth: Don't you just love those signs from the universe?)

(Image courtesy of Jessica Swift)

What do you wish you had known when you started?
I wish I would've known about surface design as a career when I first began down my path as a working artist (I primarily painted and sold my work at outdoor juried art festivals in the beginning). I wish someone would've led me toward commercial art when I started out, because I could've gotten an earlier start in my career in surface design-- it was instantly my obsessive passion when I discovered it, and I wonder where I might be now had I started 5 or 6 years earlier!

What is your big dream for your creative business? (Go on, put it out there!)
I want to be like Orla Kiely and Jonathan Adler! I want to have shops throughout the country and world full of products with my designs, and I want to create a fun, hip lifestyle brand. That's definitely the big dream.  (Note from Beth:  You heard it first here!  What a fantastic big dream)

'Let your worries fall away'
(Image courtesy of Jessica Swift) 

Check out Jessica's gorgeous work on her website or in her etsy shop.  You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.  And watch this space for a very special giveaway coming soon in October, featuring some original creations made using Jessica's brand new line of fabric.

See here for more interviews with inspiring people doing what they love


  1. Great interview! I'm going to check out her the print of hers you showcased.

  2. Lovely interview. I have always been interested in textile design but have never tried. I am be inspired to create something now~ I look forward to learning more about Jessica on her sites. Thanks for sharing~

  3. I really love this interview. Also am attracted to the idea that you are in Portsmouth, N.H., across the river from where I went to High school (Kittery, Maine). Yet I see that you are from the United Kingdom. Did you come to the U.S. just to go to the Squam art retreat?

  4. I am envious!! Wish I was there too. But can't be greedy, Squam was more than I even thought possible. Thanks for cheering me along...


  5. thank you so much, jessica and beth, for this interview. so informative! and i always love and learn so much from the question, "What do you wish you had known when you started."

    so inspiring! thank you!

    xo, juliette

  6. Thank-you so much for sharing another really inspirational interview. It has opened my eyes to the possibilities out there and a reminder that there are many ways to make a living as an artist. Danielle xo

  7. Glad you all found the interview as inspiring as I did!

    Suzanna - yes I did come to the US specifically for Squam and it was so worth it! Posts on this to follow shortly...


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