This lovely success story takes place across two years. Not just any two years – those epic and overflowing years at the start of any creative venture. For Annie Everingham, the journey commenced when she completed a Bachelor of Fashion and Textiles at University of Technology Sydney, November 2013. Sitting on the edge of Hyde Park, in a warmth typical of the start of summer, she openly shared her sketchbook workings. Realms of delicate yet decisive pencil lines formed pretty faces, gentle hair and strong forms to hold her watercolour designs. Annie’s love of florals and abstract shapes were evident, as was a preference for cobalt blue, fuchsia pink and emerald green. And as she contemplated her fork in the road, it was clear Annie had something special.
But special does not always translate into success – and the juncture between inspiration and actualisation can be tricky to navigate. Just like the worlds of fashion and textile design had overlapped during her course, so too did the options for her future. Was her work in textile design, or was it in fashion? Should she be developing her own business and products, or working for others? With options abounding, but no clear frontrunner, one thing was clear – she would take her next steps from the seaside town of Newcastle, standing strong with support of her life partner and business graduate, Chris O’Connor.
And so, in one of those rare steps of fortune, she took the pressure off and “just for a bit of fun” started selling prints on paper of her work at Hunt &Gather, a local design market. Visitors flocked. Buyers were drawn to Annie’s bold use of colour, finding her abstract designs fresh and enlivening. Her social media following grew rapidly, and Annie quickly found herself right where she should be – painting.
“I guess when I met you I was really coming out of my degree. I was really focused on textiles and seeing where I could go with that. I started carrying on from my major project, which was the digital textiles collection that I did at uni,” explained Annie. “But as a side project I started selling the designs that I had come up with for fabric as prints ... So I set up an online store and started going to markets. I was selling them as prints on quality art paper, as artworks, which I found people really responded to. It was kind of like a hobby for me, but the more I got into it, the more the digital aspect sort of started slipping away a little bit,” said Annie.
“I was finding a lot of enjoyment from the actual tactile process of creating the artwork on paper,” she continued. “Then, once I had played around with it, I was scanning the artwork into Photoshop and working it as a digital file, which was the process I had learnt at uni. But more and more, I was enjoying the initial process, rather than the digital side of things, so because I was doing really well with sales, I started painting a lot more, and it has just been going from there. I have really stepped into more of an art space, rather than just textiles,” she added.
So although Annie had finished her studies with promising prospects for a career in fashion and design – she had won both the Design Institute of Australia’s NSW Graduate of the Year for Textiles in 2013 and been a finalist in the Textile Institute’s National Student Design and Technology Award in 2014 – the vocation she has now arrived at sits far more firmly in the realm of an artist. Her journey had travelled full circle, for as a child growing up in the country town of Tamworth she was always creating, and often daydreamed about being an artist. Torn between studying art or design, her path now makes perfect sense.
“Pursuing design seemed to be the practical solution to wanting to create for a living,” Annie elaborated, “but my interest in fashion was actually born from sketching and painting fashion illustrations, rather than a love for sewing or the construction of garments. I guess where I find myself today is sitting quite unconventionally between art and design – I feel uncomfortable labelling myself as an ‘artist’, because I apply my training in design and consider trends and the commercial aspect of my products. But when I’m designing, I’m creating from a pure, creative and intuitive place as any ‘real’ artist would do in their practice. I think in the digital age, there can be room for both to sit alongside each other, and intermesh. I really look up to creatives like Ken Done in this way. I love that my work can move between the worlds of art, fashion, homewares and design, it satisfies the conflict I used to feel in choosing one or the other,” she concluded.
These same tensions were ever present during her time of study. Annie’s colour palette is bold, repetitive and unmistakable. Being connected to the world of fashion, where colours are often martyred by trends, some of her teachers had tried to encourage her to step outside her comfort zone and try something new. But Annie was leading from within – using the colours she was drawn to explore, which have now become her signature. In another little twist of fate, one of those teachers is now one of her firmest supporters.
“When I was at uni, one of my lecturers – probably one of the teachers always steering me away from these colour palettes in the beginning – actually turned out to be one of my biggest supporters by the time I graduated,” explained Annie, “because he always said to me ‘Annie you’re an artist, don’t worry about all of this other stuff,’ because I would be crying about sewing and stuff, and couldn’t do it, but he would say ‘You know you have got such a unique talent,’ I felt as though UTS encouraged us to fit into a really conceptual, high end, niche market of fashion, readying us for the international stage, which just didn’t fit with my work. I knew it was too commercial. So when I just gave it my all and went into this other space, this art space, I was creating hand drawn artworks and printing them digitally onto squares of silk - he was sort of nudging me and saying, ‘I told you so,’ like, this is working for you because it is removed from fashion.”
“But I did often get complimented on my use of colour,” she continued. “They knew that I had an eye for colour, and could put things together and they always encouraged that in me, it was just that I always used to pick the exact same colour palette for every collection and by year three or something they were like, ‘you can’t keep using this – it is really commercial – it’s not exciting, you have got to push to try other things,’ which was their job, but I used to get frustrated. I just wanted to create with what felt right.”
It is this friction between colour and comfort zones, art and design that has enabled Annie to so easily garner a following. Although she is very modest when asked to contemplate why people like her work, she is very aware that her paintings, with their bright hues, provide an alternative to the more serious tones often found on gallery walls. They have found a contemporary home, with many of her supporters placing them in clean and modern spaces for the uplifting pops of colour and life they provide.
“I just pick colours that I like – that I am drawn to myself. I think the pastels and the vibrant colour palettes are quite commercial, especially at the moment. I think a lot of these colours are having a moment in the spotlight – but I guess, if you go into a gallery, a lot of natural tones are probably more prominent than brighter colours. I think people are drawn to my paintings because they are something they haven’t seen in a gallery setting – my colours are seen in more of a commercial, interior design space,” suggested Annie.
Lately, these palettes include bursts of candy pink, ocean turquoise and indigo blue, inspired by the colourscape from her recent European summer, which included Greek beaches and the Italian Riviera. Annie works in layers – freely building up washes of the colours she is drawn to, then working into the areas of interest that develop along the way.
“I love working in layers, and I have been paying a bit more attention to my process in the last few months,” Annie elaborated. “But, I would definitely say I do a wash, I pick a basic colour scheme, or just a background colour that I am feeling drawn to, maybe one I have pulled from an image or something. I am a big user of resources like Pinterest and I keep journals and things like that. I just love images, so I soak up a lot of colour and pattern and texture through them. So I’ll sort of build up a rough of the texture for the background and then let that dry and then I will probably start working on another canvas at the same time while that one is drying. Then I will go back and do another layer and just work into the textures and shapes that are emerging from the first layer, and just sort of build on that. Build up shapes, slowly, work into the colours, and just let it play out.”
So her studio walls, as well as being the backdrop for her painting, are often dotted with images and paint chips. “I am sort of still working out what my style is,” said Annie, “so I am sort of just letting it all out and going crazy and moving between styles and mediums at the moment. Ironically, I’m also getting a bit more experimental with my colour choices. I recently chose an orange I wouldn’t usually use because I found some random picture of an old rusty Moroccan style door. It was a really beautiful image and I was really drawn to the washed out texture of it and I just tried to replicate that in that washy piece and it all just sort of flows on from there. I really love old architecture and aging surfaces,” she said.
These colours, textures and inspiration combine to create something that is uniquely hers in a process she joyfully shares on Instagram. “I thrive in the sharing community on social media – Instagram, obviously. I really love following the journey of other artists and seeing what they are coming up with every day, and I enjoy that side of the creative process and sharing my step by step process to achieving an outcome,” said Annie.
So, while following favourites like Miranda Skoczek, a host of florists and an assortment of Turkish carpet makers, Annie has worked to develop a range of limited edition art prints, digital wall prints, cushions, greeting cards and original artworks. She made the jump to working full time on Annie Everingham Design Co. at the start of the year and is currently realising another long held dream – working from her own creative studio in her seaside town.
Since her return from Europe, Annie has been kept busy wholesaling her design range to homewares stores and her ongoing commissions, with plans to host her first solo exhibition at local retailer Willows Home Traders in the pipeline. Still enjoying the creative freedom that her move away from digital tools has provided, she remains a lover of textile design and would love to collaborate with others to see her work on a range of homewares products, or even on the fashion runway.
“I’ve fallen out of interest with my work on the computer – I sort of love spending my time more of the tactile side of things, but I am definitely open to seeing my work on different products and collaborating with other designers and people who can make that happen, because I think there is a really nice marriage there between art and fashion,” said Annie.
One thing is for sure – this gentle, brave and talented young woman is in a great place. This dreamy lady has her head screwed on right, and offers some wonderful words of advice to other aspiring designers. “The journey I have found myself on, I have allowed myself the space to experiment, with everything that I can – not holding back, and not feeling like I have to get it right the first time. I think there is a lot of beauty in the process in textiles, and a lot of mistakes can happen and they are usually the best part. So push on through the anxieties you have as a creator, when you are creating things and worrying if they are valid, and just having the strength of character and knowing that your intuition is going to take you to a good place.”
All photographs courtesy of Annie Everingham