Anatomy Of A Design: A Closer Look At Product From Sarah Von Dreele

Artist and designer Sarah Von Dreele joins us to discuss her latest wallpaper and fabric collections.

Von Dreele in her studio.

Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Sarah Von Dreele: After the abrupt ending of my marriage in the summer of 2015, I began to paint at night as a way to process emotional trauma. Painting created a quiet space for me to reflect. It wasn’t until 2017, and hundreds of paintings later, that I began to see that my work had relevance and potential as a product in the interiors market. After securing licensing agreements with CB2 for home accessories and Felix Rosenstiel’s for fine art, I began exploring developing my own brand of products. My work is very meditative with inherent repetition and layers so manufacturable repeats were a clear application. My first collection of wallpaper, launched at ICFF in 2019, leveraged my early work archives. After receiving a positive response at ICFF, I spent the following 6 months painting and developing new patterns, doubling my wallpaper collection this past spring. In addition to the debut of fabrics this month, I have just finished editing works which will inform my 2021 collections.

Raymond: What was the overall time-line from conception to achieving the final design?
Sarah: Between collection releases, I spend about 6-9 months painting which usually results in hundreds of iterative works. For wallpaper, I mandate “paintbrushes down” in the early fall. Working with a product development team, it is great to have other eyes to help edit the works down and finalize a collection. After our edit, it takes about 4 months to transform the work into manufacturable repeats and fine-tune the color palettes.

(Left) Inspiration for Allyn; (Right) Allyn wallpaper in Storm.

Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea come from?
Sarah: I am asked this question often and inspiration comes very organically for me. It’s really just life. Some inspirations are subconscious takeaways from my day to day, a mood, emotion, or experience. Other times I might clip a few buds or leaves from the garden or notice an unusual skyline. This past summer I spent a lot of time running on an old train line now transformed into a bike path. Running under highway overpasses and looking up at the structural elements in the subway have recently informed my work. While I keep up with industry information and trends, I turn off my head once the paintbrush is in hand.

Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Sarah: Running a business and being an artist requires that I oscillate between two different sides of my brain. There are days or weeks when I’m preoccupied with administrative work or parenting or whatever. To keep my work authentic, I try to leverage windows when I am most relaxed, although there are times when painting is a vehicle or outlet for finding a quiet space. This is where my best work emerges – unscheduled and unforced.

Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
Sarah: With each collection, I try to provide designers with a range of florals and abstractions. As my brand matures, versatility and integration are really important to me. I do think that there are clients who like to know what they are looking at and others who are less risk-averse to abstract iconography or unexpected color. Above all, I want my patterns to integrate into a designer’s vision, even if it means altering the color. My work is not precious – it should evolve and be shared.

Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials that you used to develop and prototype this design?
Sarah: All of my patterns begin as paintings, exclusively in gouache. My exploratory process is highly iterative and a pattern might be the result of a hundred paintings where I seek out the right form, texture and color. Once the paintings are narrowed down, the work is either scanned or photographed and manufacturable repeats are developed. Sometimes I repaint additional colorways.

(Left) Beth watercolors; (Right) Beth wallpaper in Sunrise.

Raymond: Did you utilize a new technique or technology to conceptualize this product?
Sarah: Up until recently, having spent my entire career in branding and tied to a computer, it has been empowering to create with only the simplest tools – paper, gouache, brush, water, and my hands. What I find fascinating in the product development and manufacturing process is the juxtaposition of craft and technology. My papers are digitally printed on grounds with intrinsic environmental considerations and certifications. It’s pretty amazing that technology allows me to not only scale my craft but also in an environmentally responsible way.

Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Sarah: When I first started painting, it was personal, and I wasn’t thinking about product development. Often, I can repaint an idea but it is almost impossible to reproduce the work in the same spirit. Those moments when I am lost in a series of works are unique, and I harness that energy into as many iterations as I can. In developing the second collection and products for 2021, I am much more aware of developing various colorways while I paint, to best preserve and document the authenticity of the space that I am creating in.

Sarah wallpaper in Storm.

Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos.
Sarah: These are words that resonate with me as I paint, develop product, and grow my brand:

  • Iterative
  • Responsive
  • Layered
  • Forward
  • Fluid
  • Flexible
  • Interpretive

Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.

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