Designer Diaries: Esther Longmore

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I’m a graphic & surface pattern designer based in a suburb of beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah. I launched an online paper goods shop last year and currently work part time as an in-house graphic designer. 

I’ve always believed that function and form should be harmonious, which is one reason I’m so enamored by surface design. Some of my work is pretty and sweet, while other pieces are cute and playful. Either way, I get a thrill out of seeing my designs come to life on a product. There’s nothing quite like creating something fantastic from scratch.

When did you discover your passion?

I’ve been creative my entire life, although it manifested in different ways during various times. As a child, I was highly artistic visually as well as musically. As a tween, I was still visually creative, but became more focused on music and creative writing. I lost any drawing interest for several years as a teenager when I realized I couldn’t draw well, so I channeled my creativity through music, crafts, scrapbooking, and sewing. I think the most drawing I did in those days was with sidewalk chalk on friends’ driveways in the middle of the night. Chalking is the friendly counterpart to toilet-papering. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I rediscovered my true passion for visual art & design.

What made you turn your passion into a career choice versus just a hobby?

It was a series of events and choices over the years. Along that journey, my mom had a big influence on my initial decision to study graphic design in college. Design was the furthest thing from my mind in those days, but my mom saw something in the icons and characters I used to doodle on envelopes and notebooks, and she planted the seed. It still amazes me that my amateur icons made her think I should be a designer, but moms who pay attention have their intuition. 

I pursued an education in graphic design, but due to financial and other circumstances, I took a break from school after only a few semesters. I continued to draw icons and taught myself to design quasi patterns in Photoshop. I lacked proper training and skill, but I was dreaming of surface design before I even knew it was an actual industry. 

Years later, thanks to my sister’s prodding, I went back to school to improve my artistic skills and to learn the software programs properly. It was at that point that design went from being a hobby which I hoped to make money with, to infiltrating my life. It’s the air I breathe now. I worked full time through college and it took me until I was 34 to finally get my degree in graphic design. My life would have led me to my field sooner or later, but I guess you could say I took the scenic route.

How do you stay motivated?

I once read that it’s normal to go through creative cycles and I’ve noticed that to be true for myself. During my peak creativity, I’m highly motivated and I work perpetually. When I’m in my zone, I get completely lost in my work and forget about important things such as drinking water and eating. Those are the times when my work becomes play. 

When I’m lacking motivation, there are several options which I find helpful. I thrive on deadlines set by other people, even if that just means finding someone I can be accountable to. I watch tutorials on lynda.com or Skillshare so I’m at least being productive and learning new techniques, which sometimes reignites my motivation as well. When circumstances allow, I take a break for a few hours and do something else like spend time with family or friends, water aerobics, read, or watch a movie. Then I come back a little rejuvenated and with fresh eyes. Other times, I tackle administrative tasks. When I’m in the middle of a creative block, instead of letting it get to me, I try to remember that my creative cycle is just running its course and I’ll be back to my creative self in due time.

The thing with commercial art is I can’t just wait around for motivation, inspiration, or my creative cycle to align properly. When I have client deadlines to meet, even if I’m dragging my feet on a project, I have to keep pushing forward. Often times, the hardest part is just getting started, so I’ll tell myself to work on a project for 30 minutes. By the time I’m that far into it, I’m usually ready to keep working.

Can you share a little about your design process?

It depends on the project, time allotted, and artistic style. Ideally, I begin with my research and brainstorming phases. One of the first things I like to do is create a mind map—as many pages as possible. This word association isn’t crucial for every project, but I find it essential for projects like logo design.

Next, I move on to thumbnails, sketches and roughs. Once I know which direction I want to take, I tighten everything by hand before taking it to the computer; the computer is merely a tool. The tighter my design is, the better the quality and the less time I spend fidgeting with things that don’t work. Lately, I like to ink my work for scanning and vectorizing a hand-drawn look, but sometimes I scan tight pencil sketches and trace them in Illustrator, refining further as I go.

I started using a pattern technique last year which requires cutting and taping squares of paper to create a seamless pattern tile by hand. While computer programs have their place and there are instances I still use them, creating a swatch by hand first produces a more fluid pattern. I get to keep control instead of relying solely on a program to make my decisions. The cut and tape method has changed my work significantly and I’m still experimenting with and fine tuning my technique.

What is your favorite part about having a creative business?

Seeing my work on a product is incredibly rewarding! I personally love the feelings I have when I’m surrounded by beauty, and when my art does that for another person, I’m delighted. I feel honored when something I created is loved enough by someone that they have to have it in their home, office, or space. A little part of my heart and soul is in that piece.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

Each season brings its own set of challenges. Right now, one of the things I’m focusing on is learning to say no without feeling guilty or like I’m shutting the door on an opportunity. I like to please others, so sometimes it’s hard for me to decline a request. I’m at a stage in my career where taking on every project isn’t possible anymore, and that’s a good thing! I’m trying to remember that saying no enables me to say yes to myself and my longterm goals.

What advice would you give to aspiring designers looking to build a successful creative business?

The thing that sits with me most today is to always strive to improve yourself. There’s a concept in Japan called kaizen, which means ‘continuous improvement.’ Sometimes improvements are small, but if you’re constantly challenging yourself, many small changes become monumental transformations over time. It’s in our nature to grow and learn, and it’s always satisfying to look back and see how far you’ve come. Plus, you become more marketable and in demand as you increase your skills and abilities.

Whats next for your career?

I’ve been getting involved in local handmade markets and am contemplating some partnerships for my online shop.

I’ve also been doing a lot of soul searching lately. I know where I want to be, and even though what I’m doing right now correlates, it seems I’m heading further away from those dreams. So aside from the day-to-day and my existing freelance projects, my big focus right now is my surface pattern design portfolio. Once that’s ready to show, I’ll be looking for an agent to partner with, which is the next step towards my longterm goals. 

Where can we find you on the web?

website & blog: http://estherlongmore.com

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/estherlongmoreLLC

instagram: https://instagram.com/estherlongmore

twitter: https://twitter.com/estherlongmore

You can also find my Sweet Adeline collection exclusively at http://shibumihome.com/collections/esther-longmore