There are very few things in this world that excite me more than the presence of talented, passionate, creative, people. Which is why this series has quickly become one of my favourites. Today’s guest is none other than the incredible wallpaper and textile designer, Sian Zeng. Her work, which is largely made by hand (can you imagine?!) has been featured in projects from Elle Decor, to Arhitectural Digest, to The Sunday Times and beyond. And it’s a true honour to have her here today sharing a behind the scenes peek at her life, her process, and what keeps her going.
If there are any other makers or entrepreneurs you’d like me to feature in this series, please let me know in the comments below. And feel free to check out the others right here.
When did you first discover surface design? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
When I first began art school at Central Saint Martins, I had thought to become a fine artist, because I loved telling stories through drawing and painting. Luckily, through my foundation course and first year, we were able to try out different disciplines, where I quickly realized that textile design was perfect for me. It allowed me to explore different ways of creating art while also catering to my love of storytelling and giving me the technical knowledge I needed. I also loved how open-ended the textile design program was — I even had the chance to create a stop-motion animation as part of my course.
Where is your workspace and what do you love most about it?
My studio is based in Deptford, an up-and-coming area of London quickly becoming one of the trendier neighborhoods. What I love most about my studio is the community of creative people that work there. It’s the type of place where we can just knock on each other’s doors for anything from advice to a chat. It’s a friendly, fun and inspiring place to work.
How do you stay organized in your studio?
When it comes to my physical space, I’m far from organized! My assistant, Kelly, is invaluable for keeping our studio organized. To help keep things as tidy as possible, we label boxes so we can see what’s sitting on the shelves easily. We also try to give away or remove anything we don’t have a need for. The less stuff we have, the less likely the space will get messy.
What is the process to create one of your wallpapers?
When I conjure up an idea for a new wallpaper, my first step is to always do a quick sketch of it on my iPad. I then begin collating inspiring images related to the design on my computer, a mix of online images and my own photography. I print some of this research to create a moodboard, to help define the precise look I’m going for.
In order to retain the best image quality for the wallpaper, I hand-draw or paint each design in large-scale. Some of the bigger murals can take me six months to create. Once the painting is complete, I will have it scanned in a high-quality and edit the wallpaper design on my computer. I then send the design to the wallpaper factory, although I finalize the colors for production myself.
When your creativity well has run dry, what do you do to get inspired again?
Due to the hand-painted, large-scale nature of my wallpapers, the actual execution of my art is very time consuming. It means I rarely have a moment when I’ve run out of ideas. In fact, usually I have more ideas than time to turn them into realities. However, if I’m in need of inspiration, I love browsing through photography books by Tim Walker, which are filled with creative styles and always give me ideas for future photo shoots.
What’s the most popular wallpaper in your shop, and how did that design come about?
Our most popular wallpaper is our HUA TREES collection. The idea for the design came about quite organically. When I was considering turning my Flying Pigs design into fabric stickers, I thought, “How nice would it be if we had a row of trees that they could fly over?”
I then decided to turn this thought into a quick painting project. I had assumed it would only take me a month to paint the design, as at the time I had never painted in such a large scale before. In the end, it took much, much longer than I anticipated, and my quick project turned into a big one! But it was all worth it at the end.
What colors, scenes, and subjects are inspiring you right now?
With Spring here and Summer on its way, I’ve been inspired by the plants and flowers blossoming among us in a city, like urban nature. For example, climbers and ramblers are in bloom right now, climbing up house walls and making buildings look like pieces of art. It reminds me of a fairytale, like scenes from Sleeping Beauty, where she’s dreaming inside, waiting to be awoken. In a similar parallel, Spring colours feel like an awakening from Winter, and so I’ve been inspired by a dreamy, soft color palette.
What upcoming project are you most excited to work on right now?
I’ve been experimenting with photography, as well as trying out more designs on Procreate, a software for drawing on an ipad with an apple pencil. If my experiments are successful, I hope I’ll be able to use the final designs in our future collection. I’m always seeking ways to find new mediums to create artwork.
I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for…
My family and friends’ support. In fact, I wouldn’t be in the creative sector altogether if it weren’t for a friend’s suggestion. I was in the second year of an economics degree when I passed by the renowned art school Central Saint Martins in London. I mentioned to my friends off-handedly how I’d love to be studying art there, instead of economics where I was. One of my friends said to me, “Why don’t you try applying, and see what happens?” That comment clicked for me. That year, I wound up taking a summer course at Saint Martins, and the year after, I applied for a foundation course. I got accepted, and the rest is history.
Artist: Sian Zeng | Photos: Jo Crawford
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