I have long admired Jennie from Toboggan Avenue. We've never met, but through social media I've come to appreciate her openness as well as her flowing, beautiful gestural artwork.
If you don't already know her, you're about to be inspired and uplifted by her creative journey and wisdom.
Can you tell us about your background and how you first became interested in design?
My background is in interior design, but really my interest in design began long before that in long daydreamy days as a kid on the farm. I grew up on a farm in Illinois, and we spent weeks in the summer every year at my grandparent’s farm in Ontario. There was always plenty to feed the imagination there! During those summer visits, I was inspired by my family’s endless creativity. There was always a project in the works, or some new creative touch they’d added around the farm and my grandpa and uncle had a prolific garden with the most unusual plants I had ever seen. I drank it all in and bottled up the inspiration and carried it with me, though a little uncertain about how I could follow in their footsteps.
My years of drawing and creating led me to Interior Design as a career path and I went on to design for commercial spaces for several years. After my kids were born, I tried a variety of creative hobbies, but it wasn’t until I came across a course in Surface Pattern Design that I felt like the pieces of my creative puzzle finally fit together. This was a way I could funnel all that bottled-up creativity, nostalgia, and inspiration into something tangible: art and patterns for fabric, wallpaper, and products.
Tell me about your art practice–what got you started, what tools or techniques do you use, and what makes your work special?
I feel much more creative away from screens so my work always starts on paper. But the medium varies - I’ll happily use anything that makes marks to create the art that will become patterns or illustrations. My favorite to work with is India ink - I love the way it flows and the contrast which translates beautifully into Illustrator when scanned.
I think I love working this way so much because I can start with an idea but the ink and brush flow and dance together to create something that is sometimes unexpected and surprising and can take on a new direction - changing and inspiring the final version. I like to approach a common theme with a different view or method. This is why my work is special. It is allowed to become something bold and beautiful in its own time. Just like we can as humans and creatives.
You were an interior designer previously, how has that played into your surface design?
I’ve always had a longing to take something intangible, from an idea or a daydream, and turn it into something tangible and (hopefully) beautiful. For most of my life, it was hard to describe this desire or know how to turn it into an actual career.
Eventually, I settled on an Interior Design degree. (I think I was the first at my small school to do so, and my counselor was a bit confused! But he was very helpful in finding a college nearby with an Interior Design major.) For a while, it fit my need exactly - I loved seeing a project through from concept to a space built out exactly as I had pictured it.
When my first baby was born I left that world to stay home with my kids. I loved those years, but the need to create remained. I had a longing to collect the beauty around me and package it up to be shared. And then I discovered surface design. Having a background in design has come in handy on many occasions, from color theory and computer design to textile and product selections - and problem-solving when a job doesn’t go according to plan.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome in your surface design career to date?
Showing up consistently. As an introvert, it doesn’t come naturally to show and share my work so openly. It feels vulnerable to look back and see my journey so visually shared on social media.
It has taken some work, but coming to the realization that sharing my work is really about creating something of value for others has helped me to discover that it’s not about me at all. It’s about sharing the beauty I see with others and helping them live a bold, full, beautiful life.
Tell us about your newest collection. What was your process like in creating it?
The Bold Collection: As always the collection started with ink and paint on paper. Bold Hearted was born from a series of hearts painted on a page - an exercise in creating the same motif over and over as I processed the challenges of that day. It became a favorite because of its simplicity and repetition and is now available on fabric and products! The collection is an exploration of my divided interests between bold neutrals and vivid colors. (So far the bold neutrals are winning…)
I also am working on a big dream of helping other creative individuals follow their dreams and share their work in a bigger way. But that big dream is taking some time to unfold, so follow along to see the story develop!
What does your workspace look like? Big or small, what works for you?
I work in a bedroom-turned-office space in our home - it’s right off the main living space so I have a place to work quietly (and a door to hide the creative mess that always seems to happen), but close enough to also stay involved. My office has one large window which is wonderful for natural light - and I can watch my kids play while I work. It’s not a large space but there is room for two work surfaces - one for computer work and another for painting and drawing. This is ideal so that I can always have my art supplies out and ready for any pocket of time to create. (This is important in a busy household!) I have a third small workspace on my file cabinet that I leave set up for taking flat-lay photos. Having these areas ready to be used at any time has been a game changer for batch working and content creation.
Which part of the creative process is your favorite and why?
My favorite part of the creative process is the moment when I can hold the final product in my hands and compare it to the initial sketch or painting that began the process. Then to see that product show up out in the world and have friends share it is pretty amazing. This is why I do what I do.
If you could give your younger self any piece of advice what would it be?
Get it started - you can figure out how to do it as you go. Just don’t think so long about all the ways it might go wrong. It might go very right instead! And you won’t know what you don’t know until you are in it - and that’s ok, you’ll figure it out when you need to have answers.
Finish this sentence: Wouldn’t it be cool if…
Wouldn’t it be cool if the saying ‘If you build it they will come’ was true for business? Growing a business takes a lot of work and finding your audience is no small task. But it’s so rewarding to find your people, surround yourself with them, and encourage each other.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your work?
Creativity needs a generous mix of inspiration gathering, quiet time to reflect and time spent bringing ideas to life. It’s easy to try to skip the quiet time, but it has become the most valuable part of my creative process.
Thank you so much, Jennie! I am feeling so inspired to put paint to paper after this and finding some quiet time as well.
You can also find Jennie here: