Have you ever wondered what's behind the scenes of your favorite artist's business and in their minds? I am fascinated by learning from other people's experience, so I started the smArt Talk interview series to pick the brains of these smart artists and women.
Gabriela Dachin has sold and licensed well over a hundred designs over the past few years--most of them on wallpaper. She's prolific, has exquisite taste, and degrees in design to back it all up. If I'm being honest, I'm completely in awe of her accomplishments and the way she stays so humble about them. I know you'll learn a lot from her by reading this interview.
Can you tell us about your background and how you first became interested in design?
My journey in Surface Pattern Design begins in my second year at university while studying interior design when I first heard about surface design. I started my research and like many other designers I came across Bonnie Christine’s Skillshare classes, I took each class she had on Skillshare, then later on I joined her Immersion course and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Looking back, I have always been interested in all kinds of stationeries and interior decor. I remember that I liked to draw flowers around the pages in my schoolbooks.
I also enjoyed helping my mom with the seasonal deep cleaning and decluttering--I knew that once or twice a year she would change rooms and furniture around, a skill I inherited from her.
I also get my artistic and handmade skills from my father who spent his entire life building ceramic stoves for people around my home country of Romania. It would be interesting to know how many stoves he has built; he used to make around 2 per week, depending on the complexity.
Tell me about your art practice–what got you started, what tools or techniques do you use, what makes your work special?
I started experimenting with watercolour and I quickly fell in love with the results. Later, I tried Procreate on my iPad, which gives me more flexibility when I’m not at home or at my desk. I also like to take pictures of different textures, trees, and leaves which I vectorise and use in my patterns. Colours are also an important factor in my workflow, and I often get inspired by them.
I try to have in mind a purpose for my art from the beginning, whether is a wallpaper or fabric, a greeting card or notebook. I’m not sure that my art is unique, but I’d like to think that it is recognisable when is out in the world or at least this is my goal.
How have some of your past jobs led you to where you are now?
Over the past 10 years, I have held a variety of jobs, including cleaning, healthcare assistant, warehouse packer, kitchen designer, and digital art-worker. While some may view my career path as non-traditional, each job has played a significant role in shaping who I am today.
As a cleaner, I learned the value of hard work and attention to detail. Working as a healthcare assistant I learned about the importance of empathy and compassion in providing quality care. In the warehouse, I had the unexpected opportunity to work with high-end fashion brands, which exposed me to beautiful prints and designs, while also developing teamwork and efficiency skills.
As a kitchen designer in a luxury company, I was able to link my creativity and problem-solving skills and learn how to create beautiful and functional spaces for clients. And in my role as a digital art-worker, I honed my technical skills and attention to detail. Although I have held a variety of jobs, each one has contributed to my growth both personally and professionally.
What’s your favorite part about surface design?
Seeing my designs come to life on wallpaper is truly a rewarding experience for me. It brings me joy to see my work transform different rooms and create intimate spaces for those who are using them. Knowing that I have contributed to making someone's home or workspace a more beautiful and comfortable place is what keeps me motivated in my career as a surface designer. Seeing the raw drawing or painting alongside the final design is also an exciting experience.
There are some designs that hold a special place in my heart, they represent the journey of pursuing my dreams. They bring back memories of the hard work, dedication, and motivation that drove me where I’m now and serve as a reminder to keep following my dreams and never give up on my goals.
What draws you to creating wallpaper? What other industries are you drawn to?
Some time ago, I accepted a job offer in marketing at a Tools and Machinery Specialists company, even though it was far from what I had envisioned as my dream job. Although my job in marketing didn't align with my career goals, I refused to give up on my dream of becoming a surface pattern designer, and I continued to search for companies that would license my designs. After a long search, I finally got the chance to join a wallpaper company's design team. It was a dream come true!
Since then, I have been able to fully immerse myself in the world of wallpaper design. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects which helped me improve my skills and build my portfolio. It has been a challenging yet rewarding experience, and I'm grateful for this chance to pursue my dream.
Now I feel incredibly grateful to be able to have a remote creative full-time job and working on my dream.
While my journey to becoming a surface designer wasn't straightforward, I'm proud of the determination and persistence that got me here. I believe that no matter how difficult or bumpy the road to achieving our dreams may seem, we should never give up. The destination is waiting for us, and embarking on an adventure towards it can be incredibly fulfilling.
What do you do to get past fear and just get started?
Fear is a natural part of the creative process, but it doesn't have to hold you back. It can be a great motivator to take action and start working on the project even if it’s just for a few minutes (and I almost always find myself still working hours later even if I’ve begun working with the intention of spending only a few minutes).
I often get overwhelmed about the number of things I want to achieve in a short period of time, however when I try to break the tasks in small and more manageable steps I can focus on each step individually and make my tasks less intimidating. It’s also very important to prioritise what is important.
What advice would you give to artists just starting in surface design?
Find joy in your journey of learning and growing and be fully present in the moment. Don’t rush towards the destination and instead take the time to appreciate each step that is taking to reach your goals and celebrate the progress you've already made. Remember that your journey is unique and valuable, and every experience you have is an opportunity for growth.
Which part of the creative process is your favourite and why?
Creating mock-ups is one of my favourites and a very helpful tool, as it allows me to see my designs in a more tangible way and make any necessary adjustments, such as scale, colour, before finalising the design.
Finish this sentence: Wouldn’t it be cool…
…to find a place in the world for our artwork and to contribute to the story of those who are using our artwork to change their space into something beautiful, refreshing and joyful.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your work?
One of the most important thing and necessary is to take breaks. I’m not good at taking breaks but I’m slowly learning.
Taking breaks during the creative process is crucial for maintaining focus, preventing burnout, and generating new ideas. A short walk, maybe watch a good movie or cook a nice meal.
Gabriela is so humble while having such a vast amount of experience and knowledge to share. I'm grateful she's here with us.
Thank you so much, Gabriela! You can find more of Gabriela's work here: