Anna Maria Horner’s career in design started as a clothing designer and has slowly worked itself into designing just about everything else. She’s partnered with more than two dozen manufacturers to design homewares, gift items, textiles, authoring three sewing books, and publishing a continuing collection of sewing and needlework patterns. As of 2014 Anna Maria is also the founder and proprietor of Nashville’s Craft South.

Website: Anna Maria Horner

What do you do and how did you start?
I am an artist and designer working in the gift, home and textile industries. My first line of work was for my own clothing label, Handmaiden, which I started a few months after I earned a fine arts degree in drawing. These days I design related collections of art which manufacturers translate into everything from ceramic tabletop items and table linens to greetings and quilting fabrics.

How old were you when you realised you wanted to do and how old were you when you actually began?

It wasn’t quite a single lightbulb moment that I can remember. I guess as soon as I realized at a young age that being an artist was an occupation option, that pretty much became the plan. I can’t remember not drawing or doing something that involved putting together materials of some sort. I learned to thread a needle at around 5 years old and immediately embarked on trying to make a patchwork quilt for my doll. My mom had this old red, white, and blue trunk stuffed with fabric. It was a dream world. I waited till some pieces got small enough then asked if I could have them. Our house was also full of my dad’s own paintings, so I always knew what was possible.

What steps did you take to create your own business?
I started my current design studio about 4 or 5 years ago, slowly at first. I started contacting different companies that I had interest in designing for to see if they worked with independent designers. From there I started building a list of clients through small two or three item projects. I have built my list of companies to around 20 and I update them regularly with new artwork to see if there are projects we can work on together. These days my collections range from just a few pieces to 50 items or so in one collection. I exhibit at Surtex in New York every year which is a trade show that gives surface and textile designers a chance to display their designs to manufacturers who make every type of product imaginable. I also made a website mostly catered to my clients or potential clients for them to see a sample portfolio and bio. I recntly started a blog, for myself mostly, to put all that I do in one spot, in a fun and open way. I get alot of interest and feedback there from both creatives out there doing similar work or from companies or publishers interested in working with me.

What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I have a fine arts degree in drawing….as to how much that helps me on a daily basis, I don’t know. I owned and operated my own clothing line for 5 years, both retail and wholesale. That taught me alot about the structure of merchandise and how it gets from a concept in my sketch book to the store shelf and everything in between. Developing product for companies is a very steep learning curve and mostly I’ve asked alot of questions and absorbed all I can about the process. Honestly just shopping helps me understand what I do and who I am designing for. I can thank my mom for letting me at her sewing machine at a very young age. The fine art degree really gave me a place to develop my aesthetic sensibilities, which of course I am constantly tapping. I’m hardly painting everyday, but it was very important for me to accomplish something there, in the fine art arena. Which is why I still like to show in galleries on occasion

How did you first begin to sell/market your work?
By making cold calls to art directors and sending out emails to every company that I thought would look at my portfolio. Attending different tradeshows where products are sold to retailers is a huge thing too, just to see whats out there.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? The most frustrating?
Seeing my name on product is a thrill. People taking the time to contact me and let me know how much they are enjoying either sewing with my fabrics or wiping their mouths with my cocktails napkins…that’s really fun.

My frustrations are usually organizing all my creative thoughts into the most effective output of concepts. I am never at a loss for ideas about art or design, I’m just not always sure that I am thinking everything through enough, or seeing it from every angle in a way that helps me see the full potential of each idea.

For instance, if I’m working on a new collection of florals for fabrics what if it doesn’t occur to me until later on that I could be showing those same ideas to a wallpaper company, or a stationery company. I always show my work as much as I can to as many people as I can, but soimetimes having to do that interrupts my flow of just creating. I sometimes have a nagging feeling that everything I’m working on could have a deeper reach somehow. I am always striving for optimal yield from my time and efforts. I tend to overwhelm myself sometimes and need to appreciate the now and what I’ve gotten accomplished already.

Do you have any fears about what you do, and if so, how do you deal with them?
I guess I worry about maintaining all the tasks of my work on my own. I fear that hiring help means losing control, therefore not getting my creativity out the exact way I want to.

How do you deal with creative blocks?
It’s rare that I have them, usually I have time blocks and can’t get to all that I have the interest in doing. I do sometimes feel a little limp in the brain though. I usually just get away from the studio a bit, walk, fold laundry, do something mindless but busy.

What has been your biggest struggle(s)/challenge(s) with your creative career?
Focus. There are too many options.

What kind of work environment do you have? 
We’ve converted the recreation room in our house into my home studio. It’s a nice large space, about 500 square feet, and 3 big windows. Its right next to our bedroom (which is really the guest room in this house) and also next to the laundry room and kitchen. So I flit back a forth from studio work, to cooking, to laundry to caring for my 5 kids. I have a place in the studio for just about everything my work requires.. a computer table for developing my artwork, emailing and blogging, a drafting table for painting and drawing, a ten foot long handmade tack wall for inspirational scraps of different sorts, a decoupage work table that holds up a huge shelf of fabrics arranged by color, a sewing table with shelves of trims and baubles at the back, a handpainted “think” table and chairs in the center of the room for planning, product shelves that feature all my past collections set up like a gift store, and a bed (!) where the kids can lay down a read or play while I work….often its holding piles upoin piles of laundry too.

Have you encountered any financial obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
My actual work doesn’t require a huge amount of money outside of art supplies and software. In fact, I swing software and tech work completely free thanks to my loving and wonderful programmer husband. Exhibiting in tradeshows is not cheap, and promotional materials, and printing portfolios is pricey too. So far its really been a matter of careful planning and being willing to do without the fancier stuff for a while, when expenses start piling up. It’s been important to me to not make a gigantic investment, due to having done that with a retail space for my clothing line for a few years. It can really bite you in the rear! Most of my work is risk free by just designing for the companies and not actually investing in the production side of the product. This all could change of course as I plan to publish my own line of sewing patterns.

What is your definition of success?
Earning enough money and appreciation to make it worth the time not spent with my kids. I do find alot of value though in them seeing their mom seeking out her own goals. The balance is not easy, but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was a healthy thing for my family

Who or what are your inspirations? 
Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Matisse, my grandmothers Eleni and Anna, Oilily clothing, Esprit clothing from the 80′s, folk art, Pucci, Prada, Duy Hyunh’s paintings.

Words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I would urge anyone to not worry about what you may consider wasted time with an endeavor that doesn’t have a guaranteed success. If it interests you and you think you have something new to bring to a given craft or industry, do what you have to do to at least dabble in it. It will only help you focus in the end on what works. Sometimes the most off-the-wall endeavors or projects will in time bring you to what you were meant for and may not have been obvious to you in the beginning.

Do you know any helpful/inspirational books, websites, organisations etc.
No, not so much, sorry! I am always so short on time, that I seldom have the chance to read or browse much online or elsewhere. I find inspiration in simple and varied things like the tempo of conversation and laughing, people’s behaviour, my flower garden, true fashion design- not the hype. It’s mostly what I make of anything from within, and not so much external things.


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