A Good One to Start With

A Good One to Start With

Saturday, July 4, 2009


A little background...I created my first digital repeating patterns in 1998. My husband Stephen, a freelance illustrator, had received a software package and bundled with it was Specular Texturescape, a program designed for web designers. It was primarily meant to be used for backgrounds and textures for web...lots of little bubbles and weird 3D effects. Knowing I love repeats, he said, "I think you'd like this one"... I got hooked right away and haven't stopped. To date I've created at least 900 pattern designs. It's a sickness. Really.

In Texturescape, you created a shape-- or used one of their basic shapes-- multiplied it, colored it, manipulated the edges, etc. until you got the tile you liked-- then saved it as a tif or jpeg and tiled it in Photoshop
. You were working in a vector format but it only saved to a raster. However, it could be rendered to a chosen size, it just had to be rendered in Texturescape. I created small, medium and large files of each pattern and we started selling them. First we created a double CD of stock images for graphic designers and others. It was called EKKO Digital Patterns, and we sold them online. So proud of our little online store! Yahoo...

This was 1999 so we really were digital image pioneers. Stephen created some amazing 3D illustrated examples of possible uses to help our customers visualize ways to use them. We did not allow anyone to sell them outright, but did allow usage within other design applicati
ons. In other words, you couldn't just print one out on paper and call it giftwrap, but you were welcome to incorporate it into your own design. We sold quite a few and were feeling pretty good about our little entrepreneurial venture. With Stephen's freelance work, my graphic design commission work, EKKO and 2 small children we were busy.

In the fall of 2000 I met a most rem
arkable person who inspired us to shift our focus-- Elizabeth Smith. She had just moved to Texas for family reasons after 9 years in New York, representing some really good surface designers to the retail and manufacturing industries. She was extremely knowledgeable about the business of licensing art, and full of enthusiasm. We hit it off right away, she launched Contact Representation and we partnered up to sell image rights to my patterns for products and packaging.

I named my business Martha Durke Design, segued the website into the new direction and prepared for Surtex in May. All three of us worked night and day to present the work in the booth-- graphics; portfolios; laptop slideshows; handouts; business cards; all of the collateral that goes with a trade show booth. I won't detail the show but in summary it went well. We left with a few sales, a lot of contacts and a lot of lessons learned. And we had a great time doing it. It wasn't cheap, for a fledgling business, but a good start.

That summer, the summer of 2001, we fielded requests and inquiries from all over the country and even a few international ones. We sent out a lot of sample packets, and Elizabeth was hard at work negotiating prices and arrangements with clients like Crate and Barrel, Burnes of Boston and many others. In August we were interviewed for I.D. magazine...there weren't a lot of designers at that time creating repeats, nor were there many working digitally. At Surtex I was, possibly, the only one...? Not many for sure. (It was a little difficult for clients to understand how to use a tiled digital image, so that was an obstacle...)

September 2001, the first week...I.D.Magazines were mailed out, the opening line of the article about us reading, "If you've been searching for the perfect pattern for your next project, Martha Durke is the answer to your prayers." Phone starts ringing. September 11: phone stops ringing, packages returned. That terrible tragedy. We were sick with grief, of course, and didn't really worry about ourselves or the business. It was a devastating event to everyone and especially those with ties to New York. Elizabeth was shocked and sad, we all were. After a couple of weeks of grieving we started talking about the business. We thought we could put it on hold for a couple of months, maybe six months...who knew how things would settle out? What we didn't realize at the time was that it would never really return to the way it was. So very tragic, so much sadness, so much loss.

The companies we were marketing to were so locked into New York, so centered around the industries headquartered there. When business started picking up again there had been a lot of shifts and changes. Globalization, the internet and a proliferation of imagery all contributed to a very different business climate. People wanted imagery to be free, or very cheap...clients were sticking to the known, not gambling on new. I felt lost. All the things that seemed so straightforward had become so confusing, so discouraging. Time to get a day job and sort it out later. That's what I did. Elizabeth did the same (our kids come first, right?) and we are still good friends. I have learned a lot since then. Graphics, business, design, technology, manufacturing, marketing, new skills, new outlook. It all contributes to an artistic life so I'm okay with it, just curious about the next.

I almost forgot...you're probably wondering about Texturescape. It's no longer published. Specular was bought out by MetaCreations, and they are no longer in business. I have to use Classic 9 to run it. I have dreamed of teaming up with someone to publish the next generation of it for designers like me. It should be a simple program, with the option to save files in a vector format. I have to create vector patterns in Illustrator for clients who insist on that and it's slow going. It's also not a fluid, seamless process. Labor intensive and technically challenging.

I promise not to post so long again...this one was a long time coming. Thanks for reading. Write me.

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