Artist and print designer Kelly Anna’s colourful, abstract figures are full of energy. She’s known for creating prints for footwear, sportswear and clothing, and everyone from Beyoncé and Cara Delevingne to Foals and London Grammar have been spotted sporting her work. 

Recently she’s branched out into murals, and it’s this skill she’ll be showing off later this month at Us By Night – a nocturnal design festival that combines inspirational talks, insight-filled tutorials, a tempting night market and plenty of super-cool extras (find out more in our post here). 

We caught up with her ahead of the event to hear her tips for making it in the world of fashion print design.

01. Make it work

Working under pressure to hard print deadlines can help you produce your best work

When Anna first started in the industry, she didn’t know how to use Illustrator CC. She’s proof that with talent, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, a lack of formal skills doesn’t always matter. “If you want something, just make it happen. Chuck yourself in, start learning,” she says. 

When there are factory deadlines to work to there’s no time to mess up, but throwing yourself into things when under pressure can actually sometimes be beneficial; you can find a fresh approach. “When you haven’t been taught how to ‘create a textile print’ there are no rules you are abiding to,” she adds. “It’s so much more fun. I created my own set of rules.”

02. Find the message behind the design 

slam dunk the junk print design

Anna’s not afraid of using words in her designs

While a fashion print needs to link to a collection, it’s not just about making things gel stylistically. For a long time, fashion has been used to make a statement, and Anna likes to use hers to address political or social issues. She’s also not afraid of using words within a design to pull things together. 

“When you wear a T-shirt that represents how you feel about a certain situation or political view that you stand for, you feel a part of something,” she explains. “That’s nice.” 

03. Explore traditional methods

Anna works digitally, but hasn’t turned her back on traditional methods. As well as the mural painting skills she’ll demonstrate at Us By Night, she also has a soft spot for paper collage. 

“Paper collage is where I have the most fun. It offers a sense of freedom,” she says. “You can move the graphic blocks around and create different pieces until it feels right. Then just stick it down. I work digitally so much that it’s nice to have this naive playfulness.”

Traditional techniques can also help free you from the pressures of creating something ‘perfect’. Even when working on digital projects, Anna likes to get herself into the rhythm by sketching in pen first. “The reason I use a pen is so I’m not too scared of making wrong marks,” she says. “If I fuck up there is nothing I can do about it, so it frees me up.”

04. Focus on print first, not garment

drawing of a trainer

Anna works with both digital and traditional methods

Anna creates prints for footwear, sportswear and apparel. When designing a print, she says, the instinct is to focus on the item of clothing it’s going to end up on – but really, it’s the print itself you should be thinking about. 

“I don’t think any piece of clothing is necessarily challenging to design for, it’s more about composition and execution of the artwork,” she explains. “So many people get this wrong, especially a lot of ‘textile’ designers.” 

05. Respect the power of passion projects

Although for many, designing prints for fashion brands sounds like a dream job, with any client (no matter how cool) there will be compromises and restrictions. Passion projects are where Anna feels she can truly express herself – and in turn they can feed into your paid work.

“These projects are the ones that truly help me understand who I am as a creative, and that is only good for everyone else,” she explains. “If you are creating work that you truly feel passionate about, you will naturally get work from that. Good brands will follow and pick up on authenticity.”

06. Try something different

Anna painting a mural

Anna created her first seven murals this year

Before 2018, Anna hadn’t done any murals. The one at Us By Night will be her eighth this year. She’s seen a photo of where she’ll be painting, and will base her design on the kind of atmosphere she feels the space has. Murals offer Anna a chance to explore something totally different from her print work. “I absolutely love changing up spaces and seeing my work on that scale,” she says. 

Us By Night takes place in Antwerp on 22-24 November. Buy your ticket here, or check out the incredible speaker lineup below.

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