Tanya Swanson knew when she was a child that she wanted to be a designer—she spent all her time drawing pictures. In 1998, she graduated from Hennepin Technical College with a degree in graphic design. She took her first job working as a production artist for SICK in Bloomington, MN. (SICK is an international factory automation company.) While at SICK, Tanya was promoted to graphic designer. After spending a few years doing much of the same work, she got bored. She decided to enroll in a continuing studies course at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) to study print and pattern design. Tanya fell head over heels in love with creating illustrations and patterns for retail products like stationery and gift bags. A change in scenery was necessary and she set her goals high: to work at Mara‐Mi, a national stationery design company based in Minneapolis. In December of 2005, just two short months after finishing the class at MCAD, Tanya took a job as product designer at Mara‐Mi. The following year, she was promoted to Art Director for XXOX and Paper Prince brands. In February 2008, she spread her wings and became an entrepreneur by starting AppleSass Studio.
What is your style?
Graphic. But not in a dirty kind of way!! Clean. Whimsical. Fresh.
Describe your work setting.
I work in quite a few settings—in front of the TV in my basement, my home office, the Central Library downtown…I also share an office space with a friend in downtown Minneapolis and enjoy working there in the winter when the skyways are such a perk! I love spaces with big windows in the summer; it’s almost like being outside. And, I am obsessed with iced tea, so I’m drawn to coffee shops like Dunn Bros and the Tea Garden. That is where I spend the majority of my time in the spring and summer. On Fridays, I’m a lazy bones—the first half of my day I grab my laptop and work in bed!
How do you maintain a balance of work/play in your life?
This is tricky. Especially when business is slow, it’s hard to keep on task. I don’t have a lot of structure to my day. Some of the jobs I get don’t give much notice, so I will work nearly 24 hours in a day until I have completely run out of steam. When I get quick turn projects like this I usually just camp out in my basement to save on travel time. On the positive side, the “Friday slide” is non-existent. If I’m done working, my weekend just starts early.
Do you ever have “writers block?” What do you do?
Yes. I go trend shopping. I look for color schemes, graphic treatments and paper formats. I determine what icons are popular. For example, if I’m working on design for girls: are princesses or puppies popular? After trend shopping I go back to work and get a fresh take on my assignment.
Do you have a creative process?
I don’t necessarily have a structured process that I follow. It really depends on what I’m working on. Sometimes I make trend boards. Sometimes I’m given strict parameters to work within. A lot of the time I just sit down and draw right on the computer, other times I sketch by hand first. When I’m designing patterns, I make brainstorming lists to expand my ideas of which icons to include.
What has been inspiring you lately?
Blogs. I start my day by reading a bunch of blogs. Wedding blogs have beautiful photos and make interesting studies in color, theme, stationery and fashion trend. I read the Print and Pattern blog and party planning blogs. I get email updates from Mod Cloth, Fred Flare, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie to stay on top of trends.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I walked away from a job offer at Gartner Studios to start my own studio.
What was one of your favorite assignments?
I really like working on Christmas cards. I think seasonal is one of my strongest categories.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love the flexibility of freelance. I’m doing exactly what I want to do—drawing cute stuff is the best part. And being my own boss.
Money and lack of benefits. I have no start/stop times for work so it can be a challenge to create a work/life balance. The future is always a bit of an unknown.
What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
Spend time with my boyfriend, Brian, and our dog, Ernie. We love to watch Rescue Me and go to the movies, particularly in the winter. We enjoy the farmer’s market and spending time at the lake in the summer. I am a shopper. I love antique shops, flea markets, craft fairs and, of course, clothes. I like to listen to music on vinyl and follow the New Kids on the Block on Twitter.
What is the best moment of the day?
I feel super satisfied when I finish a design. And it is always very exciting to find out that one of my product designs has been picked up by a store.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Lots, depends on my mood. 80’s music is good for a pick‐me‐up. I listen to Christmas music when I’m working on Christmas designs to get into the spirit (usually all summer long!). I love my acoustic playlist “Acoustic Jams” which includes Bob Dylan, The Avett Brothers, Thao Nguyen and Cat Stevens. I’m loving: The Shins, Neko Case, New Kids on the Block and I never get tired of the Wicker Park soundtrack. I like mellow music during the workday and RuPaul and Kanye West for a workout.
Is there any designer or artist you appreciate a lot?
Ann Kelle Designs—Kelle Boyd is everything I want to be…but different. I like her fresh, clean look and awesome color palettes. I enjoy Helen Dardik, she’s unique, bright, cute, weird. I’m crazy inspired by Nate Williams. He creates the most amazing and quirky, hand drawn illustrations and typography. *drool*
What is one thing you couldn’t live without?
My laptop. I’m pretty attached to it. I love Twitter, Facebook, email, blogs, Googling and, of course, Adobe Illustrator!
Can art/design change the world?
It can’t make world peace or anything…but I really don’t think anything can. I do think that design changes the world all the time, little by little. That is what trends are made of!
What is one of the most unexpected things that happened in your life?
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a surface/product designer when I was in college. I never would have imagined that my designs would be applied to products and sold at Target. That’s crazy to me—I love Target!
Do you have any advice for those pursuing a creative endeavor?
Go for it, dude! But don’t copy people. Try to bring something new to the table.
A big thank you to Tanya for being the first person featured in my new monthly series “Interviews with Creative People.” Let’s give Tanya a round of applause for her awesome work! Thanks for sharing with us!
If you or someone you know would like to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Interviews with Creative People,” contact me.