Harmony Susalla is one of the most honest designers in the organic fabric community. She is true to herself and to her work, and she is dedicated to bringing good organic fabric to those who need and appreciate it. All of this is reflected in the quality of her fabric and design.
Harmony Art Organic Design, her organic fabric company, was listed as one of the top companies in both of our articles on organic fabric. The first, in the Spring 2009 Issue, written by Tara Boyd and Winnie Culp of Nearsea Naturals, as well as the current Summer 2011 issue, with our Organic Cotton Fabric Resources by Fiona Duthie, which includes a Selection Criteria section by Tara Boyd and Winnie Culp.
Here is an interview so our readers can get to know her better:
When did you start doing handwork?
It’s funny, but I am not sure where or when my crafty/arty side started to develop. I always loved to color and draw and create things. My earliest memories of doing art are from when I was a child and would go to work with my father. He worked at the Space Science Lab at U.C. Berkeley as an engineer designing layouts for circuit boards and such. He would set me up on his tall stool with paper and lots of colored pens and pencils. I would spend hours drawing and coloring while he worked.
At summer camp, I always picked the arts and crafts projects. I remember making cards for friends and family in third or fourth grade and signing the back of each one with “Harmony Art” and a copyright symbol …like I saw on Hallmark cards. So, it was the very young me who named my company. No one in my immediate family is particularly artistic or crafts oriented. The only art my mother ever created was the result of a painting class she took when she was pregnant with me.
I like to think that seeing those paintings and knowing she created them had something to do with my own artistic bent. This painting of hers hangs in my home/studio (she painted a grand total of three paintings in that art class in 1968). I cherish it.
I did have a wonderful art teacher in high school who was very influential in supporting my own creative spark. Her name was Mrs. Hermann. She was a gem.
What were your interests when you started making things and how did you stumble upon fabric design?
For years, I made a lot of cards, particularly collages for Valentine’s Day. I spent a few years making beads out of FIMO clay and selling necklaces and earrings at Grateful Dead shows. I took art classes and did a bit of batik and tie-dye too. I worked at an after-school child-care program and dreamed up lots of art projects during that time of my life. I stumbled upon fabric design back in 1997 in a chance conversation with a second cousin. Here’s a link to the longer version of how Harmony Art Organic Design came to be: http://www.harmonyart.com/about/history.html
Can you share your story of how Harmony Art started and any advice you have for others who want to have their own textile business?
I guess my advice would be to start with a question: Why do you want to design textiles? If the answer is about seeing your own artwork on fabric, I would refer you to one of the ever-growing providers of digital printing services, such as Spoonflower, KarmaKraft, and AdaptiveTextiles just to name a few. The prices aren’t cheap, but the initial investment is manageable, and you can make that dream a reality with very inexpensive start-up costs.
If your reason for designing textiles is that you want to make money, well, that’s a different story altogether. Honestly, the easiest way to make money is to work for someone else. To start your own business takes a lot of cash, and the more successful you are the more money you will need to keep pouring into the company to keep up with demand. Having no business background, this was a very rude awakening for me. With the explosion of Etsy and digital printing, you can get your feet wet at a much more reasonable cost, but to produce a line of fabric that can compete price-wise with the big fabric houses is no easy, or cheap, task.
Working for another company designing textiles (which I did for five years) is a great way to get experience and have a steady stream of income. However, when designing for someone else, it is best to let go of your artistic ego and attachment. It really doesn’t matter what you like, as you are tasked to design what the client wants. I know many designers who struggle with designing to another’s tastes. To be successful and happy in the textile design industry while working for someone else, I would provide this advice (collectively gleaned from my time at the California School of Professional Fabric Design): Get over your “self.”
Where do you get your inspirations for your design?
Nature, nature, nature, nature, nature. If you go to Harmonyart.com and click on an individual design, such as Morning Dew, on the left you can read description of how I was inspired to create that particular print. Here’s a photo of dew drops hanging in a spider web, which inspired the Morning Dew print.
Do you teach fabric design or other design?
I don’t teach fabric or any other design, but I do have some interest in doing so. I have often imagined a one-week course of hiking, sketching, designing. Of course the program would also include dining on organic meals. Anyone interested? Contact me!
Can you tell us anything about your personal life?
Harmony Art is so woven into my personal life, it is often hard to know where one stops and the other begins. I make it a point to go hiking at least twice a week. An ideal week provides me at least five days of getting out there and looking for inspiration, but realistically, I am lucky if I get my standard two, with one extra hike to watch the sun set. I am lucky to live 2.2 miles (straight downhill) from a sweet Pacific Ocean beach. I will often run out the door to “catch the sunset” and hope to catch a ride back up the hill from my husband.
I find that being outside, surrounded by nature, keeps me sane and refills my artistic well. So, although I do it for “fun and fitness,” I also consider it time spent working, as I am always on the lookout for patterns or pattern ideas from nature. Having lived in the same rural environment for almost 10 years, I have come to appreciate the small changes that happen throughout each season.
Besides your web site, where can our readers find your products?
One of the great perks of Harmony Art has been getting to meet and work with so many wonderful people. I truly believe that I have the best customers in the world!
Here’s a link to the retailers who sell my fabrics
And here’s a link to some of the companies who use my fabrics in their product lines: http://www.harmonyart.com/products/index.html
Facebook Fan Page.
One thing that makes me a bit crazy is the single-use-plastic-bag phenomenon. Did you know that the average single-use plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes, and only one percent is ever recycled? Each year, people the world over use a total of 500 billion to one trillion single-use plastic bags. In fact, in the U.S., it is estimated that every five seconds 60,000 of these bags are used! Plastic bags break down into small, highly toxic chemical particles, which end up floating in our ocean water. These tiny particles are eaten by sea animals, and thus enter our food chain, which then threatens our health. Birds, fish, turtles and other animals consume larger pieces of these bags, as the plastic can be indistinguishable from other sources of food. Unable to digest these items, the creatures’ stomachs become bloated, often causing death by starvation, as plastic contains no nutrients and blocks passage of any other food that does.
In an effort to assist you in quitting the single-use-plastic-bag addiction and help you transition to fabric bags, we will be giving away three organic cotton (Harmony Art fabric) Green Bag Lady reusable bags. The Green Bag Lady began as an eco-friendly art project in 2008, the brainchild of artist Teresa VanHatten-Granath. Teresa and her team of volunteer “Bagettes” sew reusable bags created out of donated fabric and give them away in exchange for a promise to refuse paper and plastic when shopping. The use of these bags worldwide is documented on her web site www.greenbaglady.org. She also has step-by-step tutorials, patterns, and a video on how to make your own fabric shopping bag.
Please enter comments on this post by Sunday, August 21st midnight pacific time, and a winner will be drawn at random. In addition, you will receive some of the fabric sent to us for our article’s photo shoot (shown above), which includes one yard of Ten Flowers, 1/4-yard of Morning Dew, and 1/4-yard of Thirty Nine, all at 110″ wide, making this giveaway valued at least $90. Good luck!
We have a winner!
Noelle Submitted on 2011/08/20 at 3:36 pm
“This is so inspiring! I love all the designs and her method of working! I would LOVE to win this giveaway and show all sewing buddies her fabulous work!