John and I met Charlotte, NC-based Renaissance woman Jill Seale a few years back in Atlanta and were instantly smitten with her stunning designs and big personality. Oh, her marbled textiles!
As we spent more time with Jill, we learned more about her super-impressive background and wanted to share a taste of her myriad adventures.
Plan to visit the Jill Seale Design Studio booth at Market Square M3031 at High Point Market, and be prepared for a true WOW factor!
MADCAP COTTAGE: You have an amazing background in design. Tell us about the Jill Seale Design Studio trajectory.
JILL SEALE: Quick snapshot: Graphic design to product design/licensing to textile design.
Longer story: It’s been an unpredictable—albeit great—ride. I studied graphic design in college (thanks to an ‘F’ in Chem 4, which dashed my pre-med dreams). My first job was in the design department of Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C. Nothing squelches creativity faster than working at a stodgy, 150-year-old financial institution. I gathered freelance clients and left as fast as my legs could carry me. One of my clients hired me to be their art department serving PR, marketing, advertising, and events. Outside ‘events work’ kept knocking, and I went back to running my own business doing a lot of event design. On a whim, I began hand-painting designs onto linen guest towels which grew into a business—and grew larger than I had intended with orders coming in from around the country. I followed that trail and began licensing my art to manufacturers which resulted in products in gift, home, entertaining ware, and greeting cards being sold around the globe.
MC: Tell us more about those high-profile Washington, D.C. events that you worked on.
JS: Some wonderful and influential people who appreciated my out-of-the-box creativity took me under their wings and plugged me into the high-octane Washington social and fundraising scene. I worked with event designers creating themes and executing them visually with everything from decor to printed materials (and even custom desserts!). My client list included the White House, the Kennedy Center, and Georgetown University—specifically the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, an event that raises close to a million dollars annually. This is where my pre-med foible payed off—I can use my talents to help raise millions of dollars for researchers who bothered to study Chem 4 in college! On a serious note, this is what makes my work meaningful to me, that I can use my powers for good. Sometimes it’s helping the cause for a cure, sometimes it’s sweetening the ride of life. I always want to do things that are uplifting.
MC: You have created an amazing product over the years. What are some Jill Seale Design Studio product designs that especially stand out for you?
JS: The first was not a product but rather a logo design for a national memorial, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. I am most proud and honored to be a part of that important memorial.
On a lighter note, my Nun for the Road line took off like nobody’s business with an enthusiastic audience—including nuns! Think Sister Mary Martini, Sister Mary Merlot, Sister Mary Menopause, and the entire convent. The collection has had 20 years of staying power and has been on everything from a Nun-a-Day desk calendar, to door mats, cocktail ware, bridge cards, Louie Awards-winning greeting cards, and kitchen products. The kicker is that I am a Jewish girl from West Virginia who grew up around the corner from a convent. Go figure.
MC: What was the segue from product design to textiles?
JS: Thanks to my genetics (my mom studied textile design), I was always designing textiles on the side. It wasn’t until I landed on my love of marbling—actually trying marbling on a trip to Florence, Italy, when it clicked. It was then that I felt I found my original voice and was finally compelled to launch my own line starting with the marbling process.
MC: How did you become smitten with marbling? And marbling is centuries old, how are you making it feel fresh?
JS: You are what you eat… off of! My mom’s china pattern was a stunning creamy turquoise with silver marbled through it designed by a 1950s-era designer. I fell ‘under the spell’ as a child, and I have always collected the gorgeous marbled papers. In Florence, I toured artisan studios of all kinds still owned by the original generations-old families—from ceramics and mosaics to leather and marbling. In every single case the youngest generation took their time-honored craft and gave it a contemporary approach. This liberated me to explore my own creative conversation with the ancient process. While marbling is still done with exactly the same method, what makes it fresh and relevant is all in the exploration. Think colors, motions, tools, and allowing the element of chance to have a voice—and being present with the process to identify and isolate what makes an interesting design. I’m a bit of a mad-scientist in the tray. Another important element is the combination of an ancient art form with today’s technology, allowing it to go where it couldn’t go before. I have carried marbling to rugs, furniture, wall coverings, paper party ware, and a couture gown I collaborated on for the runways of Paris.
MC: Why such a passion for Florence, Italy?
JS: My soul lives in Florence, and I like to be in the same place as my soul now and then. I like to go for at least a month so I can take additional training in marbling or gilding or another old-world craft. It’s an entirely different experience to live in a place with time to dig below the ‘must-see’ tourist requirements. It’s highly meditative for me. I am a wanderer and explorer and incessant picture taker. I roam the streets of the Oltrarno neighborhood and peer in the windows of the artisan ateliers. I scale the stone steps to the San Miniato al Monte at dusk with the church bells vibrating my chest to hear the monks chant. I have conversations with cheesemakers, flea market vendors, artisans, flirty waiters, and the painter who adopted a pigeon that lives in his studio. I hear good friends drawing out the word ‘ciaoooo’ when they say goodbye. I reflect as I watch the sunset over the river on a rooftop bar on the Arno. Mostly, I have a silent love affair with the city and hear what it tells me without words. It says, ‘Slow down, and absorb me to take back with you until next time.’ Florence reminds me by its actions to take the time necessary for good art and products to be created—do not force it for commerce but rather put your soul into it and that will be recognized and valued. The city reminds me the Renaissance hasn’t left and that we are always exploring our relationship to the world through our craft and thoughts. What inspires me in Florence? In a word, ‘soul,’ and that’s evident in every inch of the city.
MC: Are you creating additional fabric designs that aren’t marbled to ‘round out’ the experience and create a work-with Jill Seale Design Studio program?
JS: YES! Marbling was my prompt to launch, and I have an arsenal of non-marbled designs and ideas I’ve gathered from my world travels that are finding their way onto fabrics. Marbling has become almost a ‘floral’ or ‘animal print’ as an organic accent. This High Point Market I will be showing collections of colors with a variety of designs—from graphic to hand-illustrated and painted, along with marbling—all designed to work together. This will continually expand and evolve.
MC: Your business has really exploded in the past few years. What was your goal when you moved into the textile space.
JS: I will hit the two-year mark with this coming High Point Market. Umm… goal… That’s probably a good thing to think about when completely changing careers. I was solely driven by passion. My original goal was to land on the scene, put it out there in full force and see if people felt the same way I did, and let it tell me where it wanted to go. So far, this journey has led to work with respected designers and furniture and rug companies. I am able to take their color palettes and create something custom and exclusive which is appealing. My work has received eight TrendWatch awards coming into my fifth Market. I am very fortunate to have met kindred spirits who resonate with my artistry and have helped me engage with this new-for-me industry. They have been great ambassadors and clients. Among them, Lisa Mende, Jane Dagmi, Gary Inman, Jana Platina Phipps, Shayla Copas, Natalie Reddell, the wonderful folks of Wesley Hall Furniture and Company C, and, of course, you and John at Madcap Cottage!
MC: We love your new cover on Designers Today, how did that come about?
JS: Thank you! Designers Today Editor in Chief Jane Dagmi has an unassuming way of climbing into your right brain and getting you to blather. She and I got on the subject of collecting as a launch point for designing. Things or places I love and want or have been obsessing about for a while… Architecture and woodcarvings or nature… I collect photos to visually deconstruct, and they end up working their way into my art… We fell into one of those instant deep conversations that I suspect Jane is good at igniting, and she thought of me for cover of the collecting issue.
MC: What’s next for the Jill Seale Design Studio brand?
JS: Always evolving! I will hone my product offerings and grow my licensing and design partnerships within this industry and others. I love collaboration and the magic that comes from bringing the best of talents together to create something original. Bedding and outdoor are on the near horizon. Stay tuned! And see you at High Point Market.