Beth Schneider, Nuu-Muu's first Design Contest winner, talks about how rejection led her to ditch her day job and find the creative work she loves.
Beth Schneider sees beauty everywhere: bridges, buildings, and her backyard fence. A mother of two who owns her own business and works from home, she just celebrated 10 years in surface pattern design. Her patterns show up on linens and lampshades, wallpaper and water bottles, on calendars, cards, and chairs. Her fresh, fun, modern designs are featured on products at Anthropologie, Hobby Lobby, Minted, and PartyCity. No wonder Nuu-Muu's in-house designer, Enid Wilson, was drawn to Beth's design. “It had nice movement to it while still being geometric, still having a regular pattern.” Beth's Puzzle pattern, inspired by Chicago architecture, won the first-ever Design Contest Nuu-Muu. She talked to us from her home studio in Illinois.
You have so many beautiful designs. What inspires you?
I have an architecture background, so many times I'm looking at structures and buildings, fences. Like right now I'm staring out at my backyard and there's lattice underneath my deck. So simple, but it creates a cool pattern! I like to look at things a little differently and see the patterns in everyday life.
I live in Chicago and there's so much great architecture here! I always snap pictures when I head into the city. Puzzle was inspired by Navy Pier in Chicago. One day I was down there and saw a really cool staircase and railing where the shadows created a neat pattern so I snapped some pictures. Puzzle originated from a pattern that was created from the windows in this brick turret – a round, tall extension to a building. I remember coming home and sketching out that pattern, and that's where it all started.
I also get inspiration from reading magazines. If I see something I like, I rip out the page and put it in a folder. When I'm ready to create something new, that's where I go. If there's something that I saw that I just can't get out of my head, I'll go to that first. Sometimes it's the shape of an object – it could be anything – or a lot of times there's a texture like embroidery or layers of fabric that create an interesting pattern.
So you had the pattern on file, or you designed it with the dress in mind?
I already had it but I pulled it out when I went to work on the dress. It seemed like a good fit.
A peek inside Beth's studio. Working from home made beautiful!
You've designed for so many products, but designing women's clothing is a different direction for you. How do you like it?
I think it's fun! It's a different way of looking at things. I do so much in the home décor and stationery sector. Apparel is a whole different ball game. The scale of the patterns is quite different, and you've got a wide array of sizes that you're working with – everything from extra small to plus-size clothes. So you have to take that into account. It's very trendy in a seasonal way. As soon as you design something, it's time for something new! I tried to submit a classic pattern that would last a while.
Is it difficult to let your designs go?
Sometimes. It depends on which ones they are. If one is a true labor of love that took me forever and ever, sometimes that's tough. But usually, not really. I have so many designs and I always want to do so much more than I'm able to. I really don't get too attached to my designs.
What was the moment that made you take the leap from working a desk job in architecture to focusing on your own art?
Honestly, it was rejection. I'd had my first child, my son, and I was planning on working part time through a temp agency that hired out graphic designers. I was thinking, “This will be perfect! I can work part time and take care of my son.” It just didn't work out. Nobody was hiring part-time designers. It was full-time or nothing. I was forced into creating something for myself. I started designing invitations for family and friends and I really enjoyed it so I got this idea, “Well, I could do this on my own.” I started a stationery company. And that's where it all began.
What has surprised you about focusing on your art?
The most surprising thing is just that it's HARD. It's not as easy as it sounds. Everybody thinks, “Oh, freelance is the best of both worlds, it's so great!” It's HARD. You're fighting for work every single day. You're probably working much harder than a normal 9 to 5 job. You're constantly thinking about it, constantly working at it. When you take a vacation there's nobody to fill in while you're gone. As much as you can try to be organized and take time off, work is still in the back of your mind. The reason it works, though, is this sense that it's not work if you love what you do. It sounds cheesy, but that's honestly how I feel about my job.
I'm curious about your work and your family, but I hesitate to ask the question. I feel like male artists don't get questions about balancing life with kids!
You're so right!
And yet, it's something that we as women are interested in. Obviously having kids and the life changes that came with that catapulted you into working from home and doing what you love. Can you talk about being a mom and an artist, running a woman-owned business?
There's no better time to be a woman entrepreneur than right now. All of a sudden there have been so many accolades for all of these women who are doing their own thing. I think it's really important for my kids to see that. When we go and see my products on the shelves – “Mom's got her work at PartyCity!” – they get just as excited as I do. Bringing them with me to experience all that is really powerful. It's important for them to see that Mom has a job outside of them. It's a cool time in the world to be a woman and be an entrepreneur, and just celebrate that. There are so many women doing the same thing. It's inspiring.
Any tips for combatting your inner critic?
I'm no different than anyone else. I'm just as harsh on myself as anyone else. Maybe more so. To get out of it, you just have to keep working. Keep designing, keep doing things. If I'm stuck on something, if it didn't turn out how I wanted it to, I just have to move on and create something new. Plenty of times I've had to scrap what I did and start all over and it's so frustrating. But in the end, not everything's going to work the first time you do it. I just put that painting at the bottom of the pile so I don't have to look at it every day, and I just move on. In fact, I'm staring at one right now, thinking, "I have to move that! That did NOT work!"
A design that didn't need to be hidden at the bottom of the pile.
I know you’ve designed patterns for all sorts of things. If you were to have a party with Puzzle as the star, which of your other products would you feature in the event?
How fun, good question! Let's see . . . to coordinate with Puzzle, everything will have to have some shade of blue in it. I would decorate the house with any of the products from my Garden of Blue line. They range from tablecloths to blankets, throw pillows, and more. I’d welcome my guests with my Joyful Scandi doormat , and for a pop of color I’d add in my Living Coral tableware. After the party, I'm heading off on vacation (my Nuu-Muu is the ultimate travel dress), so I'll need this Shark Attack luggage tag – there should always be room for laughter!
Shark attack! And now, a deeply personal question: What is your chocolate routine?
Ha! I keep a bag of Dove dark chocolate, the little squares, in the fridge. There just happens to be a refrigerator in my office. I go in and grab one after lunch. One square is just enough to be good for you and satisfy that craving.
Very good for you, yes. Okay, one final question: What tips do you have for women who want to work from home, who want to do what they love for work?
I can sum it up in one word: Persistence. It's not an overnight success story. I've been on my own now for ten years. It just takes a while. You have to keep going. There are days that you'll get down and decide that you want to go back to work full time but in the end, you just have to keep going. Draw every day. Create something every day. Have patience.
How about you, readers? Do you use your creativity to make a living? Do you wish you could? Tell us what you think!
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