I hope you are as excited about this Q&A as I am! I’m sure you remember that Laura Hankins was recently chosen as the collection winner in our Happily Ever After Wedding Challenge–a huge honor! She is also a military wife posted with her husband James in Kapolei, Hawaii and we’re lucky to get to know this rising star a little better today!
At age nine, you wanted to be?
Probably a fashion designer or a marine biologist–tough call.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
The first time I realized I had some actual artistic talent came in sixth grade when I went to an week long summer art camp at Western Illinois University. Until then I knew that I could draw nice bubble letters and finish well in coloring contests. At camp we dabbled in a little bit of everything, but it was the first time I was in a real art class setting, and I loved it. When it came time to choose a career path I knew it had to be something in a creative field, I couldn’t imagine doing anything that wasn’t.
What was the first thing you designed?
Our local newspaper had a really cool feature every year where they had students design ads for the local businesses, who would then choose their favorite and run them in a special edition of the paper. They would give you the info you had to use in the ad and you could trace their logos, it was a lot of fun (at least I thought so!)
Wow. How cool is that?! I wish some companies would start doing that today. Do you have any formal design training?
I have a BFA in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois…. Senior year of high school I applied and was accepted to both the School for the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. On one hand, graduating from a class of just 32 students, in a small town in central Illinois had Chicago sounding incredible. On the other hand, as odd as it sounds, there was something to be said about a big university with a quad and a football team. I wanted a more balanced experience–I love art and design, but I also love history and literature classes. U of I it was.
The School of Art + Design at Illinois requires a year-long foundations curriculum of drawing, design, and art history before applying for your major. There was a weekly class that first semester where a department chair from each program would come and tell you about their field of work and what was involved in that particular major. I had never really heard of industrial design until the professor gave his presentation, but I thought it sounded incredibly interesting–I loved the problem solving aspect of it. So, rather than Graphic Design, which was my initial plan, I chose ID.
How did you get into stationery design?
After graduation I worked for a year and a half as a product designer. My projects were mainly housewares, gift items, and storage/organization products. It was a great first job, and the design team was an amazing, talented group of people that I still miss dearly. It was while working there that I really got to know Illustrator, and where I discovered surface pattern and stationery design- and how much I enjoyed them both.
My first real project was designing our wedding invitations.
Ooooh… What was it like?
While I still like it, it was the first paper product I designed, and I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing! It was letterpress on a very tight budget but I managed to find someone to do it. Dover Clipart and free fonts (that may have even come with the computer- eek). Needless to say, it would be so entirely different if I were to design it again today!
And now that we have the important things out of the way (namely the stationery) how was the actual wedding?
My husband and I were married in June of 2008, and shortly thereafter I left Design Ideas to move with him to Missouri while he attended a three-month training course. On January 4th of 2009 we were on a plane (with an obscene amount of luggage) headed to our new home in Hawaii.
(Sidenote: is there anything cooler than a sword tunnel!? I think not.)
Since we made the move to Hawaii, my focus has been on freelance work and specifically learning and growing as a graphic designer and illustrator. I worked for a photographer for a while, designing her cards and marketing. This past summer I interned for Gia Graham at BetsyWhite Stationery–whose first intern was also a Mintie, Erin of SimpleTe design. I learned a lot from the internship, Gia’s experience and insight were invaluable. I was thrilled when she asked me to stay on as a regular blog contributer for Flights of Fancy- I’m the current color palette guru.
In 2011 I’m looking forward to working on my wedding invitation collection for Minted, launching my storefront, and really building up my design business.
How would you describe your style?
I’m not sure that I’ve found my exact style yet. I know that it definitely leans towards feminine and somewhat delicate more so than modern or sharp. It’s heavy on illustration and pattern and pretty light/simple with typography as I work to find my comfort zone. In school my work was very curvy, fluid and organic which I think has stuck with me in the transition from three dimensional objects to illustration and design on paper.
What is your normal workflow or process like?
I tend to begin with a visual in my mind and sometimes a thumbnail sketch on paper. Almost all of the real work is done in Illustrator- that’s when the design fleshes out.
How many iterations does it take for a design to become final?
If I have a pretty solid concept in mind then I’ll work on the same iteration until I get it just right. Bougainvillea, Quilted and Winged Specimen were all like this- I knew almost exactly what I was looking for I just needed to make it happen. Other designs, like Lemon Lace or Folk Floral, I begin playing with the elements and branch off in four or five directions until I find something I like. I’m trying to make myself work more from sketches and solid concepts- I think that’s when I do my best work, versus playing around blindly until something good happens.
What tools, techniques, and mindsets do you find absolutely essential?
I definitely put things down and come back to them if I get to a point where the design just isn’t progressing. With Lemon Lace for example, I started that pattern, got stuck, put it down for a good year or so, and then revisited it- I love where it ended up.
Do you have a favorite font?
I find myself using Matilde and Estilo the most lately, but I can’t say I have a real favorite.
If you were to paint your walls right now, what color would you spring for?
Oh to be able to paint- I dream of that day! (We’re renters and will be until at least our next duty station- sigh.) Anyway, to answer the question: golden yellow has me obsessed right now. I can’t get enough, so warm and happy- I love it.
Pigma Microns, have loved them since we first used them in school
More of a loose leaf paper girl for sketching. Otherwise any little lined notebook for lists- I’m a major list-maker.
Favorite design tool?
Tell us about one of your favorite cards offered for sale on Minted and how you came up with the design.
Warm Spirit is one of my favorites- and it was such a last minute, pulled out of nowhere design. I wanted to squeeze in an entry for the Coming of Age Challenge but hadn’t gotten anywhere with a sweet sixteen design I’d been trying out. So, I ditched that one and decided to give confirmation a shot–I felt comfortable with the symbolism and celebration of the event, having been confirmed in the Catholic church. The first thing that came together was the orange/pink texture, and then I actually ended up working backwards on this one–adding white shapes until only bits of the warm texture were showing through. I thought I’d try for a more bold, graphic design than I usually do–but it evolved into a fairly simple and delicate cross.
I just have to ask about Quilted… this is mostly a personal question because I am OBSESSED with it. My grandmother gave me a quilt on my wedding day that her grandmother gave her and it looks exactly like this! I love it. How did you get the idea and how did you put it all together?
I’m so flattered by this! This idea was one I’d had in my head for months. I’ve always been interested in fashion, fabric, sewing… all things textile related, really. My mom has always sewn, so I grew up in a house with a sewing room and spent hours with her in fabric stores, looking through pattern books, watching her do her thing. She made a lot of the items for my wedding, including my veil, and these details meant so much to me. The idea for the double wedding ring quilt pattern was a combination of that sewing/fabric background and the idea of these handmade family heirlooms. I also loved the thought of trying to mix and match patterns to really give it the quilted look. Though I had expected it to be a tedious design to transfer from my thumbnail sketch to full detail in Illustrator, it came together surprisingly fast, and captured that sweet vintage look I was going for.
What was your favorite custom piece in the past year and why?
One of my best friends, and my roommate throughout college, asked me to design the stationery for her wedding in July. I’m so honored that she thought of me for the job, and also that she trusted me enough to give me free reign with it. The final product is one of my all-time favorite projects, and it was so great to see her so happy with the design- she even used the monogram on her cake. It was also very special to me that I had this unique way to be involved with the wedding even though I couldn’t be there for most of the planning due to location.
What was your favorite Minted design challenge and why?
It’s hard to choose, but I think the holiday challenges would actually beat out the wedding challenges for me. I love Christmas, and trying to do something new and unique with the traditional icons and symbols is a lot of fun.
And how does being a military wife influence your work and lifestyle?
It’s hard to answer this question because the military is just part of our ‘normal’. It is why we’re living in Hawaii, why I’m able to work freelance from home, and it’s how I ended up discovering and participating in Minted challenges. One thing that being a military wife truly influences are the hours I spend working. When my husband is home, I’m usually not working or touching the computer for long, we’re spending that time together because it can be pretty rare. We started dating part way through our senior year in high school, then did five years of long distance in college and have had months of schools and training pop up for him ever since. If you total up the time spent actually in the same place during our eight years together it’s pretty ridiculous, so we try to make the most of it.
What are the places in Honolulu that you would recommend a visitor check out?
We don’t live down in Honolulu, so sadly that means we don’t get down there too terribly often to discover a lot of the cool places it has to offer. Two of our favorite restaurants here are in Honolulu though- and right next door to each other in Chinatown: Du Vin and Soul de Cuba. Du Vin has a gorgeous cobblestone patio area that I love- and a really great happy hour menu. Soul de Cuba is a tiny little place with amazing Sangria and Cuban food. Delicious!
Other things I would recommend during a stay on Oahu:
- Pearl Harbor. Obviously it’s not a hidden gem, you’ll read about it in any guidebook, but it truly is an incredibly moving memorial- it shouldn’t be missed.
- Shave Ice in Haleiwa- Waikiki is wonderful but I definitely recommend a trip up to the North Shore. Whether it’s Matsumoto’s or Aoki’s, you have to try the shave ice- I like it with ice cream in the bottom, tropical flavors, and cream on the top. (Note: This is not your standard snow cone, I promise.)
- Also great on the North Shore are Shark’s Cove Grill for their grilled ahi sandwiches and Duke’s in Haleiwa for dinner, mai tais, and a beautiful sunset.
- Kailua and Lanikai on the Windward (east) side of the island are gorgeous as well- those beaches are some of my favorites. They have some fun shops and restaurants, and the drive over through the mountains is stunning.
We really love it here- and we’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to live here, even just for a few years.
What’s currently inspiring you?
So many things. We were in Maui recently and there is a vintage poster shop in Lahaina that I was in awe of. The posters are all originals, and well beyond my price range- but, wow, they were works of art! I looked some up online and seeing them on the computer screen just doesn’t do justice to seeing them in person- they are huge, and the images and colors are so graphic and bold. On a completely different note, I could browse net-a-porter.com’s dress section for days- a simple, gorgeous dress can inspire me to no end.
What are your favorite stores?
J.Crew is at the top of the list for clothing, their pieces are so effortless and classic and I love their colors. For decor, I love West Elm’s textiles lately- their look is clean but warm to me, which is what I imagine my future dream house looks like. In reality I do a lot of shopping at Target- there is nice big one in dangerously close proximity to our house.
What are your favorite online design sites and blogs?
I love Oh Joy, DesignSponge, Print & Pattern, and Eat, Drink, Chic for inspiration. I also really enjoy following other Minties and stationery designers blogs and seeing how they grow their businesses.
Besides designing, do you have any hobbies of note?
I like sewing and baking, and am currently (and somewhat reluctantly) taking up golf thanks to the husband.
Always in your closet?
Lightweight sweaters and cardigans. I can’t get enough of them, even in Hawaii. Also, a lot of casual dresses that double as beach cover-ups.
Favorite piece of clothing?
Of all time: my wedding dress, I absolutely loved it. Day to day, if I’m being honest? Probably my yoga pants.
Biggest self indulgence?
What was the last book you read?
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- definitely recommend it.
What’s on your playlist when you’re designing?
I actually do the majority of my designing without music or noise- I know, it’s weird. In the off chance that I do have music on, it’s one of three things: Glee, a Pandora country music mix, or my friend Jo’s band, What’s Fair. Just a little random.
What advice would you give a new designer?
I really do think practice is the key, and learning to critique yourself and view your own designs with a discerning eye. If you’re lacking inspiration, or feel like you’re falling into a rut, try to challenge yourself within each design- like working on a type based design when you’re more of an illustration person, or trying a bold color that you usually avoid, so that you’re constantly learning and growing as a designer instead of doing what is comfortable for you.
Thank you so much Laura. We are dreaming about living in Hawaii, downloading The Forgotten Garden onto our kindles, and dying to see your complete wedding collection!
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