I own multiple pieces of Leah Duncan’s – pillow covers and tea towels and prints – all perfectly patterned in today’s most coveted color stories. Glancing at her work, she appears to be a highly-trained, playful artist with a slight Southwestern flair – perhaps evident of summers spent in New Mexico with a grandmother and a puppy. In reality, Leah’s creative path looks much different – full of fear and joy and hunger – all folded together, quite literally, in a recent collaboration with Kyoko Bowskill and Link.
I’ve featured Link before, as Kyoko is master of her Furoshiki craft – blending contemporary textile designs with traditional Japanese techniques. Last year, Kyoko sent Leah a nice note and shipped a few samples of her work. Instantly, the pair set to work on a collaboration full of staying power and endless functionality – a custom Furoshiki cloth, perfect for gift-wrapping, scarf-wearing and things-bundling. “A large part of creativity is making ordinary things less ordinary and thinking of things in a new way,” Leah writes. “The Furoshikis are a prime example of this, because they can take so many different forms… and sometimes those things lead from one to another – or in a different direction altogether. The possibilities are endless.”
In reading Leah’s notes about the product, it sounds much like her path to creativity. Having taken only one art class in college, she pursued a graphic design position after college and instantly found herself yearning for something more. “I think there’s something about our society and our education system that steers people away from creativity to pursue a more logical, less messy path,” she writes. “Doing things for a purpose of beauty instead of financial gain, although it makes perfect sense to me, is somewhat of a foreign concept from the norm. It took me awhile to realize how differently I see things.”
In fact, it wasn’t until Leah and her husband moved to Austin in 2008 that she began drawing and creating her own work. “I was the most fulfilled I’ve ever been,” she writes. “I loved every second of starting a new business – the thrill of the roller-coaster ride that is being an artist – and the inexplicable joy when all of the hard work pays off. I have a feeling my 5 year old self would be happy with where I am now, because it’s always been here. It’s always been my path; it just took me awhile to find it, grab onto it, and make it work no matter what.”
She is, indeed, making it work, but not without trials along the way. “I was completely naive to how hard it is to make a name for yourself, get your work seen, and make a living doing creative work,” she writes. “Looking back, I’m thankful for this, because it made me pretty fearless. There’s so much talent out there and we’re all hungry. The difference is I just kept going.”
For this reason, one of Leah’s personal mottos is to send failure a thank you note. “I bounced back from every rejection,” she writes. “And they actually made me stronger. They made my work better and my vision more clear. They made me more determined.”
It’s this vision and determination that makes Leah’s work stand out among today’s most praised pattern designers. And it only seems fitting that she design a Furoshiki cloth, yes? Because the way I see it, each failure and trial and fear is yet another fold in the fabric of her creative life, ready to be shaped and transformed into something new entirely. Something beautiful and purposeful – something that we, as fellow creatives, are lucky enough to wrap ourselves in.
Image Credits: Link