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Playful prints with pattern designer Leila Simon Hayes

Leila Simon Hayes pattern design lookbook. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Designer Leila Simon Hayes spent the first 15 years of her career working for some of America’s most renowned museums and educational institutions — from Harvard University to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where she was creative director. In 2018, she shifted gears to focus on surface design and has been bringing fabric, wallpaper, stationery and home products to life with her vibrant patterns ever since.

Leila Simon Hayes portrait

Designer Leila Simon Hayes at her studio in Boston.

We first spotted Leila’s work in the digital mini lookbook she printed to share her patterns with art buyers. “Many people send digital samples to art buyers, but I love paper,” she explains. “I love texture and I am always delighted to hold a thing of beauty in my hands. I figured I’m not alone — and I was right!”

Below, we take a look inside Leila’s gorgeous newspaper and she tells us how structure helps her to be more experimental and playful in her work.

Leila Simon Hayes pattern design lookbook. Printed by Newspaper Club.

The First 600 Days by Leila Simon Hayes. Printed as a digital mini .

In the spring of 2018, I was feeling very disconnected from my art practice. I decided to embark on a 100 Day Project to keep myself accountable and to play in a new medium, mixing together shapes, color and digital collage.

"The newspaper is something to be played with, hung on the wall, wrapped around a gift, made into a collage. It's been so fun to see the different ways people interact with it."

The original parameters that I set for myself were to remix 10 abstract shapes (made with ink and then digitized) into collages and color them using a palette of 10 colors. I did this for 100 days and assumed that would be the end of it.

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"I draw and paint my shapes mainly with Sumi ink and a wide variety of brushes for different effects. Sometimes I play with digital drawing tools, or a mixture of both."

But the design I made for the 100th day made me feel like, “Whoa, there’s something here”. I had started this project as a warmup — something to prepare me to make my “real” art — but once patterns began to emerge out of the digital collages, I realized that I needed to make more. I loosened my parameters and kept going. Not long after, I began to study surface pattern design.

Leila Simon Hayes pattern design lookbook. Printed by Newspaper Club.

The First 600 Days by Leila Simon Hayes. Printed as a digital mini .

Through the process I discovered that a balance of improvisation and structure is incredibly important to me. Structure gives me a safe place to improvise and play. My improvisational drawings come alive in my patterns as playful structure.

Leila Simon Hayes

"I don’t start with a plan — I love to find out what wants to come out. There’s always something new unexpected."

Creating patterns is such a joyful experience for me, I enjoy every part of the process. I don’t start with a plan — I love to find out what wants to come out. When I sit down to draw, I often think: “This time it won’t work, I’m sure I have run out of ideas.” But there’s always something new and unexpected. I love the stress and the relief.

Leila Simon Hayes pattern design lookbook. Printed by Newspaper Club.

The First 600 Days by Leila Simon Hayes. Printed as a digital mini .

When the time came to share my first collection of patterns with art buyers, I knew I wanted to create something that felt playful. I've always loved the texture, sound and smell of newsprint but I worried that the colors wouldn't reproduce well. It turns out that I love the result.

Many people send digital samples to art buyers, but I love paper. I am always delighted to hold a thing of beauty in my hands. I figured I’m not alone — and I was right!

Leila Simon Hayes pattern design lookbook. Printed by Newspaper Club.

The First 600 Days by Leila Simon Hayes. Printed as a digital mini .

It came out so beautifully and was so fun to make that I decided to make two more art newspapers — one in black and white and one in color — printed on digital tabloids. Usually, a newspaper gives you context and information, but these all-art newspapers are open to interpretation. I don’t want to tell people what to see. I want them to have the freedom to interpret and let those interpretations evolve over time.

"Many people send digital samples to art buyers, but I love paper. I am always delighted to hold a thing of beauty in my hands."

The newspaper is something to be played with, hung on the wall, wrapped around a gift, made into a collage. It's been so fun to see the different ways people interact with it.

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