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Written by Niki Stage — Creating art for Maple Forest

juli 20 2017

Written by Niki Stage — Creating art for Maple Forest

This is a blog by Niki Stage, the very talented illustrator that helps me bring to life everything my brain thought up. She wrote a little piece about how her own thought process came to be. Take a look at her website and send her a message if you feel inspired to make something as well!


I finally got the push I needed to blog about my creative process... so here it goes! I'd like to give you a behind the scenes look into my creative process for designing art for Maple Forest. I've learned so much from this experience that I'd like to share my thoughts and journey of how these fantastic fabric animals came to be. 

Maple Forest shop owner, Femke Brouwer, was set on having watercolor as a foundation for her products and brand image...that's where I come in! Drawing and painting is what I love to do! Watercolor being my specialty! A really nice perk of freelancing is that it allows me to work on all sorts of projects and keeps me active in building and maintaining relationships. 

Up to this point, I had not worked on designing anything for the fabric industry. Actually, creating a surface pattern design is on my list of 'To-Do's'. But, with all new ventures, this project sounded so exciting and fun that I really was looking forward to doing something different. Even if it came with a bit of a challenge.     

The Maple Forest product line of six animals were created one at a time...which was a blessing on its own. It really gave us time to iron out any issues as we went along. It was up to me to design these little guys and give them personality!

Fawn and Owl's designs were my favorite so I'll be showing you examples of both. The animal mock-up below was essential to me visually, because it gave me an idea of what the animal was going to look like when it was all stuffed - 360 degrees around (also taking note where the attachments were located).

My process begins by referencing actual photos of fawns and owls. Yes, I googled images;). I also did a Pinterest search. I like to draw from nature and use some of those realistic features and elements into my own designs.

As with all my clients, I like to give at least two different concept examples and then go from there. Communication is key! I've learned it's all about listening and getting a better understanding of what the client is envisioning...and ask a lot of questions! There are even times when we work through scenarios of potential problems and then it's back to the drawing board for a whole new set of concepts in a totally different direction.

I've gained a great deal of experience collaborating with clients. And when that client's vision becomes a reality with the art I've created for them...that's when I know I've made a difference. I feel so fulfilled as an artist if my art speaks to you, conveys an emotion, connects with you personally, or visually tells a story (as with my illustrations).

Here are my initial concept sketches of Fawn & Owl in watercolor pencils.


As you can see with Owl, I needed to design the wing fold area with smaller feathers to allow for the wings to be sewn in without having to precisely line up with a consistent pattern. That was a tricky attachment.

Design #1 was chosen for both Fawn & Owl!

My next step is my favorite: A watercolor draft sample.

First, I wanted to paint an enlarged version using my Rembrandt-24 pan watercolor set on Strathmore 140 lbs. cold press watercolor paper. This gave us a good idea of how the design will look on the final paper. I also experimented a bit with the application of color, technique, and texture. I used a combination of flat washes, wet on wet, wet on dry, dry brush, and lifting out. The unexpected and uncontrolled happenings with watercolor is what I truly appreciate with this medium. I wanted these little guys to have a soft, airy look to them and they did:).


The challenge for me came when it was time to transfer that 2-D image into a 3-D animal on separate pattern pieces. Thank goodness for my lightbox and tracing paper! It really worked wonders in keeping the design symmetrical.

 I work more digitally today then I did even a year ago. 300 dpi Scanner - Check! Adobe Photoshop - Check!  If I were to create an animal today, it would be half of a pattern, scanned, and flipped horizontally in Photoshop. I learned that the color balance, tone, and saturation can all be adjusted digitally.

Nonetheless, here are the final patterns! You can even see the 3/8" seam allowance drawn in pencil in the second close-up photo of Fawn. 

If you would like to find out more about Maple Forest Toys, please visit

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog post. More to Come!

Cheers, Niki 

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
— Edgar Degas