Pillow talkPublished on December 4, 2008

  • Many of Andreaís colourful designs are inspired by natural elements. One of her favourite pillows is the bird design in her arms. For more information, go to www.pinkwagon.com. Photo by Etienne Ranger

Andrea Stokes revels in creating funky designs, but just don't ask the textile artist to repeat the same look again and again. It's not her style

"I want to be in art, not factory production," says the owner of Pink Wagon Designs. "I wouldn't enjoy having to do the same thing over and over again. Even having to do 20 is too much. It happens when I have to do napkins, but I nearly go mad using the same colours."

For Andrea, who founded her one-woman business in 2003, creativity is about distinction and she thrives on giving each of her pillows, table runners, duvet covers, hats, and bags a unique look. It's the interplay of colour, form and texture that is key to her designs when she's printing on silk and other fabrics.

Andrea's work begins with the creation of a design, what she describes as "the most labour-intensive part" of the process. Drawing the image, transferring it to a screen, building a frame for the screen, preparing a colour palette, and cutting the fabric are the major stages in preparing one of her products. "It's a piece of art - like a painting - and there are a lot of steps in creating and executing the design," says Andrea, who developed her expertise during her studies for a degree in Fine Arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. "This wonderful school totally shaped me as an artist," she adds. "I didn't start working in textiles till I was there. In school it was the thing I loved the most. At first, I couldn't think of a practical application for it and I was a bit panicked about what I should do for a living."

After graduating, she worked in television as a researcher and production manager, but Andrea says she didn't find it very fulfilling.


By this time, family life was taking precedence. Andrea and her husband, Barry Doyle, had their first daughter, Tallie. By the time her sister Jaime arrived, the family had moved back to Ontario and Andrea was able to devote more time to textile art. "We went to Toronto first," she says. "For about six months, I would work while my babies slept, setting up every day and tearing down at night. Setting up a textile business in a one-bedroom apartment is a fairly common story, but it's a lot more difficult with a family. But it was the first opportunity I had to see if there was a commercial application for this art form." After a four-year "stopover" in Toronto, the family returned to their Ottawa roots and bought a house with a basement that could be made into a permanent studio. "I now have a strong client base after four years," says Andrea, whose work is sold in Ottawa at Workshop Boutique on Dalhousie Street and at craft sales, as well as through direct sales from Pink Wagon (go to www.pinkwagon.com for more information), where most of her pieces retail for between $45 and $55. "The pillows are a big draw," she adds, "but it is the hats and bags that I really have trouble keeping in stock." While being a one-woman show can be tiring, Andrea says she finds a real sense of enjoyment in dealing with clients directly. "I love meeting the people who enjoy what I create. But you have to find people who appreciate art, personal workmanship and unique design," she explains. "(However,) it's still a hard sell. And there is a learning curve for clients, because North America doesn't have a strong cultural heritage about fabric design. And you can find some good designs in big-box stores - though they're mass-produced - that cost less than half of what it costs me to produce. But I think mine are more interesting, durable and definitely local." Written by Iris Winston

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