Interview with a Thesis Student: Olivia Manning

Olivia Manning is a force of positivity and joy. It has been a real treat watching her grow as a designer as she transitioned from undergrad to graduate student, focusing on print design. She’s always in the studio working, lending a helping hand, and chatting with classmates. In the summer, Olivia is a lifeguard and has brought that unique experience to her thesis print designs in an unexpected and engaging way; her collection explores the emotional impact of a life tied to the sea, both its draw and its danger. Read on for Olivia’s take on what it takes to be a Textile Designer in her own words. Check out Olivia’s capstone collection here.

How did you choose Textile Design as a major?

I chose textile design as a major the moment I walked into the studio at Philadelphia University in 2014, which is now Jefferson University. As a junior in high school, I was looking for a school that was just the right fit. I wanted to do print design and thought that graphic design would be the major for me. However, when I walked into the Textile Design studio I saw people painting beautiful floral repeats onto large paper, saw the jacquard loom creating fabric, and a community of people working together and helping each other with their work. And I knew this was what I wanted.

What is your favorite book of all time?

My favorite book of all time is most likely, “The Last Song” by Nicholas Sparks. I read it my 7th grade year for pure enjoyment because I had seen the movie trailer of it come out, and I knew I needed to read it first. Its synopsis on the back cover grabbed me in such a way I further knew I needed to buy it and open it up while I was online at the register. That was the year I really started reading for fun and amusement. Before I went to bed, I would read on long car rides and in between volleyball matches at tournaments.

The way the story marries so many different aspects of life and all its moving parts really spoke to me. The love and loss in life that happens simultaneously in this book felt so similar to real-life — the beauty and ugliness of the stages of growing up. The symbolism of the piano, the music, the letters lead me into the characters to understand their struggles, feelings, emotions, and personalities. This was the first book that pulled at my heartstrings and made me cry tears of sadness, frustration, melancholy, and joy. I will always remember and cherish that. Symbolism plays a huge role in what I create as a designer. I want the designs I create to have a deeper meaning to relate to those who view them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from another designer?

Mess up. Really! I’m serious! I think when designers are starting out and just putting their foot in the door, they’re afraid to do something wrong. However, messing up is where the magic happens. Experimentation takes you out of your comfort zone, which can be scary at first, but you realize everyone else in design is right beside you, constantly messing up as well. Then, through learning new methods, researching, experimenting, and time, you start creating things you really love; things start to speak to what you were trying to and it is one of the best feelings in the world, I’ll tell you that! However, when you try something new again, it’s all about messing up again and again. It’s the ebbs and flows of progress. Be patient with yourself and find the joy in the play of continuously learning.

What are you working on in your sketchbook today?

I am currently working on an engineered print design that will be constructed into a seamless print onto a maxi dress. I’m really excited to print it onto fabric and see the final piece! It has been challenging because I am printing it out into the pattern piece that it will be cut in. A lot of shapes, geometry, and math were used to figure out if the shapes will be seamless and line up, and I think that I did it! Here is a picture of my screen working on the design and making sure the two pieces, front, and back of the dress, will line up!

This is the initial sketch before I finished the print to see how it will be on the dress:

What are your hobbies? How do you make time for them?

I have many hobbies. I love to play volleyball, do yoga, bike ride, draw, and paint. Anything that gets me up and moving allows me to explore or keeps my mind active, I am all about! Learning new things is something I love to continue to do. It can be hard to make time for hobbies, but I realized that I am not myself and that you make time for the things you love. Many of my hobbies have to do with being active, which is a great outlet for me to be healthy, happy, and alive. It’s a great contrast because sometimes I want to play great music and paint and draw all day. I think it is important to have both!

What is the most challenging aspect of being a designer?

The most challenging aspect of being a designer is getting stuck. Sometimes you get stuck because you don’t know how to accomplish a look that you are going for, what materials to use, how to articulate to others what you are trying to do, and more. It is also hard to ask for help because, as designers, we want to be the helpers, fixers, and doers. Learning to ask for help is the best thing that a designer can do because communicating your designs will allow others to give constructive feedback, suggestions and ultimately make your design stronger! Design is all about collaboration, innovation, and cohesion, and that only gets better with communication!

What surprised you the most about Textile Design at Philau/Jefferson?

The community. Textile Design, by nature, brings in people who are just so nice, friendly, empathetic, and helpful. I’m not sure how, but I think it has something to do with the nature of textile design and how collaborative it is. We want our visions to come true in our designs, and we want to help others achieve their visions too! All in all, it has been such an amazing experience meeting everyone in the program and making friends that I will have forever. I know not every major, industry, and school is like that, and I am so glad that I found a program that is.

What’s next for you?

I am excited to see where life takes me! My dream job is to be making prints, patterns, and illustrations for a fashion company, so that is what I am looking into currently for my future!


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