Work of Art
The Textiles of Betsy Olmsted
by Crystal Schreffler
“I always am looking for and seeing color!” says Betsy Olmsted.
Collecting curiosities while outdoors remains a fond childhood memory for Olmsted, who recalls having always loved animals and nature. Today, those memories form the impetus of her thriving technicolor textile company that endeavors to deliver whimsical, yet functional, art designs to accessorize fashion and homes.
With items like scarves, pillows and tea towels, Olmsted's designs allure beholders with her surging colors springing from the fabric. “I am usually drawn to ‘off’ colors and stay away from basic primaries,” says Olmsted. Since starting her self-named company in 2011, she has been using an “organic and intuitive approach towards color” and subsequently gaining much success from her keen style.
Working with such clients as Anthropologie, West Elm and Land of Nod, Olmsted originally sought to start her own company to balance her work with being a mother; “I always had the desire to start my own company and be my own boss,” -she says. Starting her business allows her the flexibility to spend time with her two boys, Emmett, 6, and Wells, 3.
An online deal with Anthropologie “really pushed the textile printing and production,” leading the business to be listed as an LLC. Working with such large companies was really exciting for a new artist and her burgeoning company, but the deal with Land of Nod remains her favorite. “They carry my woodland mural and used huge-sized animals from the design in their storefront windows when the mural first became available,” says Olmsted.
What really sets Olmsted’s unique designs apart is the illusion of handpainted watercolor on fabric, which is, in fact, her goal. “I sketch and plan the imagery, then paint in watercolor and gouache,” she explains. (Gouache is an opaque watercolor that can be applied in solid colors.) Finished pieces are then scanned to create a digital file that can be used to apply the designs to any textile, creating the desired appearance of a handpainted look with a longer-lasting quality.
After the morning chaos that ensues with getting two children dressed, ready and off to school, Olmsted returns to her studio. Ideally every artist would love to create all day, but as a booming business owner, Olmsted also adds “correspondence, invoicing, shipping and product development” to her day. “I always look forward to when I have time to paint and create new designs,” she exclaims.
Having earned her bachelors degree in fine arts from Skidmore College and a masters in textile design from Philadelphia University, Olmsted says her passion for art developed in her teens. Now, with a successful art and textile collection, her latest endeavor has been developing a book which comes out this month. Sparked by a serendipitous encounter at an exhibit for Country Living Fair in 2014, a collaboration with a publishing editor began. Following the suggestion to use a photographer from Pennsylvania and to shoot the book locally (Lancaster and Wrightsville) as well, Olmsted worked with Sara Code-Kroll of Growing Tree Photography (www.growingtreephotography.com), and the wheels were set in motion.
Handing the decorating reins to readers, the book, Hand-Printing Studio: A Visual Guide to Printing on Almost Anything, enables everyone's “inner artist” to flourish with step-by-step techniques to create home projects. With bright colors of pink, green and blue splayed across the cover, readers will be enticed simply to pick up the book. Inside the pages, Olmsted encouragingly tells her readers about different methods like block or screen printing and shows how virtually any surface can garner a design. Included are twelve ready-to-use patterns in Olmsted's thoughtful, sophisticated style.
As evidenced by both Olmsted’s intrinsic talent and her natural achievement in business, it's no wonder that she has bright ideas for the horizon as well. “I plan to expand the collection to include a more diverse range of items and designs including more wearables, pillow shapes and sizes, and geometric patterns,” says Olmsted. Aiming to grow into a “three to four employee company” and to publish more books are goals for the not-too-distant future. “My wheels are always turning with new book ideas,” she adds.
Whatever ventures Olmsted, a Lancaster-area native, conceives will likely triumph, even with her recent move to Saratoga Springs, New York, for her husband's work in green energy. Though a Lancaster girl at heart, “I have been very keen to the woodlands here−tall pines, birch trees and mosses that may show up in new designs.”
Back in Lancaster, Festoon's owner Kathy Frey carries the entire line with a staff that is “super educated” about the products and boasts a beautiful display to accompany the merchandise (www.shopfestoon.com).
Despite all her successes, at the end of the day, with two small children who also “love to paint and draw and collect curiosities as I did as a child,” Betsy Olmsted’s world will always be bright, whether in or out of the studio.