Amelia’s Magazine | Magnetic Wallpaper Designs: an interview with interiors surface designer Sian Zeng

Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino Boy in jungle

I first encountered Sian Zeng‘s sew your own bespectacled bears a couple of years ago at a craft fair, and am the proud owner of one such bear which I made with my own fair hands. But soft toys are not the only product this multi-disciplinary interiors designer makes; her offering includes high tech magnetic wallpapers adorned with whimsical movable designs such as the plethora of cacti, dinosaurs and ‘flycopters’ which feature in her new S/S 2014 collection, guaranteed to appeal to adults as much as children. Here she shares her journey and some sage advice about the value of looking at the numbers when you run a small business.

Sian Zeng office bear

You’ve had a very multi-cultural upbringing, how did your family come to live in Hungary and what brought you to London?
In ‘90s China, it was a popular choice to move to the West to look for better economic opportunities. After the fall of communism, Hungary’s visa requirements to Chinese citizens were very relaxed and so my parents decided to move Budapest. I first came to England to study in secondary school so that I would have better chances of going to a British university; my parents felt a British degree would open more doors for me in the future.

Sian Zeng Pink Green Detail magnetic wallpaper

What are the best things that have fed into your design work from your time in China and Hungary?
In my first year of Hungarian primary school, I loved looking at the beautifully drawn pictures in Hungarian folk tale books. I obsessively copied and altered the images so that they would become stories to tell to my classmates: my interest in visual storytelling has continued in the products I design. One summer, during the holidays, I went back to China to study painting and drawing. It was one of the most intensive periods of training I’ve ever had, but I came out with a deeper understanding of how Chinese art schools dealt with colour and composition. I still use many of the techniques in my work today.

Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino boy magnetic wallpaper play

Where did the idea of creating magnetic wallpapers come from?
During my final year, I was interested in how fairy tales were told and how they had changed through time. It occurred to me that creating a magnetic wallpaper for my degree show would let visitors act out their own stories using a cast of magnetic characters, creating an interactive display that was constantly changing.

Sian Zeng Grey dino magnet close up

What was the process of producing them, from your initial ideas as a student, to commercial production under your own brand?
The first sample I created for my degree show was made using magnetic paint on thick paper. I realised later it was too expensive to produce and not very practical, so I began to look at alternative methods. While I was still in my research stage, Hilary Duff’s interior designer contacted me and asked me to send a sample over to her. I told her I only had the prototype and that the end product may look different: at that stage, I was still cutting out the magnets by hand. It was really low-tech! Based on my prototype, Hilary Duff placed a large order and the lead time was very tight as it had to be completed before her son was born. I was on the phone to my manufacturers every day, asking questions and pleading for a faster turnaround. Thankfully, in a very short period of time I had my first batch of wallpapers manufactured and sent out. It was so rewarding!

Flying pig black cushion

What kind of narrative tales most often influence your choice of imagery?
I enjoy depicting stories that are removed from reality, giving you the freedom to play with the imagery and create alternate endings and moods.

Sian Zeng magnetic wallpaper

How did you secure a place with Cockpit Arts and how has being with them helped you grow your business?
I filled in an online application and was invited to an interview with my portfolio. Being part of Cockpit has been so helpful; it’s such a collaborative space and I have other designers as my neighbours. It’s so easy to knock on someone’s door and ask for help or advice.

Pink flying pig cushion

What is an average day in the life of Sian Zeng like?
I wake up around 7.30am and the first thing I do is look at my emails and social network posts on my phone so I can start to plan my day. If there is anything urgent I put it down on my morning to-do list; I find myself most productive in the mornings so I try to work on important big projects first and answer e-mails and work on smaller tasks after 3pm. I live very close to work so I can walk to my studio. I’m usually in by 9am and finish work around 7pm. On a good day I go to the gym after work and then head home. My husband comes home around 9pm and we have a very late dinner while watching a movie together. We go to bed around 11pm.

Blue duvet set sian zeng

Do you have any little ones in your life to help test your projects and if so who are they?
I often think of myself as the little one! I also have friends with children so I sometimes give some of my products to them for a test drive. Open studio days are also a good place to see how children react to my products.

What is your best selling product and why do you think it is so popular?
My magnetic wallpapers are my best-selling product. I think it’s because they offer something totally different and customers love the interactive, playful element of them – they’re not just for kids!

Brown pink bed linen - Sian Zeng

What was the best bit about studying at Central Saint Martins, and do you have any tips for anyone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
The best part of studying at Central Saint Martins was learning how to research and create collections based on creative concepts. My advice may sound boring to a creative person, but I think it’s essential to record expenses and sales figures well so that you are able to understand your own market and product range better. When you take care of the admin elements of a creative business, it makes it so much easier to see what improvements need to be made and focus on what makes the most profits. Saying that, I don’t always take my own advice and sometimes I just have to create things that are most exciting to me at the time!

Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino Magnet close up

Do you have any new cutting edge ideas for interiors up your sleeve for 2014? if so can we have a sneak peak?
I’m developing a conceptual fabric range for 2014 and I can’t wait to share the results later in the year. It’s in that exciting stage right now where I’m experimenting with colours and patterns: keep your eyes peeled!

Categories ,Bear, ,Budapest, ,Cacti, ,Central Saint Martins, ,children, ,China, ,Chinese, ,Cockpit Arts, ,dinosaurs, ,fairytales, ,Flycopters, ,Hilary Duff, ,Hungary, ,interview, ,Magnetic Wallpaper, ,Play, ,S/S 2014, ,Sian Zeng, ,surface design

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Amelia’s Magazine | Camberwell College of Arts: Ovo Show Illustration Graduate Show 2011 Review – Upstairs

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011

The Camberwell College of Art illustration show was by far my very favourite graduate illustration degree show to attend this year… I loved almost everything on display at Ovo Show, troche and they’ve also improved radically in terms of communication and promotion since last year’s Save Our Souls – many of them seem to be on twitter, visit they’ve held a sale of work to benefit Art Against Knives, and they had a wonderful stall where it was possible to buy prints, hand made books and even some knitted creatures by Alice Stanley (like I could resist!)

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Alice Stanley Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Alice Stanley bear

The folks manning the sales stand were utterly charming and on the case: tweeting me after we met. All the work was well labelled, with a website next to the name. Everyone had a website! Really, I get very excited about these small things. First up: upstairs.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Natalie Kay-ThatcherCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Natalie Kay-Thatcher
Natalie Kay-Thatcher asked How to Start a Feynman? inspired by Richard Feynmans books about his scientific work. In her well presented wall panel she illustrated the formation of a scientist’s mind.

Cressida Knapp social unrest inflaming
Cressida Knapp ai weiweiCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Cressida Knapp Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Cressida Knapp
Cressida Knapp‘s work had already caught my eye online: with a series of images illustrating everything from vikings to spacemen to Ai Wei Wei. She’d also created a series of paper mache heads, displayed in a row.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Cressida Knapp
Cressida Knapp Aurora and the Moon Man
Cressida Knapp Aurora and the Moon Man
She’s interested in current affairs, which of course tickles me no end, and I love her dream like illustrations for Aurora and the Moon Man.

Chloe SimosCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Chloe SimosCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Chloe SimosCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Chloe Simoschloe simou_mandrill_2011
Chloe Simos created wonderful portraits of women – with long pigtails and embroidered shawls, with feathered headdress and medallions, with a banjo. Wonderfully patterned in just a few colours. The base of a lithograph worked especially well on the wall. And I LOVE her monkey.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Andy BarronCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Andy Barron
Andy Barron did bold book jacket designs for some famous novels.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Liam Cobb
Liam Cobb did some wonderful designs for Coral City and The Cab Driver.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Rosie Chamberlain Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Rosie Chamberlain
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Rosie Chamberlain
Rosie Chamberlain splashed great swathes of bright colours to create watery illustrations.

Jimmy Patrick Four Riders of the Apocalypse
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Jimmy Patrick
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Jimmy Patrick
Inspired by plate techtonics Jimmy Patrick had made a bulging 3D quilt for his final piece, and next door he showed some outlaws on wooden animals, Four Riders of the Apocalypse.

Watch Fault Line up close in this fab video.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Sophy Hollington Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Sophy Hollington Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Sophy Hollington
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Sophy Hollington
Sophy Hollington displayed some fantastic work from the book How the Dead Will Live.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Sophy Hollington
Her poster for Mazes was absolutely gorgeous: weird and eye catching. She is a printmaker who looks for the magic in everyday life.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-James Cartwright
James Cartwright had done a gorgeous grahpic lino cut for an album sleeve.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Harriet Cory-Wright
Harriet Cory-Wright had done some fine line geometric abstracts.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Lizzie Scarlett Towndrow Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Lizzie Scarlett Towndrow
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Lizzie Scarlett Towndrow
Lizzie Scarlett Towndrow works in 3D with fabric and for the exhibition had created a huge bear figure – see the diagramatic drawings of his conception on Lizzie’s blog – as well as a patchwork chair and hanging.

No One Belongs Here More Than You tamsin nagel
tamsin nagel parasitic wasp
Tamsin Nagel worked in fine pencil to create a weird other world, where elephants roam suburbia.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Philippe FennerCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Philippe FennerCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Philippe Fenner
Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Philippe FennerCamberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-Philippe Fenner
Philippe Fenner‘s red and black work was inspired by football teams of yore.

Thomas Slater-happy-hour-at-home thomas-slater-our-beige-world-french-revolution-
Thomas Slater‘s work used minimal colour ways to create bold images.

Camberwell College of Art illustration graduate show 2011-kyle platt
Kyle Platts showed bizarre illustrations, inspired by McBess and James Unsworth. I liked his red man.

Next up my review of the work downstairs at the Ovo Show, held at the Red Gallery.

Categories ,2011, ,3D, ,Ai Wei Wei, ,Alice Stanley, ,Andy Barron, ,Art Against Knives, ,Aurora and the Moon Man, ,Bear, ,Book Design, ,Camberwell College of Arts, ,Chloe Simos, ,Chloe Simou, ,Coral City, ,Cressida Knapp, ,Fault Line, ,Four Riders of the Apocalypse, ,Graduate Shows, ,Harriet Cory-Wright, ,How the Dead Will Live, ,How to Start a Feynman?, ,illustration, ,James Cartwright, ,James Unsworth, ,Kyle Platts, ,Liam Cobb, ,Lizzie Scarlett Towndrow, ,Mazes, ,Natalie Kay-Thatcher, ,Ovo Show, ,Paper Mache, ,Patchwork, ,Philippe Fenner, ,Red Gallery, ,review, ,Richard Feynman, ,Rosie Chamberlain, ,Save Our Souls, ,Sophy Hollington, ,Tamsin Nagel, ,The Cab Driver, ,Thomas Slater

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