Of course it's not all about being in the right place at the right time. Talent, accedes the humble designer, plays a role. Grosch's clean, graphic animal illustrations have been compared to the work of Alexander Girard and Charley Harper. The designer traces her preoccupation with animals to the plush harp seal she carried around as a kid. She'd already begun working in her modernist style, paring animals down to the point of abstraction, by the time she entered high school.
Since Grosch's first line with Keds launched in 2006, her designs have graced stationery, sneakers, bike helmets, skate decks, mugs, wallets, and fabric yardage - although, as she counsels her students at the University of the Arts, she has experienced more licensing failures than successes. And licensing deals, she tells them, require design compromises. Grosch considers the limited-edition screen prints she hand-pulls in her basement studio and sells online to be the truest expression of her style.
Grosch's latest collaborations include designing cards for the online stationery company Tinyprints and two collections of fabric yardage (sold at Spool, 1912 South St.) with Free Spirit Fabrics. Pheasant, Grosch's latest fabric line, is released this month.
Her lucrative relationship with Tinyprints was another case of being in the right place at the right time with the right talent. Grosch decided to design and print cards on her own dime after e-mailing her portfolio to a Tinyprints rep, who replied, "No, thanks." She took them in May to a stationery trade show in New York, where a different Tinyprints rep saw and commissioned her work.
This is the kind of thing she'd love to tell the professor of the class she took at the University of South Florida called The Real World. "He told us, 'In five years, only one person in this room will be making a living doing art,' " she says. "I remember looking around and thinking, 'It's not going to be me.' " Grosch adds, "My big goal was, 'I hope one day I get a chance to make something for someone for free.' " She'd like to thank her exes.
Licensing deals that flopped:
"Gosh, there are lots! After Keds, I worked with a great licensing firm but it seemed like our ventures were doomed. I made some diaper bags for Kalencom that flopped, and also, wall art for Larson Juhl that's still available but hasn't done well at all. You gotta take the good and the bad."
How she chose Philly:
A few years after college, when Grosch was designing band posters in Tampa, she got to know The Heads of State, a Philly design firm that also got its start doing rock posters. "I admired their work so much - part of the reason I wanted to move to Philadelphia is because I knew their work and I knew there was some kind of design scene here."
Advice to rookie designers:
"You have to have good self-esteem about your work. I mean, don't be an egomaniac but do believe in your work. Assuming someone's going to like you is a good start. If you keep at it, you will be successful. It's just a matter of time."
Favorite local places to shop for home goods:
"Anthropologie and West Elm for sure, but also thrift shops in South Philly."
Favorite piece of public art in the city:
"I love the Clothespin. That's always been my favorite - it's just so darn weird and cool!"
What she'd still like to design:
"I would love to do bedding most of all. That seems like a really fun and challenging design project - it has to be attractive, but not too loud."
Caroline Tiger is a design writer in Philadelphia. Visit her blog at design-phan.com.