NORTH ADAMS -- Martha Flood Design Studio & Fabric Gallery at 38 Eagle St. opened in April 2010, although the designer has inhabited the space since the fall of 2009.
As she finishes her third year, Flood has taken positive stock of the adventure and looks forward to what follows.
"It started off good," Flood said. "It was positive from the beginning, a good trend from the beginning. It's a long-term project, but I continue to expand, so that's good."
Flood specializes in her own textile designs, with patterns that pull from nature. She sells the cloth she manufactures as well as her own sewn creations -- tote bags, pillows, book covers, place mats and banners -- with plans to move into some clothing items. It's part of her impetus for diversification that pulls from a long career in design.
Flood's images are created through nature photography that she process digitally into patterns that transcend the original object, while still evoking it.
"Everyone knows what birch bark looks like, but it's taken out of context and abstracted, and turned into another medium," said Flood. "It's a broad pattern that you can't really focus on, it has no end, it's almost like this meditative thing. People look at it and they have this emotional reaction to it."
Flood grew up sewing with her mother in Natick, first clothes for her dolls and then herself. She majored in textile design at the Syracuse Art School and then embarked on a career that would see her beginnings as a stencil cutter for a grocery store sign manufacturer and a colorist at a wallpaper company.
Her career was also her education, and she learned design not from an aesthetic point of view, but from a more practical one that took market desires into account.
"As I got more skilled, they let me do some design work and then I eventually learned how to put wallpaper collections together," said Flood. "At that point, you're outsourcing the designs from other people, so you learn the aesthetics of how to put a group of patterns together to come out with a particular statement. You have to put your own viewpoint and personality in there, but there's definitely a certain market niche or look that has to be contained within what you're doing."
Flood also learned how to be her own boss.
"You learn how to be much more brutal with your own work," she said. "You don't take it all so personally. You see the flaws, you make the corrections, you work with color, and you just keep going."
That period saw her as a staff designer, as well as freelance, and working in hand-screened wallpapers and fabrics, as well as patterns featuring Looney Tunes and The Flintstones, in a field that was switching over to digital, which would empower her to explore new creative passions within her craft.
"It was more like around 2008, the economic climate was changing, and I had done this camouflage for somebody. It was a big project, and it got me interested in natural things, natural images," said Flood.
"The camouflage design was about trying to recreate the look of looking into the woods, but I just got interested in the bark patterns and the textures themselves. I decided I was going to try to go to a design show and have a booth. In checking out the show, I was introduced to digital printing and, at that point, I made two designs and printed a small quantity of each one and put them at the back of my booth, so that got me started."
This move lead to Flood's involvement with the Assets for Artists program, which lead to preparation for her own venture starting a line of fabrics using nature designs for patterns.
"I had been on a path where I was creating market driven patterns, so they were really random textures for wallpaper, abstract stuff, or traditional type florals," Flood said. "This work started to become really fascinating because I got to use photography a little more than just drawing. I started to construct these patterns that are like wallpaper in that they are these overall fields, that they're still very naturalistic. I liked the contrast. These are too out there for the industry, even today."
Flood was also building up an inventory of images through the years, taking pictures in the forest of leaves, grass or trees during walks, including Queen Ann's Lace, black cherry bark, lichen and water.
"I was looking to add certain types of patterns, like an over-all pattern or a horizontal directional, floral, diagonal, so that the patterns were images that went together, but they all served different purposes design wise," she said. "That is something I've learned from the wallpaper world - patterns should compliment each other, not compete with each other."
Flood employs a form of macro photography, or at least photos taken at a close proximity, that forms the basis of the patterns she creates. For instance, in using tree bark, she'll go around the tree and take multiple images that she uses later to digitally join, something that involves editing out curvature and adjusting the scale while she creates a repeat and works on the edges of that to form the eventual pattern. Flood then manipulates the images a little further to give them more of a graphic quality that's workable on textiles.
"Once I come up with the repeating field, then I do a lot of analysis of the pattern itself to have an even balance to it," Flood said, "so I might take sections out and move them over someplace else, or come up with this arrangement that looks good in repeat."
"Then I get into color separating, where instead of having a four-color process, I try and construct it through overlapping transparent layers. There might be a black there that defines the patterns, but also in the birch there are these underlying tones, the shading and whatnot, that I can control and allows me to come up with a different version of a pattern, like a creamy birch or a white birch. I have a gray oak bark and a jute colored oak bark."
As Flood looks ahead, she considers the possibility of branching out in materials -- perhaps wallpaper -- as well as the natural area that she draws her inspiration from.
"There are always extra themes," said Flood. "In the Berkshires, you're talking about wood lands, but you go to Cape Cod, and there's a whole other ecosystem there."
One thing Flood knows for certain is that her subject matter and materials combine to forge connections with the people who encounter her work in a primal and joyful way. And these results have brought her the biggest satisfaction in doing the work.
"This is a surprise to me, but people come in here and they just smile," she said. "They look around and they've got a grin on their face. What it is, I've realized, is that there is something really fundamental about these types of images that we all can connect with because they're so archetypal. Because patterns are also the pathway between art and commerce, they're a medium, and they really do communicate a point of view, a style, that as a society we take for granted."
Martha Flood can be found online at marthaflood.com.