Meet our Surface Design Educators

Posted by iscd@admin on September 10

We recently caught up with our Surface Design educators, Leah Manwaring and Edwina Straub, to talk all things in the world of Surface Design including where they think the industry is going and impact of new technologies.

What is Surface Design you may ask…

Surface design a form of art that focuses on creating designs that are in technical repeat for a range of surfaces such as textiles, homewares, stationary and much more. Surface design is all around us everyday, on our clothes, bed sheets and coffee cups for example.


Leah Manwaring

Leah studied Bachelor of Visual Arts (Textiles- Honours) and completed her third year at Duncan of Jordanstone, University of Dundee in Scotland to specialise in Printed Textiles. Leah talked to us about how much she has learnt on the job and from her experiences after graduating which included a Postgraduate Apprenticeship at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia USA. Other residencies included, Megalo Access Arts, CDITM, Montreal Canada, Printworks Trust, London. “I can’t underestimate how much I have learnt on the job, working for de Gournay, Charles Parsons, Cloth and Brintons. I feel incredibly fortunate.”

What do you do?

Somehow, I’ve turned into a slashie. I’m a Surface designer / Educator / Student / Small Business owner / Mum (Not always in that order). The best thing about being a slashie is the variety.

Favourite thing about surface design and why you love to teach it?

I love mark making, drawing, printing, collage and all the things you can do with your hands. I also love all the challenges and possibilities of merging all the marks, motifs and drawing with Photoshop and Illustrator. I love teaching Surface Design, as every student has a unique handwriting style and viewpoint on the world. There is such a great energy, when everyone shares their ideas.

What is the hardest part of the surface design industry?

Getting a full time job in the industry. I remember when I started out, putting images on a CD and mailing it out to companies. (Yes CD’s that tell you how long ago that was). After getting experience in my first design role, it was easier to move up the ladder.

What is your favourite printing process?

I adore screen printing, block printing and working directly on the fabric surface.  After working in industry for 10 years (mostly sitting behind a computer) It’s a refreshing change to return to using my hands.

Any tips for a designer starting out in the industry or anyone wanting to learn new design skills?

Get your designs out there. Use social media. Build a beautiful Instagram feed. Share ideas on  Pinterest. Engage with other Surface Designers. One of the very best things about being a surface designer is the sense of community, in person and online. Surface designers are lifelong learners, it’s a journey of trying new techniques, new programs and new approaches to making designs. Always be open to new possibilities.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on designs to expose onto silkscreen to start printing product.  I am also preparing for THE MAKEOLOGY SERIES. These are mini workshops to learn a new skill. Make and use your hands.  Screen print a Linen Tea Towel is on Sunday 16th September and Block Print a set of 4 Linen Napkins is on Sunday 7th October.  Check out my website for details  (** Student tickets available for iscd students and graduates)

Where does your inspiration for your designs come from?

Everywhere and anywhere, the small things like interesting fonts, geometric patterns in nature. Drawing, and doodling.

Where do you see this industry going? and/or how is technology is affecting it?

While there is a much emphasis on Photoshop and Illustrator skills, having your own voice or handwriting style is also important. Technology, paired with manufacturing, means there will be greater innovation for products and applying patterns to surfaces. I also feel as awareness builds for transparency in supply chains, ethical fashion and sustainable fabric choices, there will be more innovations in research such as the orange fibre fabric produced from the by products of citrus juice making. Researchers from Deakin University have just been awarded funding to recycle jeans. They grid down old jeans, and use the jean and indigo dye particles, to re-dye jeans. I feel excited about the future of the industry.


Edwina Straub

Edwina initially started out as a fashion buyer, it was her tertiary education in the United States that introduced her to the world of surface design. She studied her masters in Fine Art in Colorado with a focus on Fibre and then went onto study a master’s in Design and Merchandising majoring in Digital Textile Design. After completing her studies she began to look for a masters in surface design and digital printing, taking as many workshops as she could along the way. It was when Edwina moved back to Los Angeles that she began to combine all this knowledge in a surface design certificate very similar to the one she teaches at iscd at Otis College of Art and Design.

What do you do?

In addition to teaching at iscd, I design textiles for the wholesale interior design industry.

Tell us about your recent features in magazines

My Karkahna textile Diamond Belle was recently featured in May’s Belle magazine’s Cloth pages. This design for an outdoor fabric was inspired by ikat designs combined with the time I spent in America.

My most recent outdoor textile fabric feature is going to be in October’s edition of House and Garden. This one was inspired by a combination of Spanish Mission architecture found in Los Angeles and Sydney.

My inspiration normally comes from traditional textile design methods or motifs found in architecture.

What is your favourite method to create designs?

I love textile techniques such as Japanese shibori or Central Asian ikats, and Indian block printing. Having recently taken a trip to india to visit a block printing factory it was great to see the process from start to finish and the methods used to create such beautiful designs.

What do you find is the hardest part of the surface design industry?

Finding an outlet to sell your designs and staying true to your design aesthetic in a very fast pace industry.

What is the best thing you’ve learnt from your experience in the textile design world?

I’d probably say not to follow trends and to create textiles from mediums and subject matters that give you the greatest joy.

Any tips for a designer starting out in the industry or anyone wanting to learn new design skills?

Whilst it’s important to have digital skills to create designs, hand drawn or painted designs are more sort after due to them being original and unique to you. Spend as much time using your hands to create as you would spend on the computer.

How have the printing processes changed over the years?

Technology has has changed the surface design industry massively over the past 10-20 years, although traditional printing is still highly sort after, digital printing has becoming increasingly more popular and will continue to be important as it has the lowest environmental impact compared to other traditional textile printing methods. Digital printing has also changed the surface design industry by opening it up to a wider range of design disciplines, like graphic designers and fine artists. Making it a competitive but very rewarding industry.


We’re so happy to have Leah and Edwina on the iscd team sharing their knowledge and talents with our students and we’re excited to see what’s to come in the Surface Design world in the near future!

Keep inspired through the surface design world with through our social media channels and our most recent blog post looking at some talented designers from around the globe!