Kelowna artist Shandra Smith’s bold and bright designs on canvas once won her an exclusive local following.
These days her reach has expanded well beyond the Okanagan, and her works can be found on everything from fashionable American feet, to trendy English shops and dormitories then all the way back home again, plastered onto the walls of a new Kelowna hotel.
It was a major career shift that, like most things, was born out of necessity.
“I realized that when I was selling the originals, it was a lot of work physically, carrying pieces to shows and then you get there and you may or may not sell a piece,” Smith said, whose work is created by manipulating photos of bright and colourful arrangements in a compelling way.
“So, I Googled and Instagram-ed companies that were working with surface designers. I would email them, and send a few jpegs, and occasionally a company would call me back.”
In time she signed up with a couple online companies that print-on-demand, and her work made it onto a myriad of surfaces.
“Basically, you upload your image and these companies can put it onto scarves and bedding and pillows. I’ve been doing that for the last year or 18 months,” she said.
“But recently I have been getting more into collaborations, where you work with a company and you get a higher royalty than with these other print-on-demand companies.”
The first successful collaboration was with a there was a company named Casery, which is based in California. They make limited edition cell phone cases.
Smith sent them a design, they bought it and a whole line of her art was distributed.
Her next big coup was getting her design picked up by the Chicago-based company Bucketfeet, which prints funky designs onto comfy shoes.
“Over the course of 18 months I submitted lots of designs, ” she said, adding it took time before they picked one.
“Then it goes through this stage when they do a limited run to see how it sells. “
In the 10 days they’ve been for sale the shoes have been snapped up at a rapid rate. As of Tuesday, there were only women’s size 5s left.
“As far as I can tell , they’re at the stage where they are deciding whether they can mass produce them,” she said. “If they do, that means they will will bring them out in all sizes and major shopping centres … like Bloomingdales.”
While she’s in limbo waiting to know if she’s gained solid footing in the fashion world, Smith is also working on another project that first hit it big—literally— in February of last year.
The UK company Wallsauce.com decided to pick up her designs and turn them into wall sized decals.
“The murals have been sold in the UK … some have gone to France and some to the States. Some are in student accommodation and some have gone to a retail store,” she said, noting that Australia, the UK and the US have been where she’s had the most success.
And, strangely, that success overseas brought her back home.
When Smith heard about the Hotel Zed— a fun fun and eclectic hotel soon to be opened on the corner of Abbott and Leon—she reached out again.
They decided t use some of her wall murals in the hotel, and have picked up some of her canvas mounted designs.
By any measure, Smith has become a success.
But whether that success is due to her artistic abilities or business acumen remains to be seen.
“I’m self-taught and my work is photography based, so my process is I set up colourful objects, foam circles, paper, streamers, photograph it, then play around with the images on computer,” she said. “I really like colours. Colours make me happy… and when my kids were little I would work in half hour session on a piece as an escape.”
Now that her kids are older those stolen moments have morphed into a full-time effort, but in an entirely different way than she originally expected.
“You definitely have to promote yourself. A person does have to have skills and talent, but they have to have a lot of business and marking skills, too,” she said. “Sometimes you see things and think ‘that’s not all that amazing,’ and it’s because they have the right connections and they can make it.”
When she started to make it, Smith realized she needed to get organized and run her art as a business.
“I did expect to have to push things … there has been loads of rejection, but you have to keep on going and eventually find the right fit,” she said.
And, with surface designs, the fit can stretch and shrink according to her client’s interests.
Smith has her eyes set on a future in fashion, however, so she’s hoping her Bucketfeet collaboration goes well.
“Some have said my work says lends itself to fashion,” she said. “I haven’t had a chance to properly seek those opportunities out, but I will soon.”
To learn more about Smith or to see more of her work go to www.shandrasmith.com.