Born in China, designer Sian Zeng moved to Hungary at the age of seven.
In 2010, Sian set up her brand after graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins in 2008, where she was given the William Atkinson award. She went on to win the Ellle Decoration Young Talent of the Year award in 2010/2011. Her London based design company specialises in innovative wallpapers, interior accessories and gift items.
What motivated you to set up the Sian Zeng brand? I had always wanted my own business, but when I was at college, one of my Professors bought my wallpaper – that gave me the confidence to start selling my designs.
What artistic traditions have most inspired you and your collections? I draw a lot of inspiration from stories, be they traditional or from my own experiences. I love stories that are funny, weird, or a bit surreal – like fairy tales. As a small child in Hungary I loved looking at the beautifully drawn pictures in books of Hungarian Folk Tales, which I obsessively copied and altered to tell new stories to my classmates.
How do you create your designs? I still mostly draw my initial designs by hand with conventional materials, and subsequently manipulate them digitally. There are a lot of advantages to drawing by hand, for example, you can use a huge variety of mark making tools; colours mix more randomly; and I feel I have better control over my drawings. On the other hand, drawing digitally with a tablet allows you to manipulate the image more easily to change its shape; touch up specific areas; create different colourways and repeat patterns – and of course, it has the great advantage of coming with an “undo” function!
What role does colour play in your collections? Every time I begin creating a new collection, I make a colour-themed mood board, and try to stick to it, as colour is what unifies the mood for my collections. As such, colour is very important. I also have a Pinterest mood board dedicated to colour, which is great as I can repin ideas as I see them, and come back to them when it’s time for designing.
Do you have children yourself? No, but I am quite childish…
How did your own childhood, parents and grandparents influence what, why and how you create your products? My childhood has definitely influenced me- my interest in illustration and storytelling began when my family moved from China to Hungary. As I didn’t speak Hungarian, I spent half a year communicating with my classmates through drawings and hand gestures, which was a big factor in developing my illustrative skills!
Are Fairtrade, organic and sustainable processes and materials important to you? Where possible I make sure that my cards and paper are made from recycled materials; and they and my wallpaper are printed using eco-friendly vegetable ink.
What other designers, brands or products do you look up to or consider as icons? I really admire the fashion photographer Tim Walker. His photos are beautifully staged and always tell a story; and though he is inspired by well known fairy tales he manages to twist and present them in a quirky, unique way. I also love Donna Wilson’s colourful blankets and unusual knitted creatures; and Rifle Paper Co’s designs which I find simple but effective, and I love the natural floral and animal motifs. I’m currently using their to-do lists to keep organised in the studio and coveting their iPhone covers. I think the Cambridge Satchel Company are great too- I would love to have one of their bags someday. In terms of product design, I couldn’t be without my Bamboo Pen Graphics Tablet by Wacom; and in the kitchen I love Joseph Joseph products, especially the lemon squeezer!
Is telling stories an important aspect of your creations? And why hedgehogs, pigs and llamas? Storytelling is central to my work – with my Magnetic Woodlands wallpaper I wanted to create a product that allowed users to tell their own tales using the range of characters, buildings, and speech bubbles. In terms of the animals I draw, these are the creatures that appear in my imagination. The pigs do have another significance to me: I was born in the year of the pig, and my name in Chinese means “gliding”, hence the flying pigs.
What is your favourite holiday destination? Portorož in Slovenia – this was my first ever seaside holiday where I could swim in the sea, and the water is so clear you can see all the fish swimming around. I get most of my ideas when I’m “switched off” away from work- so I usually think up new collections when I am on holiday.
What were your favourite toys as a child, and have they influenced the way you design today? As a child I remember having teddy bears that were very fluffy, and consequently got dirty and dusty very quickly – this is one of the reason that the bears I design now have their fur printed!
What are your favourite children’s books and authors? The Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne.
Do you prefer a great picturebook or narrative story? Definitely picture books.
What new products can we look forward to seeing from Sian Zeng in the next six months? We will very shortly be launching cushions and prints featuring favourite characters from our woodlands range, along with bed linen in the woodlands print, and our new collection, due out around November 2013, will feature a dinosaur print on wallpaper (including magnetic wallpaper) and bed linen.