When design is as ubiquitous as it is today, how do you stay one step ahead of the game? And when you are just starting out, how do you make your mark on a market already heavily saturated with your chosen line? It's a challenge that faces every fresh-faced design graduate but Johanna Basford, a wallpaper designer from Auchnagatt in rural Aberdeenshire, appears to have cracked the enigmatic code.

Since graduating last July with a first-class honours degree show in printed textiles from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, the 23-year-old has hardly stopped for breath between exhibitions, competitions and all-important commissions.

Basford has only been in business since January, which makes her the youngest and newest designer to enter the highly competitive wallpaper market, but she already has an awesome list of deadlines to meet. She is about to exhibit at the New Designers One Year On exhibition at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London from Thursday and is one of only 20 Scottish designers out of a total of 300 from across the UK to be selected to show at Origin, the newly relaunched London Crafts Fair which has moved from Chelsea and now takes place at Somerset House in October.

On top of that, her clients include Heal's, the iconic London homewares store, and she is on the brink of breaking into the lucrative north American market, having just got herself an agent/ distributor in the US. How has she managed it? "If you do something that's a bit different, it attracts attention, " she says simply. "Everyone wants something that's a bit unique."

Besides her unusual botanic designs in the round, what really sets Basford's work apart is that every bespoke roll is printed by hand in a tiny studio set in the grounds of her parents' remote fish farm in the countryside near Ellon. It's painstaking, time-consuming work but it means each roll is a one-off piece that contains a little bit of Scotland. This unique selling point is reflected in its price of around pounds-150 for a 10m roll and places it at the very top end of the market.

Luckily for this young designer, it seems there is still a place for the artisan in an increasingly digital world. Basford recently sold one of her designs to Heal's for its China Blue bedlinen range. Her circular design, which includes orchids, butterflies and birds, has been hand-embroidered in navy and indigo blue onto crisp white linen duvet covers, pillowslips and cushions and will be shown on July 20 at the Royal College of Art in London as part of the Heal's Discovers 3 event, a collection of original products by students and young designers besides exclusive items by well-known designers. It will go on sale at Heal's stores in September. Heal's buyer Sarah Bell says, "Johanna's work has a very on-trend handwriting, which I love. It is complex and highly visual so that you don't immediately see everything. Her birds, bees and butterflies reveal themselves at different times, which

makes the design very compelling."

Basford's US agent/distributor, Roxie Mae Lackman, explains the appeal. "It was Johanna's ability to create such impactful visuals with single-colour prints that first caught my eye, " she says. "Her designs are boldly baroque on first glance but when you look closer it's her attention to detail that wows you. The organic ornamentation is so fine and precise without being fussy or overdone that it's difficult to imagine a more beautiful or inviting covering on one's walls or furnishings. They're simply gorgeous."

Lackman, co-founder of the Florida-based interior design importers 2JANE, approached Basford after viewing her work at the New Designers Online website and immediately commissioned sample rolls to show at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York last month.

Besides sample rolls of wallpaper in her Damask design in green on green with new butterfly imagery, Basford sent out fabric swatches in her new Bella design in green on white and green on green. Although her trademark is monochrome, she says colour is important for the residential market.

"The deadlines were very tight, " says Basford. "Roxie Mae rang with her order on a Friday in May and I sent the lot out the following Tuesday in time to catch the ICFF. Hopefully it was worth the hassle because potentially we're talking orders of hundreds of rolls."

Lackman is thrilled by her Scottish protegee. "At 2JANE we work with wallpaper stores in LA, Boston, Chicago and, soon, Atlanta - all of which we expect will be carrying Johanna's fantastic prints by the end of the year, " she says. "We also sell directly to designers. 2JANE will likely serve as the distributor, but we've been speaking with a very high-profile handscreener/ distributor/creative guru in US textiles about partnering with us and Johanna in developing and distributing her line here."

With all this attention, you might expect Basford tobe making her escape up Bennachie, the remote mountain that dominates the north-east of Scotland. If she is stressed out, though, she hides it well. Wearing paint-splattered jeans and flip-flops, her long black hair tied back casually, she is a study in serenity as she shows off a roll of her latest black gloss on black Peking wallpaper design featuring hand-applied gold leaf butterflies. Basford will be showing it in London this week alongside her current Damask and Crazy Botanic wallpaper designs, and will also unveil her new line of large-scale matching lampshades. It was Basford's black and white Crazy Botanic design that first got her noticed by DKNY, who installed it in their Bond Street store as part of the DKNY and Wallpaper* New Designers Showcase in 2005.

Basford's working conditions could not be further removed from the highly sought-after product they spawn. Her studio is a converted fishermen's restroom at Mill of Elrick in Auchnagatt. While its windows overlook the fish farm's picturesque loch surrounded by cowslips and dog roses, the studio itself adjoins the modest trout and salmon hatchery, the windows of which are covered with cardboard and echo to the sound of water dripping into metal fishtanks. This unprepossessing, dimly lit room houses Basford's most prized possession - an ultraviolet exposure unit that burns her designs onto specially imported silk screens in a matter of seconds. The unit cost pounds-4000, half her allowance from the Scottish Arts Council, but she could not operate without it. Once the design is set, it is indelible - although Basford has to use the hatchery's rubber hose to wash down the screens after every


Back in her studio, she demonstrates her specially adapted technique of screenprinting with a squeegee, a bottle of specially mixed dark-green paint and a Damask designed screen (Basford doesn't use a Pantone book, the industry-standard colour guide, as she feels it's "too cold", preferring to mix colours according to her own ideas or to match customers' samples).

Rolls of peppermint-coloured paper are smoothed out with her mum's Phillips iron and taped individually to a massive rubber-coated table fixed with a metal track on one side to guide the squeegee along. This can be notched according to the drop of the pattern to help with spacing. Basford places the screen down, spreads out a blob of paint and drags the squeegee over it to reveal a perfect - and expensive - sample. A modest hairdryer is switched on to speed up the drying process and a bottle of Mr Muscle antibacterial spray is on hand to prepare the screen for cleaning immediately afterwards.

Appearances can be deceptive, though. For all its apparent simplicity, handprinting has its drawbacks. Basford admits working with paper rather than fabric has been a steep learning curve. (Only St Martin's School of Art offers a specially tailored wallpaper course. ) "Every sheet has to be spot-on, " she says. "I can't tell you the number of times I've got to 9.5m on a 10m roll and something happens that makes me have to start all over again. I spend a lot of my time crying and/or swearing."

Nevertheless, Basford is absolutely dedicated to her craft and has no intention of upping sticks to London, despite having worked there on several placements after graduating.

"London is saturated with design, " she says, "and there's a lot of CAD [computer-aided design] and digital work going on. When I was in London on placements after New Designers last year, I felt I wasn't being inspired by the concrete and tarmac all around me.

"I did apply for some jobs, but then I realised I didn't want to work in a place where the creative director tells you what colour to use, etc. That sort of work is very trend-orientated in scale and colour. I try not to work with trends.

"Up here you're more isolated. I think it helps in the subconscious absorption of outside influences like botanicals and florals."

Basford realises handprinting is restrictive in terms of speed and volume, and is experimenting with flexographic printing, which makes larger volumes. Her first samples are due back next week from the factory she has chosen in England. This engraves printing rollers with her designs, all of which are copyrighted. The rollers are then sent to a specialist large-scale wallpaper printer.

"Flexographic printing is good for increasing volume but as it can also be done in small runs it can protect your exclusivity, " explains Basford. "It's like mass production on a small scale, which means it's still high-end and expensive. It's perfect for small commercial commissions like boutique hotels or one-off room sets. Hopefully it will help with the cashflow so I can keep doing my handprinting at the same time."

Five years from now Basford sees herself expanding the US and European market for her handprinted wallpaper and textile range, but in a bigger studio with a team of technicians. In the shorter term, she plans to show at the trendsetting Milan Furniture Fair at least by next year.

She reckons wallpaper is here to stay and is not just a retro fashion fad. "Technology will play an increasing part in the wallpapers of the future, " she predicts. "They will come with inbuilt circuit boards that can operate e-mail, voicemail, iPods and so on. Ambient papers will lighten up as a room gets louder. All these things are being researched and are moving forward into production.

"Wallpaper is moving towards being more functional and technology-based than just beautiful to look at. Its potential is being realised. It's good to go forward, to readjust old values and traditions."

Basford has some exciting futuristic ideas of her own and has received funding from Ideasmart, the Scottish funding programme that supports strong ideas within the creative industries, to develop an innovative range of responsive wallpapers. At this stage she cannot reveal any details as the patent is pending.

So as we all get used to living with wallpaper again it'll be nice to know that when it comes to cutting-edge design, tradition still has its part to play in the process.

To view Johanna Basford's designs visit www. johanna-basford. co. uk. Heal's London stores, 196 Tottenham Court Road, 234 King's Road, London SW3. Visit www. heals. co. uk or call 020 7349 8411. Origin: The London Craft Fair, Somerset House, London, October 3-15. Visit www. craftscouncil. org. uk/newevent