May 26th, 2015
I tell you what, this has been the year of long-term projects coming to fruition. There have been so many things I’ve had to sit on for months, and it feels so good to finally be able to share them with you! And the one pictured above might just be my favorite of all.
Photo by Summer Hess Briggs
This is my friend Sonja Silver. She’s a dyed-in-the-wool Tacoman, and has owned a women’s clothing boutique here for nearly two decades. Over the years, she’s watched women of all shapes and sizes come through her shop, and has developed a keen eye for clothing that’s both well-made and well-designed. But she had a gap in her business: for years, her customers had been asking for coats and jackets, and Sonja had never been happy with what was available in the marketplace.
So she has spent the last year designing her own.
It turned out to be quite the challenge—Sonja was inspired by the classic swing coats and car coats of the 1950s, but wanted the hard-wearing functionality of an outdoorsy shell. Basically, her goal was to make something that was both a workhorse—and a thoroughbred. After all, we live in the Pacific Northwest—we wear jackets pretty much all the time here, in all weather.
Here’s where I come in. Sonja called me up one day last spring, and told me about her coat project. She said she wanted the coat to be lined with fabric that was as unique as the design of the coat itself, and asked me if I’d be interested in illustrating a pattern repeat for her.
Needless to say, I didn’t so much say yes as squeal it.
Sonja had the idea for a constellation pattern—something that could be both playful and sophisticated at the same time. We both wanted the pattern to be hand-painted, to help transform the coat into a piece of wearable art.
Here’s the finished pattern. There are 27 different constellations represented, including all 12 signs of the zodiac and some perennial favorites from the skies in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Photo by Summer Hess Briggs
What I love best, though, is seeing the pattern “in action,” doing its job as part of the garment. While I was painting fish and birds and Greek gods, Sonja was hard at work on creating a working prototype of the coat. She went through many different test fabrics and design changes, trying the fit on women of all shapes and sizes to make the design as universal and versatile as possible.
Photos by Kathy Chakerian
And now, at long last, it’s ready for production!
Sonja has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds to produce the coat, and it’s officially live and up and running. The campaign will run until June 16, and we’re already 1/4 of the way there!
This is the third Kickstarter campaign I’ve been a part of (you can read about the other two successful projects here and here)—for those of you who might not know how it works, a campaign is run like an NPR pledge drive, with tangible rewards offered in exchange for each funding level. So this is not a donation platform—it’s an exchange of goods for capital. We must make our funding goal by the time the clock runs out, or we don’t get any of the funding already pledged. It’s an all-or-nothing thing, and that ensures that the project will be done right, with enough capital to get the job done. And to make sure she doesn’t get overwhelmed by too many orders all at once, Sonja has limited this first production run to 200 coats.
That reminds me: a note about the prototype featured in the Kickstarter campaign. The fabric used for the lining was just a test fabric we had made in a small quantity when we were looking for manufacturers. We weren’t happy with the black background of that fabric, as it turned out a little on the light side. So while you’ll see it in the Kickstarter video, we ended up going with a different manufacturer for the final lining fabric.
Here’s the real thing—the actual lining fabric that will be used in the finished run of coats. As you can see, the black is a true black, and the pattern pops from the background the way it’s intended to.
The best part of Sonja’s vision here is that this project has been brought about almost entirely by local women. From apparel design to illustration to construction to marketing, it’s local women who have made this thing happen. In an age where the vast majority of all garments are made overseas, in sweatshop conditions, that’s really saying something. Sonja’s coat is made with fabric sourced and printed in the United States, and the garment itself is pieced and sewn right here in Tacoma. I love being able to say that—I love being able to put our beliefs into action in this way.
The Kickstarter campaign even has a fantastic video made by a local gal—the lovely Emilie Firn (shown here snapping photos of my process materials in my studio).
Photo by Summer Hess Briggs
And last but not least, one other local gal has had a “hand” in the project: Sonja’s grandmother Lena, who was the inspiration for the coat. Sonja says her goal was to make a coat that had the same attributes Lena had: she’s hardworking, she’s beautiful, and she’s got your back.
So if you’re looking for your next go-to jacket, or you have a woman in your life who is, visit our Kickstarter campaign and make a pledge! And if a coat isn’t your thing, there are many other pledge levels and reward goodies to choose from. Even a pledge of $1 helps move the project forward and gives us better exposure online (if all my social media followers and email newsletter subscribers pledged $1, we’d instantly reach the halfway point of our goal!)—and of course, helping spread the word through your social media platforms will also help us meet our goal. But most of all, we just can’t wait to see women wearing the coat, out there in the real world. So take a gander at the campaign and snag your coat here!
Thank you for your support!
May 25th, 2015
Hope yours was glorious!
May 21st, 2015
This image has had a bit of a resurgence on social media lately, thanks to a recent TED talk about flag design. All of a sudden I was getting pinged by Twitter notifications by folks holding up my flag as an example of “good” design (thanks, guys!)—and it made me realize that not only had I never gotten around to blogging about this project, but I also should probably do a little primer on the basics of flag design.
In a nutshell, I developed this flag design for a 2012 exhibition about vexillology (the study of flags) that I was invited to be a part of. It was held at Tacoma’s Fulcrum Gallery, and was titled Union Tac. Basically, the exhibit invited a group of local artists to propose a new city flag, and display their designs at the gallery. After I designed my flag, I hand-sewed this prototype (Betsy Ross-style!) for the exhibition.
The thing about flag design is that it’s much more difficult than it seems to be at first glance—and at least in the case of city flags, most people are doing it wrong. When it comes to city flags, mostly what you see are complex designs that contain a city’s official seal, or some sort of text paired with an image, or some weird combination of color fields and complex graphics that are unreadable at a small scale or large distance. These are all examples of real city flags (clockwise from top left: Milwaukee, New York City, Boston, Detroit), designs that might work under other circumstances (the city seals, for instance), but as flags that are just a mess.
The state flag for my own state of Washington commits the same cardinal sin as the Boston flag and so many others: whoever designed it just plonked the Great Seal onto a colored field and called it good. But look at all that detail in Washington’s portrait—there’s no way that thing is going to be readable at a distance. And one of the biggest mistakes here is the use of type (and as a lettering artist who loves type more than anything, this is hard for me to say!). One of the biggest rules of vexillology: no text. None. The flag should be readable and recognizable by anybody, regardless of literacy level or native language. Even a two-year old can recognize their country’s flag (or for that matter, a famous logo or an illustrated icon); they shouldn’t have to be able to read text to do so.
Take a look at these flags instead (clockwise from top left: Chicago, St. Louis, Portland, OR and Indianapolis)—this is how it’s done. Each of these flags is incredibly simple, readable and recognizable at any size or distance, and beautifully eye-catching. Each flag uses just a few colors (at most 3 colors, plus white), and each tells some sort of story that links to the city in question. The blue stripes in the Chicago flag, for instance, represent the bodies of water that define the city (Lake Michigan and the Chicago River). The fleur de lis in the St. Louis flag is a nod to the city’s French heritage. Indianapolis’s flag is basically a map of the city (how cool is that?), while Portland’s highlights the city’s location at the confluence of two rivers. These flags are all vastly different from one another, but they all use the same simple language.
So this is what was running through my head when I set about imagining Tacoma’s flag. I wanted to tell the story of our city and its place in the Northwest—but do so as minimally as possible. As you can see, there was a lot of rearranging and redrafting and re-simplifying—again and again. I’m normally the type of artist who refines a piece by adding to it—so you can imagine how difficult it was for me to keep stripping away at this one.
Here’s my finished flag design. The white triangle represents Mt. Rainier, against a blue field of sky above and a matching blue stripe below that stands for the waters of Puget Sound and Commencement Bay. The dark green stripe represents two things: the natural landforms of islands and trees that are such iconic parts of our landscape; and the continuum of industry upon which our city was founded. The gold circle represents both Tacoma’s location at the base of Mt. Rainier, and its origins as the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad (the circle resembles the symbol for a railroad stop). Finally, the colors were chosen not only for their correspondence to their real-world counterparts (trees, snow, sky, etc.), but also because they echo the colors used on the Washington state flag.
So that’s it. I still have my hand-sewn prototype carefully folded and tucked away, but I had kind of forgotten about the project after the exhibition ended. Many thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped revive the design and give it new life online. Who knows—maybe we’ll actually get to see it on a city flagpole some day.
May 18th, 2015
I have my tiny souvenir bottle of Mount Saint Helens ash sitting on my desk right now, as a reminder that it was thirty-five years ago today that the mountain erupted.
The event happened a year before I was born, so it’s not like I have personal memories of it—but Mt. St. Helens still crops up in my work now and again. It also shows up on the horizon from time to time—
—but not as frequently as you might think. It’s often in its own bank of clouds, so it’s not visible much, even when Mt. Rainier and the other volcanoes are out. In fact, I had never seen Mt. St. Helens up close (despite a few attempts) until ten days ago. With the anniversary of the eruption looming, I figured it was high time I remedied the situation. It just didn’t seem right that so far the only thing I’d seen in any detail was the gift shop.
Speaking of which… Normally I’d say that my sketchbook drawings are my best souvenirs, but I think in this case, there might be an exception:
Our “before and after” salt and pepper shakers, given to us by a geologist friend. I’m not gonna lie: there’s no way I could ever top these (er, no pun intended).
As another “souvenir” of today’s anniversary, I’ve got sketches of Mt. St. Helens from the past few years over on Drawn the Road Again. So go take a look—but head for high ground if you hear any rumbling!
May 16th, 2015
I took this photo of one of our apple trees a couple of weeks ago, when the blossoms were at their peak.
Now the tree just has a couple of blooms still hanging on—
—but if you look closely, it has other surprises in store.
May 14th, 2015
Jessica and I are working on the next Dead Feminist broadside right now—our process begins with choosing a quote and hammering out a rough concept, and then I do a bunch of thumbnail sketches to puzzle out the design. Usually, by the time I start lettering in pencil, I have a really clear picture in my head of what the finished product should look like. Even so—even 22 broadsides later—I’m still intimidated by the proverbial blank page. That’s why all those thumbnail sketches come in handy: they help illuminate the next step, and the next, and the next. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll be so wrapped up in blocking out the composition that I’ll forget to worry about whether or not the design will be any good.
Fingers crossed…time to start in.
May 12th, 2015
I’ve been sitting on this announcement for a little while, because I wanted to wait until the project went “live” for my client and their customers, too. Now that it has, I can show you the new fabric I designed. That’s right, fabric! This has been a bit of an illustration dream-come-true for me; I’ve always wanted to design for fabric, and it feels so good to feel the finished product in hand.
This all started when Pacific Fabrics contacted me to ask if they could license the Washington illustration from my (still in-progress) 50 States Series for use on a fabric panel. They wanted to create a Block of the Month pattern for their stores, and design a quilt pattern around my illustration. Both the Tailor and I have been customers of Pacific Fabrics since we moved here, so they got a big fat “yes” from me.
To round out the quilt design, I created four more illustrations of local highlights, done in the same style as the state map. Then I finished off the fabric panel with a “ditsy” (tiny) tree pattern repeat.
Then Pacific Fabrics had the panel manufactured at In the Beginning Fabrics. What I love best about all of this is how hyper local it is. Pacific Fabrics has been a small Seattle business for over a hundred years (they actually began as an ironworking company), and In the Beginning is also a Seattle company. Add me to the mix, and the whole project has taken place over about a thirty-mile radius.
I popped by the Pacific Fabrics store in Seattle to snap a couple of photos (and drop off some prints and cards, which they’ll also be carrying in their stores!), and it felt good to see that everyone in the cutting line was buying fabric for the Washington quilt.
And here’s the quilt block that the lovely Anna-Beth at Pacific Fabrics designed for the Block of the Month program. I love how she created so many Washington icons from geometric shapes, and incorporated my illustrations into the design. I also loved being able to help develop the color scheme of the quilt blocks, based on the palette of my illustrations. I have never made a quilt myself (though I have dabbled a bit…), but I think I just found a good reason to start.
If you’re a quilter, or you’d like to try your hand at a Block of the Month program, you can find everything you need at the Pacific Fabrics website. You can have the patterns and materials mailed to you if you’re far from the Evergreen State, or if you’re local, club meetings centered around each block are starting this month at store locations.
To Anna-Beth and Debbie T. at Pacific Fabrics: thank you so much for bringing me on board, and for giving me such a great crash course in the quilting industry. To everyone else: happy sewing!
May 9th, 2015
Speaking of new books, my work has appeared in a few other recent titles, and I finally had a chance to share some photos with you.
First up is another garden book, which I hinted at some months ago: The Nonstop Color Garden, published by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group.
This is the second garden book I’ve illustrated with Quarto, though while the first one was about centering a garden around edible plants, this one is about creating a year-round display of color.
I contributed a dozen illustrations to the book—each showing a garden plan throughout the year, with the color evolving and changing with the seasons.
The book couldn’t have arrived with more perfect timing for me—now that the Tailor and I are in the new house, we have all sorts of ideas for how we’d like build and shape a future garden. One of the things I always admire in Pacific Northwest gardens is how they’re bursting with color in nearly every month of the year. Just researching the illustrations for The Nonstop Color Garden gave me lots of new knowledge and ideas (and the book doesn’t just deal with one region, either!), and you can bet I’ll be reading the finished book carefully for even more inspiration. Big thanks to Quarto and my fantastic art director, Brad Springer, for helping turn my thumb just a shade greener!
The other two books are centered around my favorite thing ever: sketching. One is the latest book written and edited by my friend Gabi Campanario, founder of the Urban Sketching movement. His newest, published by Quarry Books, is a handbook on urban sketching, focused on drawing architecture. The book includes tips and examples from artists all over the world, in a wide variety of techniques and styles. I was asked to contribute a sketch I did in Philadelphia a few years ago—it feels great to be in such good company in the book. Thanks, Gabi!
Finally, the newest book is called A World of Artist Journal Pages, by Dawn DeVries Sokol and published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. This book is different in scope from Gabi’s sketching handbook—instead, it’s more of an anthology of journaling. There are over 1000 artworks represented in the book, and they present a broad range of journal work—everything from personal diaries to collage books to handwritten calendars to idea sketchbooks to figure studies to travel journals. Much of the work reminds me of the personal diaries of artists like Frida Kahlo, and the book is a fascinating glimpse into how the creative process works differently for everybody. If you’ve ever wanted to keep a visual journal, but didn’t know where to start, this might be a good reference book to have on hand.
Many thanks to the authors and publishers who included my work! It feels so good to have these babies on my bookshelf.
May 5th, 2015
This beauty arrived in the post a little while ago, and I finally remembered to put it down for a moment to take some photos to share with you. Our Dead Feminists are in a new book! Our friends Kseniya Thomas and Jessica C. White, who founded the Ladies of Letterpress organization and conference, have just published a gorgeous anthology of women printers with the Ivy Press and Princeton Architectural Press.
The format of the book is really something special. First of all, it’s huge—a whopping 11 x 14 inches—so you can really get in close and see the detail of all the work featured. Second, each page features a large piece on one side, and smaller images and background info on the other—and every page is perforated, so those who want to can turn their favorite pages into frameable wall art. (Not that this book purist would do that, but it’s a great idea!)
Jessica and I are honored to be a part of the book, and proud to be some of the earliest members of the Ladies of Letterpress community. Best of all, it feels so good to be in a book with so many of our friends and colleagues, and included with such great work being done around the U.S. So in honor of our community of printer friends, we’ve been given the green light to share our contributor’s discount with all our friends. If you’d like a copy of the book, you can order it at PA Press and enter the code LETTER for a 35% discount!
And speaking of community and the Dead Feminists, Jessica and I have a large batch of them on display right now at the gallery at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. (I don’t have a photo of the show yet to share with you, but when I get one I’ll post it here.) The exhibit is called The Contained Narrative, and deals with all the myriad ways books and broadsides tell a story—from the traditional to the unexpected. Nine of our broadsides will be on display (it’s been many years since we displayed so many at once!), as part of the “Book as Community & Collaboration” section of the show.
The exhibit is already on display, and timed to run through the 2015 Book Arts Biennial this summer—where book artists and visitors from around the world will see it. If you happen to be in the Twin Cities this season, here are the details:
The Contained Narrative: Defining the Contemporary Artist Book
April 8 through July 26, 2015
Star Tribune Foundation Gallery, Minnesota Center for Book Arts
1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN
Opening reception: Friday, May 8, 6 to 9 pm
Closing reception: Friday, July 24, 6 to 9 pm
More info and list of artists here
May 4th, 2015
The rhododendroon is the state flower of Washington, so it’s not like I’m not used to seeing them around town. But this pink monster, which practically dwarfs our neighbor’s house, is something else again.
Spring was never my favorite season before we moved to the Northwest (I’m more of an autumn gal in general), but what we lack here compared to the spectacular fall foliage of the East, we more than make up for with our spring color. I’m a convert—and reveling in all this gorgeous pink.