Category Archives: design

cats on hand

designing with cats

I usually find that my cats are fairly uninterested in my world, unless it directly overlaps with their own in terms of being fed, getting the head scratched, whatever.

The two cats at my studio have recently begun piling up directly in front of my computer, begging for attention. My attention is focused there,  hence it is their main mission to distract me from my work so I will pet them.

This morning, after the usual frantic purring and thrusting activity from the grey cat, however, she settled back to rest and purr.

Later, I noticed that she wasn’t sleeping. She was intently watching the computer screen as I made changes to a design. Who knew? I have held cats up in front of mirrors as they demurely refused to acknowledge the image of the kitty opposite, so I had assumed that they simply were not interested in two dimensional representation.  My story is now being corrected.

Divination in the Dark

One of the nicer hats I get to wear is as a freelance designer, and I work regularly with Crate and Barrel.  Generally I meet with my person there twice a year, and she is incredibly creative.  I show her ideas, and she takes what she thinks will work off for sampling. Her input results in really beautiful and imaginative ways to make those designs into some kind of textile. We work on primarily pillows, throws, and rugs.

The drawback (for me!) is that she does not have the final word on what goes into the line each season.  A group of creatives from all of the various departments must meet up and select from among the samples. They choose things which will work well together in the stores, and later in homes.  This means my person and I might absolutely adore my pillow, say, but it still won’t go in the line if it can’t be reconciled with someone else’s sofa. 

A lot of expert research and thought goes into preparing for this, and a trend report is issued to vendors like myself to get us started along their path in the right direction.

I am currently preparing my portfolio for fall/winter 2019 (and here it is, the first day of spring 2018!). But the company is working against ever tighter deadlines. I have not yet received my trend report, and I will be up in their offices a week from tomorrow presenting my portfolio full of design printouts and woven samples for FW 2019.  So yep, I am working int the dark!

Much as I love designing textiles, right at this moment I feel at a creative standstill. So I am telling you about it all rather than banging my head against the wall.  I am waiting for their Oracle to speak any moment now.  Thanks for listening!

Below, find a throw in the current line at C&B, and my samples which inspired it.

Orion Throw, designed by LFN Textiles for Crate & Barrel

handwoven samples for Orion throw, LFN Textiles

Labors of love?

I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career as an artist, to pursue whatever I want to.  That is, unless I need money!  But when it comes to the money part, I find it almost amusing to consider systems of evaluation.

When one is engaged in a craft based art, a frequent question becomes, “How long did it take you to make that?” With the idea more time spent, the more value obtained, rather like the electrician’s bill.

But here is the thing.  The craft is essential, a mark of something finely considered, made via a deep experience with methods and materials. It has value, unless you compare it with goods made in China or other competitive places and sold en masse at low cost outlets.

Your average audience is not equipped to contemplate the difference between skillfully (albeit hastily) stitched pretty things, and your MFA differentiated specialty. Your loss.

When I speak to folks about why some of my work is so relatively expensive (heck, I am not world famous like Mr Picasso), I can only offer up what my vision of art is.

Art is the magic. It is whatever helps the maker to transcend everyday vision into something so meaningful that it takes your breath, or it reiterates your dreams, or it projects you to a different dimension of being.  

Your questioner, then, can base her decision as to whether or not to purchase based on any of the following:

how long it took you to make it. This must inevitably be valued at less than her own hourly value at her profession.

or, the relative value of the materials you used (not silk? Why not?)

or, trend. (Sigh)

or, the near orgasmic experience of looking into a world which has real meaning to her (regardless of artist’s intent!)

I write this tonight as I am spending time stitching closed sachets, made of fabric digitally printed to my own design, derived from highly labor intensive tapestries, and stuffing them full of glorious dried lavender.  Deep pleasure in the making.  Hardly worthwhile to make, based on cost of materials and minimum wage.  Selling at $20 each, a huge expense, and a relative loss.  I am paying you to buy them: the scent is true glory and magic.

targeting with the kaleidoscope in clothing design

Like many designers, I have been having a load of fun with the recent kaleidoscope apps available everywhere. Like a funhouse mirror, they can be amusing;  refining them into a usable design and actually applying them to product can get into more skilled and rewarding work. Here are a few things I have culled from my designs at PAOM.com.

WaWa body dress LFN

WaWa body dress LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler hat LFN

Prairie Dazzler Baseball Cap LFNTextiles for PAOM

buzz star boxers LFN

Buzz Star Boxer Shorts by LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler body dress LFN

prairie dazzler body dress. LFN Textiles for PAOM

Cropping Imagery: LFN Designs for Kess InHouse

The art of cropping imagery to make it more interesting is a recent trend, a modern stance on meaning.  If an image was meant to be read in one, static way (think Mona Lisa), showing it cropped to an essential detail reveals a new way of considering it, sometimes with humor, sometimes surprise, but always it provides a different perspective.

Mona-Lisa-detail-eyes-cropped

I have been providing pattern or surface-design images to a few print-on-demand online companies for a while now.  All were new a couple of years ago, eager to get rolling, pulling in hundreds of artists in an attempt to have a wide range of hip designs for their fairly basic merchandise.  One company, Kess InHouse, in particular caught my eye, as they were taking digital images and blowing them up to the size of a bedspread or shower curtain.  I though, fun! I would love to have a shower curtain with my Leeks design on it! So I submitted a variety of designs and waited to see what would turn out.

Fun indeed!   Kess does a great job of making your designs into interesting products, but the submitted design is simply stretched to fit the format.   I find it interesting and amusing to see the results of this way of using an image: no matter what the product, the image is just made to fit, with sometimes no rhyme or reason: very postmodern! Here is a selection of items with my designs, to illustrate the point. All products are available at Kess InHouse under Laura Nicholson.

 

How I spent my summer hiatus

I have not written on either of my blogs for several months.  I have been a period of fairly deep transition — no, let’s say self-examination.  It’s been a few years of most of my studio work being design and craft based, while avoiding the issues and depth of the fine art-making that I associate with my woven work, and in the spring I began to feel that I was spinning off center.

Spring Field, detail.  2014, wool with cotton & metallic, 26″ x 27″
Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright 2014)

Ever since I began weaving I felt an almost mystical connection with the process.  For many years I worked almost like a demon, taking few breaks, focusing on weaving as my most important means of communication in art.  I strayed off the path in the early 90’s when I bought a computerized knitting machine, and substituted knitting jacquards with deep focus.  Then in the mid-90s I learned to design for and weave on the jacquard loom, and eventually segued that knowledge into founding a ribbon business, which for a number of years took up a great deal of my time.

Generally when I work through whatever it was that sparked such intense curiosity I come back to the loom full of fresh insight.  After machine knitting, I rediscovered the joy of slow hand manipulated weaving with a lot of detail.  After jacquard, the investigation of color re surged with great urgency.

Each time I take a break of any significance from my woven thought, I come back to it with a changed point of view, which seems to amplify the expressive powers of my chosen medium.

Now, after spending 7 years expanding my practice of textile design through ribbons and home furnishing textiles, I am finding that I need to let the artist gain precedence once again.  Here is my thinking.

For me, design, while a great discipline with which I have barely come to terms, remains something which is tied to someone else’s needs.  I began by working with smaller companies which, like me, valued individuality and creativity for their own sake, and the interaction with the market was a happy one, where (as it appeared to my admittedly naive eyes) the customer came because she valued what we put out there under our own terms.  But now (after having read hundreds of posts and comments and opinions about the value of promotion and marketing), I feel impatient with the fickle customer, for whose favor I must fight constantly.  It would seem that it is not only essential to have a broad range of styles, but one must be able to work completely in disguise as some other creature.

Maybe I am just to old and stubborn, but I see that in art, one of our primary tasks is utter honesty about what is being made, the voice that is speaking; whereas in design for the general market (I should qualify that to say “surface design”), the job seems to be to do anything to stay the most popular girl on the block.

I am aware this could seem jaded or bitter.  I still very much enjoy designing ribbons and rugs, and value the support of my clients who want my work in its fullness, not a pastiche of trend.  But the reinvention on a seasonal basis of style, palette, and trend are making me crave the solitude and thoughtfulness of my studio and my loom.

All this thought takes introspection, and I don’t like to write when I have nothing to say.  But I’m back, and will try to stay here!

Sunday with Robin & Rita

Add caption

A couple of weeks ago my good friends Rita and Robin invited me up to the farm for Sunday lunch. Beautiful weather, up at the top of the hill, lunch from the vegetable garden made by both of them — heavenly day.

But what I love about them is their immensely creative life. They live in the farmhouse where Robin grew up, surrounded by cornfields. Over the years they have transformed the house into a song of elegant simplicity with painted and stenciled floors, carefully selected antique items (often quite curious), and their artwork. Robin was trained as a ceramist and Rita is a self taught folk artist. Both now make their living at selling antiques, but their lives are those of artists. I always love creeping around and examining their work and their peculiar and wonderful objects. Here are some snip of that day’s “show and tell”.

more about writing!

In early January I wrote about my resolution to write more, and draw more, this year, and here it is nearly April, and no posts since!  Shame on me. It has been a massive case of writer’s and artist’s block, I am afraid.

Do you ever have those  times when your head is aflame with ideas, but you can’t seem to get them on paper before they are gone?  The last 3 months have been that for me.  So many exciting things going on here!  I have been working toward making our local Farmer’s Market more stable and bigger.  I have been making “green” household textile items, which I am still not ready to publish but which have given me great pleasure to make.  From time to time I pluck up the courage to learn a bit more about Adobe Illustrator — I make all of my designs in Photoshop right now and am sorely feeling the need to be able to do vector-based designs.  But all of this learning and experimentation is too raw to show and hence I stammer about even talking about it.  I will post one thing now, since I am so happy about our Farmer’s Market development (I don’t mean to take total credit for it as it has been toddling along for years, it just needs to grow). 

Local Tastes Better towel, copyright Laura Foster Nicholson 2011

If you like this towel you can get one for yourself here
(You will need to order it on 54″ wide fabric) 

the value of Art

Last week I posted about the big change in my financial life due to the big change in the art market.  Whereas for much of 30 years I had been able to make the majority of my living as a studio artist, primarily by selling works of my fine art through galleries, in the last 3 years, since the crash,  I have had to readjust how I spend my time to be sure that my daytime, studio activity is still going to keep my boat afloat.  I still do not have what some folks call “a day job”, nor do I want one!

My days are now spent more at the computer, working on designs, or making small gift type items, utilizing my ribbon or not, to sell in town as well as at some museum stores around the country.  I feel as if I am constantly juggling these identities: artist, designer, craftsperson.  I do believe all three points of view are essential in a mature artist of any persuasion, but trying to do well at all 3 in 3 different kinds of applications (as opposed to combining them in the main work of art/design/craft at hand) sometimes feels less integrated and more split than I am accustomed to feeling!

So I am trying to imbue the design and craftmaking activities with the earnest, focused vision of my fine art, while still maintaining a clear, serene and separate studio practice of meditative artmaking which responds only to my own vision, not to the demands of any market.

One of the arguments “against” craft, in the old days, was that it lacked the intellectual power of fine art.  We all know that is baloney, as is the idea that “art” appeals to the greater spiritual nature etc. etc.  Craft can be an inspiring outpouring of faith, in humanity, in creativity, in spirituality.  But the craft that I speak of above, in my case, refers more to making little gift items that people like, maybe love, and hopefully will buy.  A different motivation!  Nonetheless, I have never hesitated to call myself an artist, even a “fine” artist, and claim the status that may confer.  I live an intensely creative life with vision made manifest in my best work, which I call my “fine art”. That is enough for me.

So I leave tonight with this question:
How do I begin to imbue the directed design and craft work that I do, such as my new “Eat Well” towel, with the spiritual and intellectual energy that it took to weave “Beatrice”?