It snowed for the first time this season today. I awoke to it. Standing in the front doorway I stared out in wonder, maybe even had my mouth open. The palette of my world changed overnight, and it brought me something new and beautiful to look at. It happens every year, the first snow. And every year I’m just as giddy about it. For me, it’s about color, and how light plays off of the crystals, the greys in the sky, the browns and golds under it all. It’s an ermine cloak laying on the branches, with little specks of black peeking through. It’s the patterning of white and brown across the meadow not unlike a herringbone. The softening of everything. The brightening of everything. The world is on a blur filter.
I’m standing there, and in rapid fire, my brain is making graphic shapes in repeating patterns, designing a snowflake, a wintery palette for a silk print or wallpaper, a texture to be used in something. Nature has done it again, I think. She’s got it going on. Is this how it all began for me? Did my reverence for color and shape in nature turn me into a designer or did I notice it after I was labeled such? I remember always loving color, maybe even nibbling on a crayon or two, but did that drive me into the creative I am today? I think perhaps it’s a bit of both.
I knew pretty early on that graphic design is what I wanted to do. I recognized that design is in every aspect of our lives, whether made by nature or man. It’s there undeniably and I wanted to be a part of that world. As a young child in New Orleans my mother would take me with her to this glorious fabric shop. To call it something as mundane as a fabric shop doesn’t do it justice. This was my personal Mecca. This was heavy silks in floral prints, jeweled toned velvets and the equally fascinating selvage, crisp poplins in crisp colors, striped and textured seersuckers, and then there was the wall of silk cords. Silk cords in every color you could ever want in a wall so high I had to crane my head up to see it all. She would let me pick out a few colors and buy me a small piece of each, that I would braid, pet and play with until they unraveled. Then I realized that fabric was something you could design! Then it was book illustrations, then posters and album covers. As a teen I wanted to make all of these. I became enchanted with building complete systems! This evolved into learning more about marketing and the psychology behind what I did and how it affects the audience. And so it went. Yet, it remains that under all of this, color and pattern was still the core of what I love.
As a designer taking a cue from what nature is doing is a powerful start to your concepts. Certainly, it’s a form of inspiration at a minimum. It brings humility to your work, something profound, organic and decidedly not perfect. We live in a precise digital world; nature brings us back to something somehow friendly. As children we drew trees with simple leaves and red apples. We drew orange stripy cats with huge ears. I drew my mother with wild curly black hair bigger than her head. We took our world in a very simple pure form, on pure emotional response. Then we get older and we are trained to be creatives and how to use the plethora of tools at our fingertips. We get better at what we do, more skilled, and refined, but we’re still observers. Us designers. Or at least, we should be.
I recognize not everyone swoons over color the way I do, and I now understand that’s one of my superpowers. I’m proud to be a graphic designer. I think I’m really good at it too, and as a designer I believe in sharing what’s so incredible about the way I see our world. Next time it snows, or flowers pop up, or anything natural that catches your eye, stop a moment and really see what’s going on. Look at the combination of colors, or pattern and texture. See how it moves and the shapes it holds. Whether you’re a designer or not, I think you’ll see something for the first time, every time, and my hope is that makes you smile. Our world is cool.