"Everything should be made as simple as possible..but not simpler." Albert Einstein

abstract map making

My younger son LOVES office supplies.  They are his favorite thing ever and first thing on his birthday wish list.  And out of all office supplies, tape is right at the top.  He has amassed quite a stash of colored tapes and one day I was looking at them all stacked up on his worktable and thought they would be really easy to use to make a great map.

In kindergarten he made a map of his classroom and so was beginning to understand the concept of map making.  For this project I wanted to limit the variables to make it easy for him to produce something beautiful in the end so we talked about making up an imaginary map, rather than mapping something existing.  This would eliminate the measuring as well as the scaling and transferring of reality to drawing.

We looked at some subway maps for inspiration, talking about the need in a map to simplify and to show only the information that is needed, in this case lines going from point A to point B.  We also talked a bit about how how roads (and public transportation lines) need to be simple themselves, to all for efficiency.  So the straighter the better.

We got a large sheet of bristol board, some scissors and all of his tape and spread out on the floor.  Then he just stared at the paper, not sure where to start.  That big blank sheet is intimidating to all ages, I guess.  I told him to choose a color and make a line going from one place to another on the paper, thinking about how that line is a line of travel for someone on a bus or train.  Once he had the first line down, it was easier for him, and he started thinking about all the places he wanted the lines to go.

I had him extend the tape over the edge of the paper onto the floor, to help keep it in place.  I also showed him how to take a roll of tape and hold it next to a line he had already put down to test out the color and placement.  He wanted to use his favorite colors over and over again so we discussed how using the same color in more than one place would be confusing on this type of map.

As the paper started to fill up, I asked him if he thought he was done.  He indicated one corner that was pretty blank and said he felt that there needed to be something there.  He added a few more lines and then we talked again about how maps shouldn’t be too confusing, or show too much information.  And then he decided that it was “done”.

In the end this became more of a lesson in color and composition than map making.  But mapping is such a complex idea I think it is difficult for young kids to grasp all at once.  I like the fact that we were able to talk about very basic map making concepts in relationship to the art he created and that he was able to end up with something beautiful in the end that he absolutely loves.  Personally I think it’s important to set these limits early on, to allow kids to be successful in creating something beautiful.  That way they will want to continue exploring.  Maybe for our next project we’ll walk around our neighborhood and make a map based more on reality.

You can get some colored tape like my son’s here. He also used some japanese washi tape.

Two previous art lessons we embarked on:


Learning to see

studio visit with Annie Larson

Yesterday I visited Annie Larson from ALL knitwear in her beautiful Minneapolis studio.  She is lovely, and kind, and was so generous to give me a demonstration on her knitting machine.  Annie creates the most amazing knits I have ever seen, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is wonderful.  I came away feeling so inspired.

scarfshop aerial series

New scarves I’m working on. Coming soon to SCARFSHOP.

3 things for friday

It is a blustery april day here in Minneapolis.  We might even get some snow later on.  Don’t you love the butterfly in the stomach anticipation of Friday?

Three things making me happy:

This beautiful leather clutch in cobalt blue hand made by Julia Okun of Rennes.  The perfect color! and size.

The song “On Your Side” by the Radio Dept (free download!).  Please play it loud and dance around your house.  Then repeat.

The “film” : A Machine to See With

From the Walker Art Center site:

Fresh from New Frontiers at Sundance, A Machine To See With now focuses on Minneapolis as the setting for its one-of-a-kind cinematic experience conjured through a creative marriage of technology and storytelling. As participants navigate the riverfront and city streets, stories unfold with the help of precisely timed phone calls, exploiting the conventions of classic film noir and real-life surveillance. As the tension rises, it asks you to play a part, take risks, engage in games, and—drawing inspiration from the ongoing financial crisis—make the kind of ethical decisions we all, in the end, confront.

I’m hoping to go “see” this on Monday.


April color inspiration

I was racking my brain for some spring color inspiration for the SCARFSHOP color of the month and coming up empty.  It is still full on winter here in Minnesota.  And then one day as I was watering my new indoor garden, admiring the subtle blush color on the edge of this succulent, I realized that would be the perfect color.

Coral Chalk in the shop tomorrow, April 1st.

Happy Spring.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent

“Nothing is original.  Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.  Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.  Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.  Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.  And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it.  In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” -Jim Jarmusch

Last fall I received an email from a designer who said she had been alerted to the fact that a piece of clothing I had made and posted images of on flickr was a copy of a piece she had designed.  I was shocked.  I did not know this person or her work.  I took a look at the item she had designed and it was very similar in style and construction, although the two garments looked quite different.  Hers was hand knitted, mine was sewn.  I had not, of course, copied her.  This just isn’t in my make-up.  I told her I hadn’t copied her and apologized profusely for any misunderstanding and pain this had caused her.  I’m not sure she believed me.  Then I wondered what to do.  This item was meant to be part of my fall collection and I had made several of them already.  Ultimately I decided not to make any more.  I sold the ones I had made and moved on.  I think about it though from time to time.  What if I had seen her piece first?  Would she have been the one that had “copied” and had to pull the item?

In architecture school I was taught that criticism was about “the work”, not the designer, and this was very valuable in that it allowed the critique to be very professional.  It wasn’t you, the person, who was being judged, it was the work.  In the case of having your work copied, or being accused of copying someone else’s work, the discussion all of a sudden becomes personal.  It’s about values and morals and people, not about the work itself.

Yesterday I received another email, this time from someone alerting me to a designer who is making something very similar to some work I did last year.  I paused, thinking about my experience.  With the tables now turned, what do I do?  I am assuming that she isn’t aware of my work and this is just a coincidence.  But do I say something, thus coming across as accusing her?  I have no idea how I want to address this.

I have sketchbooks full of sketches, ideas, notes, images and inspiration clippings.  My head is so full of ideas for projects, things I’d like to research and to make, so full of stuff that I wake up at night thinking about it, worrying that there just isn’t enough time for it all.  I don’t want to waste time wondering whether someone copied my work.  I just want to make new things and see where they will take me in my process.

In this time of the internet we are all immersed in images and ideas.  It’s easy to see things, forget them and then have them come back subconsciously.  It’s imperative as a designer to be authentic.  To feel good about yourself and your process, to push boundaries and most of all to create beautiful, interesting and stimulating work.  To take those ideas and inspiration somewhere new and amazing.

developing an indoor garden

This is how it goes:

We have two cats.  They are indoor cats that want to be outdoor cats.  We have no houseplants because the indoor cats, upon seeing a houseplant, pretend that they are in the great outdoors and proceed to sit on, dig up and eat the plants.  I really like plants and since our winters are about 9 months long in Minnesota it gets to be a bit long to go without anything green.

In the last few years the resurgence of terrariums that are minimal and well designed (as opposed to the kind of cluttered, creepy ones I remember from the 70’s) had me thinking that that might be the answer to the cat/plant issue.  These terrariums designed by Paula Hayes pretty much blew my mind when I saw them.  So I started searching for a beautiful and interesting glass vessel.  And I found a few.  This one is perfect.  Except that it is $200.

Then I saw a glass cylinder planted with a single Sempervivum tectorum (hens and chicks) plant and it was so beautiful, simply showcased in the glass, that my terrarium idea got side tracked.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think about the fact that the glass cylinder was open on the top, but all of a sudden I was on a mission to find some similar glass containers and plants.  I easily found an inexpensive set of three at ikea.  Then a quick trip to the garden center for rocks, charcoal and cactus mix, and my favorite local flower shop, Spruce for cute little succulents (and a maidenhair fern), and I had a mini indoor garden.  Only after I finished planting them did I realize that this would be no deterrent at all for the cats.

Within the space of 5 minutes there was dirt and succulents strewn from one end of the house to the other.  I swept it all up, replanted, and now the plants and cats are under strict surveillance.  It’s kind of a lot of work and stress keeping watch, but damn if the garden doesn’t look pretty.  The chubbiness of the leaves are killing me.  The things we do for design….

One other geeky design thing – check out the cut glass edge on the container below.  I got this one at Spruce and it’s soooo much nicer than the ones from Ikea.  And it was only $7.95.


I have a thing for coats and jackets.  They are my favorite type of clothing and the first thing I look at when I go shopping.  I’m not sure why I like them so much.  Maybe because I’m always cold or maybe it’s because it’s easy to wear a coat.  There aren’t the issues with fit that you have with dresses or jeans.  You can put on a coat with an interesting cut or shape over a plain outfit and instantly feel put together.

I have many many coats.  I don’t get rid of them.  A particular favorite is sort of trench coat syle, in a medium grey with a large collar, A-line shape and white contrast stitching.  I got it about 12 years ago at Diesel when I lived in San Francisco and I still wear it every spring.  And every time I wear it someone comments on it.

I remember vividly the coat that got away too.  I was visiting Robin Richman (my very favorite store ever) for the first time, maybe about 10 years ago and she had a collection of exquisite wool coats made with different pieces of wool stitched together in a very subdued type of mosaic.  The designer was from Russia.  I wanted one of those coats so badly it hurt.  They were $750.  I left reluctantly but memorized the designers name.  When I got home I couldn’t find anything on the internet about them.  I either got the name wrong or they were so obscure nothing existed online.  I still think about those coats often.

At some point I would like to design a collection of coats.  This collection, called Lifecoat by Jet Korine, is breathtaking on every level.

This jacket started with the material.  It is a very unique linen.  It’s an open weave and if you hold it up to the light you can see through it.  The individual fibers are not thin though, so while being sheer it still feels like a midweight fabric.  The fibers also have a bit of body and if you don’t iron the fabric it has this amazing bark like texture.

I wanted a very simple design that would allow the fabric texture to be prominent.  This has inseam pockets, drop sleeves and a drawstring bottom.  Lately I’ve been exploring unstructured shapes with few pieces.  This cuts down on fabric waste and allows for a volumetric and modern silhouette.  These types of shapes feel more natural to me too – less fussy.

pattern transformation

I found this frost covered feather at the bus stop this morning.  Another beautiful pattern.  I think I will spend part of today trying to transform this into a fabric pattern.

winter patterns

They are like puppies – clumsy in their abundance of winter gear, eager to get out the door into the sharp morning.  It’s still dark, but the edges of light are coming and it’s enough to see the small icy path ahead.  We file in a single track, up and down over the huge frozen mounds left by the plow.  They pretend we are climbing mountains and I laugh to myself because they don’t see the grimy soot of exhaust and headlights as cars pass on our city street. The buses start arriving from all directions, as do the children, big blobby mounds running out from houses while shoving mittens onto their hands, trailing backpacks and parents.

There are few lights on in the houses, but the street is dotted with the sickly orange glow from the sodium vapor street lights.  I think as I always do how that light is my least favorite color, and that it’s pointless to take any photos when those lights are on.

There isn’t much talking among us, the parents.  It’s too cold or too early or too Minnesota.

Our bus arrives and I look in to see yet another new driver.  It must be a tough job, driving that early city school bus.

Suddenly the street is quiet again.  It’s beginning to lighten and as I make my way back home I see the intricate patterns and delicate crystals in the snow mounds, not formed by glaciers but by the erosion from fumes. There is a gradient of color from almost black to a light taupe. There are amazing textural patterns in the street. The air is so hard and cold, it’s like a presence there beside me. I breathe it in and the coldness feels clean, flushing out my head and body.

How beautiful and stark it all is.

(inspired in part by this winter walk)

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