How do people live green in their everyday life? What motivates and inspires them? In Re-Nest's column, Creative People, Living Green, I interview interesting people I meet to find out their habits, thoughts, creative pursuits, business ventures, and green living wisdom.
Avery, lead designer at JUJU Papers, makes stunning, small-batch, eco wallpaper out of her Portland, Oregon studio by the river. Her travels throughout Africa and SE Asia inform the whimsical, edgy designs and color sensibility. In my dream pad, you can bet I'd have a room lined floor to ceiling with one of her most recent designs, a dark grey background with geometric, loopy metallic patterns. Join us for a studio visit and conversation. See more photos below.
Avery's road to creating her lovely, painterly wallpaper was indeed a winding one (who's isn't!?). After studying sculpture as an undergrad, Avery traveled extensively and was captivated at the ingenuity and creativity the cultures she visited. In South Africa, she saw local people making amazing wall hangings out of plastic trash bits, in Mozambique the hand-painted signage, dance and mishmash of European and African traditions coexisting in one place, in Indonesia, the ocean and natural beauty took her heart. When returning stateside, Avery bounced around jobs that utilized her natural artistic abilities, but it was starting her own business of boutique wallpapers that her creativity and style can really make a statement. The results are different than anything I've seen before, they have an edge to them — blending modern and natural forms.
Natural materials and creating an environmentally friendly product was important to Avery. In sourcing her papers, she found a company that creates a high-end wallpaper made from sustainably-harvested trees. Avery also exclusively uses water-based inks and is experimenting with a locally-made medium to add 'splashability' treatment to her wallpaper, for use in a kitchen or bathroom. What a pleasure it was to see these imaginative pieces of art in person! Absolutely wonderful work, Avery.
Avery Thatcher, Founder/Designer JUJU Papers
What does a typical day look like?
It depends on what phase of the design cycle I am in. If I am working on a new design, which is the much more exciting part of the design cycle, then I am walking the tightrope of creative inspiration! I wake up, make coffee, and immediately get to work leafing through my source materials and doing ink sketches. I usually do a lot of roughs, scan them into Illustrator, and see if there is any potential for a good pattern. This phase contains the entire gamut of artistic emotion — the thrill of the new idea, the attack!, the crafting process, the fear, the darkest hour just before dawn, and the resolution (usually!). I have to take breaks mid-day — I usually run or cook an elaborate meal in order to get my mind off of the design for a bit. This process can go on for days. All of the final artwork for my screens is painted late at night – that's when my hand is the steadiest and my mind is at ease. When my hand is cooperating with the paint and paper I can work long into the night. I would say that for every 10-15 designs that I fool around with, one is successful. After I have found a design I want to pursue, I get to making a lot of prototype prints until I find colors and arrangements that work.
When I am not working on a new design, I am dealing with the business end of the operation. Working with printers, bookbinders, returning emails, and generally navigating the world of commerce. I like feeling that I am part of some creative entrepreneurial enclave, handing eachother small jobs back and forth. It's a really simple thing but it is very fulfilling to be able to pay other people to do quality work for you, in a situation where both parties benefit. I also work part-time as a project manager at a design firm, Murmur Creative — they are really talented and I am lucky to be part of their team.
The term "green living" can be so generic. What does it mean to you?
Oddly enough, at this point wallpaper-making is practically an arcane craft, and the resurrection of a bygone craft tends to lend itself to simplicity and austerity. One reason for that is that the type of people who are drawn to these types of hand made crafts are more likely to practice "green" business practices as a foregone conclusion. We've most likely been living small, thinking about simplicity, and finding that making our own stuff feels more natural.
Secondly, the very practice of using more traditional methods, in my case small batch screen-printing, is very low tech and low impact. That's part of the draw in the first place, and it also limits growth naturally. You can only print so much wallpaper! I definitely try and use as much sustainable product as I can, which is important, but I think that the best contribution that I can offer is to offer a simple, well-made, product that people can feel good about spending their money on.
What inspires you?
My greatest inspiration has always been found in the accidental composition. The makeshift sign in some alleyway, the found drawing at a yard sale, the mysteriously poetic lines stitched into an old quilt — my drawings have always been an attempt to capture that type of expression. I became particularly interested in pattern in South Africa, where the style at that time in the township shacks around Capetown was to paper the walls with repeating patterns of salvaged and re-appropriated product labels. It was a widespread trend, and the women decorating their homes were fearless in their pattern and color choices. It reminded me of an interior in an Almodovar or Wong Kar Wai film. I love those saturated colors and patterns that are so timeless that you can't tell whether they are old or new.
The one thing you can't live without:
My mom's collection of 45s. I've been dancing to them since I can remember.
Favorite quote or personal mantra you live by?
Lately, I've kept a paper with this written on it at my desk: The lower you fall, the higher you'll fly!
Thanks Avery for showing us around your studio!
• Visit JUJU Papers: JUJU Papers
• Related: Robin Carlisle of Holiday Hair, Creative People, Living Green
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross. Published 2011-09-08)