Before & After: New Packaging for Urban Leaf

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A few months ago, Urban Leaf reached out to me to redesign their packaging. They wanted boxes for a new product launch along with new seed packets, and they wanted everything to feel botanical. Other than that, I could do what I wanted with the designs. Of course, I said yes.

Urban Leaf is a company based in New York City that is working to build a more sustainable food system. They create kits that allow you to make an herbal garden on your windowsill, and then use the plants you grow in your food. (My first plant is basil!). 

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The original packaging used kraft paper and had an organic feel but didn't emphasize what I viewed as the beauty of the products. That is, the plants. The composition felt unbalanced to me and the placement of the logo (those green leaves) and the lettering seemed unintentional. But we all agreed that the kraft paper was important to keep consistent in the redesign, and so we wanted to find a way to include it.

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To limit the budget, we decided to make one pattern that would work across all the new products and could be differentiated by color. I incorporated elements from each product kit (different basils, dill, marigolds, etc.) and illustrated and arranged them into a repeat pattern. Then we decided on a 13-color palette that would work across all their new branding elements.

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Of course, there needed to be labels on the boxes, so I designed the box with a belly band. As a nod to the original design, we decided to use a thick kraft paper for the bands and keep the text all white (which echoes the logo on the top of the box). I hand lettered the main elements of each band and then integrated a playful typeface that can be easily edited. I chose the fun, scripty Felt That by Blue Vinyl Fonts. 

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Lastly, I designed new seed packets to accompany the product launch. I love how the colors mix together, and the way the simple line drawings with white text softens the effect of the colors. I also love the combination of a simple, clear design with illustration. 

This was such a fun project to work on and--I'm so happy to say--we have more designs and branding elements in progress. I can't wait to share them with you!

Flowers & Pillows!

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I am so excited to share with you my first set of throw pillows! This pattern was commissioned, let's say, by my daughter, whose bedroom we recently redecorated. As we were thinking about changing her room (getting a new bed, removing shelves, adding a small piano), I wanted to make something just for her that felt special and gave her some agency in the transition. She asked me to make her a pattern out of roses, her current favorite flower, and print one pillow in her favorite color, teal (which she insists on calling "blue"). (She also asked for a wallpaper with foxes, unicorns, dolphins, fairies, and stars...but that one is still in the works.)

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Personal projects are essential to my practice because they give me a chance to try something new or different, or even just revisit an old material I haven't worked with in a while. Typically, clients see my portfolio and ask for something that looks like other things I've made, so it can be tricky to venture out from a particular process. But lately I've been wanting to use a brush and work a bit more loosely. This project was the perfect opportunity to pick up a paintbrush and get out the Sumi ink.

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After a few attempts, I landed on an illustration I was happy with and then made it into a repeat pattern (the original drawing was 9x9 inches and the repeat can scale). For the pillows, I decided to make them reversible so that my girl could choose which side to display and change her mind later on.

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I worked with a fabulous textile printer to print the fabric on oyster linen and sew the pillows (with an invisible zipper). I'm thrilled with how they turned out, and if you're so inclined, the pillows are available in my revamped shop in four colors. As always, if you want a custom size or color, just send me a note. The next phase of this project is to illustrate a few more patterns and make this part of a collection. One of my goals for this year is to think in collections rather than isolated designs. I'll share progress here!

Smithsonian Magazine: The Making of a Map

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Over the summer, I was asked to make a map for Smithsonian Magazine (one of my all-time favorites) to accompany an article that described Hannibal's route through the Alps. On elephants. With an army. To invade the Romans (again). Of course, I accepted the assignment immediately.

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The Smithsonian wanted to accurately reflect Hannibal's route and the geographic territories of the time. Rivers, mountain passes, bodies of water, and travel routes would all need to be basically correct. Fabulous art director Maria Keehan pulled together a team to review my work, including an editor, a fact-checker, and a researcher. 

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For maps, I like to whip up a quick first draft, just to make sure I'm in the right ballpark. (Fail faster, fail better.) In this case, I also wanted to confirm that I'd captured every necessary component. We had a three-week deadline.

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Once I had all the basic information down, Maria dropped the sketch into the article's layout so we could check proportions, placement, and overall composition. The large elements were in place, but several items needed finessing. This is one of my favorite parts of map-making, when the conversation becomes "move that river a little to the left" or "you forgot an island." It makes me think of how easily an actual cartographer can manipulate space and knowledge.

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Initially, the lettering I sketched for the title was a little carnival-esque. I knew it wasn't right, but couldn't pinpoint why. Then I landed on the word militant, which hit the exact right note, so I developed this upright lettering that would fit the space and reference old military manuals. For the rest of the lettering, I kept it as simple and consistent as possible for the sake of clarity. 

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Color is always tricky for me, since my natural inclination is to make everything black and white. For this piece, I wanted the composition to be bright but not overly playful, and eye-catching while having a slightly vintage feel. Plus, the map necessitated a minimum of five colors in order to convey basic information (who controlled what space, etc). I decided on a mixture of teal with pink and ochres because the colors are bright enough for clarity while also referencing earth tones appropriate to a map.

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The final file, all inked and scanned into Photoshop, had 36 layers and seven rounds of revision. Each revision took hours, but it was much less than the eleven or nineteen rounds of revisions I've done for other maps. All of this was made easy by Maria's endless encouragement and positivity (she replied to all of my emails within minutes), which makes a huge difference on an important project with a tight turn-around.

Maps are one of my favorite forms to work with. They involve both information and artistry and can range from precise to imaginary. They contain the real and are, by definition, an imagined space. Maps reveal perspective and affect how we see the world. I've always loved maps. In fact, I am currently having several very old (and inaccurate) maps framed to hang on my walls. In grad school, I studied the surveying of our country by the government and the closing of the frontier. I wrote a 50-page paper about the surveys and how they were used as propaganda and as a tool of conquer. (I'm not saying it was a good paper, but I had a lot to say.) Now, as an illustrator, I jump at any chance to make a map.

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New Work: Texas Highways Cover

In February I was asked to illustrate and hand letter the cover of Texas Highways, the official travel magazine of Texas that encourages readers to explore the state. The theme was springtime and wildflowers and the project was a perfect fit, having just finished up Birds & Botanicals which is full of flowers and bees. Here are some images and thoughts about the process of making the cover.

To help me visualize the project, Mark, the fabulous art director sent me a rough mockup of the cover so I would have a clear sense of what he was looking for. Still, I went a little overboard in the first two sketches, adding too many bugs in the first and too many flowers in the second.

After a quick phone call (Mark was infinitely kind and helpful), I went back to the drawing board but still ended up burying everything in flowers. In the above sketch you can see that I nearly suffocated the magazine's main form of advertisement, it's name, in vines. I knew something didn't feel quite right so I showed the sketches to Christian (who is uniformly spot on in critiquing my work) and he said, "Just do vines. Vine-y things." 

Finally, the fourth or fifth sketch hit the mark. This is probably more than is typical for most illustrators, but my feeling about sketches is: do whatever works, whatever it takes. Also, while I made thumbnails for the cover, I couldn't quite visualize the final image, so the sketches were critical to the thinking process for me in that they helped me understand how to balance the illustration and lettering with the photography and masthead. Along with the final illustration, I sent Mark a mockup with potential colors. He decided on a purple metallic ink so the illustrations would have a glittery feel over the glossy photograph of the bluebell. I was thrilled.

Above is the final image file, so you can see all the details. In the future, I think I might print out five or ten copies of an initial mockup and draw right on top of it, rather than sketching anew every time. The turnaround for this project was just over two weeks and the piece was in print three weeks later. I had a total blast working on this. Texas Highways was a dream client and the project was a perfect fit.