The Wonder in Us

The Wonder in Us

When I started this blog almost exactly 4 years ago (I just checked and I wrote my first post on January 22, 2012) I decided to call it The Wonder in Us. I was going to (b)log about, among other things, my pursuit of a dream/goal to become a successful print/pattern designer.

I don’t think I’ve ever explained that title choice. It doesn’t, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with my work. And now that I know (thanks to my hubby, who has become borderline obsessed …) a bit more about search engine optimization, I realize I could have scored more points with Google by choosing a slightly less abstract title.

But the fact that ‘the wonder in us’ is a little too abstract for the Googlebot is OK with me. I just think that I should explain to myself, as I’m writing this blog, and to you, if you’re reading it, why I chose this title, and why it still means something to me (even more than ever, in fact) four years later.

And I write this just a month or so before I roll out my new website/shop. This blog will be swallowed up into the new site, and will cease to exist as a separate entity. No more ‘wonder in us.’ But that’s okay, because ‘the wonder in us’ is part of my work and life, my whole philosophy of being. It’s what my over-sized flowers are all about. And so, late last year when we were making decisions about the new logo/identity, packaging, collateral materials and tagline that we’ll use from the launch of the new site, I came back to these same words that had meaning for me way back then, at the beginning of what has been, so far, a truly amazing journey …

But why? Somehow, this phrase captures what I’m trying to make, say or do … It’s time to be clear(er) about that. So yesterday, I sat down to hack away at my artist’s statement, which will have a prominent place on the new site. In it, I think I (start to) explain what ‘the wonder in us’ really means to me. So here’s a draft, subject to revisions:

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Floral Prints by Ellie Cashman

Flowers are my subject of choice, as I see them not only as beautiful, but as powerful symbols that express the full range of human experience.

I’m always trying to convey some balance of hope and heartbreak in my work. For me, flowers are the utmost symbol of vulnerability and – at the same time – ultimate courage.

As they emerge out of the darkness and into the light, flowers provide us with powerful symbols of our common human longing for transcendence, for that brief experience of the divine, the moment we are closest to ‘God’, magic, enlightenment, nirvana … or whatever one might call it.

As did the still life painters of the Dutch Golden Age, I paint flowers in all their states, with an emphasis on those that break through this threshold from dark to light, from seed to stalk to bud to full, extravagant bloom. The shadows, and the darker states, are part of, and support and indeed exaggerate, this triumphant flower in the peak of its glory.

While it’s not without foreboding, all in all the imagery provides the viewer with a sense of hope and inspiration, encouraging her on toward her moment, when a bud bursts into full bloom and her heart breaks … open, when that strongest of human longings is fulfilled, and she achieves – even if just for a brief moment – the best expression of herself.

The splendor of that moment is indeed that it is so hard fought, and won. And as fast as it comes, it is gone again.

This is why we’re here; this is what we’re after – to love, to work, to do or make or give something that has meaning for another, and to participate in the endless cycle of birth, life, death and (re)birth, a cycle that connects us to all the living world.

This essential reason for being is full of contradictions: It is known to our hearts but a mystery to our minds. It is deeply felt but never fully understood. It is intensely personal, and yet utterly universal … We are, each and every one of us, in pursuit of it.

And because names for it are as elusive as the thing itself, I have come to call it ‘the wonder in us.’

© Ellie Cashman, 2016

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Painting Like the Old Masters

Painting Like the Old Masters

In October of last year I started taking painting lessons from a teacher here in the Netherlands who specializes in the techniques of the Old Masters. I think he’s what you could call a ‘national living treasure.’

This is part of a plan I have to ‘go back to basics.’ After many years of creating at my computer, I’m craving the physical, tactile, emotional ‘whole-body-and-mind’ experience of painting with ‘real’ paint again.

From the first 20 minutes, this class has been a revelation for me. At the time I started, I was working on ‘Still Life with Shadows,’ and I’d hit a road block with it. I now know that this was because I was working from collaged photographs and painting what I saw. This is what I was trained to do in art school 15-20 years ago.

The problem is, this results in a design that looks busy and mechanical. Each part of the composition is painted with equal attention to detail, and with equal shifts in color value and equal shifts from dark to light. Working on a screen, it’s easy to zoom in and focus on each and every area of a piece with equal intensity.

Boring!

What I’m learning in this class (and what helped me finally resolve my nearly year-long struggle with ‘Still Life‘) is that the Old Masters made conscious choices about where to concentrate detail, color shifts and shifts from dark to light, resulting in a more dynamic composition and experience for the eye. They used color and contrast perspective to create an intensified experience of space and depth, while simultaneously calling out the areas of the painting that are of primary importance to its meaning. Color and contrast perspective means painting objects in the foreground with dramatic, detailed shifts in color and contrast while objects in the background are rendered with relatively limited shifts.

This is not how photography works of course. But it is how our eyes work. Whatever we focus on has an intense amount of contrast and a broad range of color, while objects beyond the periphery of our focus sort of blend together.

So Rembrandt and Vermeer used this understanding of the way we see to create paintings that seem realistic, but in actuality manipulate light and color to serve the composition and the artist’s intention, to direct our gaze toward what is most important in the scene, and to create a heightened sense of depth and dimension within the frame. They painted light and color behaving in ways that are actually physically impossible, but at the same time appear completely natural and believable to the eye. Genius!

While this makes perfect intellectual sense to me, applying this knowledge has been more difficult than I’d hoped. It is, after all, a totally different approach to the one I’ve been applying since art school. Basically, as are 98% of art students, I was taught to paint what I see (often in photographs), which is by comparison an easy feat! This new technique requires me to think ‘What do I want to spring forward? What do I want to recede?’, and to dare to put down on paper/panel/canvas something that I don’t actually see.

In short, it requires intention. And imagination. Which is what, in my opinion, makes painting (and maybe everything, for that matter) worthwhile.

This means that I’ve gone back to the beginning, in a way, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it, long term.

Last Saturday I had class again, and spent the day on an underpainting for a study of an architectural element.

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Perhaps you can see from this image juxtaposing the subject of my study and the study itself what I mean by manipulating contrast. I’m definitely not on a par with Vermeer or Rembrandt but I hope I’m fortunate enough to have a few more years to practice and get better. The point is that you might be able to see how instead of painting what I saw, I painted intensified contrast in the areas of the object that were closest to me, and subdued contrast in the areas that were farthest. When you see this on the panel, you see that it does in fact direct your eye and create a heightened sense of depth and dimensionality. My hope is that by learning to paint and think this way, I can create images that feel more human and emotional, as opposed to mechanical. And hopefully the effect will continue to develop in the coming weeks as I persist in building upon this underpainting.

In the next class, I also get to start a painting with the subject matter of my choice. For that exercise, we were asked to choose from a collection of photocopies that have been collected and saved in a binder of ‘still lives.’ You won’t be surprised to hear that I chose a still life of flowers, one by Jan van Huysem (1682-1749). This is the tulip I’ll be attempting to render in the next class.

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Jan van Huysem and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) are considered to be the most accomplished floral still life painters of the Dutch Golden Age. I get totally inspired when I look at his portfolio of floral still life masterpieces! And now I can really appreciate on a deeper level what he’s doing with color and contrast perspective to create a composition that is interesting, dynamic and that feels 3-dimensional.

Aside from these formal qualities and the amazing skill with which he paints, I fall every time for the movement, energy, messiness, vibrance, wildness, symbolism of the life cycle, and pure human emotion that I see depicted in these still lives. I find it ironic that they’re even called still lives, when there is so much animal and plant activity going on in these scenes. It’s like the flowers, as subjects, just refuse to sit still and behave! And I think that’s exactly why van Huysem and Ruysch so loved painting them.

Anyway, this is what I’m looking at and thinking about these days. I’m close to finishing up a new piece, and I’m really happy with the way this new insight and understanding of the Old Master techniques is helping me to create a dramatic sense of 3-dimensionality, even if I am still (for the most part) creating at my computer …

The long-term goal is to combine the advantages of traditional and digital media into something completely unique! Onward …

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Silk Scarves

Silk Scarves

Today I added a new product category to the shop: Silk Scarves. Dark Floral, Dark Floral II Black Saturated and Dark Floral II Gray on Silk Charmeuse (130 cm square) are the first products in the collection.

Soon (in a matter of weeks), I’ll be adding these same prints on Silk Voile (a more transparent silk with a matte instead of shiny surface), and I’ll be testing a smaller size (60 cm square) to see if that’s a nice addition to the collection, at a lower price point.

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Here’s a look at some of the product photographs I took of the first three scarves. One of the great things about my new studio is that it has fantastic light for photography. That means I’ll be taking more product shots myself, which affords me the luxury of examining and documenting the products from every angle and in every position … Did I go a little overboard?

Well, I’m a little bit excited about this product! I’ve been in the planning/testing stages with the scarves for a long time (everything was sort of on hold for a while last year, while I was hard (read: obsessively) at work on my new design, Still Life with Shadows). So it’s especially nice to finally go live with them.

Last year, I wore my Dark Floral II White on Silk Voile (also coming soon to the shop) prototype scarf A LOT. I don’t even want to say how often because you might start wondering if I ever change my outfit or bathe at all for that matter …

But that’s the beauty of the scarf, and I say this after getting to know this product intimately over the past year. It really does go with everything … I can wear it out to dinner or to a party; I can wear it with jeans and a wool blazer, a knit tunic and black skinny jeans … there’s nothing I’ve found that doesn’t look better with this scarf. Also, the colors are ideal for coordinating. There are so many to pull out and play off of. It’s truly the highly versatile – and fun! – wardrobe element that can go with me wherever I go. And I’m practicing what I preach here!

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And let’s just talk about silk for a minute. Silk is, as it should be, a highly desirable fabric. It is the most hypo-allergenic type of fabric there is (with only 18 amino-acids) and feels amazing against the skin. Aside from that, the silks that I’ve sourced give the prints a whole new poetic dimension … the transparency, the draping, the movement … So many new qualities are revealed in the same prints I’ve been applying to wallpaper.

My silk scarves are, by the way, printed here in the Netherlands by a company that also prints for brands like Erdem and Dior.

On the occasion of this product launch, I also did a bit of research into the history of the scarf. Here are some more reasons why I’m SO excited about adding them to my product line:

  1. As discussed, they are a fun, versatile, beautiful and useful addition to any wardrobe. Unlike a dress or a pair of pants that won’t have the right cut in a few years, scarves can be worn forever and never go out of style.
  2. Scarves have been around for what amounts to forever. They’re used all over the globe, to different ends (think: cleanliness in dirty/sandy climates, warmth in cold climates, for uniforms, religious reasons/occasions …) But then again, who needs a reason to wear a scarf? If you have a neck, that’s reason enough! Necks will never be obsolete or fall out of fashion, and therefore, neither will scarves.
  3. Since the mid-twentieth-century (and even before), scarves have been an important product for couture fashion houses, who have established a tradition of commissioning artists to create truly special, wearable works of art. This process of back-and-forth between creative directors and commissioned artists often takes about a year. This kind of craftsmanship and commitment to quality sets the scarf apart in the fast-paced, deadline/season/trend-driven fashion industry and speaks to me as a maker.
  4. The scarf is a collector’s item. It doesn’t even have to be worn. Scarves can also be collected and displayed in other ways (framed, hung, boxed, etc. Collectors often collect scarves around a specific theme, for example: travel/geographic locations, or animals, or a specific brand … The value of a scarf can increase with time. A collection can always be added to, edited or passed on to the next generation.
  5. There are almost a million different ways to tie/wear them! Check out this link for inspiration.

Essentially, the scarf is a beautiful, versatile and useful fashion item that not only doesn’t go out of style, it can increase in value with time. It bridges the gap between fashion and art, at a price that makes it available to more than the happy few.

There’s an existing history of artists creating art for scarves, and I would contend that this history is entering into a new era, with the possibilities afforded by digital printing.

Initially, prints were applied to fabric by a method of screen printing, which requires that each color is applied to the cloth through a separate screen. This is an expensive process. Just making the screens is an investment, then you’ve got the labor-intensiveness of the ink application. Now, though, with digital printing (introduced in the late 1980’s and taking the fashion industry by storm) we can print an infinite number of colors onto fabric in one go. More and more digital printers are accepting small order volumes, which is great for independent designers like me. Costs decrease; possibilities increase, enormously. Now prints, instead of having a flat, graphic quality, can also incorporate all the beautiful color gradations and expressive brush strokes that paintings do.

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With my scarves, I want the wearer to feel like she has a painting, a real work of art, around her neck. That’s why I’ve chosen a luxurious fabric, digitally printed with painterly detail, in a large format (130 cm). Because of the print’s large scale, the scarf can be rotated to feature different flowers and segments of the painting. In this way, a single scarf can function as many different ones.

I like to ‘toughen up’ my floral scarves by wearing them with leather, denim or a textured knit. Next to the sinuous foliage forms in ‘Dark Floral II’, I like to wear jewelry with simple, geometric forms, for contrast.

With this product, I’m stepping out of interiors and getting my toes wet in fashion, which is something I’ve wanted to do since childhood.

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I hope you like these first scarves and please know that more are on the way, imminently. While writing this post I received the first tests of Still Life with Shadows Blue on Silk Voile and I’m happy to say that we’ll be putting this one into production in the next few weeks as well. It’s love at first sight, with its romantic pinks and foggy blues … The perfect accessory for a favorite pair of jeans.

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Dressing Room Wallpaper at Goop Pop Up Chicago

Dressing Room Wallpaper at Goop Pop Up Chicago

Last weekend Gwyneth Paltrow opened her third goop pop up shop in Chicago and I’m thrilled to share with you that the dressing rooms were dressed with my Dark Floral II Black Desaturated wallpaper!

The interior design is by Kara Mann Design.

Photos of the shop are featured on Elle Decor, including this shot of the wallpapered dressing rooms.

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New Design: Summer Squall

New Design: Summer Squall

The fabrics are almost ready! Thanks to all of you who have inquired. Thank you also for your patience. My web team is busy busy with the custom calculator and I hope it’ll just be a couple more weeks until we go live.

In the meantime, I’m also adding a new design to the web shop in January/February 2015. I’ve been working on it for half a year (I got a little obsessively into all the little details of the leaves, etc.)!

This piece will soon be available as wallpaper and fabric (9 different sorts, including cottons, linen, silks and velvet) at www.elliecashmandesign.com.

Summer Squall has a lot of personal meaning for me. If you want a little background on the design and the process, read on! This is a little piece I wrote about it …

 

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Summer Squall

I started working on Summer Squall at the end of August 2014, when we were descending from the height of summer’s sweetness into the colder, darker months of the year. Unlike the other prints I’d designed previously, I had this one named almost from the very start.

This was a time when I was readjusting to ‘real life’ after spending a blissful three weeks with my parents, my husband and my three children in a quirky summer rental house just a couple of miles from Horseneck Beach, in Southern, coastal New England, not far from where I grew up.

Since I expatriated in 2007, summers have been a particularly special time for me, when three generations of my family are in the same place, when my past, present and future convene on a New England shoreline. It’s a contrast to the rest of the year, when I spend my days in adopted surroundings and don’t often (ever?) feel this connected.

There’s a particular moment I was thinking of as I started work on Summer Squall.

It was an evening in late July, and I was sitting with my parents around a fire pit by a dock on the Westport River. We were, each of us, at distant points on an invisible circle, so far apart that talking was out of the question. The late afternoon light was fading and we formed a ring around my younger daughter, Juliette, who was dancing in the sand, circling the smoldering embers. She was jabbing at the air with a marshmallow stick and licking her tacky fingers. We had just eaten the quintessential summer dessert of s’mores.Juliette had turned four a couple of weeks earlier. For her birthday present, I had put together a photo album for her. I had tried to capture the highlights of her year – vacations, classes, parties, new friends, etc. When placing the photo of her as the new big sister, her three-day-old brother reclining in her arms, my heart broke a little.

When Nathan was born, she became our middle child and, paradoxically, seemed to lose her claim on being the center of attention.

And yet in that photograph, you can read the pride and happiness on her face. For the girl who loved to help take care of all the babies at daycare, this new role was more complicated than she could have known. Three would become a year of tagging along while I picked her older sister up from school, or waiting while I changed her baby brother’s diaper. She would have to entertain herself while I checked my e-mail or answered an urgent phone call.

But on that evening in late July, there she was at the fulcrum of the wheel, pinning us in a blissful orbit around her.

She may have waited all year to be at the axis of my orbit, but here she was now, the middle child at the middle point. Soon, the fireflies would frame the scene, shooting stars buzzing in the brush around us, silhouetted against a watercolor sunset. At long last, Juliette was the center of the universe, and what a universe it was!

Taking a break from her marshmallow, she turned to me. “Mommy, why do we have to wait?” she asked, referring to the fireflies, who hadn’t yet made their appearance.

Looking back, I think she meant, “What’s taking so long?”

But what I heard was, “Why are we waiting for fireflies? Let’s move on.”

And so I answered: ”Because if we’re not here when they come out, their light will be wasted.”

And then I thought, with a heaping dose of mother’s guilt, of how many times Juliette’s spark might have been wasted on me that year. I worried that I had been so busy, so focused on other things that seemed more pressing at the time: big-kid needs, baby needs, my needs. Until this moment, when her light was almost blinding, when it was as if the sunset sky was ablaze with her.

Juliette is my most challenging child. That year, perhaps more so than ever before. She was caught in limbo, between wanting to be big like her big sister, growing into her own personality, or a baby like her baby brother, rolled up in the familiar fold. Somehow, in that moment, it seemed she’d finally found a little peace in her own place, the middle place.

I think we all had.

It had been a long time coming, and it was a moment that I wanted to pause, and place on repeat, if I could.

And yet as an adult, moments like these always come to you coupled with the realization that we will have to let them pass, the way they must, on their inexorable journey from present to past. And the next moment waiting for us – the one in line for Security at Logan Airport, when we’ll all have to say goodbye to each other and go back to our ‘real’ lives – is imminent. This moment will fade to memory like the flames in the fire pit, smoldering to ashes that take to the wind.

And I tell myself that I’m happy that the moment happened at all, that we found that place, recognized it, that we lived it and felt it fully, doing everything short of capturing it and saving it in a jar. Maybe that’s enough to get me through the harder, darker days, the days when we’re feeling less connected. If we felt this peace of place in every moment, we wouldn’t have appreciated this one in the intense way we did, sitting by the fire pit, delighting in marshmallows.

So when I was working on Summer Squall, I was thinking about that feeling, which is so typical for the end of summer. You’ve basked in the light while it was high in the sky, while everything was alive and ablaze, and now it’s time to embrace the passing of the moment, the day, the season and move toward the darker days on the way. Going back to work, to school, to doing things you ‘have’ to do more often than things you ‘want’ to do.

For me, that moment by the fire pit is the smoldering point of light that I’ve taken with me into the darkness. That moment is the perfect white peony suspended above the dark foliage. Behind that flower in full bloom, and behind that moment, the leaves are just starting to rustle with its passing …

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Months later, on a Friday in the month of December, after close to a half year of arduous work, I finished Summer Squall in my attic studio, with Juliette playing with the puppet theater behind me. She had faked sick earlier that day, and I’d picked her up from school on what would have/could have/should have been a work day.

A few weeks earlier, I had scrapped Summer Squall, dissatisfied with the fact that it had become so rigid and dense and void of color. In the months of painstaking effort I’d put into it, I had forgotten about the warmth and beauty and love that was its inspiration in the first place.

Then I started writing about it, which helped me reconnect to its symbolism and make a new plan for it. Then the repeat burst open, I painted the color and the brush strokes back in to the highlights. It started to look less like a William Morris (my original plan) and more like an Ellie Cashman, sharing, in the end, more qualities with Dark Floral and Dark Floral II than had been my original intention.

Once again, there was joy in the process.

It was fitting then, on that December Friday, with my toddler muse at my back, that I shut down my computer on a completed Summer Squall, feeling that, once again, things had come full circle.

This amazing year had come to an end, marked by professional accomplishments I couldn’t have imagined. It was time to wrap up my work and head off on our Christmas vacation.

I sent the final files to my printer and a week later, I was on the receiving end of the service I’d provided my clients all year. On a sunny Monday morning, a FedEx truck pulled up in front of my childhood home in Providence, Rhode Island, delivering a box of final proofs that had followed us in flight over the Atlantic. I unwrapped each one, savoring the moment that I had worked toward for so long: the moment when I finally felt satisfied.

It is a season, a year, a life in chiaroscuro, the darks more prolific, accounting for most of the time and space, and yet it’s as if their only purpose is to direct you to the light, when it does spark. Framed against the darkness, the highlights reach new heights.

For all her struggles, Juliette pirouetted at the center of the summer universe, and for all the frustrations inherent to the creative process, I unrolled those proofs in late December with a feeling of satisfied completion. In the end, these are the moments that catch the light, while the the rest fade into shadow.

And once you’ve seen one glitter and spark, you’re bound to wait in the dark for another. Patiently, persistently, knowing: it’s precisely when the dark deepens, that the most brilliant moments are revealed.
Otherwise, the light is wasted.

Months before, on that night in July, Juliette lay her marshmallow stick in the grass, before ascending a darkened tunnel path up through the woods and back to our summer home. Her passage was framed on all sides by firefly falling stars, first a few, then many. They had finally shown up to give their nightly performance. It was magical, and seemed as if it was timed just for Juliette’s passing through.

Hours later, after a few motor boats had sped up and down the desolate river, after Juliette’s head had hit her pillow, her eyes had closed and she’d drifted off into a deep, satisfied sleep, I imagine a fortunate field mouse must have happened upon that stick.

Marveling at his good luck, he would have gorged himself on the last remaining marshmallow morsels. That gluttonous little rodent would have stumbled home to his mouse hole with a horrible ache in his belly. He would have tossed and turned through his whole day’s sleep.

And then, at the next onset of darkness, he would have woken up to a new night.

And then, as was all he knew to do, he would have gone off again.

Searching.

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The Fabrics are Coming!

The Fabrics are Coming!

I’ve been talking about it for a while now, but in January 2015, it’s really going to happen!!

I’ll be launching my fabric collection, including 3 cottons, a rayon, a linen, 3 silks and a velvet.

Behold, the Dark Floral on silk charmeuse!

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I must admit I get a little emotional looking at these curtains. It’s been an intense process of sourcing, testing and ultimately producing them. At long last, there they are hanging in Dutch light, complete with raindrops on the window pane. Leave it to Mother Nature to add just the right touch :)

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Floraliën Flower Show

Floraliën Flower Show

On Monday I whizzed through the Floraliën flower show here in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It’s Europe’s largest plant and flower expo – at 40,000 square meters – and I only shot a few hundred photos that will provide me with inspiration for months to come!

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Would have loved to have stayed longer but Nathan can only postpone his afternoon nap for so long …

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Here are some impressions of the floral arrangements and plantings we saw.

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Wish we could somehow replicate the smells too because it was heavenly!

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These gardens were so lush and expansive. I can’t imagine how long it took to set this all up, just for an 8 day show. And I’m left wondering where all these flowers go when it’s over …

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As seen on …

As seen on …

The web shop has been live for a month now and I’m so happy to share with you that the wallpaper has appeared on/in several blogs and publications this past month.

THANK YOU to the following blogs and newspapers for the lovely exposure!

It was a huge surprise to see my Dark Floral last Thursday on Australia’s #1 design blog, The Design Files.

The wallpaper appeared twice in a post about the appointment of a new Director, Tamara Maynes, at The Establishment Studios in Prahran, Melbourne. The Establishment Studios are, in the words of blog author Lucy Feagins “part photographic studio, part events space and part prop store.” Lucy says: “The Establishment Studios is a dynamic space that changes all the time – the creative team here are forever re-painting their walls with various wallpapers and textures, creating new surfaces and investing in new props to ensure great variety for the events and shoots which take place here.”

Tamara was one of my first clients, before the web shop was even live. It’s so inspiring to see what she has done with the wallpaper, styling it so beautifully for these photographs. Here is an excerpt from the Design Files post (to see the full post, click here):

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I think I will adapt that caption: “INSANELY beautiful new wallpaper” and find a place for it on my website. Love that!

There was also an appearance on Design Love Fest, a blog written by LA-based art director Bri Emery. Bri has been featured in publications such as Elle Décor, Apartment Therapy, HGTV, Lucky Magazine, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Los Angeles Times and more. Here is an excerpt from her post (to see the whole post, click here):

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“So rad.” Love it!

It’s also an honor, as a certified Francophile, to be included on the French blog Deco Crush (see below). For the full post, click here.

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My high school French teacher would be happy to know that I can kind of figure out what this says: “an ode to femininity.” I like that!

On Friday of last week I was the Featured Designer over at the Pattern Observer blog. Michelle Fifis and Chelsea Densmore do a wonderful job over there, providing countless opportunities and resources for surface pattern designers, and it was an honor to be featured. Thanks guys!

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The wallpaper was also in print in the UK’s Daily Mail on Sunday‘s Decorating Blueprint on January 19th.

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It’s great to see it getting out there!

And I can’t wait to release my next Dark Floral in just a couple more months!

Once again, many thanks go out to all these bloggers and editors for the lovely exposure!

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The Hangover

The Hangover

Unfortunately, this post probably isn’t going to be as funny as the movie that shares its title, arguably one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Last week when I posted I was on a tremendous high, anticipating that all the hard work I’ve been doing over the past years was finally coming to fruition. The (perhaps inevitable) follow up to that post is, not surprisingly, the hangover :(

When those maternity nurses I talked about last week come to work on the 4th day of their 8 day stay, they know their ‘patient’ is going to have some kind of terrible, embarrassing crying fit. They told me this 4 days after Nathan was born, when I was in the middle of one such fit.

It makes it all the worse to know you’re that predictable. You’re a hostage to your hormones, a sad cliché …

And I found myself in that place again this past weekend. This web shop is like my 4th child. Last Friday it finally went live/was born at www.elliecashman.com. Unfortunately, it hasn’t (in my book) earned a 10 on the Apgar scale of web shops – yet. A few things are still missing/not functioning properly.

webshopforblog

I was so looking forward to sending out my big MailChimp (birth) announcement and writing gleefully about the whole experience on my blog. I was expecting a marching band, Arsenio Hall fist pumps … I wanted to spike the football in the end zone and run a victory lap, trophy in hand. Then top it all off with some embarrassing dance moves.

But it just wasn’t quite there yet.

Last Friday, I realized I would have to refrain from all-out celebration, just a little bit longer …

And there I was, sort of in limbo. The site was live, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to take it full speed to the masses, shout it from the rooftops, etc.

So I decided to devote my afternoon to the design I’m currently working on. I’m about 2 months in and have at least that many months to go. It’s such slow-going, but I’m hacking away at the thick brush of it. If I’m lucky, I have a couple of (consecutive?) hours to work on it each day.

Here’s a super sneak peek:

meticulous

Last Friday my husband took the afternoon off of work so that I could have some glorious, uninterrupted time with it. I was finally getting somewhere, was starting to think ahead to relaxing on my living room couch with a glass of wine and a good movie, when my Mac froze and I lost 3 hours of unsaved work on it! Argh!! Can’t you just feel the anxiety in your chest?? I thought I was going to throw up!

I know, I know, how could I be so stupid? I usually save every half hour. This was just bad, bad luck.

And, at the end of a disappointing day, this was enough to push me over the edge, into the deep, dingy pit of postpartum blues.

I was determined to claw my way out, but that meant foregoing that glass of wine. Every ‘free’ moment I had this past weekend was devoted entirely to stubbornly trying to turn my Mac misfortune into a blessing in disguise. I decided to grant myself a reprieve from this huge undertaking of a design and do something ‘fun’ (albeit at my computer).

A few months ago, my cousin-in-law, who will be only the 15th midwife in the history of Netherlands to receive her PhD, asked me if I would design the cover of her dissertation for her. It’s an honor, of course.

She was envisioning two birds as symbols of the cooperation between mother and child/mother and midwife, etc. So this weekend I left my Dark Floral #2, monstrous 17th-century floral still life wallpaper design on the shelf, and I cranked this out.

marritkaft

We still want to play with it, with the colors, scale, maybe remove some elements. But at least it felt good to ‘finish’ something in a short period of time. Which has me thinking that I need to work on quick, loose designs like this at the same time I’m working on the meticulous monsters. For the sake of my mental health!

But now, it’s time to get back to that beast!

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

This year, at Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to reflect on the year behind me, even though it’s not over yet. That’s because so much has changed for me this year, in a way I’m especially grateful for.

At 36, I feel more complete than ever before in my life. Not because anything is finished. Quite the contrary, I have this amazing feeling that things are just beginning. It’s just the foundation that feels complete. Many times over the last (almost) 7 years, since I relocated to the Netherlands, it’s been heavy lifting. But I chose this life. I think I chose it because I knew it would be hard … to start my life over again, in a new land and a new language.

Design sketches from 2007.

Hand sketches from 2007.

In February of 2007, I took a one-way flight from New Amsterdam to Old Amsterdam. And I made a deal with myself. When I set foot on this side of the ocean, I wouldn’t speak English, a language that, after 30 years, felt like a form-fitting suit lined with cloud fleece. If something was going to come out of my mouth, it would be in Dutch, a language which I’d been studying once a week for a couple of years. In New York City, I’d found a native Dutch speaker who met me in Starbuckses all over Manhattan, sending me home with long lists of vocab. And I studied, I did, but I had a head full of words and no idea how to put them together. I had a box of beads, but no string, no clasps … no grammatical grasps.

I don’t know why I was so adamant about quitting English cold turkey (a fitting phrase for this time of year, don’t you think?) I had visions of immersing myself in Dutch for 6 months, at the end of which I would awake from a Dutch dream, knowing myself to be truly ‘fluent.’ Oh, how warped was my notion of learning a second language?? All these years later, I’ve only woken from a number of Dutch dreams (a number I can count on two hands) and what they all had in common was a feeling of stress and struggling to express myself.

What happened in those early months is that I started to say a lot less. I couldn’t express complex thoughts in Dutch. Telling stories was highly challenging; telling jokes was all but impossible. I didn’t know how to say things, so I didn’t say them at all. My personality changed: I became quieter, more serious.

Design sketches from 2008.

Hand sketches from 2008.

At 30 years old, I was starting over, laying down the first stones of a new foundation. In my new world, I felt like I child. There were so many things I didn’t understand, so many ways in which I felt out of my depths. Everyday tasks of doing groceries or going to the post office forced me to confront my incapacity, my uncertainty. Standing in line, I would look up just long enough to observe that the Dutch people around me were so much better adapted to their surroundings than I, with their native language skills and their totally sick biking abilities. I ejected myself from conversations the way I ejected myself from my bike seat on the Brouwersgracht, for fear of making mistakes, for fear of crashing.

While I disengaged from the outside world, I was escaping to an inner one, where I had another language. It wasn’t English, it wasn’t Dutch, it wasn’t even made up of letters or words at all. It was a language of images, of colors and forms, textures and patterns. It wasn’t a new language for me, but the way I needed it was new.

Design sketches from 2008.

Hand sketches from 2008.

This led me, in 2010, to establish Ellie Cashman Design. I started designing surface patterns for an agent in the US and an agent here in the Netherlands. I loved it, and whenever our two daughters (Ruby, then 2.5 and Juliette, then newborn) were at daycare or asleep, I was at my laptop (I can’t believe it now, but my first designs were done on a laptop with a 17″ screen. How spoiled I’ve become since then, with a 27″ iMac and a large Wacom tablet!)

Anyway, this thing called surface design seemed to combine my fine art and graphic design background. But it was such a big field, and I was just beginning to explore its many possibilities – to design for fashion, home interiors, wrapping paper, stationery products, quilting fabrics, tech products, you name it! I was looking at blogs like Print and Pattern and Pattern Observer and I was overwhelmed by all the inspiration I found there. I tried to emulate lots of styles as a path to finding my own. That’s what I was doing then, finding my style, experimenting with the technology – hardware and software – to see what was possible. Selling a design here and there.

Design made during a class in hand/digital techniques at the Textile Museum in Tilburg, 2009.

Design made during a class in combining hand/digital techniques at the Textile Museum in Tilburg, NL, 2009.

Because it was something I did in my ‘free’ time, something I loved to do and did for myself (not for a boss) and because I wasn’t making any money to speak of, it still felt like a hobby. It was hard to explain to people what I was doing. I had no finished products to show. When my agents sold my work, it was out of a portfolio of dozens of other nameless designers. I was anonymous. I felt disconnected. I knew I wanted to get to these trade shows myself, that no one would do a better job of representing me than I could, but with two young kids at home, I didn’t have the time resources to create the volume of work that would make going to a trade show worthwhile. My big goal for 2013 was to do Surtex for the first time (a few months before Nathan was born) but halfway through the pregnancy I decided to take that pressure off of myself and I canceled my booth reservation.

My early designs were mostly made using Adobe Illustrator.

From 2010-2012, I made my designs using Adobe Illustrator.

Then, unexpectedly, in April of 2013, several months after I’d posted it, an image of one of my dark floral wallpaper designs went viral on Pinterest. I started getting several e-mails a week from people who wanted to know where they could buy it. At that time, I was talking to a potential manufacturer. I’d been waiting for years to be ‘discovered’ by a manufacturer, and it looked like it was finally going to happen! But then that partnership fell through. I think because the interest I was receiving via social media gave me the confidence to ask for an advance, which scared the manufacturer off. I’m so happy about that, in hindsight, because each week brought more e-mails.

Some of my first digitally painted flowers, 2012.

In 2012, I moved on to Adobe Photoshop. These are some of my first digitally painted flowers, 2012.

More digitally painted flowers, 2012.

More digitally painted flowers, 2012.

More digitally painted flowers, 2012.

More digitally painted flowers, 2012.

At first, I didn’t know what to tell people. The wallpaper wasn’t available, yet, but I was working on it. I thought, “OK, if there are actually people out there who want to buy it, maybe I could look into having it custom printed.” And I posted a discussion on the Dutch Designers’ Association Group on LinkedIn, asking if anyone had good experience with wallpaper printers. I got lots of good tips, several of which I followed up on, and I ended up with a fantastic partner, a printer with a lot of experience, even a bit of a specialty, in wallpaper. The team there has since contributed to my creative process in ways I couldn’t have imagined! It changed everything when I started to design for a specific product, for a specific context and industry. My early work was missing that. I needed a focus, and in the early summer of 2013, I knew it was wallpaper.

Detail of the dark floral wallpaper that went viral on Pinterest in 2013.

Detail of the dark floral wallpaper that went viral on Pinterest in 2013.

In August, I started shipping out my first rolls of that dark floral wallpaper, and in the months since I’ve tracked packages online as they’ve boarded trucks, trains and planes on their way to other continents (5 so far!) I watch, literally in a state of giddiness and awe, as the wallpaper journeys from loading points to check points to delivery points. The UPS guy and I are becoming fast friends, as he’s patiently teaching me best practices in printing shipping labels, customs invoices and running a little business from the storefront of my front door.

This has been the perfect primer period leading up to the launch of my web shop, which really should be this coming week. The builders say they’ll be done by Tuesday. Then we’ll run a couple of tests, and be live by Friday. And, as I think about that, as I look back on the last (almost) 7 years and the last year in particular, and I feel incredibly thankful for what feels like the completion of a foundational stage, I think about a particular moment on a particular day of this past year.

It was in the early morning hours of August 19th, around 1:00 a.m. I was in a hospital parking lot, climbing into the passenger side of our silver minivan.  My husband was in the driver’s seat, and our new baby Nathan, only three hours old at the time, was strapped into his car seat behind us. It was pitch dark and there was no one else around, just our two maternity nurses in their cars behind us, ready to follow us home. In the Netherlands, there are no hospital stays after normal, uncomplicated births. They send you home as soon as you can stand up again. That may sound strange, but the trade off is these maternity nurses who come and care for you for 8 days in your home. It’s a good trade, as there is just nothing like your own bed, especially when you’re cuddled up with your newborn in it, and someone is bringing you breakfast in it :)

When I closed the car door in that hospital parking lot, my husband and I were alone for the first time since all the delivery room drama had gone down. Suddenly, there were no doctors, midwives, or nurses telling us what to do. So there we were, in the darkness and the silence, searching for words while the still images from those few preceding hours rolled by on a mental reel.

We didn’t know anything about Nathan before he was born, besides that he got hiccups a couple times a day and kicked most at night. We chose not to know his gender. Because, we said, we’ll know it someday, and sometimes in life it’s actually nice not to know. And so we spent 9 months wondering, as we’d done with his sisters before him. In that way, I think our kids were just dreams to us, so abstract, until the moment they were there, and we could see and touch them, name them, and drive home with our dreams in the back seat. Healthy. Boy. That moment had come (again) and it was incredible.

In the silence, we scraped our minds for the words to describe it, and the word that came was “complete.”

And then there was nothing more to do but hit the gas, and go.

Ruby, Juliette and Nathan.

Ruby, Juliette and Nathan, September 2013.

And that is how I feel now, about my family and about my work. The foundation has been laid. I’ve spent the last few years digging the hole, gathering the stones and putting them in place. So much of the activity was underground and unexciting, but at the end of 2013, I feel I’ve reached the surface, am maybe even breaking it and starting to build on top of it.

In 2013, there was an image.

In 2013, there was an image, and behind that image, I found words again.

In 2013, there was an image, and behind that image, I found words again. I’m engaged in conversations, with my customers, my photographer, my printer, my web builder. On this side, I have something to say, and a language with which to say it.

Last Wednesday, after Ruby’s ballet class, one of her classmates gave us a baby gift. We came home, put Nathan in bed, and Ruby and Juliette did the honors of opening ‘his’ present for him. It was a book called Meneer (Mr.) René by Leo Timmers.

Meneer René, by Leo Timmers.

Meneer René, by Leo Timmers.

We quickly settled into our spots on the living room couch, with Ruby on my right arm and Juliette on my left, and started to read the story of Réné, a dog who is a painter. He goes to the market every weekend and tries to sell his paintings, but no one ever wants to buy them. One day, a magic man shows up and tells him that if he cuts his paintings out, they’ll become real. So he cuts out a painting of an apple, and in an amazing instant, he’s holding a real, edible fruit. Then he rushes home and paints cars and planes and big house, which he’s sitting in a short time later when a rabbit named Rose comes to the door and rings his bell, asking to buy one of his paintings.

Rose ringing René's doorbell.

Rose ringing René’s doorbell.

He says he doesn’t paint anymore, that he doesn’t have any paintings to sell, and he sends Rose home empty handed. But that gets René to thinking, and eventually, he paints a painting of the magic man, cuts him out, and asks him to reverse the spell, so that his paintings will no longer come to life. Then he paints a regular old painting – a painting of a rose – and he heads off to the market and gives it to the rabbit named Rose.

To me, the message is: having things that you can keep is great and all, but given the choice, wouldn’t we all – as Réné did – give those things up to have one thing that we can give away?

I feel so lucky to have cast my line of life questions into a pool of possibilities, and to have had these answers come back to me. I feel so lucky to know what it feels like to bring life into the world. Nothing will top that. But as an artist, a respectable second place goes to knowing what it feels like when a rabbit named Rose rings your doorbell.

And now there’s nothing left to do but hit the gas, and go.

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Rose Decay wallpaper. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

Rose Decay wallpaper. Styling and photography by Ellen Mesu. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

 

Moonlight Meadow wallpaper. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

Moonlight Meadow wallpaper. Styling and photography by Ellen Mesu. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

 

Twisting Tulips wallpaper. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

Twisting Tulips wallpaper. Styling and photography by Ellen Mesu. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.

 

In 2013, there was an image.

Dark Floral wallpaper. Styling and photography by Ellen Mesu. Available later this week via www.elliecashman.com.