On style and the evolution of your voice

Personal style is something that is always emerging and shifting and recently I’ve been wanting to define for myself what that looks like. I love the conversation of getting and staying in touch with what is and always has and will be within us. I believe that absolutely all of us have something unique to say. No one else can have all the same experiences, history, tastes, feelings, etc. that we have all rolled into one. Which means we all have a story. We all have a voice that is uniquely ours. That’s not to say we aren’t influenced by one another. My design teachers always reiterated that we “don’t live in a vacuum”, meaning we are surrounded by past circling ideas, thoughts and aesthetics that are in our world. But that can be a beautiful thing if we use the unique opportunities to make new and find new ways to say “this is who I am and what I have to say about my corner of the world”.

There are multiple levels of getting in touch with this I think. There is the upper chatter level – the trends, the fun stuff, the shifts in design, etc., and then there is the deeper stuff – the things that speak to your soul, that say who you are and settle you into your bliss. I think a healthy combination of both keeps us vibrant and in tune with the moving world while still being rooted within our own artistic soul. This will evolve and change but if it’s to evolve in a true way it needs to stay in touch with who you are at your deepest core level.

So what does that mean for me? What chattering conversations in design am I interested in and make me a feel giddy? And what core things do I need to feed my inner creative soul?Playful French Industrial | mer mag

images sources: 1) stripey dress 2) vintage doll beds 3) my craft room shelves 4) hi five print 5) darling girl with yellow basket

I remember reading something from an Oprah Winfrey magazine years ago about discovering what your core home decor style is. The author mentions closing your eyes and thinking about qualities and moments you envisioned your future home would be like as a child. What about it made you feel happy, safe, alive and at home. What did it feel like? Warm and cozy? Cool and open? Was there an ocean outside? Mountains? White flowing curtains? Clean lines? etc. Whatever you saw and felt would be the essence of your home design style. And from there you could build upon it with more specifics, unique moments and trends. I think this concept can also be used for finding what your core design and art style is. What do you see and feel when you close your eyes? I love Eva, of Sycamore Street Press’, conversation about how she found her Minimal Bohemian style and how her illustration and design work is now evolving with her to meet up with that style. So great.

For me when I close my eyes and try to think how my “at home style” feels I’m met with myself as a little girl, perhaps in a vintage French black and white dress, maybe a bit messy from a few crafty painting sessions. I’m in a room with chunky white floorboards and weathered wood either on the walls or furniture. Cardboard dollhouses and tigers made from oatmeal boxes adorn the room. It feels open and cool, even a bit breezy with a window open and in invitation to climb atop the roof. Pockets of brightly primary colored art and toys sit upon a shelf – some new and clean and some old and worn. And a little vintage rag doll in the corner in her bed.  Always a doll. There is a metal desk that looks like it could have come from an old school or hospital with heaps of paper atop and a thick paintbrush ready to dip into inky colors. Here I am happy. Here I can make, dream, sleep, relax, imagine, scheme, nibble, and solve.

Some things I take from this is that I’m drawn to some things a bit weathered, and industrial paired with other things modern. Stark scratchy blacks, and white, paired at times with pops of bold primaries – and blues, always a lot of inky blues (in fact I have more blue fabric overflowing in my craft room than any other color). Definitely playful – must invite and encourage play with a little touch of the moody (I’ve always had a love affair with rainy day moodiness – maybe something to do with my super fair skin?). And a little bit of French theatrical – think moody modern clowns in colorful weathered vintage clothing. And a touch of Mid-Century Modern French Peasant (if that is such a thing?…makes sense in my head – basically taking my grandparents self built mid-century modern home and dropping it in the rural countryside of France, with a short commute into Paris, sounds just about right). So in short, as my friend Meta coined it as:

Moody Modern Playful French Industrial

(Ok I guess that’s not that “short”. I need a shorthand version for this style like how Eva coined her “Minimal Bohemian” style. Maybe Playful French Industrial? Any other ideas?)

Playful French Industrial | mer mag

image sources: 6) Paapje Blanket 7) Charles Eames 8) cardboard necklace craft 9) School House Electric office 10) my yellow reading bear 11) girl with head scarf 12) gallery wall with striped rug

Alongside an existing illustration persona, I’ve been working in and developing this more naive style for say the past 4-5 years which has revealed itself mostly within my kid’s crafts (initially so that kids could also make it) and home decor. I simply love the juxtaposition of graphic modern and vintage neutrals mixed with a bit bright pops of colors (shown below in this pic of Little O with our duct tape castle).  This style has both intentionally and organically evolved and continues to develop within my work for kids and adults. It has been a fun adventure and discovery process and I love sharing it all with you!

Interlocking Castle| mer mag

When I was in art school many people asked me what I wanted to “do”. Paint? Design? Illustrate? Make Clothing? Toys? And I all could say was, Yes? I have often told people that when it comes down to it I am a maker. I love to make art within several mediums and in many diverse forms. I’ve never been too concerned with titles such as “artist” vs “illustrator” etc. I know there are worlds that have been set up to support either on of these titles. I do consider myself as an artist. But I also consider myself a maker and creator of all things I find lovely and inspiring, particularly in the children’s world.

I had a conversation recently with a few friends about influences and sharing what we love, and where our inspirations come from, which is always great thing to do. I do this a bit on Pinterest and on other social media platforms but I thought it would be fun to start blogging about it more. Perhaps even have a monthly (I can never commit to weekly ;)) column about inspiration?

All of the images from this post speak to me and take me to my “happy place”. I have also gathered a few works of art that I find inspiring.Inspirational Artistsimage sources: 1) Art from picture book One Step, Two… 2) The Shelf, Nicolas 1955 3) Cy Twombly 1955 4) work by Super Bingo 5) Marguerite by Henri Matisse  6) Hauser & Wirth textiles  7) Matisse paper cuts 8) vintage picture books such as this Czech title by Alois Mikulka

I’m very much in love with this first image by Roger Duvoisin, for Charlotte Zolotow’s  1955 children’s book One Step Two. I purchased a vintage copy when pregnant with baby M and was very excited about adding a little girl to our family. The story is so special to me as it talks about taking moments to notice the little things that children do. It smells perfectly wonderfully dusty and this last image of the mother holding her sleeping little girl is not only gorgeous but tender for me.  The other images showcase some of the more naive and modern work that alongside my narrative work, I’ve always been interested in. And I’ve been searching for ways to connect the two for some time now. I’m also really drawn to the many works by Matisse and am especially enamoured with this Margaruite painting. Not his typical style that you think of when right away but a stunning work nonetheless. What I wouldn’t give to have this hanging in my home! And I love the change from this to his more renowned geometric paper cuts that he did when his eye sight weakened. Beautiful evolution of style due to personal circumstances and tastes. Personally I’d love both together on one wall. The mixing of the two is very interesting and exciting for me.

McKay and Velma

I’m also very inspired by childhood and times past when play was very organic and self made. When mom’s sewed their children’s costumes and toys came from cracker boxes and were carved out of branches from backyards. At the present I’m particularly inspired by my grandparents and their life and home in Boulder, Colorado. They were passionate makers and lovers of beauty, faith, family and cultivation. They figured out how to build a mid-century modern home from the ground up all by reading books! No lie. My grandfather was passionate about music and my grandmother was a painter and they were both completely dedicated to crafting their life with their family. Their legacy and my memories of visiting their home are very close to my heart and now that both have passed (my grandfather last year and grandmother just earlier this month) I feel very drawn to telling some of their story – my story – in my work as well. This little vintage rocking horse was made by my grandfather for my father in 1953. And when I visited my grandmother for the last time this past Christmas I was able to snap a photo on my phone of baby M riding on it. It’s very inspiring and special to me.

VintageRockingHorse

So what about you? When you close your eyes, what do you see as your core style? What things make up you and your story? I’d love to hear as the evolution and journey of personal style is so fun and interesting to me.

13 Responses to “On style and the evolution of your voice”

  1. sarah

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and admiring your work (albeit, silently), but I just want to say thank you for your insight on finding personal/core style. I recently decided to be more intentional in pursuing my interests in “making” (I have no other word for it either)- and sometimes it’s discouraging when I feel like I don’t have a specific style or aesthetic that everyone else seems to have already figured out for themselves. As I develop my style, I’m reminded that it can’t be artificially produced, but something that grows from inside of me. I think of my childhood living with my grandparents, playing pretend, reading for hours. I’m inspired by nature, the trees, the wind, grassy hills. And I think lastly, and more importantly, I’m inspired by a Creator who knows me and loves me and shows me His beauty.

    Reply
    • Merrilee

      I really love that Sarah “it can’t be artificially produced, but something that grows from inside of me”. If we can all try to remember that we have nothing to fear about what unique things we have and want to say. Love your inspiration sources as well! xo Mer

      Reply
  2. sarah jane

    Yes, Yes and Yes! This is something so hard to articulate and talk about sometimes, and you nailed it. I LOVE your style, and love seeing your inspiration and the way your brain works. It’s so important to stay connected to what makes us tick. I just ready a BIO on Lisbeth Zwerger, and she of all people felt she didn’t have a place in the art world. People told her she was too traditional in an ermerging time of creativity. She was going to stop painting. And then she saw the work of Arthur Rackham, and she was reinspired, and knew that she had a voice. When we see the works of others, it can remind us of what we have always had inside. I love hearing the story of what get’s our creativity ticking. Brilliant post!

    Reply
    • Merrilee

      so cool about Lisbeth Zwerger and Arthur Rackham! two fav’s for sure. xo Mer

      Reply
  3. Eva @ Sycamore Street Press

    Great post, and thanks for the shout out! The creative process and evolution of style/work of an artist is so interesting. I love what you’ve said about it. And all the images you chose here are amazing. I think we have a similar aesthetic but distinctive at the same time — yours is totally Playful French Industrial (love that!) and mine is Minimal Bohemian. And parts of that will grow and evolve and that’s good. But it’s fun to think about and giving it a name helps envision the whole thing…

    Reply
    • Merrilee

      i know, giving it a name really helps to visualize things when creating, right? It’s almost like you can close your eyes and envision what your “room” is missing/needs and then just make that!
      xo Mer

      Reply
  4. lorajean

    Great post! Some things you really do love but only for a little while, and some are just deeply rooted into your very soul! Both are great and both are part of who we are. My dream-scape has handmade clothes, toys and even a handmade house. It has the smell of freshly baked bread, fresh produce, and a wild grassy landscape! (The smell wild grass is the smell of childhood for me, I was always playing in the field.) Almost everything in the home would be handmade and therefore making life itself a unique creation, or work of art.

    Reply
    • Merrilee

      that’s awesome Lorajean. I love it! I totally think of you when you describe your dream-scape. So warm and inviting. makes me want to visit!! xoxo Mer

      Reply
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      Oh thanks Kina! I agree, more discussion on this would be nice. xoxo Mer

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