Laura Gunn has taken the fabric world by storm with her debut collection for Michael Miller Fabrics, Lantern Bloom. It’s a small collection of 16 prints (7 different designs) made directly from Laura’s original paintings. Chinese Lantern pods, bird cages, and coordinates are rendered in a deeply saturated palette of turquoise, red-orange, brown, purple, and green. While transforming paintings into fabric prints is nothing new, it is out of the ordinary (especially for a contemporary quilting collection) to preserve the texture of the brush strokes. I asked Laura to tell us a little more about herself and how this extraordinary fabric collection came about.
Where do you live? What is the creative scene like there?
We’ve lived in St. Louis for about four years. We just love it. This city is loaded with family friendly activities, including some pretty artsy stuff — like the Laumier Sculpture Garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden [ed. note: otherwise known as "Mobot," which is awesome], and our favorite, the City Museum.
What is your background as an artist?
My background? Just a lifetime of making stuff. I actually studied Anthropology in college, but even then I was making jewelry, handbags, quilts, or whatever I could get my hands on. I’ve only been painting for a few years, but when I started I knew immediately I had found my passion.
What was it like to grow up with your mom? It seems like you surround yourself with vibrant color and pattern to this day, so she must have had quite an influence …
Oh yes, I am a self-proclaimed color addict. Our home growing up was overflowing in bright colors. I think all of my siblings have acquired a certain fearlessness about color because of that.
How did you make the leap from painting to becoming a fabric designer? Between your mother and sister-in-law, I guess it’s no surprise that you did — but what was the journey like?
Well, Heather Bailey (my sister-In-law) really encouraged me to give it a go. Initially I was playing around with doing some graphic design. It was Kathy Miller of Michael Miller Fabrics who suggested I use my original paintings. I resisted the idea a bit at first. I just couldn’t envision it. But when I thought more about it, the ideas just started to come and I decided to go for it. In the end, it has been a way better medium for me. Painting is my favorite creative outlet. So I’m really lucky to be able to use it in my designs.
It seems like Lantern Bloom has been extremely well received so far — congratulations! Lots of people are saying they’ve never seen anything like it before in the contemporary fabric world. Have you started a revolution?
HA! I love it. Yes, and I plan to take over the world!
Were there challenges to translating paintings to fabric designs?
YES! That is why it took us a year and a half to get this first line out. First, we had to find a mill that could handle the engraving. Engraving the screens for quilting fabric is a real art form in and of itself. Kathy Miller found a mill in Japan that did a superb job. We were all blown away.
Next we had to deal with creating different colorways. Because every piece was hand painted (even the polka dots), finding other color combinations took a lot of experimentation and several months of back-and-forth with the mill.
Luckily we learned A LOT the first time around. We are hoping my next line (already in the works) has a much quicker turnaround.
What are the colors of Lantern Bloom? What do they mean to you, and how were they developed?
Initially I was inspired by a colorful afghan that my great grandmother knitted. From there, the colors changed a bit and took on a life of their own. I get a bit crazy mixing paints and never know exactly what I’ll end up with. It’s a very spontaneous experience, which is what I love about it.
Can you please tell us a little about each print — its name, its role in the collection, any stories behind it …
Hmmm. I think I started with the painted stripe. I wanted to get the colors figured out, so I thought that was a good place to start. Plus, I LOVE a good stripe.
Next, I think I did the climbing lantern pods. I chose the Chinese lantern plant as my subject because those pods are such a classic and elegant shape — not overtly feminine, certainly not juvenile. I just thought they would make a very elegant collection.
After that it was just a matter of giving the collection variety and balance in scale, composition, and color, so that it would work well together.
Have any projects made so far with Lantern Bloom stood out as favorites?
A friend and I have been developing some sewing patterns, so we’ve got some great projects going. My favorite may be the little messenger bag, just the right size for a coloring book. It was displayed in my booth at the Spring Quilt Market.
Who are your favorite designers and artists right now?
Favorite designers: Well, I have always been a big fan of Kaffe Fassett. Even as a teenager I was inspired by his surprising use of color. And how can I not love Amy Butler, Heather Ross, and my brilliant sister-in-law, Heather Bailey.
Favorite artists: I think my all time favorite artist will always be Van Gogh. He revolutionized color in fine art. And I don’t think anyone has ever improved on his use of color and light. On a more contemporary note, I love Camilla Engman and Rachel Austen.
What is next for you?
Next? Well, I’ve finished the artwork for my next line. I cannot wait to see it in fabric! And I’m always working on new paintings. (I currently have a stack I need to ship to my publisher ASAP.) And we’re working on the patterns.
I guess with all of that my main focus right now is trying to incorporate my little business into my family life in a way that enriches our day-to-day living and allows me to enjoy this sweet time when my children are small.
Thank you so much, Laura! Follow Laura’s adventures as a “mother, artist, designer, and compulsive crafter” on her blog, Paint In My Hair.