Designer Interview: David Butler on Curious Nature

David Butler

{ David Butler, graphic artist and now fabric designer–he’s also in a rock band, the Black Owls! }

We’re excited to speak with David Butler, the designer behind studio Art of the Midwest (and husband to to the wonderful Amy Butler) about his latest project, “Parson Gray.” Parson Gray will focus on print & design for fashion and home with a modern, natural, fine art approach. David described the brand as filled with richly muted palettes and organic, geometric prints with a loose, hand-drawn sophistication are anchored in modernist simplicity reminiscent of mid-century studio design.

Curious Nature” is the first collection of prints from Parson Gray. The collection is a folk modern interpretation of natural elements. It weaves together a balance of hand-drawn patterns inspired by Japanese indigo and mid-century fine art. The palette is grounded in richly muted nature tones evoking deep forest and dark ocean balanced by bone ivory and oyster grays.

Curious Nature is being interpreted to fabric by FreeSpirit in both quilting/fashion and larger prints on home décor weight cotton. David hopes that these fabrics will appeal to both women and men who seek modern, naturalistic, artistic style.

{ David Butler’s New Brand, Parson Gray }

You’ve been deeply involved in the behind-the-scenes of the fabric world through Amy Butler Design for many years. What prompted you to release your own collection of fabric?

Amy did! And Joyce from Westminster / FreeSpirit!

They really appreciated that there might be a gap for this kind of fabric in the market, and coaxed me along. Obviously I’ve been “behind the scenes” in this industry for the last 10 years so I already knew how to do the production end, and I’m a designer, and I know fabric, and quilting, so it was a natural fit.

Curious Nature

{ American Gothic, Curious Nature-Style }

When I first saw the prints from Curious Nature grouped together, I thought, “That fabric would fit in perfectly on the set of Mad Men!” However, upon closer inspection, there’s a hand-drawn quality that combines with the mid-century style that makes it something different. What story are you telling with this collection?

That’s a great observation.

I pre-date computer-aided graphic design, and I have a passion for unique handwork, texture, and history. I apply that to my artwork, and design and that’s how I’ve made a name for myself in graphics. I wanted this collection to reflect my love of mid-century, folk art, fine art, japanese indigo printing, and nature as inspiration. The colors are certainly very mid-century influenced. I created the color palette from a single picture of mid-century pottery vases. I hope that the story reflects an introspective yet soothing artist’s sketchbook of nature inspirations.

Curious Nature

{ Selections from both the Ocean and Mineral creating a masculine look. }

Curious Nature

{ A feminine interpretation using the Rare Earth home dec weight Curious Nature prints. }

Curious Nature seems like a collection that would be equally at home in decor, in quilt and even in apparel, and it feels gender-neutral, thanks in part to the earthy color palette. Was your goal to create a collection that has a high level of universal appeal? (It seems like that would be quite a design challenge!)

You know, like Amy, I just design what I would want to see in the world. It just so happens that it has this kind of appeal, I think. I did want it to work across all these platforms (fashion, home decor, quilting, etc…) because frankly that’s how I will use it!

It’s really nice that so many people recognize that it has this broad cross-over.

{ The bright orange of the Rare Earth collection is only available in home dec-weight sateen. }

At True Up, we love hearing about how designers create their collections. What was your process for creating Curious Nature?

I work very fast. I pull together my drawings and prints in black and white and scan them in. Then I make my repeats and clean up the art as I need too. I intentionally keep the hand-drawn character, flaws and all, because it is inherent to the character of the art. I then make my step and repeats on the computer and build my color palette. Then it’s all just experimentation. Dropping in colors, printing them out, laying them on the floor and editing.

I always have ideas and inspiration pinned up on my boards, and I know pretty much what the collection of prints is going to be. For Curious Nature there were a few prints that went all the way through coloring and then bit the dust after I put together the entire collection. They seemed a perfect fit when I started, but didn’t flow well with everything else once it all came together as a story.

{ The Mineral palette shows off the fine lines of Curious Nature with contrasty charcoal and off-white. }

I know your wife, Amy, draws much of her inspiration from flowers and her love of gardens and plants. What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the textures, patterns and motion of nature. Tree bark, clouds, reef, waves, ripples, stones, you name it. Also the geometry of architecture. Amy and I both love to study buildings, especially spiritual architecture found in Hindu and Muslim cultures. Pretty stunning.

{ A scarf made with Empire Mark in Ice  and a tablecloth featuring Trade Blanket in Steel, both from the Ocean Palette. }

What’s next for the Parson Gray brand?

I do have a line of ‘skins’ for phones, computers, iPads, etc. coming out [in late February] as well. Very excited about that. It’s certainly a great fit for my prints. And I’m a gear-head anyway, so it’s fun on a personal level. They are available through

My second collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics is coming out this summer and it is called Seven Wonders. I designed it to work alongside Curious Nature in addendum, but also as a standalone collection. It will add even more breadth to my initial launch which is great. The palettes will work side-by-side.

I also will have a line of handmade wool rugs launching this Spring with Chandra Rugs (the same company that does Amy’s rugs). I’m very excited about this as well. Again, this is an easy transition for my prints and my brand. I have a few other things in the works that go beyond the prints themselves, and work with my graphic design sensibilities, but we’ll see where that leads.

{ The palettes and prints of Curious Nature were designed to work together. }

Thank you, David! We can’t wait to see what else comes from the Parson Gray line. You can keep up with Parson Gray on the brand’s website or on Facebook. And, thank you also to the team at Amy Butler Design for providing us with a first look from their recent Curious Nature by Parson Gray photoshoot.

{ Messenger Bag made with Upward Spiral in Royalty and Cocoons in Silver, both part of the home dec, Rare Earth palette. }



  1. kara rane says:

    thank You ~ always so happy when the hand-drawn hand-made element is present,, especially when depicting nature or natural forms.

  2. Kate Erbach says:

    This is a fabulous collection. I love the “maleness” of it. I see something in the future for my son.

  3. Cheryl - MA says:

    Great Article…Great Fabric Collection!

  4. It’s fantastic that everyone is able to design fabric now, even if not commercially, there are so many ways. Fabric printing shops are springing up around the place. Who would have thought that possible before Spoonflower?

  5. Angelia says:

    I saw some of this fabric at a quilt show. Great color and could make a great mens’ quilt.