Monday, December 7, 2015

Artist Spotlight : Linnea Riley

Something magical happens when Linnea Riley infuses her signature style into the personality of pets. Friendly felines, cute cats... these products have found a place in the hearts of countless customers. We wanted to get to know a little about Linnea and what inspires her and are so happy to share the insight with you today!


Q. What was your first project for the Museum Shop?

A. My first project for the Art Institute of Chicago Museum Shop and catalog was actually the buyers’ ordering of our Poster Calendar many years ago. The Poster Calendars were the product of my fledgling company called Linnea Design which I began in 1986 and the AIC was one of my early customers! Some years later, I began designing Christmas cards for Linnea Design and the AIC ordered and sold these as well and asked me to design cards specifically for them. These did well and subsequently the AIC created other products like ornaments and coasters based on these designs. 

Q. How would you describe your artistic style?

A. My artistic style has evolved from paper cutting, in 1986 and for nearly a decade after, to my current ink work. I enjoyed the strong poster-like images achievable with paper cutting which seemed appropriate to the Poster Calendar product. However, I was beginning to do more children’s book illustration and the paper cutting technique was too slow a method to be able to complete the work and it also lacked the ability to express the intimacy of a sensitive narrative. After struggling with this for some years, I found that working in Prisma Color pencils and watercolor allowed me to work boldly but could still express the emotion and nuance of a storyline and I began to use that method for all of the work I was doing for both books, and Linnea Design. After many years of the colored pencil work, I am now working exclusively in two techniques. One is pen and ink and the other is graphite pencil and water color. Each of these provides opportunity for bold expression but still allows for the communication of personality and emotion. I am feeling free and excited about these new ways of working! It does us all good to be repotted once in a while! 

Q. Tell us about your time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A. My time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was enormously helpful and I have nothing but good things to say about my experience there or the instructors who were sharing, encouraging and also insightful. I do recall that some of the most lifetime-resonating comments were from women instructors and, at that time, women instructors were few and far between. A side bar here is that my grandfather worked for Meyer Both Co. in 1920’s Chicago and in full collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, designed a commercial art course for eager students to work from at home! The art work of both instructors of the SAIC and their students were included in a beautiful set of portfolios and books which comprised this course. The work was my inspiration as a child and, as I sift through it from time to time to this day, I still think the work is exceptional and inspirational.

Q. Do you feel your designs have evolved over time? 

A. My designs have evolved in technique as discussed above. The subject matter has changed less though it is sometimes informed by the medium.

Q. What is it about your designs that appeal to so many people?

A. I have, in my commercial work, been mostly thought of as being the creator of animals with expressions. It is a good thing I like doing this sort of animal subject as it has sometimes become difficult to change people’s expectations of what I might do! People seem to enjoy the animals doing silly things and for that I am grateful!

Q. Who are some of your favorite artists and/or artists you have been influenced by?

A. I have many favorites when it comes to artists! Modigliani, Al Hirschfeld, Alexander Calder, Gustav Klimt, Botticelli, and so many more. I am also influenced by Johanna Riley’s work!  She is my daughter and after some time working in other venues was persuaded to come to work at Linnea Design about 15 years ago. She has produced her own poster calendar all those years and has designed cards and much art for many clients in this country and others. It has been a most rewarding and unique experience to work with her to produce a body of work. Though we always worked independently and in different media, the images still worked well together. She has gone on to take over the company from my husband, Michael and me and we are now experiencing the second generation of our design firm and this is so satisfying on so many levels.

Q. Besides your designs, what is your favorite item from our assortment?

A. I have always been a great fan of the work produced by Ted Naos. His white die cut cards have always been some of my favorite cards ever and when I receive one, I keep it forever!

Q. Your holiday designs are so fun and whimsical- is this the way you decorate your home for the holidays as well? What do you love most about the holidays?

A. I suppose you could say that we are “whimsical” when it comes to home decor both at Christmas and all year round!  One of my personal favorites came about because of a question asked by my grandson, Alex. He wanted to know why people had, at one time, decorated their trees with home made strings of cranberries and popcorn. Though I tried to explain that these materials were not only what they had at hand, but they also looked good on the dark green of the tree. He was still not convinced and wondered why they didn’t use something that was more a favorite food…like Cheez-Its. This was an inspiration to me and I was off on a month’s long tear creating a strings of carefully cut and sewn golden yellow felt “Cheez-Its” which I have strung on lengths of green embroidery thread to decorate our tree! I have to say that they look remarkably good and provide a satisfying contrast to the spruce green! These are the kinds of family memories that blend in to the greater story of Christmas and make it meaningful on so many levels. 

Thanks Linnea! Click here to shop all Linnea Design products.


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