Pattern, Creativity, Community—Meet Calgary Textile Designer Natalie Gerber
Today we’re sharing an incredible afternoon we had with Calgary textile designer Natalie Gerber. We chose her for DWK Notebook’s Interest section because she embodies everything this space showcases: courageous and inspiring entrepreneurs who go against the grain, follow their passion, and carve out a meaningful career. Natalie’s story will give you a greater appreciation for every pattern and printed design you see in stores.
After a few hours in Natalie’s workshop in Calgary’s cSPACE King Edward, we learned two things about her: she’s brilliant and strong. Who knew that so much muscle was needed to generate the patterned fabric we so casually admire? We have serious bicep and tricep envy. She showed us how she creates her patterns and then how those patterns get transferred to fabric. Together we printed her “Lotsa” pattern in a sage pigment on a sage linen. Natalie and her “apprentice” Jenn were so in sync, and the entire process had us mesmerized. Lotsa sounded Swedish to our ears, but Natalie informed us that the name came about because the print had “lotsa little lines.” Love that!
Our interview covers everything from Natalie’s first pattern, to her inspiration, to overcoming creative blocks, to how she has connected with nature and community through pattern and textile design. Ruminate on these photos for a moment, and you’ll get a sense of what it takes to create masterful fabrics.
DWK: What was your very first textile print? What do you think when you look at it now?
NG: I took a long break from printing after I finished my BFA in Fibre at the Alberta College of Art & Design in 2003. My first time back to printing was during an artist residency through Contextural, a fibre arts cooperative. That work was inspired by a trip home to South Africa and Namibia. It has a real African feel.
I still love that series of prints, and even when I try to break away from the African aesthetic, I find that my work naturally tends to lean that way.
DWK: How has your pattern-making process evolved since you started?
NG: My process has always started with mark making, and for the most part this is still how I work. I have a specific idea, which is processed through some kind of creative exploration in my sketchbook or on paper. From there it is transferred onto the computer, where I build my repeats using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
DWK: What is your all-time favourite print that you’ve made?
NG: That’s a tough question because I love them all! But my absolute favourite series of prints is the Lotsa collection. It came really easily, and I love how I can keep adding to the collection because the original marks keep inspiring me in different ways.
DWK: What inspires your prints? Travels? People? Experiences?
NG: Everything! I think as an artist/designer, we take inspiration from all aspects of our lives. I’m very inspired by nature—whether that directly influences my work, I’m not sure. Pattern in nature is pretty incredible, and I’m constantly aware of it. I’m currently interested in the colour theory and Bauhaus textiles of Josef and Anni Albers.
When it comes to the studio, I’m directly inspired by the music that’s playing. It is a big part of my studio practice, and a good print day most certainly means it was a good music day!
DWK: What is your favourite part of making your own textiles?
NG: I love every aspect of the process. I’m constantly driven by refining the process and being better—while it’s the part that drives me a little crazy, I love how it challenges the left side of my brain to solve problems and push myself further.
DWK: What was your workspace like before moving into cSPACE? What do you like about cSPACE?
NG: The largest reason I decided to move my studio into cSPACE King Edward was to create community and to have the opportunity to educate the public about my process. I believe that this helps bridge that gap between buying a “product” and understanding the value in handmade.
Prior to cSPACE King Edward, I had a home-based studio, which my husband lovingly converted from a double garage into a heated workspace. It was perfect while raising our daughter, but I soon felt disconnected and really missed the “people” connection.
DWK: Do you enjoy collaborating with other designers? What is that process like?
NG: I believe that meaningful collaborations are key to building community. It also encourages a person to think in new ways while pushing your creative boundaries, and that creates an opportunity to explore new ways of “doing.” This is new for me, and I’m still refining those parameters. So far the process has been defined by the project that I’m working on, and each has been different.
DWK: Do you ever encounter creative blocks? How do you deal with that?
NG: I had a huge creative block about eight years ago, and I had no interest in creating at all! I questioned every aspect of what I was doing and couldn’t see a way past it. I realized that it wasn’t a block at all but rather that I wasn’t doing what I wanted and was unhappy.
It was a lot of work changing the direction of my creative practice and ultimately led me to focus on printing textiles. It was a big challenge, and I’m grateful for it—despite how hard it was at the time.
DWK: Is there a pattern-making/printing technique you haven’t explored that you’d love to try?
NG: I’m very interested in printing with natural dyes. It’s a whole different process and would require a lot of testing and exploration on my end as well as a huge investment in time. It would be worth it for those beautiful results, and I look forward to doing that in the near future.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Natalie—so much so that Katie might have an exciting collaborative project on the horizon. But more on that later. No spoilers here. In the meantime, the next time you see a handmade product, take a moment to reflect on the artist’s creative vision and process. Calgary’s artists are a treasure—seek them out and enhance your home and your life.
We hope you enjoyed this Interest post. Be sure to pop into Natalie's studio if you're ever in the cSPACE King Edward. Leave us a comment with your favourite pattern you saw here...