MEET | THE PATTERNBASE

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While getting lost in the vast abyss, also known as the Internet, we stumbled upon some bold and intricate patterns. The energetic art pieces drew us in and we ended up spending about an hour observing, saving, and dreaming about another life where we did just that. After doing some more research we discovered that the beautiful pieces were created by Audrey Victoria Keiffer and Kristi O’Meara founders of The Patternbase–a surface design studio, digital pattern archive, and pop-up gallery located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. The studio offers a curated selection of exciting artist made apparel, wearable art, prints, homewares and other accessories. We were beyond excited when the ladies invited us to spend some time together and view just a tiny bit of their practice. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

Audrey:  I consider myself a surface designer and interdisciplinary artist. Actually, my Bachelor’s Degree is in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry. I have been published a few times and have been part of performances in the past. When I graduated college in 2011, I switched my career over as well. I still use the writing aspect to just about everything! After I switched over, I worked as an installation artist for the True/False Film Festival in my home state of Missouri and worked for two textile design studios for fashion print, hunt+gather and Aaryn West. I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. All of the women in my family are fiber artists, seamstresses and designers. Honestly, my background is very unfocused and it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I was able to hone in on what I really loved. Everyone is good at many things, and making the choice is the hardest!

My work really focuses in on visuals that struck me as a child -- ‘90s patterns on home decor and clothing, cartoons, fashion, etc. There’s a huge nostalgic aspect to my patterns, even when I am not trying to get that through. I see part of being human as absorbing and reflecting, and this is my method of doing so. Color and energy is very important to me as well.

Kristi: I studied painting and surface design at the Kansas City Art Institute during undergrad, and taught myself most of the graphic and web design processes I use today. Through creative internships and working as an assistant in other artists’ studios, I’ve learned a lot about working in the art industry and all the options it has to offer. I would say each role I’ve taken on has significantly influenced the work I do today.

Most of my work is very meticulous with a focus on exploring the use of pattern. Sometimes my work is decorative and abstract, and other times it has more of a conceptual narrative. I think the ultimate goal is to combine the two into a cohesive body of work. I've been working on elements for a tarot deck over the past year and think this project will be one that really showcases that. 

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Walk us through a typical day in the life of Audrey + Kristi.

Audrey: I do many different things during the day, and my days are typically unstructured. I have always been this way. On average, a day usually starts out with way too much coffee and internet work. I’m bombarded with a variety of emails daily, so I always have to catch up with those, social media and anything else that’s important. The latter half of the day consists of teaching, tutoring or designing. If it’s a studio day then I usually do a little bit of visual research, focus solely on that, and I stay off of the internet. It clogs up my focus and causes anxiety. I always try to balance the business and the creative. What I do is a lot of work and does not make me rich, so I better have that creative balance, otherwise I may as well be at an office!

Kristi: On the weekdays, I work as a graphic and web designer for Merz Apothecary. I try to wake up early so I have time to drink tea and relax before my workday begins. I spend the day designing graphics for print and web, styling product shoots, and learning about the apothecary’s extensive inventory of homeopathic care items. I answer personal and Patternbase emails over lunch, or read a book if there’s nothing to respond to. The evenings and weekends are my time for creating and handling the administrative aspects of Patternbase. Some days I’ll paint fabrics in studio or work with Audrey on a photoshoot, and others I’ll spend time hashing out new ideas or painting tapestries. In my free time I like to draw, read, see friends, play fetch with my cat and explore Chicago. 

Where do you find inspiration?

Audrey: I love to create prints that bring people back to their childhood when they see them. There’s always a piece of the things that we loved that is left there, and that’s what I want to tune into. I think that it’s important for adults to not take everything so seriously, and that applies to clothing and housewares. Minimalism bores me, and I am so happy that Memphis is so popular now. I find inspiration in those prints that I clung to early on - Lisa Frank colorways, ‘90s surf prints and MTV, and ‘70s and ‘80s avant garde bold geometrics. I imagine my prints going into a space like a painting would. Modern and contemporary painting is also a huge source of study and inspiration for me.

Kristi: Right now I’m obsessed with… Yann Gertsberger, Ernst Haeckel, blackwork embroidery, Gee’s Bend quilt work, drawings from microscopic images, floral prints from the 60’s, optical illusions, and graphic prints from the 80’s and 90’. New materials always spark inspiration too. Lately, experimenting with India ink and gouache has been really exciting for me. 

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How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?

Audrey: It’s a choice that I make, and at this time it’s a sizable part of my life and I would have to make a very extreme effort to self-destruct and remove it. People close to me call me an “energizer bunny”. I am stubborn and prioritize making above everything else. It’s kind of crazy, actually, but I love it! 

Kristi: Making has always been a very meditative act for me, so I will generally work on a drawing to unwind after work, or paint and sew in studio on my days off. Collaborations tend to happen organically with friends who are also passionate about making. They’re something fun that I look forward to and naturally make time for. Usually the collabs are longer term projects that happen over the course of a year or few months, so they never really seem like a burden on top of my other work. 

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started?

Audrey: Do your research! I have a tendency of needing everything that I do and have in my life to serve a higher purpose or pragmatic ideal, which can be a good or bad thing. When I was doing other things and became more interested in surface design, I really had to focus on learning as much about it as I could, and seek out any possible way to learn about how to do it professionally. I research like crazy so I know what I am up against. 

Kristi: 

1. Set aside time every day to make new work, write about your ideas, or learn something new. Getting into the routine of sitting down and putting your written and visual ideas on paper every day will keep you on your creative path and will allow your ideas and artwork to develop naturally. 

2. Go to events, explore different art communities, collaborate with friends and other creatives, say yes to relevant opportunities, and be prepared to work hard. 

3. Understand that as a practicing artist, you are your own business. Take time to learn basic info about taxes, marketing, legal matters and effective communication with clients and potential buyers. Knowing how to conduct yourself professionally is very important in this industry. 

4. Know that there will be times when you feel overworked, exhausted, disappointed, frustrated and burnt out. Don’t let these feelings get you down. Pursuing a career as a professional artist is not an easy route, and at times you may have to make sacrifices to continue pursuing what you love. Just remember to take care of yourself and know that it’s okay to take a break once in awhile. It’s important to take time to reflect on your progress and accomplishments, and to think about how your current path aligns with your longterm goals as an artist. 

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!

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You wear many creative hats–do you have a favorite?

Kristi: The time I get to spend as a practicing artist, just drawing and painting and learning new ways to make art, is definitely what interests me most. The creative process is the driving force behind what I do, and shapes everything else.

If you could live the life of another creative, for a day, who would it be and why?

Audrey: Ever since I was a child I always wanted to be a performer/dancer, but I am not outwardly extroverted at all. Once people get to know me it’s very different, but I do not have that performer charisma. Teaching has helped bring it out quicker. I once played Mary in a nativity play in preschool, and after that I felt so horrified that I just wanted to play the star that showed up once during the play. Anyway, I would definitely just trade places with FKA Twigs for obvious reasons. She knows how to use her body and dance. In interviews she says she’s very introverted, which I find to be really inspiring. Our culture celebrates loud, extroverted people, so I love when I can actually relate with a musician and performer.

Kristi: If I could travel back in time, I would love to spend a day in the shoes of Meriwether Lewis or William Clark. Spending my days exploring a new lands, making celestial observations, designing maps, and documenting new plants and animals sounds like the ultimate dream to me.

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How important is it for you to give back to the community?

Audrey: It’s very important. The Patternbase started as a purely community focused project until we realized that in order to give back to others we had to balance ourselves first. We are both very empathetic people, and it’s quite a difficult lesson to learn! I make sure that everything balances out 50/50 for myself. 

What keeps you motivated and making?

Audrey: What keeps me motivated and making is a very deeply rooted desire to work and see the physical manifestation of my work either in product / art form, monetary form, or other physical forms such as accomplishments and career. I’m not trying to answer any complicated questions or critique our culture. What I design and make isn’t very cerebral, it’s carnal. If I am feeling disillusioned about what I do I often stop doing it until I can feel that again.

If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?

Audrey: I think some people would say, “oh, I can’t see myself doing anything else,” which simply isn’t true for me. I have quite a few other interests as well. My bachelor’s degree is actually in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry. I have a few published pieces. I would probably be writing a lot and reading a lot more. I actually still have a poetry manuscript that I would love to finish one day! Poetry and the visual arts have many things in common, it’s really just the medium that’s different. I found that I am just so tactile, and without the ability to express that aspect of myself, I feel restless and empty.

Photography by Mike Killion and The Patternbase