CREATIVE PEAKS: Geometric Genius

By on January 31, 2017

Textile designer takes nature-inspired creations to the next level.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – There’s something about a design by Lisa Walker. Perhaps it’s the simple concepts, the hand-drawn patterns inspired by nature, the touches of whimsy. Her textiles beckon to be touched, and the fabrics she uses—bamboo, denim, waxed canvas—reward the hand with natural, appealing textures. If you’ve visited Workshop, Persephone, Aspen’s Market, Picnic, Vertical Harvest, or Skipping Stones, you’ve likely encountered her elegant yet casual tea towels, napkins, baby blankets and scarves.

The evolution of her business, Lisa Walker Handmade, has been as organic as the bamboo she uses in her scarves and blankets. She started four years ago, designing upcycled textiles she sewed herself, making clutches and tote bags. The next year she advanced her production to use only her own textiles printed with her hand-drawn geometric designs. The business has expanded every year since, taking on bigger projects, like a 17-foot denim table runner for a wedding this summer, as well as a hand-beaded print of a hand-drawn, geometrically styled owl that is part of the Aesop’s Fables exhibit at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

“I’ve never had a clear business model and plan,” she said. “I started with the tea towels and then … scarves. It’s just grown from there.”

Her “Teton” design, featured on several sizes of scarves, takes its cue from the classic outline of the iconic mountain range, but takes its own direction with an offbeat mirror of the mountains, reflecting down the fabric in varying shades and prisms.

A more abstract design like “Tribal” features a netting of triangles and crosshatches, all hand-drawn then printed in white ink on denim napkins, placemats and table runners. Still, another design for a scarf is simply a field of stars.

The designs are a nod toward minimalism and Scandinavian design, but yet singularly unique, conveying a modern interpretation of the rugged elements of Wyoming.

“I’m so inspired by this place and all it has to offer,” Walker said. “It may not be the best place to start a production based business [because of lack of printing resources], but this business wouldn’t have happened without my inspiration that I pull from this place.”

Walker works out of her home, which she shares with her husband, painter and Teton Artlab founder Travis Walker, and their two young sons. She says having her studio in her home is the only way she can run her own business and be a full-time mom. Walker has a large table set up for working on designs and sewing, and several bookcases repurposed as shelving for her stock of fabric and finished pieces.

“I can work at all times, day or night, and I work a lot,” she said. “My kids are here, and I can stop and we can go play. I’ve had the privilege to be with them for those fundamental years. I think it’s great for them to see how my business happens. They are kind of invested in it because it happens in their space.”

For Walker, parenting has also led to artistic breakthroughs. Two summers ago she was packing for a family trip to Moab and grabbed a large square of bamboo cloth that was earmarked to become a baby blanket. Instead, it became a light blanket for the boys, a picnic blanket, and even a scarf to keep her warm on cool desert nights. When she returned from their trip, she started making “blanket scarves” which have been scooped up avidly by customers.

“The blanket scarf is super functional,” she said. “You can wear it and use it 800 ways.”

Walker trained as a graphic designer, and earned her BFA in graphic design from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. She and Travis moved to the valley in 2002. She worked at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for several years in its marketing department and at Alpinist magazine. In addition, she has a steady pool of freelance clients needing anything from website design and branding to a simple business card.

But like other designers, she has seen the bottom drop out of the design field. The advent of cheap, online design work has hit freelance designers hard. Walker realized things were really dire when she found herself applying for design jobs that paid less than she paid her babysitter.

“Experienced designers are not worth as much as we used to be,” Walker said. “As we gain experience we are becoming worth less because of the advancement of online resources. There’s so much that goes into design that people don’t always understand or attach a value to.”

Specializing in textile design has been a fulfilling answer for Walker, even if she’s not yet making a lot of money. As with many creative businesses, Walker is still figuring out how to maximize profit without losing quality of materials or the hand-made process.

“What I’m doing now feeds a creative thing for me,” she said. “I like it because it combines a lot of skills. I design the photo shoots and the website.”

Now, Walker says she finds herself at a crossroads after her printer left the valley. In order to make her bigger pieces, like the blanket scarf or pillowcases, she needs to work with a specialized screen printer. She can’t send the larger work off to a print shop elsewhere, as she does for smaller pieces like napkins and tea towels. Her overall production will be changing in the next year in ways she is not quite sure about. But she’s undaunted.

“Even though I don’t know exactly what’s coming for the next year, I see this as the beginning,” she said. “I have so much more that I want to do.” PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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