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Even in our increasingly digital world, there’s reason to get nostalgic for the days of yore—the days of photo albums labeled with love, books with pages that smell like leather and fresh ink, and love notes passed with risk of being intercepted.
Another, perhaps less obvious item fading quietly into the distance of our twenty first century lives is the physical inspiration board. You know, like the cork one you used to have, a place where inspiration isn’t limited to images alone but can include any random assortment of objects: a feather, a piece of twine, an old postcard.
There are many creative professionals out there today, however, who still use them—so I sought them out to hear a little bit more about the practice. Here are a handful of modern designers on why they still use an inspiration board—and the pictures to prove it.
A widely published interior and product designer, Laura Kirar's frequent world travels—particularly extensive time spent in Mexico—influence her work. She has concurrent product licenses with the top names in the industry, designing everything from tile and plumbing to furniture and textiles.
Laura describes herself as a “designer with the soul of an artist,” and an inspiration board is one of the primary tools she uses to accomplish all she does. "I need to kind of live around my inspiration at all times," she explains, "So, that... means having very specific, edited amounts of objects and materials, and whatever might be on my mind, in my space at all times. Having a board is, in a way, the most organized way to have it around me… I find that for me, if something is out of my sight, it’s out of my mind."
Rebecca Atwood’s journey to owning her own eponymous textile design studio are what professional dreams are made of: After receiving her BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design, and gaining invaluable work experiences after graduation, Atwood took a leap of faith and launched her own textile line while still in her twenties.
Her business has been growing nonstop since and has even resulted in a book, published this year, Living With Pattern: Color, Texture, and Print at Home.
Atwood, on how her inspiration boards grow and evolve to meet her professional needs:
I design textiles and home products, and each collection needs its own board. I start with color and mood imagery and it evolves over several weeks, then I add in artwork from my archive of sketchbooks, and then I start creating new artwork to fill out stories. As we begin sampling we add those to the board too, so we can see how it’s all relating. We pin up ideas for photo shoots, too. Getting those ideas up helps you work through those concepts to create something.
Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka, the Toronto-based clothing designers behind Horses Atelier, describe their aesthetic as “Parisian chic and 1970’s jet set.” It’s safe to say that their enduringly beautiful, ethically-made pieces are true to this—and often push the boundaries of it.
Mood images clearly influence their work and process, as the effortlessly cool pieces appear to step directly off the many pages adorning their walls and into the real world.
When describing how an item makes the cut to go up on the wall, the pair explains, “It must invoke a sense of wonder and beauty, but still have gravitas. It must always feel relevant.”
The work of Gwendolyn Mason and Earnest Merritt's print studio Dear Hancock includes intricately detailed, hand-illustrated greeting cards, stationary, invitations, and more (such as this 2016 ‘Desks of Famous Women’ calendar that I so wish came in a 2017 version).
The work of this husband-and-wife design team is “inspired by a mix of nostalgia, humor and everyday life,” according to their website. It’s evident from one look at their workspace that these are the exact types of items the pair chooses to surround themselves with in their studio. “Seeing images overlap," they explain, "may lead to an idea.”
Creative brand strategist, Erika Brechtel works with companies on defining their own “visual language.” Because she works across many different sectors—fashion, fitness, interiors, and lifestyle, to name a few—it’s important that she has a pulse on what’s current and on trend in multiple different arenas. Inspiration boards play a huge part in helping her to accomplish this goal.
"It’s important for me to get a sense of what themes, colors, and trends are happening out in the world in order to keep my clients and content as fresh as possible," Erika explains. "But additionally, I maintain my own brand through my lifestyle site and social media, so I like to conceptualize and deliver a consistent visual message throughout various touchpoints. An inspiration board serves as a foundation for what that guiding visual message will be for me."
Her work is sophisticated and whimsical, familiar and insightful, intriguing and accessible. She is also an ardent believer in having inspiration surround her throughout her creative process, in order to put her ideas to paper.
“It’s not just a board, it’s actually three huge walls of my studio," Maira explains of the space pictured above. "So I’m completely surrounded by imagery and words and artifact, and that keeps changing as new things enter my life.”
The internet is a great place to find inspiration, but having a physical place to pin up items and images that speak to you can be what refines and clarifies your vision. This method of distilling is not at all exclusive to those working in creative industries, as Rebecca Atwood is quick to advise. “You don’t need to be a designer or artist to use a mood board," she says, "They are great tools for thinking through personal and visual ideas.”
In the new year, why not literally surround yourself with inspiration? It could be for anything—for your spring wardrobe, upcoming nuptials, your dream house, or your dream life.
This article originally ran on New Year's Day, but we brought it back because we love it.
Do you use a physical inspiration board? Share why you love it, in the comments.