We've been following the work of Vanessa Crook of Realm - a one-woman design studio in Austin, Texas - since discovering her embroidered bags, apparel, and hand dyed bedding at this year's FELIZ sale. She has the type of eye-catching designs that make us whip out our iPhone cameras and text our besties with "Can you believe this amazingness?! Buying now plz." We recently chatted with the Austin designer about her decidedly groovy inspirations, the day her dad introduced her to Lady Miss Kier (umm... best dad ever??), keeping her studio Internet-free, and why tropical is her favorite type of travel.
Could you give us a brief overview of your background and how Realm came to be?
Color and pattern and clothing has always been important to me, my grandmother made a lot of my coolest clothing growing up. In 4th grade my dad handed me a Deee-lite album, pointed to Lady Miss Kier on the cover and said: “I think you’re really going to like this.”
I left my fashion design program pretty quickly but got my degree in studio art and anthropology. I started Realm in an effort to start making all of the things I kept thinking about wanting, and decided to take it really seriously when I started getting good feedback.
You’re a self-described “lover of process.” What’s one strange or seemingly unrelated part of your process that ultimately serves to motivate you?
Text messaging is my process - haha. I love the creative influence of my friends and I really get going in conversations with my most beloveds. My friends and I text a lot about things that we LOVE in pop culture and through those conversations we examine what's happening in those images or sounds, and that becomes a honing of aesthetics for me. I also consume a lot of media - listening to podcasts or music and viewing images that translate into elements that I incorporate in my work - sometimes this is color, texture, or humor.
Your website says that you create pieces based on "the direction of each textile, the inspiration of a picture, or a story overheard.” Could you tell us a story that inspired one of your designs?
"Little to No Time for Triflin'" definitely came from a friend and I creating a mantra out of a silly situation we found ourselves in. I made the first "Nobody’s Old Lady" patch for another friend who was going through an upsetting time with an ex-beau and I wanted to boost her up.
Take us through your daily routine.
My day gets started with emails and dog duties - I get hyped on music videos and drink coffee while making a list of everything I need to get done that day. I spend some time on the computer editing photos, ordering supplies, or finalizing embroidery designs. I don’t have internet access in my studio, so I try to spend the first half of the day really slogging through anything that needs to be done on the computer so I can leave all of that behind when I head to my studio.
At my studio I try to work efficiently, getting embroideries for orders done while simultaneously playing with new fabrications and testing out different possible ideas. When I'm not fulfilling orders I'm experimenting and designing, while taking steps towards larger goals like expanding the apparel line and streamlining the bedding for a more concise brand... When I first began making products, I was working on an almost entirely one-off basis. While I found this creatively fulfilling, it got complicated when it came time to fill an order. Now I try to be more efficient in my supplies and work creatively within those constraints. At some point I will realize that its 9pm and I haven’t eaten yet and I’ll head home.
What draws you to certain projects/ideas?
I love collaborating on projects with people who have different looks and styles from mine. It keeps me active and engaged even when my personal sales are slow, and kick starts me in so many different directions. I also see it as a way to gather all of the skills.
We love the sassy tongue-in-cheek text featured in some of your designs. What’s your favorite one-liner(s)?
Well, I am a person that LOVES bumper stickers and vanity license plates. Though I sadly have neither (bad at commitment), that kind of “personal branding” is so hilarious to me. Attention-grabbing headline culture is insane and I love it. I guess I just love snark. And I always feel like saying, NO YOU SHUT UP.
Does travel play a part in your work or creative inspirations? If so, how?
Absolutely travel plays a part in my work. I spent a lot of time in Brazil with my family when I was growing up and it 100% influenced my aesthetic. I also grew up in Florida so tropical is my default - and my favorite type of travel.
How do you think being an artist influences your perspective or interests when traveling?
Being an artist (to me) is about the way that you engage with your physical and emotional world as a constant opportunity for inspiration and analysis. When I’m traveling I always buy fabric or inspiration materials. I don’t always use it in my work but I love to have it as reference. Construction techniques and materials can be so highly regional and it's incredible to witness. It is such a privilege to be able to travel.
What’s something that you take everywhere you go?
A sketchbook and markers - the line quality translates well in my embroideries and gives me less headaches than pencil drawings when I digitize my designs.
You frequently accept custom orders. How do you balance highly individual requests with your personal aesthetic?
I have learned through trial and error the delicacies of working on custom orders - more so in the fine art that I’ve been commissioned to do, but also in my textile work. The worst feeling is letting a project spin out of control away from you or realizing that you’re letting a client jerk you around. It’s always important to remind yourself that the client is paying you for YOUR work with your name on it, but that needs to be understood from the get-go. Up front communication is really important - I try to start all projects by asking specific and thorough questions that clients have to write out the answers to - guiding the client to verbalize what they want helps them think about every aspect of the design and eliminates the opportunity for clashes in expectations. It also gives you a kind of contract to reference should you find yourself needing one.
What are you reading or listening to right now?
I’m reading Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon and it rules. X-Girl forever. What’s the Tee and Savage Love are absolute church for me and I can listen to either of those podcasts - along with Uhh Yeah Dude - on complete marathon. But like I mentioned before, I don’t have the internet in my studio so I have to anticipate what I'm going to listen to for 8 hours a day while I work so Audible takes the strain off of my podcast intake, and I’m currently immersed in Emma by Jane Austen. I really prefer working to stories rather than music, because with music I’m constantly wanting to mess with my playlist.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on some awesome apparel with a beautiful friend of mine, July Rose White who just started her brand Highway Clothing. I’m also starting a collaboration with Melissa of MoldieGoldies - who is a total whiz, badass seamstress, and incredible supporter of other small business women. I’m also working on some dye collaborations with Cosmic Slop out of LA making some really fun stuff. I’m so privileged with the internet to get to come into contact with so many makers.