Here at Lifework, we see a lot of thoughtful workspaces from the creative community in Portland, Oregon — and our latest tour is no different. Step inside this home office of freelance illustrator, designer, and maker Jenny Tiffany for a dash of inspiration.
Tell us about your background. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in Spokane, Washington. The house we lived in was right on the border of a state park and river. This had a huge influence on me and my work as an artist. It helped foster my love of nature. For much of my childhood, I thought about being a park ranger when I grew up. I imagined myself living in a park ranger station in the mountains sketching wildlife and forests.
My grandmother loved to paint. I inherited her oil paints and brushes and she helped me pay for college art classes. Right before she died, she made me promise to do something artistic with my life. I have a framed picture of her on my desk so she can watch me work. I think she’d be happy to know I kept my promise.
In 2002, my partner and I moved to Portland to follow our dream of hand-making housewares and selling them. We started the company Robot Candy, selling tile coasters handmade in small batches using reclaimed and recycled materials wherever possible. We wanted to be able to offer affordable, durable goods for the modern home while preserving the art and imagery of years past. We immediately got involved in the handmade movement here. It’s been amazing to watch it evolve. I sell at local craft shows, which is such a great way to meet other artists and designers as well as the people who support all of us. With the success of our business, I was able to quit my day job and spend more time creating art. Half of my time is spent working on our business and the other half is spent working on freelance illustration and design projects.
Tell us about yourself and your work: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. Growing up in the seventies had a huge impact on the colors and styles that I’m drawn to. I was really inspired by pop art — Peter Max-style sunny landscapes. The U.S. Postal Service commissioned him to create the first 10-cent postage stamp to commemorate the Expo ’74 world’s fair in Spokane, WA. The theme of the fair was about preserving the environment. The event transformed my hometown. I was born during the Expo and my parents took me several times as a baby. The colors of the fair were chartreuse green, sky blue, and white (plants, water, and air). It must have had an impact because those are my favorite colors and themes and I use them often in my work. I also have a growing collection of Expo ’74 memorabilia.
I think the greatest thing I have learned as an artist and designer is “less is more.” Charley Harper, one of my favorite illustrators, once said, “I don’t try to put everything in, I try to leave everything out.” I find that the most dynamic designs are always simple. I’m very lucky to have a partner who is a great artist and editor. She helps me find focus and distill things down to the best possible parts. This last year has been spent pushing myself to create more art and on self promotion. It’s been a lot about building up momentum so that my freelance career can propel me forward and create a sustainable income for the future.
Tell us about your space. What’s your aesthetic? What do you like or dislike about it? My desk workspace occupies a corner our our upstairs craft/sewing room. I feel like we do a good job fitting in a lot of fabric, art supplies, and other creative tools into a small space while keeping it organized and user-friendly. The style is vintage-meets-modern contemporary with a healthy dose of vintage children’s book illustration thrown in. I love being in a work environment where I am surrounded by my favorite art and imagery; it energizes me. If I could change anything, I would love to have more space and more natural light. Portland light is pretty gray and cloudy for a large portion of the year, so anything to help brighten things up is very welcome.
You have an Eames Molded Plastic Chair in your space. Why did you choose it? I love my Eames Molded Plastic Chair. We have two of them and they are extremely comfortable. I love owning a piece of design history. It really is a beautiful piece of functional art. Investing in a piece of Herman Miller furniture is a decision that really doesn’t need to be questioned. You know you are going to be getting the best quality and design in the industry. The next piece that I have my eye on is an Eames Aluminum Group Chair. The fact that these designs are still among the most desired and highly regarded since the 1950s really is a testament to the partnership of Charles and Ray Eames and Herman Miller.
Photos: Jenny Tiffany