Designer Spotlight-Victoria Larson; from love of family to sailing to Stout to Beyond the Sea
The sea always beckoned designer Victoria Larson. Growing up in Annapolis, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay, her family of sailors spent hours boating. When she married a professional sailor, Larson traveled past her shores to Italy, New Zealand and Auckland and her fabric and wallpaper designs for Stout Textiles and her own collections often find inspiration from those journeys. Her latest, Beyond the Sea, comes from those experiences, too.
Like so many, the pandemic interrupted Larson’s life. When the Covid-19 virus appeared, she was in New Zealand three days into a two-week vacation to cruise around Auckland with friends to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary, her 10th year in business and a big birthday. She returned home as the world broke. “It just seems like complete chaos,” she said. “My kids came home from college and we didn't know what was going on … I didn't know if I'd have to close my business. My husband's business shut down.”
Larson on her boat
Creating to Cope During the Pandemic
Then her father's Parkinson's Disease worsened. Larson, unable to visit him because Covid, starting creating watercolor sketches for him each day to cheer him up. “It was just really a helpful way for me to cope,” she explained, especially after her father passed away in June.
She also shared her work on social media. “I got so many messages from people and friends saying, ‘Oh, this is so helpful. Thank you for doing this. It's a great distraction.’” She hadn't planned on creating a collection, but the daily practice of sketching and painting pushed ideas forward. “I thought I just don't know if I have the energy to cope with all of this,” she said. “But it really was the art that continued to be my North Star … kind of my compass and it kept me going.”
She imagined all the places she would go when restrictions lifted and continued sketching and her new collection called Beyond the Sea, launching in March on her website and showrooms, began to form. “I can't help but be influenced by the water,” she said. “It's where I live; it's where I grew up … when I need soothing I go out on the water. It's a really happy and soulful place for me.”
While the water inspired the new work, she pushed herself to create beyond the coastal vibe. “There are a lot more global elements,” she explained. “There's a stripe that's definitely more traditional for me, but it's still painterly.”
From drawing to design ... Larson's steps to creativity-her sketchbook and the early version of the Shelly stripe.
The Sea and Travel Inspire Stout Collections
Larson’s other collections also find inspiration in the sea and where sailing has taken her. She lived in Australia for about six months after her husband, Chris, did the 2000 American Cup. She came back to Sydney and Auckland when her husband competed in other races, but eventually she decided that her young twins, now 19, needed a home base and she returned to Annapolis. But the travel made an impact … in her heart and in her work.
“New Zealand has always made such a big impact on me and Australia, too,” Larson said. “I love the culture, and the people and particularly the arts. All the time that I've gotten to travel with my husband, particularly before children, I count as very lucky and I always took sketchbooks, and mini-watercolor sets with me and that's sort of how I documented where we were and what I liked.”
Her first two collections for Stout Textiles came from her travel sketchbooks. The first, a hand-printed line called, La Bella Vita, for Marcus Williams was pulled from her sketchbooks from Italy, especially Sardinia. Larson’s designs became the first collaborative print line for the brand after she met Stout’s national sales manager Kate Greenawalt in a trade event in Pennsylvania. “She talked about the idea of creating their own collection and doing an artist’s collection.”
The line launched in early 2019. “I feel like we are all part of a team,” said Larson. “They are so wonderful to work with. They're creative; they're open to ideas. It's just been so much fun.”
For the first collection, Stout offered a few parameters for Larson: a color direction and the words, “breezy “ and “happy.” She immediately thought of the relaxed, elegant lifestyle of Italy and she pulled out her sketchbooks from those travels and began creating watercolors.
Victoria Larson Eddy wallpaper in Elephant
The Heritage Collection: A Second Collaboration With Stout
Her second collaboration for the brand, the Heritage Collection, came out in 2020, and also included wallpaper. [Read all about it in our blog article .]
Another collaboration may come out later in 2021. Each time, her creation process was similar. She looked at her sketchbooks and began designing. “Sometimes I go as far as scanning it into the computer and putting it in some kind of repeat,” she said. “Sometimes it's just a sketch and we talk through it.” Then she and Stout refined the design. “It's just a constant conversation back and forth.”
Larson began her own studio about 11 years ago. When she returned to Annapolis to raise her girls she wanted to focus on them, especially since her husband’s work took him away for long periods of time. She had worked as a designer before having her children, but she didn’t want to go back to those 70-hour-work weeks. “I did art with them, and it allowed me to get back into fine art, which I didn't have time for when I was working full time before children,” she said. “I didn't really find any balance. I was a mom for a long time. Then as they got older, I really felt the pull to have something of my own again.”
She met an artist doing block printing and loved the art form because carving the blocks felt so soothing. It was something she could do with her girls using Styrofoam and potatoes. The activity started Larson on the road to printing on fabric.
She found a 100-year-old screen printing firm in Rhode Island and began working with them. Her work, whether for fine art or for textiles, always starts the same way—with a sketch. Sometimes that’s a doodle, but it's usually watercolor.
She scans the design into a computer and uses Illustrator or Photoshop to manipulate it, changing the color and size. With fabric or wallpaper projects, the art eventually turns into a math project so it can repeat seamlessly. “It's a matter of figuring out that puzzle, which I enjoy that part of it.”
Part of the new collection: Eddy wallpaper in an assortment of colors.
Becoming a Designer ... Don't Wait for the Right Timing
Larson calls herself a late bloomer, since she’s switched careers several times. “I think after we have children, we kind of maybe get the perspective to look around and think, ‘Do I do I really want to go back and use my time this way’ or What I was doing before did I love it or is there's something else that I want to spend all my time doing that I'm going to love more.’”
She advocates finding a mentor because a person experienced in the field you want to try can collapse the learning curve. Larson is self-taught and while she’s learned from her mistakes, she recognizes the benefit of more formalized education. “I find that people in the industry are very kind, you can reach out and just take action,” she said. When she started she relied on books—she couldn’t just Google information at the time.
Never wait for the timing to be perfect, she offered. For Larson, resiliency is always the key … in sailing and in life. On a boat “if something breaks or if you face a challenge, you figure out a way around it,” she explained. Success comes when you “take action, find a way and start.”
Oakley, the family’s Goldendoodle rescue hangs out with Larson in the studio all day.
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