Creative Genius: Textile Designer Clay McLaurin
Meet the designer of crush-worthy textiles and wallpaper.
Coastal settings are enchanting to Clay McLaurin, whether it’s trips to the tropical West Indies or primitive island getaways closer to his home in Georgia. He uses those sweeping scenes, along with the tiniest mementos from nature as inspiration for the organic hand-drawn patterns in his linen textiles and wallcoverings.
But inspiration is only the beginning. Clay couples his eye for exploration with a serious education and background in textile design. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fabric design from the University of Georgia, an MFA in textile design from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has previously worked for Carter’s (the baby and kids apparel company) and in the New York City textiles industry. In 2013, Clay and his partner, Todd Piercy, established Clay McLaurin Studio in Atlanta.
I met Clay when he launched his first textiles collection, which included a floral print inspired by his grandmother (read more about her and her love for gardening below). Today, his textiles and wallcoverings are sold in showrooms across the world, including Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, London and Australia.
His fabrics are featured in designer showhouses, including the 2014 Cashiers Designer Showhouse in North Carolina and the 2017 Southeastern Designer Showhouse and Gardens in Atlanta, which gave me a good reason to catch up with him and chat about what’s influencing his youthful, organic designs today.
Describe the inspiration for your collections.
Nature is a big theme for me and all my work. One theme that runs in my head in general is the idea of exploration and new territories and new discoveries. I think a lot of it was spawned by a trip to the West Indies and sort of falling in love with the sophistication there, but the relaxed atmosphere there as well. There’s some underlying theme there — the antiquities, the old, sophisticated materials and antiques, mixed in with this lush environment and relaxed utopia. The new collection was loosely based on (Georgia’s) Cumberland Island. The driving one was Palmetto (a new pattern for 2017).
Describe your process of creating a design?
I think it’s just a combination of background experience, but then also just an inherent eye for seeing pattern. I remember as a kid, I would look at the tiles on bathroom floors and blur my eyes to see different parts of it and how it could be combined in different ways.
When you’re outside on an island or in a rustic, natural setting, what catches your eye? Is it the shape or the color or something else?
I think it’s the shape. The patterns that I create are simplistic. They’re not overly done as far as multiple colors and multiple shapes or motifs within a pattern. It’s one or two shapes that make it. I like to play a lot with positive and negative space. It’s definitely something that I was trained at and just explored further, and now it’s kind of in me. The positive space is the physical thing that you see. The negative space is the background. If you imagine looking up through a tree, and then you’re seeing the sky through the tree – it’s like a silhouetted tree against a bright blue sky. This is where Canopy (a 2017 pattern) came about.
What is a color trend you’re seeing?
Indigo is a big thing. It speaks to me regardless, because I’m such a blue person. Then we have this color, called Mineral (available in his collection). A lot of our color sensibility comes from the earth and nature.
How do you design based on nature without having it be cliché?
It’s like picking one thing and simplifying it. Maybe it’s just through color. Maybe it’s through just one simple shape or a texture. Or something that gives it a rawer edge or not so formal and crisp. I’ll hand-draw these or paint the designs first. Inherently, when I’m painting and drawing, it comes across that way, because nothing is too perfect. I’m not a very formal painter. I’m definitely more loose.
I know your late grandmother taught you about gardening and was the namesake for one of your first floral patterns, Elena. How did she inspire your artistic endeavors?
She was just an artist at heart. She was an avid gardener. I would go over there (she lived in Jackson, Ga.) constantly when I was a teenager. I would just watch and listen and help her plant. I learned so much about plants and the names of plants. It was just like a constant love of it. I really enjoyed those moments and learned a lot from them. I came to really understand in my college years what she had taught me. It’s a respect and a reverence for nature.