Self-described “weekday designer/weekend artist,” Raisa Gates is a Colorado-born, Nebraska-grown product designer exploring the fusion of painting and embroidery in her free time. She sat down with us to talk about her artistic inspirations, her career path, and what’s next for her.
What got you to create at night and do product design during the day?
I started doing my art at the beginning of 2020, so right before we went into lockdown. It was a reprieve from the more logical work that I had at my job, and then I spent so much time on a screen during lockdown that I really needed an outlet that allowed me to use my hands, something that was a little bit freer, so I could be experimental and not so process-driven.
I have a fine arts degree, and I’ve worked as a graphic designer and then pivoted into product, but I’ve always been drawing and doing creative work, so it’s always been a big part of me. When I graduated, I was very focused on my career, and then I hit a point where I felt like I was happy where I was at, and so I had more time to explore the things that bring me a little bit more joy.
Since graduating, I've done a lot of traveling, and right now I'm working remotely in Paris and Iceland. As an artist, it's really nice to be pulled out of your comfort zone and do a bit of self reflection, so I'm not doing any art right now, but I feel like I’m in a new phase where I'm collecting different sources of inspiration through my daily life, and when I come back to the States, I'll pick up my work again.
It sounds like, by traveling, you bring that culture into your work and you get inspired by it. So what are some of the things that inspired you to create some of the work that you did last year?
A few years ago I bought a canvas and blue paint, and I was like, I'm going to use this someday. I didn’t have any inspiration for it right then but it was a feeling that I had, like, I really want to paint something. And so the canvas sat around for a few years and then I think I had just had mental notes of paintings by contemporary artists that I enjoyed. And then it just kind of happened—on January 2nd, 2020, I had a full free day, and I just started something and it felt good. I wish I had a more cerebral answer for you, but sometimes it's just about an emotion.
Usually when you think of embroidery, you think, like, embroidering your name or embroidery that can be done on a sewing machine. But embroidery a long time ago and in certain cultures is quite big, and I've done a lot of traveling and always loved looking at tapestries from South America—they’re so colorful and vibrant. So I've always been a big fan.
I used to do more typography-based embroidery, and that had to be super detailed, compared to the work I do now, which is still detailed, but I can have more flexibility. It’s very lyrical, and I like the free aspect of what I do now.
What artists do you admire?
There is one artist that I really admire: Jai Vasicek. He does paintings, usually of women, and they are so vibrant and have a very Grecian quality. I've always admired his work and I was like, I want to at least try something like that, and I ended up kind of doing something that was a bit my own. So he's a big inspiration for me.
Also, when I was little, my dad always drew landscapes, and so I drew landscapes for the first 12 years of my life. And then as I got older I was like oh wait, actually, that's what my dad likes to draw but that's not what I like to draw. So I have always loved portraiture.
He’s quite artistic, so he was a photographer in the Air Force, and he has always drawn his entire life, and so when we were little, he would always sit and my brother and I would sit beside him, and he would dedicate a drawing to either one of us, and that's how we learned how to draw from him.
I also see that you are mentoring an ADP list.
Yes, since January. It helped me realize how much I’ve grown as a designer. I like to talk about my story and why I pivoted into product and how it, alongside my art and travel, really helped me achieve the type of life I want. And I would hope that for other people, too. So it’s rewarding to talk to and keep in touch with people and younger designers that are pivoting and seeing that they’re successful and getting the jobs that they want, and knowing that I help them in some sort of way.
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Check out more of Raisa's work on Playbook, and her instagram.