ARTIST GIVES GEOGRAPHY A GRAPHIC UPDATE
Story by Amanda Thomas
Photos provided by Nicole Tarasick
With a fresh approach to Canadiana, graphic designer Nicole Tarasick uses minimalist geographic symbols to create conversation-sparking home décor. Known for her airport code pillows (featured in the Canada Lounge at Toronto Fashion Week 2011), Tarasick is passionate about all things Canadian.
Tarasick, who is part of the Akin Collective (a group of designers sharing workspace in Parkdale), the down-to-earth designer screen-prints on pillows, tote bags, vintage maps and road maps; she also designs invitations, logos and other branding projects. Her work caught our eye at The One of a Kind Show this past spring, so we sat down with Tarasick to find out more.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up north of Kingston [in Ontario], and I moved to Toronto to go to University of Toronto (U of T), where I did a double major in architecture and fine art history. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I always had an interest in graphic design; that took me to the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD), where I finished my graphic design degree. I started screen-printing as a hobby when I went to U of T, it was just for fun but it somehow evolved into a business.
I can see the interest in fine arts, but what made you pick architecture as a major?
I always had an interest in architecture, I still do. My dad is a carpenter and builder, and I’ve seen houses that he’s built since I was a kid. He built our family home so I’ve always been around that kind of stuff. To be honest I didn’t think I could just go to school to just be an artist so I thought, what’s creative that is also a professional degree? Architecture was pretty conceptual so it was more artistic; I wasn’t doing a lot of math.
Your work is a unique take on Canadiana. What drew you to the geographic aspect?
I’ve always been drawn to maps. The pillow business started when I was working at Style Garage (the Toronto furniture store) part-time while I was doing my graphic design degree, and the owner just mentioned that they could never find cool pillows. We both sort of looked at each other and I said, “well, I can screen-print”; it was my hobby at the time, so we collaboratively came up with some ideas and it took off. It was really just an opportunity, I didn’t set out to do pillows but I got really good feedback. I also really like Canadiana; I try to figure out how to represent Canada without falling on all of the clichés [and] geography was a little more subtle way to do that. YYZ is the airport code for Toronto – not everyone gets it right away, but I like it.
So how did you get in with the Akin Collective?
My boyfriend at the time and my friend Oliver, a photographer who still runs the studio, noticed that all of their friends who were artists didn’t have affordable space outside their homes so they started a collective, getting us all together and sharing rent. About 15-20 artists currently share this space.
Where do you exhibit your work?
I don’t have my own shop but it’s mainly at retail outlets. Style Garage is the biggest retailer, I started making the pillows when I worked there, and in Toronto, Design Exchange on Bay Street. There’s also a shop called Scout on Roncesvalles that carries my products. I have participated in the Interior Design Show, and that led me to the One of a Kind show.
What would you do if you couldn’t be a graphic designer?
If I couldn’t be a graphic designer, I would likely pursue another entrepreneurial design job, like interior design… although I do have some seemingly unrelated interests that range from farming to education.
What are some challenges to your profession?
As a solo designer the challenge is keeping steady work. It’s scary and you have to work a lot harder. I find that I’m working all the time but I like it. Even when you’re plate is full, you always need to think about getting the next job.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?
Go for it! You have to be self-motivated, determined and put yourself out there… but once you do, it’s the best job in the world.