Graphic Designer and Illustrator Carleigh Courey Tubergen on Being Created To Create

by Shonette Reed

Carleigh Courey Tubergen believes that she was created to create. Through her parents, Carleigh developed a love for both art and nature. She now lives out her creative life by doing the thing she loves as a graphic designer, illustrator, and floral arranger.

A graduate of Grand Valley State in Allendale, Michigan, Carleigh started the work she does now while in college. Beginning with wedding invitations for friends, she quickly realized how much she enjoyed it and the rest is the work you see today.

I had the chance to talk with Carleigh over email about her work, her inspirations and the little things she gets the chance to do in between the hustle and bustle of work.

Q: What drew you to design and illustration?

A: So many things! I honestly think I was created to create, and feel really fortunate to have known that is what I was meant to do ever since I was very young. I always had an impulse and need to draw, and it came very naturally for me. My parents always encouraged me to do what I loved, and they gave me the freedom and materials to foster my love for art and believe in myself! When I started school for art and design, I felt like I wanted to choose something at least semi-practical as a career, so I chose graphic design as my emphasis and I loved it. I think drawing will always be my first love but graphic design allowed me to "marry" my illustrative work and the precision and practicality of more marketable materials. I learned so much in school [and am] so thankful for my education in graphic design and I use it every day.

Q: When did you begin as a designer and illustrator?

A: I didn't really know it then, but I began the work I'm doing now when I was still in school for graphic design at Grand Valley State. I started to design wedding invitations for friends and family and realized how much I loved it. That was when I started to dream of a job that would allow me to create meaningful, beautiful work for people and still have the artistic freedom I wanted to maintain in a career. I've been drawing, painting and creating ever since I can remember, and have always known I wanted to pursue art... but the plans to start my own business as an illustrator and designer developed while I was studying art in school.

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen

Q: Does being a part-time florist allow you to come up with new design ideas?

A: Definitely. I feel so spoiled getting to take home flowers every day I work at the shop, and I often sketch them from life. I've learned so much about flowers and plants by working at a flower shop, and although I probably won't work there forever, I'll always use that knowledge and experience in my work! I often take notes of color and shape combinations while I'm arranging flowers, and new designs and patterns just kind of pop into my head.

Q: What are your biggest sources of inspiration?

A: I talk about flowers a lot but obviously that's a big one - I've also always been inspired by and drawn to asian art, and I see that coming out through my floral patterns a lot. I love their simple use of flat color and marriage of organic, yet very simple, modern patterns and designs. There are a handful of pattern and textile designers I find myself going back to for inspiration, and I also know and follow the work of so many other artists and creators who inspire me. I think I get bits and pieces in everything! I love to travel and spent a semester studying art on an island in Greece - one of the best experiences of my life. I still draw inspiration from places I've traveled around the world. I love seeing what other people and cultures pull into their art that's different than me.

Q: How did flowers become such a big part of your designs?

A: I've always been so drawn to the earth around me, and it's where I found most of my inspiration coming from as I pursued my education and, eventually business, in art. I love to garden and grow things, so all through high school and college I got jobs that put me in the middle of flowers in some way. I worked in a flower shop, a greenhouse, landscaping, and at an art gallery for awhile that was mostly floral paintings by local artists. I always grew restless and bored in office jobs, and so often found myself invigorated by getting my hands in the dirt, or unpacking and arranging flowers in a shop. I need variety in a job and to do physical work, as well. I think using flowers as my main subject now was just a natural outcome of the things that I love most coming together in my work.

Q: What is your creative process?

A: I don't think it's the same every time I come up with something new, but I try to create new work when something has already inspired me, rather than sitting down and pulling a design out of the air (that's when I usually get a creative block!) ... If I see something that inspires me, I usually get a vision or general idea of something I want to try. Then I sit down and start with sketches to get the ideas on paper, and develop the shapes and patterns from there. Adding color is the last step. Once I have a drawing or painting I'm happy with, I photograph it, and then clean it up on my computer and create the patterns and layout for whatever piece I'm working on.

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen

Q: You shared on your site that you "believe in the beauty and the art of slowing down." How do you achieve this?

A: I definitely don't always achieve this, but I know that if I don't take the time for quiet moments, I get overwhelmed and it's easy to lose perspective on what's most important in my life, and end up anxious and discouraged. So I do my best to take time in the morning- even if it's for 15 minutes- and sit quietly with my coffee. I've always been a writer, so I like to journal, and my faith is a huge part of my life, so I try to take time to read my Bible and pray and meditate on the day in front of me and what's going on in my life. I find this can wildly change the way the rest of my day goes - not that my day goes perfectly, but that I start with a thankful heart and sound perspective on what's important, then the rest is just up to me to do my best! I also love to escape outside at least once every day for awhile. I go to the beach almost every day even if it's for a half hour, and find so much peace and rejuvenation there.

Q: You shared that you want "a dog and lots of babies someday, and to be like my mom." What about your mother makes you aspire to be like her?

A: There are so many things I admire about my mom. She was truly the most loving, gentle, caring mother through my childhood and I know so much of that has shaped the person I am today. She encouraged me to do what I loved and what I was good at, and challenged me to work hard but be gracious with myself and with others (and still does!). She and my dad both value and love art and nature, and they taught me to appreciate those things and how to soak them into your life. My mom is patient and light-hearted and faithful, and I admire those things in her. She's also not afraid to feel things deeply and I think I get that from her. We are both sentimental and emotional and that can be really hard, but I also think it enables us to notice and appreciate things that really matter in a unique way. It's a struggle to feel things so deeply sometimes, but she and my dad both help me see the beauty in it too, and not let it control my life. I know that when I'm a mother some day, I'll look to her for so many things and I'm so thankful for the relationship I have with her. She's one of my best friends.

Q: If you weren't a designer and illustrator, what career path might you have taken?

A: I think I might have pursued something in botany. I loved working in a greenhouse and it's so interesting to me. Although, looking back, I don't know if I would have known that when I was starting my education. I considered teaching art for awhile when I was younger. For the most part, I always knew what I wanted to do though.

Q: What advice would you give to a beginning designer or illustrator?

A: Oh my, that's a hard one. Be patient with yourself, and try different things! I'm a perfectionist and have always had a hard time letting myself grow and learn through the process... Looking back on my journey to where I am, it's taken every step of the way to get me here, and it wasn't always clear or exciting or hopeful! My work has changed, and what I care about an envision for my career changes a lot, as well. It can be hard to feel insecure about the path you're on, but I think with any creative career you need to stay open to letting it grow and change along with you, and I've found that, what comes out of that is even better than what I imagined for myself as the perfect plan. I still struggle with this so often because my work is changing all the time, and I'm hard on myself and my work. But I try to learn from where I was a year ago, or two or five years ago, and let myself keep molding into the artist I want to be... Striking a balance between pushing yourself and working hard, and giving yourself grace and being confident in what you do, is a challenge I think I'll aways be working on.

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Courey Tubergen