Blasting Rock Music and Making a Mess with Artist CK Reed
How do you like to work? For the L.A.–based artist and designer, mostly shoeless. “Always barefoot,” she says from her studio in Los Feliz. Whether creating a mixed-media piece on canvas, festooning furniture in her signature mix of vivid tones and botanical motifs, or transforming the exterior of an RV into a sunset gradient reminiscent of its home in Joshua Tree, Reed’s work is a reflection of her cheery spirit. “I like to go off of things that are close to me,” she says. “If the work is personal, it's so much more interesting.”
ROOM‘s sleek, sound-proof cybertecture pods provide a salve for the nightmarish open-plan offices of the past decade and unlock a world of possibilities for the post-pandemic future. ROOM’s signature phone booth has been pivotal in making Surface’s dream of working from an art gallery a reality over the past year in Miami’s Design District. Like a focus portal for Zooms, phone calls, and creative white space, on any given day our staff and visitors rely on the modular booth to execute tasks big and small.
Here, we partner with ROOM to peek inside the workspace of L.A. artist CK Reed who also designed her dream print for one of the brand’s Phone Booths. Inspired by the California-native plants around CK’s home and studio in Los Feliz, the print is a reflection of the artist’s daily walks. Colorful, eclectic, and abundant, the visual miscellany of the motif represents the spirit of harmonious living.
What are your favorite sources of inspiration?
Before I start any design, I like to flip through books in my garage. I used to work on a TV show [as a set designer] and when the season ended, I brought home all the design books from the art department. Books on 1800s French design or interiors in China—from all around the world. So I’ll open one up and flip through. I especially love poolside Slim Aarons photos. Anytime, all the time.
What are your hacks for powering through creative roadblocks?
I like to run to take a break and appreciate Los Feliz, my neighborhood. I live in a really beautiful place, but sometimes I forget so I try to get outside.
Is your creative process more ritualistic or freeform?
I start by flipping through the books, then I pull out my sketchbook. As I get ideas, I’ll do quick little drawings. I’m usually sitting in my driveway in the sun with music on. I make sure to have fun. I don’t want it to be like “oh, I’ve gotta sit down and figure this out.” Once you have that kind of pressure, it’s over. Nothing good comes out of that. I keep a creative mindset instead of a stressful work-like mindset and try to remember why I’m doing it in the first place.
As I’m sketching, I’ll get to a point where I have an idea and it takes off. Then I run with it. I like to go off of things that are close to me. My neighborhood. One of my favorite places is Joshua Tree. If the work is personal and has a narrative, it’s so much more interesting.
What do you think that does for the end result? Is it tangible?
I can tell the difference and I think other people can, too. After working for years as a corporate textile designer, I decided that I’ll never just do meaningless shit because it’s colorful and attractive. I’m not doing that anymore. People will buy it, but they can tell when there’s heart and soul in a design. That goes with all parts of life. If you phone it in or rip someone else off, it’s pretty obvious. It also won’t be that interesting looking.
One of my friends used to reference Christopher Alexander all the time. He wrote a book called A Pattern Language. Many times we’ll look at something beautiful and can’t explain why it’s so beautiful. But if you break it down, there are ways to point out certain things—balance of color and pattern. And that’s sort of what studying textile design is. Most of my work has pattern and rhythm to it, and it usually comes from my background.
Are you more structured or loose when you’re creating?
Usually loose. But then when I look at it in the end, I see some of the same tendencies. A lot of that is repetition. I like doing things that have repetition or borders. It’s pleasing to my eye. But I do this one thing that’s very important: when I’m in the work, I try to ruin what I’m doing.
What do you mean by that?
Say I’m drawing and it’s starting to look good. I’ll do something like take a color and just paint whatever comes to mind. Take a chance. It could either ruin it or make it better, but I make sure it’s not something safe. I wanna see what happens and usually that’s what brings it to the next level.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re working?
I have a playlist called “Working” that’s kind of calm, eh, I wouldn’t say calm, it’s kind of like exotica or you know, loungy stuff. That’s how I start, but it changes depending on my mood. I really like playing loud rock music like Depeche Mode. Have you heard Jane by Jefferson Starship?
Oh my God. You would hate it! But that was my most played song last year.
Well now I have to listen to it!
Hot in the sun, blasting rock music, and making a mess. I don’t really wear nice clothes. Everything’s covered in paint because I’ll be painting and then want to fix something or switch over to another project in my garage, then go back.
Barefoot or shoes?
Barefoot. And there are nails and broken glass around, but I’ve never been cut. I don’t have any issues for some reason. The exterminator came by and I was walking around barefoot and he’s like, “where are you from?” He thought I grew up on a farm because I was walking over wood chips and stones.
The studio is often a safe haven for artists and designers. What has your experience been in more traditional office settings?
The workplace was always such a bummer and I think about how if it wasn’t so dismal, maybe I wouldn’t have hated my corporate job so much. Big companies just want you to produce—they don’t care what your environment is like.
It’s remarkable that people haven’t made more of an effort to create beautiful workspaces. Environment has such a big influence on mood.
It’s huge. During the pandemic, when I realized I was going to be working at home more, I decided that if I was going to be doing graphic design in the same room every day, I should probably paint the walls orange. The room needed to feel good because I can’t spend all day doing creative work with a white wall.
What effect did that have? What type of influence does color have on your mindset?
It makes the room feel like being a heartbeat. The color is warm and cozy. When I use color in my work, it’s all off of a feeling. And I know immediately if it works or not. Do I like the way it feels? What mood is it giving off? Some colors aren’t great in a work environment. It goes back to the intention. You can’t fake it. Making thoughtful choices is so important when designing spaces. It really makes your life experience either better or worse.