Deborah Monaghan: Anatomy of a Textile Designer

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textile, designer

Before Deborah Monaghan moved to Livingston from the Bay Area, she spent a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen. Her mind would wander occasionally and she watched as her co-workers tapped at their keyboards, laser-focussed on their monitors. She realized nobody in the room was really aware of their environment.

With that realization and in attempt to feel more connected to herself and her body, Deborah’s mind traveled to the inter-workings of the human anatomy — the heart pulsing blood through her veins and the exhalation of her breath. This daydreaming lead her to deconstruct the human anatomy on the printed page. She noticed there were obvious and beautiful patterns within anatomy and she began playing with those patterns on the computer. Deborah took these patterns one step further and began printing them on fabric and producing pillows and scarves in vibrant colors and began selling them. As a resident of the West, she is now heavily influenced by her Montana home. Her current work (and the work we have in the shop) is a study of animal anatomy, horses and cattle, to be specific.

Deborah’s horse and cattle inspired pillows now available at Architect’s Wife.

In the end it’s Deborah who has dominated the virtual world. By deconstructing anatomy she pulls us out of that artificial world and forces us to study our inner-workings and the inner-workings of the animals we coexist with in the real world on fabric and in tactile form.

Deborah's design process.
Anatomy of a bull: Deborah’s step-by-step design process.

I asked Deborah to elaborate on her process and technique, because her process is so fascinating. Below are her responses.

How long have you been working as an artist?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer; I still have trouble calling myself an artist. I’ve always been artistic since I was little and engaged in some artistic medium here or there, but something about defining myself as an artist has always freaked me out. I think it adds too much pressure to the process, especially when I’m not currently working on something. In this current medium of pattern, which would turn into textile design, I started work in 2011.

How did you get started working with fabric?

Part of why I apply my designs to fabric are in response to the increasingly virtual worlds we find ourselves in. When I find myself in front of the computer for too many hours in a day, or week, I become aware of my senses dulling, my peripheral vision narrowing, and generally, the world feels less tactile – a drag if you ask me.

textile, designer, fabric, pillow
Deborah in her Livingston home with some of her original designs (also available at Architect’s Wife).

The human anatomy patterns are a prompt to pay attention to the sensory experiences one may be having within and to encourage that aliveness. By extension, placing the patterns on items you see and use and touch extends the idea even further. My hope is the visual prompt of the pattern and object within the environment will [encourage people to be more aware of themselves and their bodies]. The animal patterns follow along that same vein; I want to encourage people to view the horse and cattle with deeper appreciation, and by extension encourage a deeper appreciation for their role historically and presently in the West.

design, process, scarf
A silk scarf and a new anatomical design Deborah is experimenting with.

Tell me about your process.

The line and shape are already there; it’s really about context and deconstruction or abstraction – or alternatively, just getting out of the way of what is already there. That’s the amazing thing to me and again, it’s a response to the virtual world breathing down our necks. We don’t have to make anything up, nothing needs to be more awesome, just look around!

I start by perusing anatomy books. Once I’ve landed on a part, or animal that’s piqued my interest [I begin studying it]. Sometimes the process is finding the right illustration for the part, other times it’s finding out what’s unique about the animal. Either way, I find an illustration that I find interesting and start tracing the lines and shapes. From there it’s delete this, add this, scale that, repeat this. I usually arrive at something in a mess of a sketch and then it goes to my friend and collaborator, Francesca, over in France for digitizing and clean-up. Though, sometimes I will send Francesca a bunch of illustrations and thoughts and ask her to put them together directly into the computer. I draw terribly and though I can see patterns in my head, sometimes I’m not the best at getting them to paper. Francesca and I go back and forth with formations for the pattern and edits until one seems to satisfy both of us. Then it’s time for color. I’m incredibly thankful for our collaboration.

You have mentioned that the mind/body connection is an important part of your work. How did you get interested in this connection and how is it reflected in your work?

I have a belief that the mind does what the body does and the body does what the mind does. I’ve been on a search my whole life to understand that relationship and make the best decisions I can to think well and be well; life is a co-creation in that way. As an example, I’ve always loved the quiet primal space one gets to when hiking in the woods; you’re in-tune with your body, thoughts have slowed (hopefully) and everything seems to be working in some unified system. That experience also can occur from body work, or tuning into silence, or – you decide. If I could feel that way in everything I do, I’d live in bliss. Modernity, along with life experiences though offer a lot of interruptions from that way of being. So what can we do to set ourselves up to live with ease? What choices can we make to prompt that result, internally, and externally? Hopefully my work offers some advice in those regards.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Keep doing the next most obvious thing and take it from there. Be wary of lifestyle marketing being your guide.

How long have you lived in Montana? What do you love about living here?

I’ve been in Montana for about 5 years. I love how raw and wild it is here. I love how nature affects our rhythms and character here – or yet, how nature sets the rhythm and how the humans more or less have to fall in line. Despite our technological developments, nature is still king here when it comes down to it. Because of that, the people here share some inherent commonality and the community here functions in some particular ways that I really appreciate. We need our neighbors, partly for survival and partly for entertainment; so play nice and fair or else you’ll be stuck in a snowbank and bored. Having that tight knit community alongside a culture of rugged individualism makes for a pretty sweet spot.

Deborah's inspiration wall in her studio.
Deborah’s inspiration wall in her studio.

What book are you reading right now?

Yellowstone Has Teeth by Maryjane Ambler

Favorite color?

That changes based on my mood, season and locale, but the palettes of the art deco era get me every time.

Favorite TV show?

Honestly I have to say Scooby Doo. I just turned 40 and I still love watching the old episodes from the 80’s. The atmospheres were always so mystical and groovy.

What music are you listening to these days?
Old soul! Some new. On vinyl please, the production of music these days lacks so much warmth and depth. If that comment doesn’t resonate with you, please go investigate; you’re missing out, and we should demand better sounding music.

No cheating. What are the last three things you’ve Googled?

How to care for a rubber tree plant?
Google Mapped Portland to Livingston driving directions
Ilse Crawford

Her pillows are on display at our downtown furniture shop. Stop in and ask our staff to teach you more about her original patterns and help you find the animal hidden within each fabric. You can also learn more about Deborah’s work at her website Think Body Design.
P.S. Her design can be produced as wallpaper too!!!