For this week’s Meet the Designer series, we’re excited to highlight the tiki-inspired patterns of designer Michael Uhlenkott, otherwise known as muhlenkott in the Spoonflower Marketplace. Michael and his partner reside in Echo Park, a neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, California, in a 1930s Spanish Revival house that holds a unique secret known only to the tiki-loving locals in his area. Keep reading to see where Michael gains his inspiration, learn more about his design process and even gain a glimpse into what he calls The HaleKahiki.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
“An early morning swim workout or a surf, followed by breakfast. Then to work designing or composing music. I am definitely a morning person!”
When did you fall in love with design?
“I was a kid enchanted by the patterns I saw on clothing in Renaissance paintings, friezes on Roman temples, Islamic miniatures and Victorian wallpapers. I studied and copied those and other historical examples of decorative art until I understood the ways the artists created a canon of motifs and styles. My art continues to be shaped by these models.”
What’s in your toolbox?
“Besides pencils, markers, paints and linoleum blocks; research and travel are my primary tools. Visiting historic places, museums and design collections are essential to my research. Along with books, lots of books! Another important tool is my library of hand-drawn textures which I typically use near the end of the design process. Of course, my computer is indispensable with its digital drawing tools.”
What is your process when creating a new design?
“When creating a new design I typically first sketch an idea in pencil. From there I might finish it in ink, marker or paint or I will scan and draw it in Adobe Illustrator. Sometimes I carve a linoleum block. I always polish each design in Photoshop, adjusting scale, repeat and color before saving it for upload to my Spoonflower library.”
When I’m in my studio, I feel…
“Relaxation, euphoria and the excitement of creation.”
Can you tell us a bit more about your 1930s Spanish Revival style house?
“My partner and I have restored our house to the original 1930s except for the mid-century basement tiki lounge we call the HaleKahiki. The HaleKahiki was an art project for many years and now is a popular destination for local tiki folk.”
Who or what influences or inspires your work and why?
“I am mostly inspired by designers and design of the past, from the ancients to the mid-20th century. Regional art also inspires me. The tropical Pacific, European and Asian art, among others, all take me to far-away places full of beauty, adventure, invention and wonder. I’m also influenced by science and pattern revealed in nature. My work is always surrounded by music as well.”
If I could live in a painting, I would live in…
“Gosh, there are too many paintings to count! How about Paul Gaugin’s 1892 ‘Arearea’. I’m fascinated by the procession of Tahitian women in the background honoring an ancient tiki. Besides that interesting story, there’s the bold use of color, the simplified layering of shapes: the sense of design is masterful.”
What piece of your wardrobe best represents your style?
“A vintage rayon Hawaiian shirt under a 1940s suit represents me pretty well.”
I’d love to see one of my designs turned into a…
“A pake muu [a 1940-50’s-style Hawaiian dress] or a wallpapered room in an 18th-century Italian villa!”
The secret to a strong collection is…
“Design diversity, multiple colorways and making sure every pattern represents something you love.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Keep drawing by hand and imitate masters.”
What drew you to Spoonflower?
“Many years ago my designer friend Alene told me about a wonderful place called Spoonflower where you could upload your own designs and have them printed on various surfaces such as fabric and wallpaper. It was a dream come true!”
For someone new to trying the design challenge, what advice would you give them?
“I would advise new designers to talk about the craft with more experienced designers—most will be happy to share their insights, I imagine. Study the incredible treasury of designs of the past, but make them your own or use them as a jumping-off place. And even if you don’t imitate, the knowledge to be gained from the past is inestimable.”
Michael Uhlenkott is an artist, musician and surfer. In the late 1970s L.A. punk scene, he was a member of the art collective World Imitation and band Monitor. He enjoys music theory and composition and world travel in order to research historical and ethnic design. Keep up with Michael by following him on Instagram @muhlenkott.