Nikkol Christiansen’s minimalist design aesthetic works hand in hand with her approach to life, which centers around the beauty of simplicity. Which isn’t to imply that her life is simple. Nikkol has accomplished a lot during her short time on earth: She’s developed a career as an editorial designer and stylist, while moving around the country several times with her musician husband and raising four children. In addition to her Minted work, she creates backdrops for editorial and brand photo shoots, and designed the home she’s soon to move into. “I think the most important thing to remember is that there are many seasons in life and that you can do lots of things, but you can’t do them all at once,” says the Minted artist who lives in Logan, Utah, about 20 minutes south of the Idaho border.
Nikkol describes her artistic style as rooted in the masculine with graceful and feminine details. Both Nikkol’s and her husbands’ ancestors are from Denmark, and she’s always loved the minimal, textural aesthetic of Scandinavian design. She craves clean lines and natural textures, and white space is a must. “Someone once asked me why I leave all the white space in my designs, because it made them feel like something was missing. To me, it’s the exact opposite. I need it,” Nikkol says. “I told them to just breathe it in because it feels amazing.”
Minted: How did you end up doing what you’re doing now?
Nikkol Christiansen: What I’m doing now is essentially what my 17-year-old self wanted to do: create interesting and beautiful things. I let circumstances and people talk me out of doing this. I grew up in a farming community, and nobody could even understand what “installations” even were, let alone why I thought that could be a way to make money. Plus an art school was expensive and in another state—and I, not knowing the ropes of the college application process, missed every deadline. I got stuck going to a nearby university and studied everything that caught my eye. This was back before the Internet was a thing. In fact, I had a class called “World Wide Web,” and remember a vivid conversation with a classmate about how ridiculous the whole concept was and that it would never catch on. One of my favorite classes was Urban Planning, and for a time I thought I’d go further down that path; however, I met my husband about a year after that and ended up graduating in whatever it was that I had enough credits to graduate in—Sociology—because he’d been accepted to a graduate program in Florida, and we were moving. I did work for a brief time—a single day—in a youth detention facility and realized it wasn’t for me.
Throughout the early years of being married and having children, I always had creative side projects going. As time went by and my kids grew, I slowly turned my side projects into a design business and spend my days crafting brands, designing for print, and falling down the rabbit hole of typography.
Did you ever study design or art formally in school?
I did study art and design in school, but didn’t graduate with a degree in it. One of my favorite and most challenging classes was studying cubism art. I gained a true appreciation for abstract art and am still trying to be brave enough to share my abstract work with someone other than myself.
When did you begin designing?
Officially, I found my heart in typography and print design about eight years ago, but I’ve been designing and creating in some way for as long as I can remember. As a young kid, I made “houses” in a section of shrubs that lined our yard, trimming branches and hollowing out the insides. From the outside, they were plain old shrubs, but on the inside, they were the coolest hideouts ever. I wrote plays, made costumes, and forced my younger brothers to be in my productions on a pretty regular basis.
What are some of your “rules” for living and working?
I try to have rules, but I’ve learned that there really isn’t a true balance that’s achieved. It’s more of a juggling act. There’s always something on the floor, and you have to be OK with that. The most important thing to me is being a mom, so when that part of my life is headed for the floor, it’s time to rebalance.
With all of my kids in school now, it’s much easier to set “working hours,” which I have found to be really essential. I have a studio space that is away from the main living area of my house, so when I’m done for the day, I’m done and I don’t have projects begging me to come play with them.
I’ve been very fortunate to get to live the day-to-day minutes of life at home with my children since the day they were born. As I watch them grow—and as I grow—I have newfound levels of independence that allow me to be able to do other things, like run my own business. I love creating with my kids, and I think it’s been a great thing for them. They are all very creative thinkers, which makes me happy. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, like when they want to be a rainbow-unicorn-robot for Halloween, or when they have fights over imaginary cupcakes. I have to remind myself that creativity is a good thing!
What was the best recent conversation you’ve had?
Lately I’ve been thinking and talking often about the concept of worth. When a person knows their inherent worth, as in, they really know deep down that they are valued for who they are regardless of what they do or have or look like, they have a confidence that helps them navigate the oceans of life well. That’s not to say that they don’t make mistakes, but I do think they make better choices and are better able to contribute to humanity in positive ways. It’s something I’ve always tried to instill in my kids, and I try to teach them how to develop a relationship with God, because that is who/where I believe that feeling of inherent worth comes from.
What are some sources of inspiration for you?
The best inspiration for me is found in odd places. I find that when I’m searching for inspiration, it is rarely found. I do seek out “information” all the time and then find that the inspiration comes in silence and while I’m doing mindless work.
I find that talking to artists—specifically painters, illustrative artists, and sculptors—and learning about their process for creating art is incredibly inspiring. Personally, the city has always inspired me. City streets—the architecture, the textures, the sounds, smells and the people—definitely my favorite place to go for a recharge of my mental energies.
What’s your studio space like?
The reality of my life is that I have yet to have a great studio space. In fact, my studio space at the moment is rather terrible. We’re almost finished building a house, where I’ll finally have a studio space of my own. I am particularly excited about finishing the house because I designed it myself, and seeing it come to life has been a thrilling and exhausting adventure.
We currently live in a teeny-tiny apartment with terrible lighting and bad carpet—the keep-your-shoes-on kind of carpet. Since we are cramming six of us plus a dog into this place, we’ve also only brought along the furniture we plan on taking to Goodwill when we move. In other words, I’m surrounded by very little that I find beautiful. I made sure to claim the best corner of the apartment, though, that looks out a window, for my temporary space. I’ve taped a few of my favorite quotes, art prints and photos on the wall to give myself a bit of beauty.
My under-construction studio has a number of picture windows so I will have great natural light. Rainy days are my absolute favorite, so I’ve designed my house to feel like walking into the morning fog. My studio will have industrial details and will really be an extension of me, with clean lines and beautifully textural furniture pieces. Can’t wait!
Nikkol’s Minted Community Experience
How did you first hear about Minted?
In 2010, a friend dropped off a beautifully designed and printed Christmas card and I had to know where she found it. I submitted my first design, “Hand-Painted Branches” holiday card a couple of years later on a whim, fully expecting nothing to come of it.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minted community?
I’m going to be a broken record and echo everything that’s ever been said—the people are the nicest, most encouraging bunch. It’s impressive to find such a talented group that are so eager for others to succeed and are so willing to offer real, useable advice so freely.
What advice would you give fellow artists?
I’ll pass on some great advice given to me by a Mintie friend, Renee Pulvé with Smudge Design Co.: “Don’t try and reinvent the wheel with every design. Look at what designs are successful for you and figure out how to give them a fresh look.”
As a designer who regularly participates in Minted challenges, how do you avoid design and inspiration fatigue?
Oh man, I wish I knew how to avoid it. It always shows up at the most unwelcome times. What’s been effective for me is keeping a sketchbook of all of my Minted ideas. When I have one that I particularly like, I’ll work it up into a full design on my computer and tuck it away for when the challenges open. That way, I’m not stressing about coming up with all kinds of great designs in a short amount of time.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned since being a part of the Minted community?
To keep trying and make work that you are proud of. The first design I submitted to Minted happened to be rather successful, which was awesome and motivated me to enter more challenges. However, that being my first experience designing for consumers, I had no idea why it was successful. Over the next, long-ish, while, I basically threw a bunch of darts hoping some would stick. Nothing stuck. And, even worse, I didn’t like anything that I had created. So I decided to only create work that I was proud of, figuring that even if it didn’t get picked, at least I wouldn’t be embarrassed by it. That made all the difference. My work doesn’t appeal to everyone and that’s OK. It appeals to my audience, which is what really counts.
Nikkol Christiansen’s Inspiration & Favorite Things
Who inspires me: I’m inspired by the everyday, ordinary people around me. There’s a lot of beauty in the mundane. Even when I study a well-known person, I’m most inspired by the ordinary parts of their lives.
Favorite place in the world: Denmark is on my bucket list of places to visit, since both my husband and I both have family roots there. My husband’s grandfather actually immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult. I’m sure once I get there, I won’t come back. When I need a break from life, though, St. Louis is my number-one. It’s the place we’ve lived the longest and I put some deep roots down there. The hot, sticky evening air of the summer coupled with the hum of Cicadas, brings rest to my soul.
Favorite charity: I’m a huge supporter of charities that benefit children. I support Charity Water regularly. It’s an organization that brings clean water to families around the world. Most of the beneficiaries are mothers and children. I’m also a supporter of Operation Underground Railroad, which is a group that rescues children from sex trafficking. Heartbreaking situations there.
Song in my head: Lyle Lovett—my oldest boy is constantly singing his songs, so I’ve got Lyle on repeat in my head pretty often.
Favorite Instagrammer: @humansofny. I love seeing everyday people.
Spirit emoji: That smirking face 😉
Favorite pieces of art in my home: Pictures my kids have drawn, naturally. I also have a couple of pieces by Jennifer Gauthier that are beautiful, one by Meredith Bullock, and a final favorite by Colby Sanford.
Pets: We have a German shorthair named Steel. He’s the most kind and gentle dog. He’s been dressed up, painted on, and is usually used as a pillow by my kids. I’m not much of an animal person, but he is a sweet one, and since he’s the only one home with me during the day, we’re pals.
Favorite neighborhood restaurant: Best neighborhood restaurant isn’t in my neighborhood anymore. It’s a little family-owned grocery store on Busch, a little bit off of 56th street, in Tampa, Florida. Hands-down the best Cuban sandwiches you’ve ever had.
Favorite drink: I’m a water drinker. I’ll splurge on the organic cold-pressed juices once in a while, and at parties, I’ll have a non-alcoholic Sangria or a Mexican Pepsi. Gotta balance all the carbs and sugars I can’t resist.
In my Netflix queue: I’m not much of a movie or TV watcher. I usually watch whatever my husband is watching. I do have a stack of books on my bedside table and prefer to read.
Favorite art supply products: I’m a sucker for good papers. I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with Japanese papers lately. For random creative fun, I get out my bamboo pens, folded pens, and charcoal sticks.
About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture back in the day, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.
Published April 10, 20171 COMMENT