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BIZ CRUSH: Alanna Stapleton

BIZ crush

Alanna is part badass illustrator, part embroiderer extraordinaire & has a sixth sense for color like you wouldn't believe, oh, and she's making part of her new wardrobe. As in sewing her own clothes, not building a wooden transport to Narnia.

Her style is undeniably recognizable & it's sure to charm you as it has me. Keep scrolling to find out more about Alanna Stapleton, her work, her process and her keen pencil balancing skills.

What kind of kid were you growing up?

Is “involved kid” a category? Much of my childhood was shaped by being involved in 4-H and Girl Scouts, which meant that I had a ton of opportunities to learn a variety of useful skills like cooking and sewing, and indulge in my interests in a wide range of topics, from riding horses to juggling. I did so many activities and had so many hobbies, it seems ridiculous now! I played at least 4 instruments and 2 sports. I remember being just as happy reading or drawing inside as I was playing outside.

How did that affect your path towards working in design?

Looking back, it seems pretty clear that I was drawn to variety. And not in the “fleeting whimsy” way-when I decided to do something, I was all in. I think that working in illustration and design, especially as a freelancer, allows me to wear lots of different hats at once. Maybe I’ll get to work on an illustration about a topic I’m unfamiliar with, and I’ll get to spend time researching something fascinating that I’d otherwise never have had a chance to immerse myself in. Maybe I’ll spend my morning thinking about contracts and how to run a business, and then think about color and shape and line and form all afternoon.

If your story could fit into a 30 second commercial, how would it unfold?

Little girl drawing lots of horses → college art student in a figure study class → middle-aged woman traveling the world and drawing everything → old woman drawing lots of horses.

What ultimately made you decide to do the lovely thing you do?

Trusting my gut.

Who’s positively influenced your path the most?

Other than my supportive family and friends, definitely my mentor from grad school, Allegra Lockstadt!

Favorite part about working for yourself?

The ability to try new things all the time.

Most challenging thing about working for yourself?

Figuring out what I want and how to go get it! I’m a person that loves the process, but working for yourself is one of those things that in no way comes with an instructional manual. If there was one I’d throw it aside anyway, but having a guide would be nice sometimes.

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

Travel is my favorite way to get inspiration. Taking a trip isn’t always possible when I’m feeling uninspired, so I just do whatever I can to switch up my routine: listen to a new podcast or explore a corner of the Twin Cities that I rarely go to. It also helps me to recharge and restart the creative parts of my brain to make something with my hands that carries a lot less pressure, like cooking from a favorite recipe.

If you could be a fly on the wall to anyone’s creative space {dead or alive} who would it be?

Currently it’s chef/food writer Samin Nosrat, comedian/actor/illustrator Abbi Jacobson, and writer/podcast host Aminatou Sow. Lately I’ve been dreaming about planning a Frida Kahlo themed trip to Mexico City and Casa Azul.

Talk about a failure you’ve learned from.

This doesn’t really refer to a specific failure, but I’ve learned that it’s so important for me to remember that saying no, walking away, and pivoting in another direction are always valid options.

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments in business?

Doing the cover illustration for The Growler last August.

What do you wish you knew when you first started that you know now?

Just start doing it. Nobody else knows what they’re doing either.

Also, just to be clear, I still have to remind myself this at least once a day. It’s a lesson I’m constantly learning.

Expand upon the idea of Sisters & Seams!

I was finishing grad school and feeling the need for a long-term future project to look forward to. My sister, Brianna, and I have casually mentioned for years that we might want to start a craft/sewing/fabric business together someday (not a professional artist, but Brianna is an avid quilter/maker/sewist). I sent Brianna a quick e-mail proposing that we collaborate on some art quilts together, starting with an unfinished embroidery piece I’d made as a color study and creative respite from my grad school work. Turns out she’d also been feeling a need for a new creative challenge and was totally on board. I sent her the piece I didn’t know how to finish and we outlined the simple parameters of what we now call Sisters & Seams, a year-long collaboration where we explore the boundaries of fabric, thread, and our sisterly bond.

What’s next / What are you most excited about?

I’m teaching a class at the Textile Center and I’m looking to develop more workshops that I could potentially take on the road. I’m also looking to devote more time and energy this year towards designing more products for my online shop.

Time of the day you are most productive:

Mid-morning for business stuff/writing/planning/ideating, but probably early evening for creative output/production type things.

The app you couldn’t live without:

Spotify and Instagram

Social media outlet you love most:


Favorite account to follow on this outlet:

I follow so many incredible illustrators and designers, sewists/makers/embroiderers, interior decorators, chefs, writers, etc. but a few favorites that come to mind right away: @joooheeeyooon, @designsponge, and @joythebaker.

Favorite internet radio station or podcast at the moment:

A recent favorite podcast binge was No Man’s Land with Alexis Coe.

Go to piece in your wardrobe:

I’m working on creating and curating a mostly handmade wardrobe this year, so I’m hoping my go-to pieces will soon change! Black jeans will always be important, and I rarely leave the house without sunglasses.

Favorite Netflix binge:

Most recently Schitt’s Creek.

Favorite Adobe tool:

The repeat pattern function, and Kyle Webster brushes.

Coolest place you’ve been and/or seen:

I got to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula this summer while on an artist residency in Iceland with Light Grey Art Lab.

Favorite hidden gem in the Twin Cities area:

I’m relatively new to the Twin Cities so I’m still searching for my very own hidden gem (it’s a fun quest, I don’t mind!), but I’ve had some of my favorite meals in Minneapolis at Hai Hai.

See more from Alanna Stapleton here: Instagram | Online


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