Kristin Zuller joined the LaFleur team in 2019 as a designer, illustrator, and lettering artist. A Grand Rapids, Michigan, native and lifelong lover of all things visual and artistic, Kristin studied visual communications at Kendall College of Art and Design before launching her career as a designer. With more than 15 years of experience in the marketing industry, she’s worked on an enormous range of design projects, including print and digital pieces, large-format lettering and murals, and even three-dimensional paper art.
We sat down with Kristin to talk about the subjects that inspire her to design, draw, and paint, and we also got a glimpse into her bucket-list dream of keeping her own bees and harvesting honey.
LaFleur: Tell me about your life as a designer here at LaFleur. What do you do?
Kristin Zuller: I love working here at LaFleur. I’ve only been here for a little over a month, and so far I’m designing guidebooks, presentation materials, and even some product design already, which is so fun.
LF: As a designer, what’s your favorite type of project to work on?
KZ: Something where I can illustrate and draw. I really like color, and I love to draw. And this is a new thing I discovered that I like: I’ve always been able to draw, but about a year ago I started actually illustrating professionally. And I really like the creativity of it, just being able to create characters and styles. It feels so organic to just sit down and draw and bring something to life.
LF: How would you describe the way you approach design?
KZ: When I’m designing here at LaFleur, the first thing I think about is who’s going to be seeing it and how they’re going to be using it. So a lot of it is problem-solving, and really just focusing on how an asset will eventually get used.
LF: What kinds of things inspire your designs?
KZ: I would say I draw inspiration from music, seeing other art… I follow specific people on Behance to see what they’re doing. That’s a website where artists can post their work and use it as a portfolio, but also just connect with other artists. And it encompasses everything — graphic design, photography sculpture, writing, everything.
LF: Very interesting. I’ve never heard of it. I’ll have to check it out. So, you said music is a big inspiration — what kinds of music do you listen to?
KZ: I like a lot of different kinds of music. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of this young rapper named Tierra Whack. She’s from Philadelphia, and I really like the way she doesn’t just do music — she also incorporates visuals into her music, and they’re really strange and unusual. In one video, she has this whole fake face where her mouth is hanging off, and she purposely recorded the song so you can’t really understand the lyrics. It’s hard to get what she’s going for unless you watch the video along with the song. She’s got some bizarre visuals, but I find them fascinating.
Beyond that, I like everything from old-school funk to jazz, like Mingus and Ahmad Jamal. I think my number one favorite right now is this duo named Ibeyi. They’re the daughters of musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club, which is like Latin jazz, and they make incredible music.
LF: Have you been interested in visual arts and design for a long time?
KZ: Yes, always.
LF: Was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to draw and design for a living?
KZ: I think it was in high school. For me, it’s just been about, not even knowing I have a talent, and then trying something, and being like, “Oh, I can do that?” So I think it was my senior year of high school when I started to take visual communications and learned about offset printing, back when that was still taking place. I learned how to do graphic design, and that’s when I really got interested and thought about a career.
LF: And do you create art outside of the work you do professionally?
KZ: I do. Mostly it’s painting. I just started to get into oil painting, and I like oil because of the layering. I’ve been doing a lot of really large oil paintings. And also murals — I love to do murals.
LF: What kind of subject matter interests you when you paint? Do you create stuff that’s abstract, or —
KZ: Yeah. There’s some abstract, some real. Some of it looks like it could be done on a computer, like shapes of color that make a face. I try all different things, really. I don’t have a specific technique and don’t have any professional training as a painter, so it’s just all experimentation.
LF: Is there anywhere where we can see your work?
KZ: Not right now. I have one picture of something I’ve done on my Instagram.
LF: Outside of the visual art portion of you, what do you like to do?
KZ: I love spending time with my four kids. They’re great people. They’re a little older, but all still at home, and we have a wonderful time. We like to go to the movies, go out to eat, take trips — pretty normal things, I guess.
LF: What was your most recent trip?
KZ: We drove to Charlotte, North Carolina together and then drove to Myrtle Beach. It was fantastic. We’re trying to plan another trip this year, but we haven’t decided where to go yet.
LF: I feel like when your kids get older, that’s the most fun, right? I enjoy spending time with my family more now than I have at any point in my life.
KZ: Oh yeah. It’s totally great. I love having older kids.
LF: What about you, when you get a little time to yourself? What do you like to do?
KZ: I have a really close friend named Dri, and we spend a lot of time together. We just like to get together with our sketchbooks. We doodle, we draw, we talk, we listen to music. We might go somewhere or go out to eat — it’s not the most exciting stuff on paper, but it’s cool to have someone you’re that close to and can always connect with.
LF: Definitely. But what about true solo Kristin time? What happens then?
KZ: I’m learning how to raise bees. That’s kind of a bucket list thing for me.
LF: Why bees?
KZ: I don’t remember how I first got into bees, but I did, and I started to heavily research them. I got this book called The Beekeeper’s Bible. It’s a huge book that goes into every species and, yeah, that just got me more interested.
LF: Do you feel any kind of urgency to act on bees as a bucket list thing because of some of the issues bees are facing, with colony collapse and all of that?
KZ: I think that’s part of it. That’s troubling, because if we don’t have bees, well, we’re in trouble. I hope to help, and I hope to have bees at home. I know there are some limitations, but I hope my neighbors will get on board.
LF: If they balk, give them some of your bee literature.
KZ: I will do that.