Tierney Milne on Creative Boundaries

by | Apr 28, 2023

Tierney Milne is a Montreal-born, Vancouver-based artist and muralist who focuses on interrupting people’s day with positivity. With a background in Psychology and Illustration and Design and armed with a keen interest in how simple shapes and colours affect our wellbeing, Tierney combines intentional compositions, bold palettes and vibrant patterns to bring her work to life and brighten peoples’ day. 

How did your brand and creative journey come to life?

I’ve been playing and making art my whole life and have always very much been a kid at heart in terms of the simple forms, visual puzzles, bright colours and bold patterns I love to surround myself with. Through my post-grad programs, I still had the belief that art had to be ‘serious’ to be taken seriously or be something I could pursue as my career, but after going through the Illustration and Design program at CapU and working on campaigns for lululemon, I started to embrace art-making again and leaning into the designs that bring me joy.

I worked on my own craft in the evenings after work and eventually had some break-through opportunities to create mural artwork and throw myself into the deep-end with bringing blocky, geometric, colourfully gridded art to life for clients. Seven years later and I’m still at it, full-time, and every year has brought bigger and more creatively challenging projects that continually inspire me to know myself more and think intentionally about how certain colours and compositions affect others’ moods. I try to stay true to my nostalgic visual inspiration and not judge the things that make my inner child happy!

 What inspires you in your day-to-day?

I love that I never know where inspiration might pop up in my day-to day life— I love the strong forms and repeating patterns of the architecture around Vancouver, especially juxtaposed against the organic textures and forms of the beautiful landscape here. I will never not find inspiration taking a sea-wall walk and paying attention to little details around me, or finding faces in everyday objects I happen to see.

Surrounding myself with very cute and colourful visual chaos that I can find ways to rearrange and put into some kind of satisfying order makes me happy and never fails to inspire me. My work desk and studio are bursting with nostalgic odds and ends— scraps of patterns from insides of envelopes, trinkets and toys, tamagotchis and miniature objects. Bold odds and ends that inspire me with their playfulness. It brings me a lot of happiness to organize these eclectic objects in novel ways, and this puzzled-together inspiration flows through into my design sensibilities as well.

Tell us about what some of your career highlights have been.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some brands I really love over the past few years such as Today at Apple to McDonalds, FootLocker, Purolator, Monstercat, and Blue Moon. Some of the most exciting and unique activations I’ve designed are large-scale pieces that the public is able to interact and engage with, such as mall activations across British Columbia, painting a basketball court for Lululemon, and painting in mural festivals in Vancouver, Winnipeg and San Diego.

This surface design project with Otto Studio is definitely being added to the core design memory list. I’m so thrilled to finally be able to bite into the world of repeating patterns and wondering how people might get inspired to play with the designs in their spaces.

Tell us about the collection! What was your inspiration behind these patterns?

Nostalgic Play + Bold shapes and Geometric Structure are the biggest things that drive my art and this capsule collection. Kaleidoscopic shapes and arrays of simple forms have been pieced together in various compositions and scales, each with their own amount of playfulness or sophistication depending on the colourway.

What does a typical day in your week look like?

I really love that my typical day will change wildly depending on what type of project I am juggling and what stage I’m at in it, be it murals or designs or activations. I work out of a super supportive artist co-working space near Olympic Village with artists tackling all different kinds of creative client challenges. 

I will often be holed up in my colourful studio corner designing in Illustrator, sketching in ProCreate, and begrudgingly putting on my project manager hat on to reply to frequent emails and tackle invoicing and quoting. Juggling is the name of the game, and I usually spend my time hopping between projects that are in varying stages of development. 

Once I’m in painting/installation mode, I love the freedom of being out of the studio and on-site for stretches of time as well! As my studio practice often requires designing alone, I always appreciate it when I get to hire friends to join me in installing murals and socializing at the same time. Yerba Mate and endless candy drawers keep me moving, and I’ll rarely be found without my bluetooth headphones and a good music mix.

My work is usually forced to either be very playful or very elegant, and it was incredibly thrilling to not pigeon-hole myself and make the capsule as accessible as possible in its variations. 

In addition to the scattered candy-like compositions of geometric forms, I was so excited to include modernized organic textured designs that really speak to nostalgic touchstones from my childhood and the Vancouver greenery around me. My take on the composition book cover texture, for example, is inspired by a life-long love of doodling in the retro notebooks, while the ‘blob’ designs aim to stylize and reference mottled water surfaces and endless pebbles collected on walks around the forest and beach.

While I am drawn primarily to gem-tones and retro pops of saturation, the collection also includes more muted and calming colourways to give as much range as possible to mix and match and choose which colours bring others the most joy.

What has had the most influence on your creative growth and inspiration?

I worked on my own out of my apartment for the first few years of being freelance, but the biggest shift for me occurred once I took the leap and moved into a shared studio space with other fellow freelance artists.

Andrew Young, a Vancouver-based curator and artist, leads the studio space and has single-handedly become one of my biggest influences and supports through my career since. He has been operating in the art-scene here for quite a while and has had his hands in curating and producing some of the bigger events in town (Vancouver Mural Fest, etc), and his generosity in sharing knowledge with me has been completely invaluable. The community fostered in the studio and the level to which we all support each other through our individual creative efforts is something I’ve come to realize is fairly rare and it is something that continues to push me to grow and take risks that I wouldn’t feel confident about solo.

What would be your advice to your younger self, or to anyone else who is starting out as a creative?

My biggest advice I’d love to pass on to my former self and fledgling creatives would be to know your worth and to always create things that you yourself would love to see and be around. Starting off, I was so eager to people-please and would always bend over backwards to accommodate client’s requests even when they didn’t respect my time and energy. 

After years of this, I’ve realized the importance of boundaries and protecting yourself as you move through developing projects, as it really is key to trying to make this practice sustainable for yourself :). Similarly, at the start of my career I would sometimes get side-tracked trying to create the most complicated and highly conceptual piece I could and believed that my pieces couldn’t be simple and still be of worth and worthy to clients’ budgets. I’ve realized that if I as a consumer love to see and surround myself with less complex compositions and objects, it is powerful to design with that goal in mind as well!