Underwater Research

Susan With Sign

There’s no question that my favorite part of what I do is designing custom patterns that are meaningful.  I was approached a while ago by my friend Susan Helmrich and her landscape architect Sarah Herman to design some exterior panels for her Berkeley residence. Susan’s husband was gifting her a new backyard for her 65th birthday! What an amazing opportunity, particularly because Susan is such an inspiration to me.

Susan is a three time cancer survivor.  You can read her incredible story here and here. She also swims about 700 miles a year! 700 miles!! In addition, she is a philanthropist raising thousands of dollars each year for Swim Across America. Swimming has become her way of life, and she surrounds everyone around her with positive energy, a beautiful smile and sets a high bar professionally and personally for all of us.  So, it was fitting that Susan and Sarah wanted some custom designed Modern Metal panels that would reflect her passion for swimming, and that would contribute to the serenity of her newly designed backyard. 

I was flattered that she came to me with this project.  The three of us had initial concept meetings in her dirt filled yard with her contractor, and re-imagined the space with landscaping, mosaic tiles, and an installation of 3 suspended backlighted Modern Metal panels. I had free rein to create, so I started in my usual way, with storyboards, drawing, and research.  

My research entailed swimming. I really wanted to understand and capture the feeling of swimming and movement throughout the water that Susan must find so mesmerizing and addictive.  I am not a true swimmer, but I can swim enough to get a little workout in, thanks to lessons and an amazing swim coach.

I started swimming at different times of day to see what the water looked and felt like far below and just beneath the surface. I found that the reflections and shadows created in the late morning mid daylight were just incredible. I was so focused watching these flickers of light, lines moving in sharp waves, that I felt like I was in another world.  I was so mesmerized that for a few minutes (just a few) I was forgot I was swimming and lost track of my lap count.  I got a fleeting glimpse into the magic that Susan felt in the water. 

I wanted to create a triptych that would flow and undulate from one panel to another , and that would gradate in density from bottom to top, reflecting the same sensation I felt in the water.  I wanted the movement in the design to be flowing, regular, yet irregular like the  ripples of air that randomly hit the surface and reverberate from top to bottom. It’s almost like the lines bounce off of the pool’s floor. Easier for me to design than to describe the sensation.  Hopefully I caught it! 

A huge thanks to Susan and her family for allowing my designs into their lives in this way.