For Edina artist Cindy Lindgren, creating visual masterpieces is second nature. She has always had an affinity for the beauty of Mother Earth, but it wasn’t until the past decade, in the second half of her career, where she truly fed into her passions of portraying these characteristics she marvels at as an artist. “[Art] touches every part of my life,” Lindgren says.
She spent much of her career as a freelance illustrator in the ad agency world but longed for more creativity and freedom than client work allowed. Wanting to create on her own terms, Lindgren began experimenting with her own designs and illustrations, launching an Etsy shop in 2009.
Nature as a Muse
To create her work, Lindgren draws her inspiration from her everyday surroundings—birds, native flowers, waterfronts and even classic landmarks around the Twin Cities, like Minnehaha Falls. “I was just drawing the places I liked to visit, the nature I liked to see,” she says about her creations.
One of the pieces that sparked her career as an independent artist was her illustration for the Stone Arch Bridge Festival poster in 2011. Each year, an artist is selected by the festival team to create an original work of art that captures the spirit and energy of the Minneapolis riverfront. That art is turned into a limited-run commemorative poster. And in 2011, Lindgren was the featured artist, which also meant she was supplied with a tent, so she could sell her art at the festival.
“That was really a turning point,” Lindgren says. “Once I did that, I started to do more local landmarks and then worked with Como [Park Zoo and] Conservatory to do more custom art for their shop. Creating that [poster] really put me toward the local track of imagery.”
One of the main locations she is influenced by is her family’s former seasonal cabin in northern Wisconsin. They used to spend every summer up by the water, allowing nature to guide their days. She also gets inspired by the beauty of Centennial Lakes right here in Edina—
a place she values for its walkability and convenience in correlation with the location of her apartment.
A Technical Shift
However, it’s not just nature and landmarks that inspire Lindgren but the vividness of the colors found in nature. Lindgren, a 1982 graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, says she learned the basics of color theory and standard practices of mixing paint well before computers. At that time, all of her illustrations were drawn by hand. However, with the advent of the digital age, she jumped into digital illustration, which, while a tough leap, has allowed her to play around with new techniques. While all of her illustrations still start by hand, she now scans them, redraws them on the computer and finishes them digitally.
Despite the technical shift, Lindgren says her process “has always been very hand-crafted. But she deeply appreciates some of the benefits, specifically the wide range and precision of colors. “The digital palettes are ideal and perfect; you can pick your own color-ways and save them,” she says.
Beyond nature, Lindgren also looks to cultural elements to guide her style. Her husband is Swedish, and she also has partnerships with Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Gifts & Food and the American Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis, where she creates custom designs for its gift shop. This has led her into an exploration of Scandinavian design; she’s developed an admiration for the simplistic nature of this design style, with its clean lines and organic forms. “It was me learning about the different themes like the Dala [Daleclarian] horse and imagery like the lingonberries,” she says about her interest in learning more about the cultural elements.
Lindgren refers to her style as “Craftsman Nouveau” because it is rooted in traditional style but also has a modern twist, with its clean and simple linework. “Craftsman” is a nod to the Arts and Crafts movement of mid-19th century Britain, a design era that inspires Lindgren’s work. Meanwhile, “Nouveau,” references the Art Nouveau or “New Art” movement, which resulted in an ornamental style that takes inspiration from the natural world. Popularized in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Europe, it took on a more modern approach toward organic lines within architecture and design.
Combining these two design styles with her love for clean lines, bold shapes and muted tones, Lindgren developed her own interpretation of classic design through an architectural and natural lens.
From a Passion to a Business
Lindgren began her business on Etsy with the basics: cards and art prints. Her approach was to take one design and apply it to a series of products. As her brand has developed, she has expanded to also applying her designs to vinyl stickers, magnets, tea towels, Swedish dishcloths, fabrics, puzzles and even wallpaper.
But she’s not just on Etsy anymore. She now wholesales her designs, showcasing her work at her booth at the Minneapolis Mart to collaborate with potential business prospects on custom or ready-made designs. This is what led to her partnerships with ASI and Ingebretsen’s, as well as a Twin Cities puzzle company, Puzzletwist. “It is fulfilling, and it is great to work with small businesses and local people,” she says. “I have over 100 shops [gift and boutique shops] in the Midwest that have purchased my art for their shops.”
With new concepts, colorways and ever-changing skylines, Lindgren is certain there will never be a shortage of inspiration to guide her work. “There is always going to be new inspiration and old images to revisit,” she says. “I don’t think I will ever run out of personal illustrations to work on.”
Lindgren has no plans of stopping anytime soon, saying she is exactly where she is intended to be. “Right now is where I have wanted to be my whole artistic life,” she says. “I am at the most successful part of my whole career.”