Graphic designer expands her palette


Soothing aqua blue, lime green and shades of coral dominate the palette of fine artist Laura Cunningham. Her skill in graphic design and her eye for evoking a tranquil beauty combine to create artworks that are calming, reflecting scenes found in the North County coastal area.

Defining her work as mixed-media, Cunningham said her pieces start with a photograph. Many of the shots are of Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, close to where she has her studio. That just begins the process.

“I look at the image and know that I will be doing a lot of manipulation to it,” she said.

The initial digital photograph doesn’t have to be perfect. She crops the image, adds layers of color and combines it with graphic design to demonstrate the moods and essence of the ocean.

“Sometimes I’ll put in layers to make it look aged, or sometimes I’ll add circles to the image,” said Cunningham, who said that she feels that circles are very soothing.

“I don’t like the images to be straightforward and pure,” she explained. “I like them to be pulled into the graphic world.”

Cunningham’s tools include computer image software, an industrial-sized printer that transfers her enhanced photographic images onto canvas, and a sewing machine, which she uses to add textural interest and contrasting color to her pieces. Many of her works have loose threads hanging from the canvas, deliberately so. “I tell people if they want to cut them off, they can,” she joked.

The completed canvas is surrounded by a hand-made frame. “I use yardsticks and paint on them and I distress them. I also use cigar boxes and collage onto them,” she said.

Each piece is not complete until it has a small tag stapled to the side that contains a simple quotation that matches the image’s theme. “That’s why I call my work mixed-media, because there is a lot going on in them.”

Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Cunningham has spent most of her life in southern California. She attended Cal State Long Beach, completing a bachelor’s degree in fine art, then received her MFA in Graphic Design from The Academy of Art in San Francisco.

Cunningham came to North County for a work opportunity as a graphic designer for No Fear apparel, taking photographs of the merchandise, editing them and designing the complete layout of the catalogs. “It was a good experience for me, because I got thrown into a lot of responsibility right off the bat,” she said.

Other opportunities came in publication design until Cunningham opened up her studio in Encinitas where prospective clients may visit by appointment.

Pieces of Cunningham’s work are available from Bliss 101 in Encinitas, in Charisma in Coronado and in several other coastal galleries and in retail showrooms in Laguna Beach and Hillcrest. She will be taking part in Art Walk NTC at Liberty Station during the weekend of Aug. 15-16, having been juried in with just four other North County artists.

A high point this year is that Cunningham was also juried in to take part in the three-day Kaaboo arts festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Sept. 18-20, and has an exhibition at the Encinitas Library from Aug. 10 through Sept. 10.

Visit to view and purchase Laura Cunningham’s work.