Occupation: Painter and rug designer
Hometown: London, Ont.
It’s easy to think that as a painter-cum-rug-designer, Robyn Waffle is an artist whose work might get lost underfoot, but these aren’t your typical floor coverings. Her avant-garde rugs feature everything from Lady Gaga to oil slicks and skulls and are coveted by the likes of fashion icon Jeanne Beker.
As a young girl growing up in London, Ont., Robyn was constantly creating. She made fantastical collages from magazine clippings, paper and ink drawings – at dinnertime her mother would simply push her work to the side of the table, knowing she’d be back at it right after the plates were cleared. “My parents are incredibly supportive,” Robyn says. “They’ve always bought my paintings, and their home is like a museum of my best work.”
In 2002 Robyn enrolled in the fashion program at Ryerson University in Toronto, where she fell in love with illustration. At her first art show she met a group of graffiti artists who became friends. Graffiti still informs her work. “I have always marvelled at creating on a grand scale and was inspired by how they create these ginormous characters and worlds. Graffiti artists are like a new-age clan of cave painters; their work has the same immortal quality,” she explains. “Rug design, just like working on walls, seems more serious than working on canvas.”
Robyn has also found inspiration while travelling the world (from the Burning Man festival in Nevada to the most celebrated galleries of Paris). But surprisingly it was Melbourne, Australia, where she attended RMIT University (the “Harvard of design schools”), that influenced her the most. “The design in Australia is innovative, vibrant and playful,” she says. “Buildings are brightly painted, and Melbourne’s downtown mall has polka dots all over it. Even the highways have art installations lit up all along them.”
Back in Toronto in 2010, Robyn responded to a Craigslist posting from Reznick Carpets, a veteran rug company that was looking for someone to collaborate on a new, edgier line. Robyn took the challenge. “It was this amazing two-year boot camp,” she says. “I learned how to build and market a label, and I immersed myself in the craft.” The result of this collaboration was Modallion Rugs, which launched last year and had everyone buzzing at the Interior Design Show in Toronto.
Robyn has since le to launch her own collection of rugs, Totem. She uses other people’s totems as her inspiration. “A totem is a unique object, animal or coveted possession that gives you strength and affirms your belief in yourself,” she says. “It could be a family crest, an engagement ring, a tattered photo of your grandmother or even a rock from somewhere you’ve travelled.”
Robyn’s favourite totem is the unicorn, which is one reason she was drawn to the throne-like chair with a unicorn tapestry that now sits in her eclectic cottage-style home. It’s in good company: Her kitchen island is made from a 1910 icebox, the light fixtures are inspired by pirate ships, and she has spray-painted neon-pink hearts on her walls and lampshades. “I’m such a product of my environment that if I’m in a surrounding that doesn’t feel good or look beautiful, I can’t create in it.”
Robyn’s telling details
My proudest moment was… seeing my Limelight Prayer Rug in one of Canada’s top design magazines, Azure. I was so intimidated by this new world of rugs — to see it featured as one of Azure’s Interior Design Show pieces for 2012 was a big moment.
I wish I had more time for… getting my balance back. I’d like to spend more time on painting.
The last time I lost my temper was… when my cat went into my neighbour’s yard to smell flowers, and I thought I’d lost her.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about… how grateful and excited I am for the experience and people I have in my life — it’s endless material. I’m never bored.
My favourite moment of the day is… working with a glass of wine, just after dinner.
My perfect day would be… painting with someone I really care about. Sometimes I’ll have friends over, and we’ll art jam.
Five things Robyn can’t live without
1. Vogue: “My Lady Gaga rug for Modallion was inspired by a Vogue photo shoot of the pop icon.”
2. Her Marc Jacobs bag: “I have been rocking neon forever. Marc Jacobs read my mind and made my dream purse.”
3. Her cat, Scrumpy: “Because I’m a loner, she is integral to my happiness. Scrumpy greets me at the door when I come home.”
4. Her unicorn fawn painting: “A friend made a pendant of it just for me, which I wear almost every day.”
5. Frida Kahlo iPhone case: “It’s a constant reminder of her passion and strength as a female artist.”