Her Cup Runneth Over: Artist Delights in Duluth’s Many Inspirations

Freelance illustrator Jordan Sundberg of Duluth uses a pencil and notepad to sketch ideas for her business Tin Cup Design. Her work has local flavor; her clientele includes the Free Range Film Festival, Snooty Fox, Saffron and Grey, and Red Mug. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
By Melinda Lavine, Duluth News Tribune

Her favorite things to sketch are buildings and flowers. She doesn’t like drawing people as much. “I feel like I don’t know how to make the faces,” she said.

Illustrator and artist Jordan Sundberg of Duluth has been running her one-woman business, Tin Cup Design, for about four years. She has done work for local entities Bent Paddle, COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores), Bella Flora and more.

And for Sundberg, the Northland is her home and her muse.

“I love Duluth, and I love the people here, so creating scenes of Duluth, I feel like I’m rooting for something really good in this community,” she said.

A common misconception is to work only when inspiration hits, said Jordan Sundberg of Tin Cup Design. Creativity is fire that needs a fireplace to keep it safe and contained and fed, she said. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The texture of Duluth

Quirkiness mixed with a dream-like and almost 3-D appearance is characteristic of Sundberg’s work.

A print from Jordan Sundberg’s series of work on seasons in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

In “Dawn Patrol,” different textured trees in peach, olive and midnight blue hug a path leading into a forest. Part of a bicycle peeks out under a crescent moon. The tops of trees are speckled, with distinctive birch and others that look translucent.

Her Goat Hill print features an olive landscape cascading down the page in what looks like different brush strokes of lighter green. A trail swirls from a tiny person in overalls through triangular trees and geometric houses. Circular treetops look like they’re made of tissue paper — and they might be — and a rocky-looking, charcoal-colored road traces through the foreground.

Rhubarb stalks swarm upward in a poster for CHUM. Characters that feel reminiscent of childhood laze about the plant life. A mouse sits on a leaf, a snail rides a turtle near a smirking rabbit, a dove flies above a bumblebee.

“She’s got that unique way of being grounded in a place but universally accessible, as well,” said Anne Dugan, former Duluth Art Institute director. Dugan has known Sundberg since the early ’00s.

A print from Jordan Sundberg’s series of work on seasons in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Her work celebrates that she is in and of Duluth, with a style that can be appreciated on a national level, Dugan said. (Among Sundberg’s clients: Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the SALT Project and Hatch Factory Productions.)

Dugan is cofounder of the Free Range Film Festival, and she hired Sundberg to create this year’s poster. Her only direction: It needs a barn.

The end result: Hills that look like olive scoops of ice cream and navy trees with outstretched barren branches that look like waving arms. The red Wrenshall barn is dotted in the top center next to a wheelbarrow. A widening pathway bends down the design, inviting the viewer in.

“She really has a vision for things,” Dugan said, noting there’s a physicality to Sundberg’s work — it feels hand-crafted and tactile even though it’s in two-dimensional form.

“There’s definitely a humble quality to it that connects with people,” she said, adding: “She’s understanding color and the texture of the Duluth landscape.”

Collaboration

Sundberg studied German and writing at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. At that time, she didn’t know if she wanted to pursue art or ministry. She eventually began an internship at the Vineyard Church in Duluth.

There, Sundberg grew and exercised her design skills and began filling requests for wedding invitations and more from family and friends. She also worked at Red Mug in Superior, creating ads, a punch card, T-shirts and cup sleeves. This early work influenced the coffee house’s look, owner Susie Johnson said. “She’s hugely talented.”

A print from Jordan Sundberg’s series of work on seasons in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Sundberg’s design jobs grew, and four years ago, she began developing her business full time. She soon started creating what she saw in Duluth — scenes she’d hike, walk or drive by.

And she began collaborating.

Sundberg and Snooty Fox owner Elizabeth Spehar’s relationship dates back to before the tea shop opened three years ago. Their collaboration brought the business logo to life, Spehar said.

From there, the pair has collaborated on everything from the Snooty Fox website to the tea wheel that showcases more than 100 teas, which was no small feat, Spehar said.

“My favorite moment is when I look at my email box and see messages from her with files attached,” Spehar said. “She’s just a wizard.”

She describes Sundberg as good-natured, imaginative and clever with a great sense of humor — all qualities that come through in her work.

And this is evident in Sundberg’s pieces.

‘Kiddo with a tin cup’

On her Facebook page is a photo of a horse figurine looking at a pile of cards with the caption, “Every time you buy a piece of stationery from me, it has been kissed by a Dala horse.”

A holiday card with images of nutmeg, cinnamon and sprinkles reads, “Wishing you the finest in Christmas crack.” Her caption includes hashtags: “Just Say No to Drugs. I learned that from DARE. By crack, I mean sugar.”

“I love goofiness and whimsy,” Sundberg said. “That usually finds its way into my art, too.”

Being authentic is important, as is supporting positive projects, Sundberg said, because she aims to use art to create momentum in a good way.

Freelance illustrator Jordan Sundberg of Duluth and owner of Tin Cup Design Co. created this illustration of World’s Best Doughnuts in Grand Marais. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

One of her designs is berries blooming out of a tree stump with the words “Good and beautiful” beneath it. “Where life grows out of even the hard, dead stuff,” Sundberg wrote on her website.

Finding and exercising her style has been a process, and it’s a journey that’s still unfolding, she said. There were times she felt insecure and wanted to make her work fit what others might like. It was challenging at first to find her voice, and starting out, “I didn’t have freedom to create,” she said.

Her process typically starts with letting an idea marinate. Then comes the sketching, thinking through colors and lines. She’ll then take those sketches to the computer, where she adds more color, texture and shapes, and some scanned pieces, until it feels like it’s at a place that makes sense.

“Creativity is magical. It’s a gift that we get to create,” Sundberg said. It’s a sentiment she wears freely, and is also evident in her company’s name, Tin Cup Design. What started as a throwback to using cans to communicate turned into something bigger.

“One night, I had a dream that I was on the side of the road with a tin cup, and I was begging for ideas,” she said.

A series of greeting cards designed by Jordan Sundberg of Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Inspiration is so mysterious and elusive, and it can be a struggle sometimes, she said. Creativity is fire that needs a fireplace to keep it safe, contained and fed. To work through that, Sundberg forces herself to craft 10 concepts for a project. And then: “Gracious ideas drop into my head.”

Sundberg likens this to her faith. “I’m just this kiddo with a tin cup, like, ‘Thanks, that was a good one.’ ”

There’s a sweet weakness, humility and gratitude in it all, she said.

More information: tincupdesignco.com, etsy.com/shop/TinCupDesign

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