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SHEER FUN: Courtney Rivenbark takes life less seriously with her creations

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Spermie Cherry Swimsuit and bandana, made by Coco Clem, is one of many prints on display for Courtney Rivenbark’s opening reception on Wednesday, August 14, at Waterline. Photo by Tory Silinksi with model Deanna-Gabrielle


Clementines are Courtney Rivenbark’s fave food. In fact, at one point in her life, she admits to eating so many of them, her hands turned orange from the beta carotene. Today, the color stands out among her favorite, especially when paired with hot pink.

“I love how they vibrate together when placed side by side,” Rivenbark says. The 25-year-old’s love for the fruit and her nickname, “Coco,” inspired her quirky brand Coco Clem on Etsy. Rivenbark sells hand-made designs of fabrics, some even made into cool items, like a bathing suit featuring a mushroom garden or a pillowcase with a snail trail on it.

Her love for illustration began when an old manager and coworker, Amy McMahon, commissioned a piece featuring her dog, Banana. “I drew him on a bike and made the background filled with bananas and banana leaves,” Rivenbark says. “I was shocked at how potent a repeat pattern could be, so I was like, ‘I need to draw more.’”

And so she did. The support she received encouraged more work, more passion, more creativity and ideas. She began interning with Justin Mitchener at Brand Engine, where she learned how to transform her drawings into digital works of art. “What I’m doing is a combination of what everyone has so selflessly taught me and it blows my mind,” Rivenbark says excitedly.

Currently attending UNCW’s fine arts program, Rivenbark will open her show “Chroma” on August 14, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at Waterline. We interviewed her about the show and her passion.

DADDY’S VIENNA SAUSAGE: Courtney Rivenbark plays tongue and cheek with her fabric art, now on display at Waterline Brewing Company. Courtesy photo

encore (e): Tell me about “Chroma”—the inspiration behind its name, how many pieces, sizes, prices, etc.

Courtney Rivenbark (CR): Visually, the space will be represented with 21 framed 18-inches-by-24-inches brightly colored and patterned original illustrations. Each piece is a limited edition of 50 and $84.

The inspiration behind the name is based on its definition: purity of a hue. With each illustration, I use color to organize and create an emotional tone. Most of my pieces in “Chroma” are purely saturated colors. I explored matching the overtones in each color pairing to also retain higher levels of saturation. This would be what I am referring to by intense color relationships: observing how color interacts and what role it plays when combined. As a whole, each piece in “Chroma” creates a static illusion of space, forcing the viewers eyes to move back and forth versus inward, creating flatness.

e: How did you get involved in illustrating fabrics?

CR: This collection began as a personal project in April of 2018 where I drew a pattern everyday, aspiring to create a series of 100 illustrations. With this project I wanted to practice allowing myself to draw freely and without judgement—no planning, researching or conceptualizing beforehand, like when I draw people. Though I quit my 100-day challenge on day 15 (laughs), I saw so much potential in this mini series, and knew I wanted to wear clothes with these ridiculous and funny patterns.

So I researched how to print the designs onto fabric, and if this could be a sustainable endeavor (making sure there were no harmful inks, no water used in the printing process, how they recycle, etc). When I realized it could be a realistic pursuit, I reached out to Lauren Lassiter to see if she would be interested in sewing my designs because she’s a phenomenal seamstress and I admire her values as a person. Collaborating with Lauren has allowed me to keep this project entirely local, made to order, and not manufactured, limiting our waste.

I met Lauren when I was 20 and interning at Castles Couture in 2014! Caroline and Lauren actually taught me how to cut fabric and sew.

e: Will you take me through the process of creating one from start to finish?

CR: My process begins by trying to make myself laugh and make sense of two seemingly different things: swans and tampons, Vienna sausages and used condoms, hearts and farts. I hand-draw the design, scan it, color it digitally, and turn it into a repeat pattern. Next, I decide what I would want to wear with the fabric.

I just finished designing a classic scoop neck bralette swimsuit with high-waisted bottoms in the Strawb print. I draw out a sample of each design and discuss details with Lauren, and she makes each pattern from scratch. I order a swatch of the fabric to make sure the design is crisp. If all is good, I’ll order more fabric.

If someone wanted to order this swimsuit, they would come to my studio where I’ll take their measurements, pass them onto Lauren, and she would sculpt each piece specifically for them.

I also keep a journal of ways I want to release each new design into the world, to do so mindfully and with as much charisma as the designs itself.

I also absolutely adore collaborating with my other good friends: Tory Silinksi and Sarah Royal, both photographers, as well as Deanna-Gabrielle, Azalea Scott and Jessica Farmer, who have all modeled for Coco Clem!

e: How do you imagine your fabrics being used? What vibe would you say you’re trying to put out into the world with them?

CR: The vibe I feel deeply for Coco Clem is to find the humor in everything. Life is funner when I embrace absurdity, so I try not to take things seriously or personally, and I encourage others to do the same. I want everything to feel like a giant inside joke with friends. By wearing Coco Clem, the joke is literally on you.

e: How else do you hope folks connect with your art?

CR: The practice of filling a space with repeat patterns symbolizes the various levels of repetitive thoughts we all experience. Some repetitive thoughts are intrinsically helpful (reminiscing, planning  and emotional processing), while others have adverse effects on mental health (worry, stress, and rumination). “Chroma” has the potential to remind the viewer to experience and connect with themselves outside of a chronic pattern, regardless of which repetitive thought finds them.

e: What’s next for you as an artist? Any more shows this year or new collections and collaborations?

CR: In the future, I see many hotties with different types of bodies wearing Coco Clem. I also am working on advancing my sewing skills to be more a part of the production process. I’m currently collaborating with Tory Silinksi to make a promo video to create a Patreon (an online membership platform so artists and creators get paid to create) to get more funding for the project.

Fabric art and illustrations by Courtney Rivenbark, a.k.a. Coco Clem
Opening reception: Aug. 14, 6 p.m.
Waterline Brewing Co., 721 Surry St.

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