Designing A Better World

The artful designs of Chantell Marlow are a powerful force for healing and quiet encouragement.

by Mae Gilliland Wright
The Be Series by Chantell Marlow
Chantell Marlow is a Midwest-based designer and illustrator with an affinity for all things floral.

Chantell Marlow is an artist, designer and adjunct professor at Bradley University. She is a mother, a deeply spiritual person and an advocate for Peoria’s strengths. She also has a keen understanding of how art moves, motivates and molds us as humans. Her work presents warm colors, floral patterns and encouraging messages—elements that create a sense of calm. 

Art has a unique power to do this. We know from countless studies that art is a healing force. It heals past trauma, reduces stress and depression, and increases self-esteem and quality of life. It helps us understand others and cultivates a nuanced and healthier sense of self. Marlow’s work does all of these things in a powerful, life-changing way… one moment and person at a time.

Creating with Intention
Marlow grew up in Pensacola, Florida. “Born and raised,” she offers with a smile. She always knew she wanted to do something creative with her career, but struggled in deciding between graphic design and fine art. “I ended up focusing on graphic design because I really liked the human element—the intentionality,” she explains. “Art is very subjective… You’re putting [it] out there and people can look at it and take what they want from it.”

In other words, graphic design offered the opportunity to work with a clearly-defined end goal. “Design in general… is focused on people. There is a right and a wrong way to do it,” she says. “You’re trying to get people to do or to think. That really resonated with me.”

Chantell MarlowShe pursued her degree in graphic design at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. “I had four separate minors—advertising, art history… I really don’t remember at this point, but I was very busy,” Marlow recalls with a chuckle. She was also able to spend time in Italy, where she expanded her design knowledge to encompass sewing, fashion, printmaking, and eventually, interior design. In the end, she felt that digital art allowed her to have the greatest impact in all of these areas. “I can create patterns, websites… anything. It’s just another way of approaching art with a design mentality.”

Because design is people-focused and goal-oriented, there is always an element of communication to it. With interior design, for example, physical spaces are set up to evoke certain emotions. “A sense of tranquility when you walk into a doctor’s office, or a sense of professionalism when you walk into a law firm,” she offers. “There is a lot of intersection between art design and graphic design, interior design and urban design, which I’m also really interested in. Anything that is focusing on people, how people exist in the world, and how people feel in the world.” 

When creating on behalf of a client, it always comes down to their brand and what they are trying to communicate. “Their business is their baby,” Marlow suggests. “They have all this excitement and hope and dreams. My job as the designer is to help communicate that to the client.”

Her personal art, however, is another story. She focuses a lot on florals, and her faith plays a significant role as well. “I struggle with anxiety a lot. In scripture, there’s this part that talks about how the flowers are gorgeous… dressed beautifully. And they don’t have to worry about the clothes they’re wearing or the food they’re going to get, they just exist—therefore, they will be taken care of,” she notes, referencing a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. 

Scrolling through Marlow’s Instagram account (which has nearly 14,500 followers), floral images and inspirational messages fill the screen. In the digital world, where space is cluttered and sometimes stressful, her work is a breath of fresh air. “Dropping a little bit of positivity, a little bit of floral work, a little bit of sunshine here or there… just doing what I can to bring a little bit of light into the world,” she declares. Unsurprisingly, her color palette is warm and inviting. “I want people to feel comfortable and loved, know that they matter, and that it’s okay to be different… or it’s okay to not feel good.” 

Best of Both Worlds
One of Marlow’s most popular designs features the word “breathe,” an appeal for inner peace. “A lot of my artwork are messages or reminders to myself that someone else may also need to hear,” she says. Even as she acknowledges the struggles she faces in everyday life, she hopes she does so in a way that is helpful to others. As it turns out, these messages have resonated with many others—and revealed new creative avenues to explore. 

Chantell Marlow BreatheMarlow’s designs of calm, quiet encouragement have inspired people both locally and nationally. Her patterns are easily reproduced and can be seen on a variety of materials—from website backdrops and art prints, to curtains and children’s clothing. She recently teamed up with Winter Water Factory, a Brooklyn-based company which specializes in beautiful, organic, screen-printed textiles. “It’s really cool to create products that people can interact with and wear,” she adds.

She also began working with Reagan Leslie of Leslie Tyler Design, a Peoria-based interior design firm which preserves historic craftsmanship while implementing their clients’ unique aesthetics. Marlow was contracted to work on the company’s branding, and the two immediately hit it off. “We both bonded over a love for this area—for Peoria, for the historic homes, for the family-friendly elements and the west side of Peoria.”

Leslie regularly purchases Marlow’s work for her clients, and they often work together on specific projects, with Marlow creating designs that suits her specific objectives. “This is where, in my brain, art and design are together, but they are also compartmentalized. In the graphic design part of my business, I am working with small business owners like Reagan or Francie from Simply Integrated,” she says, referencing Francie Hinrichsen’s digital marketing firm.

While a lot of the work she does is behind the scenes—such as branding, packaging or web design—she finds it just as rewarding as her consumer-facing work. The key for her is balance. “You can be an artist and designer, or you might be just a designer—they each have their own unique qualities about them,” she says. “I love both.”

Love for Community
When Marlow considers the future of her work, a million ideas come spilling out. “I’m someone who has another idea for a new business every month. I want to have a bagel shop; I want to open a kid-friendly café on West Main… you name it. I literally have a list of things I want to do!” she smiles. “I know I’ll get to many of them at some point.”

Chantell MarlowIn addition to running her design business, Marlow currently sits on the board of the Peoria Guild of Black Artists. In the spring of 2022, she will be a featured artist with a major retailer. “I can’t speak specifically, but I’m very excited about it,” she adds with a grin. Beyond that, she hopes to grow her product offerings and create a more holistic brand around it, while continuing her work with local businesses. 

As a proud transplant living in the Moss-Bradley neighborhood, Marlow is grateful that she and her husband chose Peoria to be their home. “Peoria is very, very diverse—and has its issues—but there are so many people who truly care and are actively trying to make a difference every day,” she notes. “It’s exciting to have my kids grow up seeing powerful, active people trying to make this place a better city. I plan to continue to make Peoria a place my kids are proud to call home.”

As Marlow reflects on her work and motivations, she comes back to one thing. “I love people,” she says without hesitation. “I can be an artist on my own, but without other people, I could not be a designer. I love that I’m intentionally both, and I like how they intersect. 

“That’s why I love people,” she adds. “I can’t change the world, but I can make someone’s day a little bit better in one way or another. And design is just one way of doing that.” Check out her work at chantellmarlow.com or follow her on Instagram @chantellmarlow. PM

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