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[whitespace] Trudi Eldridge
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Package Deal: Santa Cruz artist Trudi Eldridge turns her designs into colorful adornment for gifts of all sizes.

It's a Wrap

Local artist Trudi Eldridge masters the fine art of wrapping paper design

By Mary Spicuzza

'That would make a great wrapping paper." As the words fall from my mouth, I quickly realize that plenty of painters wouldn't appreciate my Martha Stewart-inspired observations while touring the fine art filling their studio. But down-to-earth local artist Trudi Eldridge couldn't be happier. With one of her creations being printed as a new wrapping paper design as we speak, Eldridge is now eyeing her other works for paper patterns and gift-card ideas.

"Hey, I'm not proud," Eldridge says with a smile. "The more good design out there, the better."

Eldridge calls a few days later to explain her take on the choice between sticking with fine art or going for mass-produced appeal.

"Artists are often put in this double bind," Eldridge says. "If you make something for the masses, you've sold out. If you make something one of a kind that only someone wealthy can afford, you're elitist."

Eldridge's home shows that the laid-back artist refuses to believe it's a necessary choice. She avoids stark black-and-white designs, instead filling every corner with rich hues ranging from amber leaves to purple figs. But Eldridge's workspace has a distinct holiday feel, thanks to "Winter Flurry," her wrapping paper debut. San Francisco-based Schurman Fine Papers chose her snowy pattern of redwood branches flecked with gold and ruby-red berries last year, and rolls of Eldridge's functional art will be available in plenty of time for the festive months ahead. Preliminary designs for the new paper cover her workspace, along with screens and paint-coated leaves.

"I grew up in Nebraska, where you never went into nature," Eldridge says, reminiscing about miles of flat farmland. "The only nature that you saw was leaves."

Many of her paintings now incorporate spiraling layers of leaves. And Eldridge used redwood branches in her "Winter Flurry" design. Her smile as she demonstrates painting layer after layer of blizzard-covered branches also shows an almost addictive love of a process that would surely try the patience of a lesser woman.

IT'S A PATIENCE that saw her through four years of roller-coaster rides through the wrapping paper world. Back in 1994 Eldridge first submitted a PR package to the company. She stocked her presentation with 10 small boxes, gift bags, tags and slides as well as a résumé and cover letter. Her display and designs met rave reviews, but the company think-tank determined that her work didn't fit with their theme at the time.

Eldridge says she didn't really take Schurman Fine's vow to keep her designs for "future reference" seriously until she got a call two years later. A company representative cheerily explained that there was renewed interest in her work. Then they chose someone else's design once again.

In 1998, when Eldridge got yet another call from a Schurman representative, she confessed she'd become pretty jaded about the gift-wrap world.

"Right. I've heard that before. Are you really interested this time?" she remembers replying to the voice on the other line. But after being convinced to resubmit the package, Eldridge found out her design was picked within weeks of the call.

Now Eldridge basks in the snowy glow of her wrap, which dots her studio. It decorates a gift-wrapped box and hangs down her wall, creating a kind of winter wonderland atmosphere--but one so tasteful I actually look forward to hearing Christmas carols. And the pattern even boasts her name, which runs down the borders in festive gold print.

While Eldridge is busy working on new designs for papers and cards, she's hardly letting herself get consumed by the mass-marketing world. Eldridge still plans to create one-of-a-kind paintings and participate in Open Studios, as she's done for years. She's also working on new designs inspired by geometric and mathematical principles.

Eldridge wasn't a math major, but her works of figs, sunflowers and fruits show an impressive respect for formulas and function. Her new creations include "elegant graffiti," incorporating writings and poems into fine art, as well as silk screens, now showing as part of a group exhibit at Cabrillo College. Yet Eldridge insists that she doesn't see a clear distinction between fine art and gift-wrap genres--a distinction that may send many a sensitive artist spiraling into existential angst.

"Each artist has to answer that question for themselves," Eldridge says. "I just don't see it as a necessary bind."

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From the November 17-24, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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