Q&A: Behind the Designs with Illustrator Christina Moreland

Christina Moreland standing in front of a line of trees and looking into the camera.
Illustrator and brand designer Christina Moreland (Photo Credit: A Klass)

Is it possible to feel “seen” by looking at a cartoon character? Christina Moreland thinks so: The artist and brand designer creates playful, human-centered illustrations that are designed to offer representation across identities and expressions—a mission that’s aligned with REI Co-op’s core belief that the outdoors is for all. Moreland’s colorful and expressive illustrations have captured this spirit for both the Outside with Pride collection and the Cooperative Action Network by combining nostalgic cartoon shapes with a modern message of access, inclusion and in-it-togetherness.

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“I want people to see the romance and whimsy that surrounds us every day, like I do,” Moreland says about the illustrations, which feature a diverse cast of characters celebrating the outdoors and building community. “But I also want people to see me for my humanity.”

The designs seem simple, but they speak volumes about the many deeply held values the artist shares with the co-op. “I want people to see that there is a lot of power and strength in self-love and pouring your heart out,” Moreland continues. “I want someone to look at what I do and think, ‘I can be or do that too.’”

We asked Moreland about finding joy outdoors growing up in Germany and Texas before moving to California as an adult, and about the process that goes in–to creating the characters that bring such personality to these key co-op messages.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Illustration of a person watching a colorful sunset from the top of a hill.

Christina, how do you personally like to get outside?

I love being outside so much; I take every opportunity I can get to spend a few hours outdoors most days. Spending time outside is a chance for me to slow down and detach from my work, to reconnect and check in with myself, engage with nature and smile at trees, and bond with the people closest to me without as many distractions from the modern world.

Getting outside is my remedy for every problem and my reward for every triumph. If I feel burnt out from work, I’ll likely go hike up a canyon or hill somewhere to sit and listen. If I feel inspired, I’ll pinpoint a place on a map, grab my sketchbook, and just go. If I feel heartbroken and lonely, I might seek out beaches or sunsets or vast open fields.

Is getting outside for you more focused on pushing toward a goal, or is it more about fun?

For me, spending time outdoors is both fun and serious. I have fun waking up early in the morning and taking my pup to hike some California hillside, and I have fun exploring the world with my people. It is also a serious endeavor for me in the sense that I take my relationship with the earth very seriously. As in, I try to be aware of the impact I have on my surroundings, and I try to show gratitude for the impact nature has on me. I believe we—humans, plants, animals—are all connected, and their health is our health, is my health. I believe we have a duty to honor our planet.

That being said, one big source of my happiness and play has always come from being outside.

What’s the most fun you remember having outside?

I have incredibly vivid recollections from my childhood and a lot of my favorite core memories involve being outside. For example, one day when I was really little, I snuck out of my “omi”’s [grandma in German] house and explored the neighboring alleyway and wall of tall trees and bushes. I climbed and peeked around until I discovered an enormous bush covered in clusters of small bright red berries. I made sure no one was looking and sneakily grabbed a handful and shoved them in my mouth. I didn’t know it at the time but to my delight I had just discovered my neighbor’s blooming cranberry bush. I grabbed two more handfuls and ran back to my grandparent’s house, where I showcased and shared my amazing discovery.

That childlike sense of wonder and curiosity for nature still lives deeply within me today and I think it’s blessed me with incredible experiences and an innate desire to explore the outside.

Where have been some of your favorite places to be in nature or outdoors? Where has it been the hardest to find space or time outside?

Growing up in a little town in southern Germany provided a romantic and whimsical backdrop for my childhood. I have too many favorite places and moments from that time in my life, from evening strolls with my uncle through old castle ruins and dense forests to skipping over cobblestone streets buried under thick snow. Everything was just kind of beautiful.

After moving to Texas, it was a lot harder to feel as connected to the outdoors. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by man-made lakes and outdoor malls and highways. However, Texas is enormous, with some beautiful parts too.

A few of my other favorite moments outdoors have been my hike through the lush countryside of Viñales, Cuba; the first time I snowboarded down a mountain in New Mexico; and my drive across the American southwest with my little brother. I recently made the big move out to California for the people and art here, but mostly for the proximity to beaches, a never-ending coastline, the mountains, the desert and rolling hills of grass, trees and farmland.

Ever since moving to the U.S., finding time to explore nature or rest or stroll through forests and parks seemed less readily available. Hustle culture is prioritized here and so much of our nature has been destroyed, exploited, commodified and commercialized, making it increasingly inaccessible, so I also think finding the availability and space to reconnect with the outdoors is a luxury.

Illustration of a person standing outside, pointing toward some birds in the sky.

Tell us a little about your illustrations for the co-op. How did you find inspiration for them and, more generally, for a particular set of characters or images for a client?

Nowadays, I’m getting hired specifically for my style of work and character illustrations. That gives me a lot of creative freedom and confidence, in that I can start a project knowing that I am being trusted to create something of value for my client—all of which now allows me to address and focus on the most important goal-slash-question for me in all of the work I create: Am I staying true to myself?

While I create work for and in collaboration with others, be it for a campaign or apparel or a specific person, what matters to me is that I am honoring my story. I grew up to love cartoons, animated films, and storytelling. As a kid, I’d watch in awe as my father would draw bold, ’80s anime–style characters and paint in watercolor. I am a Black, queer artist, but I am also just a human being looking to feel understood and make sense of the world. I put all of that into my work, every single time. No matter who I work for or what the project is, my work is an opportunity to share my story and an attempt to connect with others.

What does your typical workday look like?

My workflow varies so much day-to-day. Typically, I find myself most productive early mornings or incredibly late at night. One day I will shower and eat breakfast, read or walk outside, then start working; the very next day I will immediately start working and skip breakfast entirely. I’ll stay inside all day and one day I’ll work at a park or shop. I’ll be working on five different projects at once and one dayI’ll devote myself exclusively to one drawing. One day I won’t feel like working at all and I never feel guilty about.

I think I thrive in a bit of organized chaos and kind of let my mood/emotions drive most of my work hours. I don’t believe in centering my life around work—even if it’s something that I love to do. Art is my entire life, but I think the reason I have so much passion and stamina for it is because I treasure the moments in-between, too, and use them for inspiration. Moments with friends, lovers, family. Moments away from my desk, computer, or phone.

What does “Outside with Pride” mean to you?

To be queer outdoors and to queer the outdoors means to defy. There is inherent defiance in everything that we do as queer people because no system that exists today was initially built to include us, especially as Black and brown queer people. We defy simply by normalizing our leisure, our hikes through the woods, our vacations and travels, our first-time experiences, our picnics in parks, our intimate dinners with friends in backyards. I think “outside with pride” means defying, by just being and showing up.

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