By Nicole, Konkin, WPICC, CWD of Sugar Plum Events
Do you know what’s tough? Writer’s block. You know what really tough? Designers block.
You know what’s tormenting? Being a designer who pulls inspiration by travelling and having the world slap a “Do Not Disturb” sign on all your fun.
We’re locked in, but that doesn’t mean our design inspo has to be on lockdown.
On March 12, 2020, I quickly realized that if I was to wallow for too long about my cancelled vacation plans and destination weddings, I was going to wither up and creatively die. I needed to make some changes.
For me, design inspiration come from traveling. When I vacation, it never has revolved around an all-inclusive beach side resort with a bottomless pit of basic Canadian bites and bevs. For me, vacationing means being immersed into the culture of a new country. I stay in hostels, hitch-hike, volunteer with locals, eat at “hole-in-the-wall” diners, stop whenever I see street food and to be honest- if someone on the bus wants to sell me a random bag of fine dining home cuisine for a nickel, I’m all in. Am I worried about my safety? Meh. I worry more about not experiencing true culture in a new country and letting opportunities to grow pass me by.
Travel for me is about learning, growing, understanding and indulging is whatever the new turf has to offer. In this space- I am inspired.
Was it disappointing to cancel all of our plans and destination weddings? Yes, and I gladly sat these out because being involved in a pandemic was bad enough; diving deeper into that was not my cup of tea. So I straightened my crown and fired up the tea kettle.
Here’s what I did next:
1. I researched the nooks and crannies of my province, then jumped in the car.
I packed my 2-year-old up and we spent nearly every weekday in the car- off to some other adventure. This kept her outside and active, and it kept me sane and refreshed for when I returned to my office for my new 5-3 am pandemic office hours.
We visited homesteads, old churches, old schools, first nations, the forest, the mountains, little ice cream shops, splash pads, any event we could- every event we could, campsites, trails and beaches- so many beaches.
In doing this, a number of things happened. My mindset shifted, I was happier, healthier, living in the moment and focused. I was enjoying quality time with my daughter that I would never get back, laughing more, thinking less. Above all else, I was inspired.
The elements around me, the stories to learn, the history behind every sky-scraping tree, smooth beach pebble and railway track laid… this grounded me and helped me focus on fine details rather than the big issues. This time to pause taught me to connect better and understand deeper. It turns out, it was the perfect foundation for the design space that I needed.
2. I watched all the movies I never “had time” to watch before
I’m telling you, Crazy Rich Asians changed my life! I pride myself on calling myself out on my own crap, I have to admit that hearing over and over again that my ideas were “too big” for Alberta, “too big” for Canada really had me thinking that I had no business claiming my dreams to be known an International Wedding Producer. Then I watched this movie and it rocked my world. That wedding scene is EXACTLY who I am and what’s in my head. I AM a Wedding PRODUCER. Watching this movie lit an inferno as you’ve never seen and now- not only did my Pandora design box crack right open; I realized that some of what people said maybe right- my ideas ARE too big for some of the spaces I occupy. So why was my mind not packing up my big ideas and moving into International space?!
Three days later, the Universe gave me a High 5.
An East Coast American family contacted me with an audacious design idea. They were given my information by a celebrity client of mine who told them I “wouldn’t bat an eye” and to give me a call. The universe was aligning and the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians” was the eye-opener I needed to refocus on my own audacious goals.
3. I picked up my old albums and revisited my adventures
From being abandoned in the Amazon jungle for 10 days (that’s a blog for another day) to have the rock I slept on in Peru on my trek up to Machu Picchu struck by lightning; I lived a whole other life looking through those albums. We travelled, took the photos and added our new friends to Facebook along the way.. but somehow, the fine details of these images now stood out louder than the experiences in them.
The colours, the smiles, the businesses, the people in the background, the children, the animals and the hustle behind the focal point- all of a sudden these fine details screamed a whole different version of our travels and experiences that we had so quickly moved beyond.
I caught a piranha in the Amazon.. in a riverboat made from one single log which was almost tipped over by a curious (not so friendly) crocodile. That same afternoon, a razorfish landed in our tree trunk boat and tried to eat whatever was in its way and my toes were the first thing bothering it. I saw pink dolphins swim by while we tried to get back into that boat we were just swearing about. These were the memories blocking the rest of the story…
Our boat was made by an 8-year-old Aguaruna boy who spent the evenings jumping off trees into that same amazon river without fear. A piranha is almost impossible to catch and the family I gave it to thought I was the most intriguing outsider they have ever met. The shaman’s ointment that I was given to use on the open cut that I had gotten from the tree trunk boat tipping earlier was from the same spot where the tree was cut to build that boat. When we were (literally) stranded by a faulty canoe and then found in the jungle after 10 days alone, our saddest goodbye to date was with the most unlikely friend- an orphaned baby capybara (which was the size of a medium pig).
In reliving these travels, I learned a deeper appreciation for storytelling and how design plays a much more significant role in producing than the wow factor of the final design. Understanding the story, what led to these experiences and designing meticulously to honour that story, elevated my design game more than any amount of master’s degrees ever could. And I found a new, rewarding outlook on the design process.
4. I planned new adventures
Googling and planning out where I would go to next “if _____” lead me down the most unexpected adventure and surprisingly, felt much more immersive than you’d think! My imagination ran wild as I learned and dove in deeper. A lesson to take into subsequent years- whether I can travel or not- is to just be curious.
5. I watched Disney
I watched Moana initially to try and show my 2-year old that there was life outside of Paw Patrol. It was probably the 8th time watching it when I realized that this kids movie was actually shaping a design plan I had for a couple whose wedding was shifting from destination to local.
We had fused their cultures, reimagined their design, created experiences for those in person and those who couldn’t travel (by creating Bliss Boxes for them so they could experience right along with us) and we were structuring their wedding as a production rather than a typical wedding. Some told me along the way, “wow- this is elaborate” in an almost derogatory tone. The production plan felt right so we ignored the comments and chalked it up to their own issues with not leaving the comfort of the traditional box.
It didn’t dawn on me though until I watched Moana THIS time, that the colour palette and experience we were creating was an immersive island experience right out of this Disney film. For this couple who so passionately wanted to marry at the destination where they met, we were able to give their dreams back to them on a pig roast platter.
We designed with the Disney mentality of “yes and..” – then before we knew it, we were able to create a remarkable design and production for the couple and their 25 closest friends and family. The most rewarding part was that regardless of Covid, we didn’t need to compromise the integrity of their love story. So, I may have watched the Disney Channel and escaped the Paw Patrol, but I choose to say it was serendipitous.
Nicole Konkin proudly holds her certifications as WPICC and CWD and is the Founder + Wedding Producer of Sugar Plum Events in Edmonton, Alberta. Nicole relentlessly supports her community and it lights her fire to connect industry professionals together to achieve their audacious goals. After all- someone is going to achieve it, why the heck can’t it be you!? As a Wedding Producer, her passion is storytelling production. From set designs, curated experiences to multiday celebrations all the way down to the fine details and impeccably placed flatware; wedding production is where her heart has been at since she was 5 years old in small-town Saskatchewan.