Cast of characters in the Theobroma Tree of Life

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Following are some details about the design elements in the Theobroma Tree of Life, an ode to the tree that gives us chocolate, and some of the many species with which is it interconnected in nature.

Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley: Theobroma Tree of Life

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Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley

Newton Paisley x Williams Sonoma

It has been my great privilege to work with Williams Sonoma, truly one of the best-loved brands in the USA. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. I grew up with their chocolate peppermint bark as the great treat of all treats.

My goal for this collaboration with Williams Sonoma was to depict the complex web of life surrounding the crop that gives us chocolate, Theobroma cacao. No species exists in isolation and the “food of the gods” is grown best in natural agroforestry systems, where diverse trees provide shade and fallen leaves create microhabitats, enabling a great multitude of species to thrive. 

The design celebrates the Cocoa & Forests Initiative which is all about this approach: agroforestry, environmental stewardship and the prevention of deforestation. Wiliiams Sonoma chocolate is affiliated with this wonderful work.

I spent so long researching and thinking about chocolate for this design. It was heaven! Especially when Williams Sonoma sent me some of the products to put me in the right mood for creation. To learn more about the species in the design check out this companion blog post.

I love to think of my illustrations of wild species existing beyond the confines of frames on walls, or the pages in books. I like them to be touched and felt and thought about. As a passionate lover of chocolate (and Williams Sonoma chocolate especially), I am delighted to be inviting people to wild and mindful chocolate feasting!

Newton Paisley x Fine Cell Work

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I had been an admirer of Fine Cell Work for many years, and it was the highlight of my first ever exhibition at Decorex, in 2016, when they approached me about designing some products for them. Fine Cell Work feels to me like the best of this industry – I love their ethos, how they form a community and change lives, and I was (and still am) star-struck about their fabulous designers. If you don’t know Fine Cell Work, they are a wonderful charity, founded 25 years ago, which works with prisoners and ex-prisoners. Through embroidery, they develop work skills, self-reliance, and they earn and save money so that when they leave prison, they are ready to set off on a good path.

I personally find that hand work, like knitting or embroidery, is very positive for my state of mind. Like Louisa May Alcott, I think busy hands are key for keeping your heart sweet and your head sane.

These first cushions I designed for FCW feature a beautifully embroidered ‘bouquet’ of ferns, in a gradient of luscious greens. (We took a lot of time to choose the greens for this project.) This fern is the Appalachian bog fern, Coryphopteris simulata, a rare, elegant fern found in the mountains of North America from my Carolina Tree of Life collection. It emits a sweet-smelling scent in its marshes of sphagnum moss, under the shade of cedar, spruce and larch. 


This project reminded me of the earliest days of my design career when I was a biologist, illustrating informally my field notes. Ferns and bracken were always great favourites for their gentle, repeating, almost fractal, forms. Such a meditative shape to dwell on and doodle. (Doodling is, of course, another form of hand work – keeping me sane on long sleepless nights of activity monitoring when I was studying bears.)

The experts at Fine Cell Work helped to translate my 2-D designs into 3-D embroidery – it was really interesting to get a glimpse into that process. In the end, the stitchers are using pretty complex stitches to bring out each intricate detail of the fern leaves. 

Appalachian mountain ferns
Ferns in the Appalachian mountains

I think a lot about what it means to be inside versus outside. I hope that the wildness of these ferns will bring happiness to the stitchers as well as the people who support Fine Cell Work by buying them. And I really look forward to developing more designs with Fine Cell Work in the future.

By the way, the cushions accompany my Carolina Tree of Life designs, both the Carolina Parakeets and Carolina Posies, available here in printed linen and wallpaper. You can purchase the embroidered cushions directly from Fine Cell Work.

Carolina Parakeet Forest Linen