Colors, shapes, an organic feel—Vaughan Nelson’s work attracts the eye through its vibrant hues and variations of patterns. His work becomes even more intriguing when you discover the inspiration behind his pieces. I don’t know about you, but when I first saw Vaughan Nelson’s work, I asked, “Why the dots?”

As my conversation with Vaughan began, he explained that his signature dot patterns and bright colors are inspired by folk artists around the world, such as the Australian Aboriginals with their papunya tula (dot paintings), and Oaxacan’s alebrijes, the brightly colored sculptures of fantasized creatures.

“There is a very authentic feel to creating free-flowing patterns rather than controlling the patterns that are drawn out,” says Vaughan. This is one of the reasons why all of his pieces are unique in their own way.

With Vaughan’s dot pattern being so prevalent in all his designs, I asked him how he has the patience to draw each and every dot. He laughs, and reveals that it’s the only thing he has the patience for, since he generally does not consider himself a patient person. When he is working on his dot patterns, there is no plan or special structure; he just goes with the flow.

Vaughan Nelson at work in his studio.

Architectural Influence

Vaughan explains how different art movements have influenced his craft, including Art Deco, with its emphasis on angular lines, squares, and bold, mechanized patterns, as well as Art Nouveau, which brought life back into art with the use of animals, florals, and organic forms. Vaughan is also influenced by the Memphis Group, the movement lead by Ettore Sottsass, which involved lots of bright colors, asymmetrical shapes, and exploring uncommon patterns.

Vaughan Nelson’s Memphis Container is a homage to the Memphis Group.


“Carlton” Room Divider designed by Ettore Sottsass (image courtesy of Met Museum)

Influenced by Nature

Vaughan Nelson draws inspiration from nature for some of his designs. Now, you may see his work and wonder how this could be. I asked him to explain how we can see nature’s influence in his work. Vaughan begins to call out specific pieces and breaks down the design elements.

First there’s the Urchin containers, bowls, and teapot. Vaughan loves to snorkel and draws inspiration from what he discovers out at sea, such as sea urchins. He tries to replicate what he observes in nature through his art.

Catalina Urchin Container and Urchin Teapot


Vaughan continues to explain some of his other designs, including the optix pattern. “Think of the dot as the pebble and the rings around it as the ripple effect,” he says.

Bold Quad Optix Bio Bowl and Black Optix Box


More Patterns

Topographic maps, which show the elevation of the land, influenced his Blackline patterns. This design, he recalls, took him back to middle school when learning about topography.

Blackline Box and Blackline Mug


The Squiggle design came about after one of Vaughan’s trips to Turkey. On his trip, he visited one of the mosques and noticed the Arabic writing that adorned the interior walls. As someone who does not read or understand the Arabic language, Vaughan found the writing to be a beautiful pattern. From there, he took the pattern he observed and admired to create his squiggle design on many of his boxes, mugs, and bowls.

Squiggle Box and White Squiggle Mug


Another notable design you see in Vaughan Nelson’s work are the puzzles. Vaughan’s father was a big fan of puzzles and pieced them together as a source of relaxation. All the pieces with the puzzle pattern are an homage to his father.

Puzzle Mug and Primary Puzzle Teapot


Vaughan has a special talent for creating pieces with an incredibly organic feel as well as a certain type of precision. However, Vaughan admits he threw perfection out the window, and once he did, he was able to freely express his designs and it became a natural flow—that organic feel we’re drawn to.

Vaughan Nelson working on the lid for a box.

“I was never supposed to be a ceramicist,” Vaughan explains. When he was in school, he needed an art elective class and there was an intro to ceramics. He was not excited about it, since he didn’t like his hands to be dirty. At first, he went to the class dreading it, but he soon fell in love with clay and had the guidance of a fabulous teacher.  Vaughan goes on to say, “Ceramics is a rewarding medium to work in.”

In the words of Vaughan Nelsons, “You must let go of being perfect and just create, and you must work with your strengths.” Vaughan knows he has a strength in color combinations and patterns, so he uses that to his advantage to create his remarkable works of art.