A Higher Altitude

Drawing inspiration from the views out of airplane windows.

I don’t enjoy flying and not for the reasons most people dislike it, such as rising ticket prices, long lines, security scans, and cramped seats. For me the sound of roaring engines, sitting in a tight space, and turbulence at 30,000 feet are what make my palms sweat. Despite my nervousness, however, I refuse to allow flying to stop me from going places and seeing the world. A number of years ago when I traveled frequently back and forth to my hometown, I became accustomed to sitting in a window seat. During those flights, I would gaze out over the country to help pass the time — this calmed my fears. Today I have a love-hate relationship with flying, now that I know Mother Nature and the man-made world are spectacular at great heights.

A river winds along the south coast of Massachusetts.

Over the years, I’ve seen lightning between the clouds, holiday lights twinkling below, a sunrise over the Atlantic, and skyscrapers from the top down. While other air travelers may not think this is exciting, for me, with my passion for art and design, the view from high altitudes is exquisite and inspiring. Now every time I fly I take my digital camera to record the magnificent views and I save them in a folder called, ‘My Fear of Flying.’

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The sun setting between layers of clouds

My most recent trip took me from the East Coast to Denver, flying over a massive display of circular patterns on Midwest farms. Later I learned that the patterns are created by center-pivot irrigation systems. On my return flight, on a crystal clear day over the northern part of the U.S., it seemed as if the flight crew was giving a tour of the lakes from Lake Michigan all the way to the Finger Lakes of New York. The map in the airline magazine helped me distinguish which was which.




Sunset in the sky Center-pivot irrigation patterns in the Midwest

Of the 1.7 million daily air travelers, I wonder how many take time to admire the view from above. Flying is not an opportunity everyone can experience, and I consider myself fortunate that I am one who does. Rather than dreading flying, now I look forward to the art and inspiration I’ll encounter in the air. Since I began taking pictures, I’ve come to appreciate the Earth’s art. Like children who look up at the sky and find images in the clouds, I take time to admire these same elements. The colors, patterns, and light have made an impact on my life and design perspective; they inspire me to incorporate elements of the outdoors and Earth’s beauty into my everyday world. I look forward to creating a sizeable collection of images that inspire me. The regular texture of some cloud formations, for example, remind me of thickly stitched wool, and the bold colors of the sunset inspire new schemes for a room palette. The patterns created by rows of houses, cornfields, and highways encourage me to consider adding different patterns to seating or identifying spaces where patterns could make a statement. The Earth and its environment can provide unparallel inspiration to designers. I encourage you to take a second look at your surroundings, including what you see while up in the air.

Amy Warren, IIDA, is a regional design specialist at Kimball Office.

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