Today we are delighted to bring you an interview with talented Brooklyn-based designer Lotta Jansdotter, a self-taught pattern and print maker whose designs can be found on everything from mugs and rugs, to prints and wallpaper to clothes and baby carriers.
I met Lotta back in April when I took her workshop at the Sweet Paul Makerie retreat, Philadelphia. I had so much fun playing with colour and design, creating simple mood boards, stencilling, and completing my own fabric project. As we chatted I learned that Lotta was born in 1971 on Åland, a small group of islands in archipelago between Sweden and Finland, which explains why her aesthetic is so deeply rooted in nature and the landscape.
I was also impressed by her pragmatic and self-sufficient approach to design: Can’t find what you want? Make it? Don’t know how? Learn! Lotta takes the basic craft skills she learned as a child, such as potato printmaking and sewing, and reworks them into sophisticated tools and techniques. Her designs may be steeped in artisan traditions and DIY but the homespun aspect ends there. Her look is sleek and urban and her products are practical and functional – created to suit busy city life. ~ Rachel
PS If this inspires you to explore possibilities for your own designs, you might be interested in a free five-part video series on Designing for Home Decor from our sister site MakeArtThatSells.com (starts Jun 8 – register here now to get the videos into your inbox)
1. How are you doing what you love?
I love to make things with my hands; touch the paper, get India ink under my nails, or the clay or the fabric. I love the tactile feeling of materials; that hand-eye-brain connection that is very important for me. I especially enjoy making things together with my friends and family.
I love to travel too, so I do a lot of that. I hope to go to Turkey, London and Ghana within this next year. And I also love, love, love to dance – that’s something I always try to find time for.
2. When and how did you find your creative niche?
A long time ago – around 20 years ago. I started Lotta Jansdotter in San Francisco. After experimenting with various art classes I established myself as a screen printer and designer and I opened a studio and storefront in Nob Hill. At that time I didn’t see many hand printed, simple, modern Scandinavian textile items on the market place in the USA: no pillows, napkins runners, or anything like that. I started making these kinds of things and I filled that “void”. My design style at the time was unique in the market – clean, simple and natural. In 2007, I relocated to the east coast and settled in Brooklyn where I opened my current studio in the vibrant, creative neighbourhood of Boerum Hill.
3. How would you describe your style?
Clean, simple, natural, calm, happy. Over time my style has evolved a little in terms of the colours I use, the scale, the focus, etc, but in the core it is always clean, simple and natural. Most of my designs relate to each other in some way. You can see that the designs I created 20 years ago are still relevant and can “hang” out with the designs I create today.
4. You grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm. How has your childhood, where you were able to, inspired your life and your work?
All my summers were spent on this dinky island in the middle of the Baltic Sea; very rural, very calm, lots of nature, lots of beauty… the cliffs, the forest and the fields were my playgrounds and yes, of course that inspired me immensely. My surroundings were idyllic. I was able to play and roam freely which was magical; nature’s beauty is engrained in me, it is my backbone and DNA. It is my balsam and my never ending source of inspiration.
5. In addition to nature, Japan has a heavy influence on your aesthetic, why is this?
I have always been drawn to their design aesthetic, which can be incredibly simple. The Japanese appreciate negative space and use it so well. I love their arrangements, their use of natural motifs, the way they organize things and keep order, and their appreciation of finer details. They also celebrate the handmade and “perfectly imperfect” and all of this really resonates with me and my style.
6. Tell us about your gorgeous new fabric collections, Lucky and Stella…
Lucky is a collection that was inspired by my first trip to India, in fall 2013. Some of the patterns were created there and many of the vibrant, rich jewel colours were inspired by the trip. The design ‘Jerry’ has a special place in my heart. At a market in Jaipur I discovered a treasure: an antique hand-carved wooden block of a leopard and I simply fell in love with it (and yes I bought it of course!). I needed to share this feline friend with everyone and re-created this spotted cat in my hand and now he is also part of this collection, he got the nickname Jerry.
Swatches from my new ‘Lucky’ collection featuring Jerry
Stella, my collection for babies, is a compilation of designs that have been in my library for a while. The time was right to make a baby collection and I am very happy with the way it has turned out. I adore the soft, modern colour palette.
7. You return to your piece of paradise, the Åland islands where you were born, whenever you need to recharge and find inspiration for new organic designs. what do you find so soothing about spending time here and how do you gather inspiration? What’s your process?
I go every summer… kick off my shoes and don’t put them on again for two months! I try to unplug and not get caught up in digital formats and social media too much. Instead I live in the present and spend time in nature. I always do a lot of swimming. It’s about taking a big break and giving my mind a chance to wander.
This summer is a special one: not only am I hosting my first creative nature workshop retreat on Åland, I am also moving there for six months with my family to build our dream house. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 and now, thanks to my lovely and awesome husband, my dream is coming true! My husband is an architect and he has designed this little house by the ocean to fit our little family. I need to be part life here and I really want our 8-year-old boy to have that same nature experiences I had growing up. It will be our special place where we invite friends and family and relax. I even plan to paint my own tiles for the bathroom and sew the quilts. I have already thrown the coffee mugs and I plan to learn how to weave a rag rug for the kitchen.
We decided that this fall we’d take some time off from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn. It is time to slow down some, reconnect with family, make things with our hands, and immerse ourselves in nature.
8. What can people expect from a creative nature retreat with you?
I want to share “my special Åland”. The place I go to rest and be inspired. We will print on paper and fabric using a few simple techniques and leave with several printed projects as well as a sketchbook filled with inspiration. Together we will share stories, techniques and ideas, and we’ll have lots of fun along the way.
9. You often open up your studio and you do workshops all over the world. What do you love most about teaching?
I enjoy watching people make things. It’s a joy to see them smiling and immersing themselves in the creative process. It makes me very happy to know that the knowledge and skills I am sharing inspires people and encourages them to spend time doing things they love.
When I started this Lotta Jansdotter journey two decades ago, I never thought I would end up teaching. It’s something I fell into naturally. I also didn’t think I would write 10 books, be on TV, travel to Japan 19 times and teach in India… many wonderful things have happened along the way. That’s why I am always open to new opportunities and why I always follow my heart.
I’ve been working with STC Craft on my new pattern book/inspiration guide about sewing garments. I have penned books about sewing before, but they have always focussed on simple no fuss projects, as I only know the basics. I’ve never even sewn a zipper! For this book, Lotta Jansdotter Everyday Style, I invited a professional seamstress, Alexia Abegg, to help me draft sewing patterns for every day closet items like a skirt, dress, blouse, pants/shorts, and jacket/coat to bring my visions to life. I also include inspiration for quick DIY accessories, including hats, bags, scarves, and jewellery.
11. What are your plans and big dreams for the future?
Right now I dream about spending more time creating things with my hands and maybe start painting. This dream is fully within my reach; I know I have the power to make it come true if I really want it. I also dream about having a house in USA that has a little garden so I can dig in the dirt. And of course I want to travel more to far away places…
12. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career as a designer so far?
I’ve learnt so many! I guess above all I’ve figured out three things: that most things work out in the end, even if it seems like a disastrous at the time; that nothing is really set in stone – I can change things whenever I need to; and that if I don’t try, I’ll never know.
Best way to bring the outdoors into your home/studio: pick wildflowers and display them on your kitchen table and gather fresh herbs to use in your dishes.
Favourite colour scheme at the moment: it’s not really a colour scheme but I’m working a lot in black and white right now, particularly on my clay pieces.
Designer who most inspires you: Mina Perhonen in Japan, among many, many others.
Next big thing in the design industry: 3D printers for sure!
Where do you go to be inspired? I take different workshops, I’m currently doing one in play in clay. I also make collages at home.
Quote you most love about design: a few days I stumbled upon this one which made me laugh out loud: “You can’t polish a turd” ~ David Reddig. It’s awesome, and so true!
Philosophy you live by: you usually regret what you did not do.
Wish for the world: that we would all take better care of Mother Nature.