Wednesday, 19 March 2014

a talk with designer Lotta Jansdotter

It is time for the first interview in my NATURAL MATERIALS blog series, a talk with the Brooklyn-based designer Lotta Jansdotter. In a perfect world I would have visited her studio in the Gowanus neighbourhood in Brooklyn and then sat with her at a café asking her about her design and how growing up in Sweden has influenced it. But the Atlantic Ocean separates us and Lotta is one busy lady. She actually sent me a Q&A form, hoping it would help, and it answered all of my questions, except one - the last one - which she willingly answered.

Lotta's roots are Scandinavian. She was born on the island Åland, which lies between Sweden and Finland, and she was brought up in Stockholm, the beautiful Swedish capital. Summers were spent on the island with her father and grandmother. She refers to the island as the conditioner of her soul. She is the author of the book Lotta Jansdotter's Handmade Living: A Fresh Take on Scandinavian Style and a few other books. She is self-taught, mostly by trial and error, as she explains it. She learned the craft from the process of it.

Let's get to know her better, shall we!

When and how did you find your creative niche?
Well, I have always liked to draw. As a young kid I loved drawing flowers and patterns and that stuck with me. When I moved to the USA from Sweden I was 20 years old and in search for "what I would do when I grew up.” I took a lot of different classes in community school in CA: jewellery design, sculpture, drawing, ceramics and screen printing ... I LOVED screen printing! I decided to quit school and start my own company, and so I did, in 1996. I printed my hand drawn print patterns and motifs on linen and made cushions and bags, that started to sell all over America and in Japan. My style was simple, clean and very much inspired by nature, being influenced by my childhood summer spent in nature in Scandinavia.

I loved drawing and cutting papers, using inks, using rubber cement and pens ... and never did get into learning how to use a computer program for this ... so my very organic style was developed that way, by letting the designs have a feel of the hand and not having them created in a computer, a bit uneven, very simple, a bit "wabi sabi” ... imperfectly perfect. There was not really a look like that on the American gift/interior market at that time ... and that is how it started.

How would you describe your design process?
I draw most of my designs in my sketchbooks or on loose papers, envelopes, etc. I use a regular old pen (never pencil - cannot stand it - the marks I make need to be solid, thick and strong) or ink. I then use my copy machine to play around with scale and repeats. I do not know how to use a computer, neither do I want to. I love the hands-on of cutting, pasting and gluing - to touch the papers and get a little messy. The process is very fun.

Unfortunately, I am so busy most of the time with running a small business that finding time to draw and create is hard. Luckily, I think running a small business is a very creative process as well, just a different kind of creative process.

Do you have a favourite part of the process?
I love the feeling when I discover a good design. I draw and sketch many things and then all of a sudden there is one motif that just “feels right.” You feel excited about it and know it will be really good in the end. It is almost like a treasure hunt inside your creative brain. Sometimes you don’t know what will come out. Sounds abstract, I know - tricky sometimes to describe a creative process.

The most satisfying part?
I love touching and feeling the paper, to cut and to play around with the shapes, to get sticky glue on my fingers. The tactile experience is very important to me when I create. To feel things that I do with my hands, that is why I never create any of my print designs on a computer.

What role does colour play in your designs?
It is a fundamental part of my designs. Very important. I create my design in black and white and then I experiment with different colours. The design will feel very different in different colours. To pick the “right” colour is crucial - it will set the tone and mode of the design altogether.

What do you think it is about your style that attracts consumers?
People write to me and say they feel very inspired by my designs, which makes me very happy - it is incredibly rewarding as a designer to be able to inspire others. They find them calm (that I do not understand since I do not think I am a calm person), clean, and simple. My style is not very trend-driven. It feels timeless. I think people appreciate the simple and natural feel. The designs are not complicated or overly ornate.

What makes a successful designer?
Persistence and having high standards in quality and originality. Dare to follow one’s gut feeling. Have a neck for cabbing and a wee bit of luck. I think I mainly speak about myself.

What inspires you?
People, food, places, travel, street signs, magazines, parks, shop windows, boat rides in the Baltic Sea, my walk to work ... oh, how cliché this will sound, but really, “everywhere and everything.” Patterns and motifs are all around me. I simply just have to “look” and then draw it my way. I do tend to jot down more ideas when I travel. I am more relaxed and not distracted by the everyday must-dos.

Who are your design heroes? Is there anyone (past or present) who you find particularly inspiring?
I'd like to have a creative and very productive design career like Stig Lindberg did (Swedish designer). Josef Frank was rather spectacular. Lucienne Day's designs were wonderful and inspiring ... truly a design icon. Marimekko has produced so many wonderful patterns. I grew up with them - mum decorated the whole apartment and herself in Marimekko. I particularly like Annika Rimala's work for Marimekko. The Japanese designer Minä Perhonen is amazing. Everything he does! I also like Maison Georgette - playful and happy.

[Links chosen by me.]

What type of products do you use (tools of the trade)?
My black pen is my most important tool. I am very picky about the flow of the ink and the thickness of the pen etc., but they do not need to cost a lot. Office supply stores usually have them ... I love buying boxes of pens! Japanese ball point pens are the best. I use India ink with a brush as well, and my water colour set.

And finally the question I was curious to know the answer to:

Lotta, how do you take your coffee?
Three ways, depending on where I'm at: At home with goat's milk. At the local coffee shop near my studio with lots of half and half as a special treat. In Sweden with soy milk.

photo credit:
Lotta Jansdotter website + webshopPinterest


  1. Wonderful interview, Lisa! I have only words of admiration for a designer so devoted to her métier and one who says a firm "no" to using a computer in her work, choosing instead to perfect her style by hand.

  2. Lotta has been a huge inspiration to me, I love her hands on approach to her creative process-something I appreciate! Great interview!

    1. How wonderful to hear about her inspiration on you, and thank you for your kind words.


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