The Pleasures of Pattern Design: Lotta Kühlhorn Q&A

Pattern-lovers, you’ll want to gobble this up. Gestalten Verlag’s new Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn gives a smart, candid, rollicking tour through one illustrator’s life-long fascination with everything pattern-related. The book skips effortlessly between pragmatic tips on pattern-making  and pattern design to a personal imaginarium of sorts, in which Kühlhorn reveals how thinking in patterns permeates all her work—indeed, her daily observations at almost every level. A veteran designer of book covers, magazine illustrations, and textiles for clients like IKEA, Kühlhorn answered a few questions via email from her home in Stockholm.

Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag
“What I particularly like about patterns is that they can be like an aerial photograph over a community. Houses in all directions. Farms. It can be like a graph, statistics. …When I start thinking like this, it puts me in a really good mood.” – from Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

Print: Designing Patterns is full of intimate observations: patterns from your childhood, feelings patterns evoke for you. Why was it important to you to write the book from a personal perspective?

Kühlhorn: I did not know any other way. I am not an expert in how to educate people to make patterns, but I know how I do, what inspires me and so on. I thought that could be an opening for others too.

Manifesto 1 by Lotta Kühlhorn for Designing Patterns, copyright Gestalten Verlag.

Manifesto 1 by Lotta Kühlhorn for Designing Patterns, copyright Gestalten Verlag. This pattern captures data from ten days in September. The width of the green stripes corresponds to the amount of time spent exercising. The pink shows caloric consumption. The yellow stripe represents 10mg of blood pressure medication.

Manifesto 2 by Lotta Kühlhorn for Designing Patterns, copyright Gestalten Verlag

Manifesto 2 by Lotta Kühlhorn for Designing Patterns, copyright Gestalten Verlag. This pattern captures data from ten days in December. The blood pressure has actually increased, along with the exercise. The red stripe is a church service in Katarina, a particularly stressful episode.

Print: I was intrigued by Manifesto 1 and 2, patterns you designed to describe your high blood pressure (and your exercise regimen to bring it under control). Do you plan on doing more pattern-making based on data? 

Kühlhorn: Actually, writing this book started lots of new paths of ideas for me. So I did the blood pressure pattern just for the book. This fall I made a pattern which is a bit like a diary. I made pictures of things, places and occurrences which were all from last summer/fall and made a pattern of that. My aim is to do more patterns like that, so when seen together they can be read like a story. (Maybe my next book?)

Print: What qualities make a truly great pattern, in your opinion? 

Kühlhorn: I think your eye can decide that the second you see it. I fall very easily in love with certain patterns. It’s like with people, I cannot tell beforehand which qualities I’m falling for. It just happens!

Print: Similarly, what are the biggest sins you can commit in pattern-making and pattern design? 

Kühlhorn: The biggest sin would be to make a boring pattern. But again, it’s hard to say what’s boring, but it lacks love!

From Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

From Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

Print: People often worry about mixing two different patterns, that it’ll clash or look like a clown. What’s your advice to navigate this successfully?

Kühlhorn: Oh, that must be very personal. But in my opinion, you can always mix great patterns. I do that kind of game on my own body almost everyday. If I take this sweater, that bracelet, that trousers and combine with this coat, what happens? I often get very inspired from experimenting with the clothes I wear.

 from Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

“I view nature as a parent I want to revolt against….It irritates me that nature is always right and that it is considered more prestigious to reproduce patterns from nature rather than inventing your own motifs.” – from Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

Print: What’s the most gorgeous pattern design you’ve ever seen?

Kühlhorn: There are too many! I once visited the Alhambra—those patterns there are fantastic. The Marimekko-patterns are also so beautiful. I have old books with wallpapers which are totally FANTASTIC. Whenever they were made, patterns tell about our lust for decorating; they were made to improve the life. It’s also lovely that you can see different movements from the time they were made in them.

Print: Similarly, do you have any pattern you’ve dreamed of creating but haven’t yet realized? 

Kühlhorn: Too many. I have lots and lots of drafts of ideas but so little time to realize them.

From Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

From Designing Patterns by Lotta Kühlhorn, copyright Gestalten Verlag

 

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