Young Designer of the Year 2017 Reeta Ek

The Young Designer of the Year 2017 prize was given to textile and surface designer Reeta Ek. She is a freelance designer living and working in Helsinki. She has created textile designs for companies such as Marimekko, Lapuan Kankurit, Nanso, and Samuji, among others. Typical of her designs are repetition and rhythm, born along with the creative working process and drawing by hand. Reeta Ek also does graphic design and illustrations.

Reeta Ek, you have been selected as Young Designer of the Year 2017. Who are you and how did you become a designer?

My name is Reeta Ek and I’m a 37-year-old textile and surface designer. I live in Lauttasaari, Helsinki with my husband and two sons.

I have previously studied fine arts. At some point, old wallpapers and fabric patterns caught my interest and I started to study them in my paintings. I was immensely captivated by the idea of constructing a continuous surface, and I realised that textile design could be my thing. I first spent a year at EVTEK (known today as Metropolia University of Applied Sciences) until I applied, and was accepted, into the University of Art and Design Helsinki. This was in 2006. I was excited to finally have the tools for everything I had previously been studying and learning by myself. I was also able to combine my artistic work with design, as I liked the systematic side of it and found that it works for me.

Tell us a little about your work!

I do both textile design and graphic design and I run my own business. For me, the work of a textile designer mostly consists of surface design, in other words creating patterns and constructing a continuous surface. Usually, my work starts with making sketches either based on a given subject or without advance suggestions. If one of the sketches is deemed suitable for the project, I work with the client to decide the scale of the pattern, meaning the size of the pattern in its final form as, for instance, a clothing fabric. After this, I build the sketch into a report that is functional in its actual size, for example I make the pattern repetitive.

I always make the sketch materials by hand by drawing, painting and trying out different techniques. The final form of the work, however, must be made with a computer as the pattern must be delivered to a printing shop or a weaving mill as a complete file. The sketching stage calls for creativity and thinking outside the box, whereas the report requires precision and patience. However, the best result isn’t achieved through polishing every little detail until they are flawless, as that means losing the touch of freedom captured in the sketches. For me, this exact stage is the hardest but also the most interesting; how to retain the same relaxedness and the right sort of spontaneity while building a puzzle where every piece has its own place. As my original sketches are small, usually A4 at most, I often try to remake the original sketch into a larger surface or a better version. Even after many days of work, I often have to take a step back and return to the original sketch because it contained that certain something that catches the eye.

Where do you draw your inspiration or ideas from and where do you find your amazing colours?

Inspiration is often the sum of many parts when your subconscious is going over everything you’ve seen and heard: colours, shapes, moods, surfaces… Then, if the conditions are right, something interesting starts to bubble up and encourage you to explore it further. It’s also possible – and, if you do this for a living, obligatory – to learn how to consciously gravitate towards inspiration. In my master’s thesis, I studied the creative process and my own way of brainstorming and making sketches. Many of the sketches and pieces that I have since made into art prints and that are pretty indicative of my own style were created during this one-year project.

The most challenging part about working as a designer is time, as there never seems to be enough of it. Adjusting your work to the client’s schedules may be tricky. Luckily, you usually get to know your process better over time and learn to trust your ability to get things done in the end. After all, the creative process never really stops, and even the moments when you’re not doing anything or you’re doing something completely different are vitally important. For me, the most important thing is to be able to work with a relaxed and positive mindset. Even though creativity also means pain, its basic tone should come from freedom, joy and trust.

Where do I find my colours? I guess they are created in the same way, from the subconscious. You see different combinations around you and make a mental note or take a picture so you can remember. When colours mean something, a visual person automatically registers them and their interrelations. In textile design, the designer obviously doesn’t pick the colours of the patterns alone; the palette of the entire collection affects them. The colours in which you choose to present your sketches, however, play a vital role.

The spring before last, I joined a group of people to go to Milan Design Week where I exhibited some large art prints. People paid a lot of attention to the colours, and someone from Volkswagen told me to contact them if I was interested in colour design. That took me by surprise.

Do you have a role model in your work as a designer?

I’ve never really had particular role models or idols. Of course, I admire many a designer’s style and technique, but for me, meeting people who have expressed encouragement and, with their positive attitude, influenced me and my work has perhaps been even more meaningful. Colleagues are always an important role model for a designer. Creative work is so intricate and even lonely that peer support and the opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas is vitally important.

What does creative work and design work give you?

If creative work means work that is more “free and artistic” and design work means work that is more regulated, together they form a great combination for me. I absolutely need something with a clear assignment, beginning and an end to counterbalance the free side of my work. In textile design, I love the fact that, after the sketching stage, where the goal in both my general attitude and my work is to be as relaxed as possible, comes another stage where my organised side gets to take over.

Any person or work has creativity. How that creativity is seen, for example in the design industry – that’s a lifestyle. There’s no leave of absence from that, and no one else can do your work if you get sick. It is constant studying and observing, and in the lives of grownups, it also comes with the pressure of making a living 🙂

What is the most important part of your work?

For me, it’s important to be able to make patterns and surfaces. I say it’s important because it can by no means be taken for granted. Few textile designers can make even half of their income by designing patterns. It’s also important to be a freelancer with the chance to pick your work and the opportunity to work with different people. In the end, the most important thing is to enjoy what you do.

When do you get a sense of achievement?

I think the sense of achievement is something you learn to recognise over time. For example, knowing when one of your patterns is particularly good or seeing potential in a sketch or an idea. You think about them and come back to them and you’re happy with them even after a long time.

Achievement is also the result of cooperation because in clothes, for example, the end result is the sum of many parts. A clothing pattern doesn’t truly come alive until someone wears it, and seeing your pattern on a passer-by certainly gives you a sense of achievement. It blows my mind every time! I always feel like I’m watching the scene from the outside in slow motion and I keep thinking whether to say something to them.

What is your dream client like?

Someone who is easy to get along with, trusts the designer, has a reasonable schedule and pays well 🙂

What is your greatest dream in terms of design?

I might not be able to articulate my greatest dream right here and now but I hope I’ll be able to do this for a long time and challenge myself in my work. I hope I’ll be able to have interesting work projects, travel and work abroad. I also have a dream probably shared by all creators; I wish I could focus more on the actual work and have someone else take care of the practical side and financial stuff.

Can you let loose in your work? How?

Yes, every time I sketch and design. How? By experimenting and not thinking too much.

What would you do if you weren’t a designer?

I am absolutely a creator, my hands must have something tangible to do. I’ve been told that, as a child, I wanted to be a cleaner. Even though cleaning is something you find yourself doing a little too often when you have kids, it is a good reflection on the process I enjoy. Disorder is transformed into order and the whole thing has a beginning and an end. At least a temporary one.

What are you excited about right now?

Right now, I’m excited to see what the Young Designer of the Year nomination brings! I’m also excited about summer and relaxing activities with my boys. Washing the rugs and picking bilberries. I’ve been working so hard for such a long time that the creative process definitely calls for some idleness.

What are your next plans?

Trying to finish all the different projects, having a small holiday and thinking about my next steps.

Photo: Reeta Ek