Natural Irregularities


23 January 2017

For designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, drawing by hand is a central part of the design process. It is rare, however, for these drawings to be directly implemented into the studio’s completed projects. Rivi – a new textile pattern for the storied Finnish brand Artek – is an exception.

Rivi (Rivi meaning line in Finnish) is based upon a hand-drawn sketch of parallel lines, which can be extended indefinitely to fit a wide range of products. While textile designs are typically made using a computer application such as Illustrate, Rivi aims to highlight the imperfection of the human hand, its beauty and authenticity. Rivi was launched mid-January at Maison & Objet Paris, and is available in four colour variations and three materials: cotton, canvas cotton and acrylic.

Hand-sketching has long sat at the core of the Bouroullecs’ practice. Their 2013 book Drawing collates over 850 drawings produced by the two designers between 2005 and 2012. In the book’s introduction, the Bouroullecs explain their preoccupation with putting pencil to paper. “They [the drawings] are dreamers, and they dream a beautiful dream – full of odd characters, surprises, inventions, ideas, sudden detours and U-turns, aesthetic jump-cuts, gentle development, manic repetition, obsessive refinement, but also full of poetry, unspoilt optimism, warmth, tenderness, and generosity.”

In the below interview, Ronan Bouroullec discusses drawing in the context of Rivi, as well as the wider role of hand sketching in the studio’s work.

Why did you decide to work on Rivi?

We jumped at the opportunity to work with textiles. With textiles, you can achieve versatility with infinite uses: by designing a textile we are creating a style, but everyone else creates the product. People buy something that is already done, the raw material, then they transform it using their own creative prowess. It is a means to look at how a complex piece can be uncovered to reveal the simple building blocks. It is a very old way of working, which continues to exist in some countries like Japan, Finland and Africa. You can buy any size of fabric and then use it to create anything you want. I really liked the creative originality and potential. There is a sort of lightness and freedom to it.

How did you come up with the design?

Though there is no deep message behind it, it was actually quite difficult to come up with the design. Because there is so much potential with something that is essentially a blank canvas, there was so much to think about. It needed to work well in both large and small formats, it needed to stretch and fit different shapes, and that is why the handmade illustrations worked. We wanted to find a pattern that worked well on a wall but also when it's not totally flat, like when it is being used to cover something. All these questions contributed to the subject of the drawing.

The focus was combining regularity with irregularity and highlighting the quality of imperfection. Motifs in textiles are usually done using Illustrator. It can be interesting, and of course computers are marvellous but in textiles the work can sometimes be very poor and look reused. Rivi is a product that directly includes our sketching, it is very direct. My approach to it was different though, it wasn’t like the free drawing that I’m used to. My drawings and design for Rivi had a real material purpose, whereas the other sketches exist within themselves.

Could you explain how your drawings exist within themselves?

There are two ways of drawing for us: drawing as a way to search and drawing to demonstrate. I use drawing as a way to search more than Erwan and I’ve been doing it for over two decades. It’s a very basic creative process but it is central to the way we work. Drawing to demonstrate is a specific discipline and runs parallel to the industry of design. Drawing as a way to search is much more free and is not tied to the industry. It’s difficult to explain how it strictly informs my work process because it is not intrinsically linked, it’s subtle. So, for example, my approach of colours is more cultured and evolved because of my sketches. My understanding of shape and form is also heightened. All this falls back into my design work.

A lot of your sketches resemble some of your finished products. Is there an expectation to achieve a final product when drawing?

When I sketch, of course I hope that I will find something. I usually have no idea what I will do when I start and things evolve but there is no end point. Some may seem like doodles but I take pride in my drawings. For me, a good drawing is like a good chair, it has the same status for me. My drawing is always continuous and once one is complete I just restart the process.

Drawing has been a consistent element of your design career. That must amount to a lot of drawings. How do you keep track of them?

I sketch every day that I'm in the office, but also when I'm at home, on the weekends, when I'm in Paris and also when I'm in Brittany. It's a never-ending process, I never stop. My drawings are well conserved and organised by my very patient assistant. It’s a very important and serious job because I want to see progression, and I reference them when starting a project or looking for inspiration. Every sketch is treated with care in order to preserve it for decades. Each individual sketch is covered in a protective plastic film and is placed in a particular order. I have thousands and thousands.

Does drawing provide you a temporary break from the norms of the design world?

The personal importance of drawing for me is linked to the frustrating discipline that we are part of. Design is a very long process and I'm a little like a super active kid, so drawing gives me the creative release that I’m constantly craving. That’s also why we do our own photographs and play with other mediums. Sometimes I will just do one drawing a day, and sometimes I could do 10 drawings a day, 20 photographs and of course all my design work. It allows me to have a broad spectrum of creativity which is a useful addition in our industry. It's a good mix that ultimately gives me a creative refuge.