Danish artist and designer, Nina Flagstad Kvorning, is the creator behind our new spring Floral collection of 100% cotton, digitally knit throws and pillows. Inspired by the tulips of her native Copenhagen, the collection features warm, organic tones and playful abstractions. We spoke with Nina about her design process and philosophy, her brief residence in Canada, and what inspires her.
“I like balance, but I don’t like if things are too pretty, so I always need an element that is a little bit off to keep things interesting.”
Nina has always been fascinated by design. As a child, she experimented with a number of mediums, from ceramics, illustration, sewing, painting, knitting, to even “doing weird sculptures in cardboard or string and fabric.” After graduating high school, she studied at an art institution in Denmark where her teacher encouraged her to apply to design school. Following her teacher’s recommendation, she enrolled in Design School Kolding’s Visual Communications program, where she quickly found her place. It was in this program that Nina was given the opportunity to re-visit that childhood experimentation with various mediums, working in animation, graphic design, wayfinding, and drawing. She settled on illustration, a decision made in part due to her five-month exchange study at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design where illustration was her main focus.
Her time in Canada, while cold – she was there from January to May -was exhilarating. “I see now how Toronto was a really important period for me as a designer, because I made a choice, and I found an illustrative expression that took me to where I am now and how I work,” she said. Toronto itself provided its own inspiration, and she was particularly taken by the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she took in the Patti Smith exhibition, Camera Solo. Additionally, the people and wildlife provided their own unique backdrop for the Copenhagen native: “I loved meeting racoons in the street at night walking home, but I think that’s only because I am European,” she laughed.
Nina’s design inspiration centres around the elements involved in the project at hand, and it is the combination of elements – rather than a single one – that, in her mind, comprise good design. “It is about how everything comes together and works in a context,” she explained. “I like balance, but I don’t like if things are too pretty, so I always need an element that is a little bit off to keep things interesting.” That elemental combination was also a part of her process for the Floral collection.
Starting with tulips as her inspiration, she began by examining photos of the many tulip stands found on Copenhagen street corners, as well as her memories of her parents’ garden. From there, she developed a number of drawings in crayon.
The ability to create a number of illustrations, step away from the process, and come back to it is a method she finds effective: “This is a way of working that actually started when I was in Toronto,” she noted. “I worked on a series of drawings with a focus on layers. So, I had to be patient and do one layer, then stop, then do the next. Turned out that this is a brilliant way of doing things.”
From those small crayon drawings of tulips, Nina chose a few of her favourites, based on composition, motif, and balance, and then began developing recreations of them in oil paint. She describes this process: “I knew I had to end up with a digital vector drawing, to fit either block printing or digital knit, so to get a more simple and clear shape I used oil paint. This way the flowers became less detailed, and more like one abstract interpretation.” While the technique she uses in her design process changes from project to project, her overall process is, she explained “very method based … I always take the same steps.”
After exploring her oil-paint recreations, she began the long process of digitized sketching, “making digital drawings based on the oil-paint drawings and on some of the ideas from the small drawings, and working with colours, size, compositions, and the repeat pattern.” From those digital drawings, the patterns you see in the pillows and throws was born.
Nina continues to work and live in Copenhagen, taking inspiration from the old buildings, canals, lakes, and exhibitions at various galleries. Her sun-strewn apartment serves as her studio – she even recently repurposed her living room into her workspace, noting “I need everything close by – right now I am doing a big drawing project where I work with calligraphy markers. Soon there will be drawings all over the floor and walls.” What truly lights her fire is collaborating – “working with a company to mix their vision with my expression … it is amazing seeing my drawings printed on fabric – when the elements work perfectly in their context.”