Interview: iittala designer Anu Penttinen

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We’re so excited to welcome stunning Scandinavian brand iittala to 2Modern because we love gorgeous, shiny things that are smartly designed. iittala, originally started as a glass factory in Iittala, Finland in 1881, collaborates with some of the most talented and thoughtful designers (Alvar Aalto and Oiva Toikka ring a bell?) from different backgrounds and aesthetic styles. In celebration of iittala now on 2Modern, we present an interview with one of their designers, glass artist Anu Penttinen.

Anu Penttinen graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki and works with glass as an artist, keeping a studio at the Nuutajärvi Glass Village. Her colorful, fluid and fabulous pieces reflect her love of the urban details in the environment around her, with particular emphasis on maps, city streets and other fascinations of  modern transportation. You’ll be able to enjoy her design in the small Vitriini Box and large Vitriini Box (available in the sexiest palette of colors we’ve seen in awhile). Enjoy her words, images of the Vitriini Box and some recent artwork she’s been working on:

2M: Describe all that you do.
AP: I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2003 with my own company Nounou Design. I work as a designer and glassmaker producing both serial products and one-off art objects in glass. The techniques I use in my glassworks are glass blowing (my favourite) and fusing of sheet glass. I also work as a freelance designer for design houses such as iittala. These projects are always welcome as they give a new perspective to glassmaking, having completely different requirements and production methods compared to handmade studio glass. For iittala I have designed the Birds by Penttinen collection, launched 2008 and the Vitriini boxes (2010).

2M: What’s your background like? How did you get into this field?
AP: As a teenager I attended a special high school for the arts, and was introduced to ceramics. I continued this and other art subjects in Cincinnati during an exchange year. I decided to apply to the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, and got into the glass & ceramics department in 1996. In the second half of my first year we had a glass blowing class and I haven’t touched clay since. To me hot glass was the most exciting, immediate and dramatic material, and it suited my personality well. My goal was to become a glassblower and a designer, which is not so common in Finland. I now make all my products from start to finish, and love it.

2M: What’s exciting you in the design world right now?
AP: I love eccentric designs that are very well designed, of high quality but containing an element of surprise, unexpected colour combinations or a twist of some kind. I don’t believe in gimmicks or designing stuff for the sake of stuff. My favourite designers are for example Hella Jongerius (The Netherlands) and Jaime Hayon (Spain).

2M: How would you describe your style?
AP: This depends whether it is my art glass, serial products or design commission for another company, but I would characterize my designs as being contemporary, strong and quite expressive.

2M: Do you operate by any specific design philosophy?
AP: Nothing to change the world, just clean, well-made designs that hopefully make a difference in someone’s day.

2M: What challenges do you face on a daily basis?
AP: Entrepreneurship. Being the designer and maker, and then having to deal with the marketing, finances, publicity etc. on top. I would love to just work in my studio; I’m very bad with paperwork and keeping up with bureaucracy. Plus I have terrible memory which makes everything even more challenging. Glass itself is also quite a challenge, sometimes having a mind of its own…

2M: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
AP: From the cityscape and man-made environment. Architecture, details and phenomena in an urban environment, traffic, visual messages, graffiti, signals and signs, systems and structures, just to mention a few. Different graphic elements, shapes, colours in a cityscape and trigger something that later will be incorporated in a design. Not literally of course, except maybe street maps which I love and use a lot in my patterns. Typically Finnish design is very nature oriented, in the past and even now, but I find taking something so natural and beautiful, and turning it into a simple pattern or shape that only remotely resembles the original somehow trite. I love nature as it is, living and working in the countryside, but feel no need to bring it into my work.

2M: Favorite thing about your job?
AP: Freedom. I work for myself and dictate my own schedules. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic, which was fine and fun for about 10 years, but now I’ve slowed down a bit. I also like the versatile projects that I have the opportunity to work with.

2M: If you weren’t a designer, then what would you be doing?
AP: I’d like to say a musician, but I have absolutely no musical talent. As a hobby I’ve always wanted to be a drummer or a deejay. But in real life, if I had to stop doing what I do, it would still have to do with art and design.

2M: What book is on your nightstand right now?
AP: Several unfinished books: “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, “Gold” by Dan Rhodes, “Sunset Park” by Paul Auster, “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” by David Mitchell.

2M: Anything new and exciting that you want to share with the 2modern readers/listeners?
AP: There will be some new exciting additions to my Vitriini collection by iittala, but nothing I can share right now. As to my personal projects, I did do quite a fun and exciting art glass session last summer with an american glass artist and friend Slate Grove. I’ve wanted to explore this technique called “roll-up” for a long time (actually since 1998 when I saw it the first time), and now I had a chance to work on it for 6 weeks, thanks to Slate. I’ve attached some images of these new works (they are the Kaleidoscope, Urban Sketch and You Are Here pieces).

Thanks Anu! Be sure to check out her work plus all of iittala‘s awesome pieces on 2Modern today! 

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