Contiguous, yet somehow unusual use of space and perspectives mixed with pastel or loud colors. If you know your way around the patterns of iconic Hungarian brands, these sometimes precise, other times funny or conceptual and characteristic drawings will for sure ring some bells for you. We interviewed textile designer and VYF co-founder Viola Balázs.
You mostly create textile patterns for Hungarian designers and fashion brands. When did you start to form an interest towards pattern design, what path has led you here?
I studied weaving at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, where we had to think in structures – I liked this kind of approach, but I had no patience for implementation. Later on I got to study in London as an Erasmus student, where I finally ended up studying printing, but I was not inspired to dive deeper in the field. I wanted to design swimsuits, and I even made a five-item collection, on which I screen-printed abstract faces in my living room. I started to look for calls and competitions to submit my designs to but I didn’t find any good ones at the time. In the meantime, I was more and more interested in pattern creation and printed details also became more emphatic in my university projects. Finally months later a swimsuit contest was announced which I won, and approximately a year later I was contacted by the organization announcing the call whether I wanted to work for them: this was the Magistral brand. After three months of preparation and trainings, my main task was to design patterns specifically for swimsuits. I knew it was a big opportunity, and I learnt a lot here about the profession, manufacturing and design, too. From then on I had no technical obstacles, which I enjoyed very much and I was more and more swept away by my desire to create.
What inspires you in general and what are the characteristics of your visual world?
I am inspired by many things: family, friends, experiences, current happenings, novelties, discoveries, new technologies and the experiences of other people, too. What I like about this job in particular is that I have to research every topic, and so I get to learn things that I would have never looked up on my own. A good example of this is the sailing boat pattern designed for the YKRA brand – I learnt that the chosen boat types were the beginners, many times used as the first boats of children. To ensure authenticity, I also had to see a few sailing competitions, during which I got to see the boats on the water in the proper angles, up close and with the necessary level of detailedness.
I am inspired by every new task and I am curious to see where it gets me. I like to draw, paint, create interesting surfaces and process them digitally. I like to preserve the “hand-made” character of the illustrations, and I like it when this can be displayed on the digital prints nicely. I don’t place particular importance on the preciseness of the drawn objects any more, or on drawing them properly in terms of perspectives.
I often incorporate personal things into my patterns: my grandparents’ dog, for example, sunbathes on the terrace on the patterns of a Tomcsanyi collection, and in my diploma project I focused on processing family heritage. In the case of the latter, I also examined the objects that surrounded me during my life, the things that influenced my visual world – why it has become the way it is. As a child, my favorite cartoon was Frakk, I think this in itself explains a lot.
What is the first pattern you designed for a Hungarian brand and what’s the story behind it?
I created the first pattern for one of the collections of the KELE brand back in 2012. I had to draw forest scenes based on hunting-themed postcards, displaying animals being hunted. It was a very meticulous job, in theory we knew that by and large it was feasible, but in practice we were rather only hoping it. We also had very little time and nobody took the screen printing task, so we printed the materials for making the sample items with Ildikó, the founder of the brand at home.
Your illustrations and patterns using various techniques also appear on many Tomcsanyi collections: how long have you worked with Dóri Tomcsányi, the founder of the brand and how does your work together go?
Dóri and I were classmates at MOME and we prepared for many class projects and exams together. We have very different characters and different strengths, and so a reasonable division of labor formed between us in quite a short time. Our way of thinking and visual world has always been going one way ever since we have known each other and it still does unto this day. Dóri formulates the topic and its ambience, and most of the time she already has the matching mono-color fabrics, and after this we discuss the details thoroughly. We continuously examine the sketches together: both of us take part in designing. I love the brand very much and I also wear their items regularly – I am very happy that my patterns can be part of Tomcsanyi collections, they went to the right place. In addition, Dóri and I are also close friends.
Which is your favorite pattern out of the ones designed with Dóri?
There are several – looking at these patterns is as if I was reading a diary: I know exactly what happened, where I was or what I was thinking at the time.
Our first pattern based on house plants was Dóri’s idea: she asked me to paint a few classic house plants characteristic of panel housing estates quickly. We didn’t think too much about the process, but we felt it was going to be good. We laughed a lot while designing these plant motifs, while we were dedicating half our time to our diploma projects, we ate pot noodles and we worked during night time.
Another pattern built on the subway theme brought a turning point for me: this is where I came to realize all the opportunities inherent in continuous patterns. I wanted to create an impossible system. It was a geometric challenge for me and I felt a kind of euphoria all the way through the design process. In the meantime I had to stick to the colors, the concept, the scale and had to make sure it would work well on the clothes, too – ultimately this was the goal.
I can relate to the pattern inspired by tennis courts the most: its peculiarity lies in the fact that plastic chairs are floating on it. It’s not an overly complicated pattern, but it has something unusual in it. And from the latest winter collection my favorite is the sunflower seed pattern on a red base.
In 2014, you also founded your own brand with Tomi Szécsi under the name VYF, manufacturing silk scarf collections based on various themes. What are your roles within the brand and what are your concepts?
Our goal was to create a brand that we can work on as a part-time job, but in which, if we have the time and capacity, we can formulate topics that we are both interested in and entertained by. I love Tomi’s humor very much: if we sit dawn, the concepts and sketches are completed in one evening. I elaborate the topic digitally, while Tomi takes care of manufacturing and business tasks. We also collaborate with artists that we love and find interesting, in which we like to give a free hand to the designers completely.
The latest collection of the YKRA bag brand also wears your illustrations: can you tell us a bit more about the collaboration and the poster accompanying the collection?
The JETSET mini-collection is our second project together. Originally we intended it for another project, but Balázs liked the concept and the designs so much that it ended up being a complete collection. We were inspired by traveling and the vintage posters of airlines, and the pattern displays four locations: Hawaii, Venice, Cairo and New York. Then came the idea of the hundred Budapest posters, circling back to the original source of inspiration. It was very weird that I had to add a serial number and my signature on something.
What are your plans for the future?
I am thinking about how we could use the recurring patterns and their logical system on new or other areas. I see several directions and opportunities, both on the field of art and science – all of them evolve very slowly and at this point I only focus on research and experimenting.
If you’d like to dive into the world of pattern design, go and check out Viola’s website.