CHLOE MACKEY: Were you always interested in art growing up? Was that something that you knew you wanted to do from an early age?
CAMILLA ENGSTROM: I did draw and paint a lot. I always thought I was going to be a fashion designer, and I guess it was until very recently that I got the confidence to do [visual art] full-time. I always say [visual art] was more of a hobby as I didn’t feel that I was talented enough. I just didn’t have the confidence. As I got older I was just like, “Fuck it, it’s okay if someone doesn’t like it.”
You also founded HUS, an online store for home goods. In your mind, do painting and home decor go hand-in-hand? Do they influence each other in some way?
CE: I don’t know, I’ve just always liked making things. I think I’m still trying to figure out why I’m making all of these different things. It’s sort of something that I think in a year or so I can look back on and will have all of the answers for it. When I quit freelancing in the world of fashion design, I just really knew that I wanted to make home products, like candles and incense holders. Then I started making sculptures and paintings at the same time. I’m not sure why I felt like I had to do all of it, because it is a little bit overwhelming, but I try to separate the paintings and the drawings from my home line. It is a balance though, because sometimes I make something that I feel is an art project but I put it on [HUS] because it also has a practical use.
At what point in your shift towards making home goods and sculptural art did you realize that you wanted to create your own store? What made you gain the confidence it took to branch out and try all of the projects you have taken on?
CE: I didn’t think I wasn’t ready to sell my stuff to stores. I’m not this super confident person who is good with marketing and sales. I just wanted to keep it simple, keep it on my website, and just go from there. However, I think I’m finally ready to get accounts and start selling in stores. It’s really exciting, but kind of terrifying, because i’m really bad at selling my own products.
I used to be that shy person that was always secretly jealous of people. I was working at this retail store and was not happy there, but I did have a lot of free time. I found this book that was about being present in your own life and being 100 percent yourself, and I read it over and over again. It made me realize that it was all about what was going on in my head. You have to have that confidence in order to start your own business. If you’re not completely secure in yourself, people will knock you down. I am confident in my work and my projects and am in general way happier than I used to be. In the end, I make my own work, and if people don’t like it, that’s okay because I had fun making it.
So onto the Origami Tote you designed with KARA as part of BYOB by KARA. How did you get involved with KARA?
SARAH LAW: Well I had seen some of Camilla’s work at her show a while ago and have been following her ever since. I've always loved her illustrations of the naked figures.
CE: And you guys did a calendar with illustrated nude figured and that’s how I found you! I was like “I want to work with KARA!” It was totally my style.
SL: Yeah, I don’t know what it is, but I always just find a lot of humor in drawings of naked people, and think that people who draw them are hilarious. I guess that’s what initially drew me to Camilla.
What was the design process like with this project?
SL: We have been building bags and prototyping for some time now. Giving our customer the opportunity to see the steps it takes to make a bag and
the chance to try it themselves, was something we've been interested in doing. With this being our first bag, we wanted something that would be simple and easy. I think that Camilla's work is so fun and has such a free feeling, I wanted the pattern to give you the freedom to paint the bag and decorate it yourself. The bag itself is very simple- one continuous piece of fabric that is folded to create the different pockets and is so simple, it gives the artwork a chance to shine.
CE: I wanted the bag to be simple so anyone could make it. I wanted to keep it simple, but I did also want to have some fun with it, so I decided that I wanted to paint it. I stapled the canvas to the wall, and sort of had an idea, but I just really went into it wanting to have fun.
The figures you painted on the bag can be seen throughout a lot of you work. What’s the story behind them?
CE: Working in fashion, I did a lot of fashion illustrations and those figures have to be really thin-looking. Even though it looked pretty, I felt a lot of pressure drawing in that way. So when I quit, I wanted to make something that was the total opposite. I wanted to make a little figure that sort of looks like a chubby version of me. It felt like the opposite of what I was used to doing.
The first few times I worked with that figure, I tried to make it nice and sculptural-looking, not funny at all. It looked nice, but I still wasn’t having much fun drawing it, so started to put her in weird positions while making it a bit more sexual. It was really freeing; I was drawing as if no one was looking. And no one was, I was hiding the drawings in a pile in the corner of my studio for a long time. A lot of girls actually have told me, “When I look at your drawings, it looks like me when i’m home alone with no one watching.”
Do you have any advice for people that might experience an artistic block when deciding how to decorate their bag?
CE: You can do so many things with this bag. You can do an iron-on transfer of something if you’re not comfortable painting, or you can do something abstract. Something that I like to do when I can’t think of a pattern is take a bunch of paint and dilute it with water and just splash it onto whatever i’m working on.. No matter what, you have to have fun doing it. Having fun is more important than the end goal.
The Origami Tote, Inspired by Camilla Engstrom
Camilla Engstrom’s Origami Tote is made from one continuous panel of fabric folded to create layered compartments. We made this bag for everything and the kitchen sink so if you’re looking to fit a little less—or a lot more—feel free to play around with the folding method and fabric size.
Want to make your own Origami Tote? Download the BYOB by KARA Step-by-Step packet here and see the materials you’ll need below.
Materials You’ll Need
Fabric, Length 101" x Width 25"
Webbing, Length 109" x Width 2"
Serger or pinking shears