Intricate detail, Inception and a suede jacket... Jeya Narrative meets The City Works' Co-founder Rowan Ottesen to discuss cityscapes and architecture, and how they influence our identities.
Rowan Ottesen: The City Works was founded by Sylvia Moritz on her 25th birthday. Sylvia is primarily an artist and printmaker who specialises in etching, notably her detailed ‘CitySphere’ series. It was this that inspired The City Works. It began as just a way of applying city illustrations to new ideas and forms, and after picking up a few stockists early on such as We Built this City [on Carnaby Street, London] and the Barbican Centre [London], the number of products and cities just grew gradually over time. Now we have designs stocked in around 50 stores in many cities around the world. We also collaborate with interesting companies from time to time, on bespoke illustrations and gift collections.
Cities have so many elements to them, so much to love, I think everyone feels as though they own a little piece of the cities they love. It’s our goal to be able to give people ways of remembering these cities and places in a physical object or image. We don’t like to specifically say ‘souvenir’, because of the negative connotations such a word has sometimes!
We admire and follow many illustrators and brands who put amazing work out there, but our biggest influences are really the places that we visit. The landmarks, the architecture and the layout of the cities we’re drawing.
We have a home office in Vienna, and a warehouse space and workshop just outside of the city. We love our home office, it’s practical, clean, with lots of pencil pots and drawers. Our workshop is a bit more industrial, with many boxes of stock and supplies coming in and out. It doesn’t stay tidy for long.
Our studio desk has a nice story. The wooden table top is very large, very heavy, and probably 5cm thick. It was used by Sylvia’s grand parents, who were bakers, so it’s nice to continue its life. It must be at least 2 metres long and over a hundred years old!
We admire the way cities constantly evolve. A city is never the same as it was yesterday. Something is demolished or rebuilt, some people are leaving forever while others are seeing it for the first time. Because mostly everything in a city is man-made, I think you witness the embodiment of human desires. And it’s total, loveable chaos!
Sylvia’s favorite city is New York City, she lived there while studying at Parsons on an Erasmus programme and found it hard to leave. Right now I love living in Vienna, for me it is a semi-secret, unspoilt capital of Europe, but I would need to see every city before I decide on a favourite!
That’s a great quote. We do a vast amount of research before drawing a city, it’s vital. Most of our research is derived from our own previous travels and photographs of the city. It takes a month of solid work to complete a collection. It begins as a hand-drawing, which is then ‘vectored’ (digitised). This is so we can edit, scale and recolour the drawing for its many purposes.
I generally love the thrill of being a small-business owner. Although it involves very long and unpredictable days, being responsible for designing, marketing, manufacturing, and shipping our own designs is a very rewarding process. Before long we will need a few helping hands though.
I think it’s natural to be curious and to wonder what it’s like elsewhere. Surrounding myself with new scenery helps to provide me with a new perspective, which I think is really helpful when solving a particular puzzle.
We’re very fond of Inception. It is fascinating how we can construct such vast detailed worlds in our mind. I liked the way it questioned our perception of reality.
We’re very privileged to have worked on great commissions, like the shopfront for We Built this City on Carnaby Street and for murals in the University of the Arts London hall buildings. A dream project for us would be to full illustrate the exterior of a building with a cityscape, it would look pretty cool.
Place you call home: On the road
A colour: Cobalt Blue
A movie or book: Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott
A sound: The London tube
A place: Coffee and Coconuts in Amsterdam
Moment of fame: A feature in the Guardian Xmas Gift Guide
Go-to accessory to dress to impress: We like our Freedom to Exist watches
Most coveted item in your wardrobe: A suede jacket I bought when I got my first paycheck
Favourite tool to work with: Tape dispenser
Favourite inspirational quote, or best piece of advice anybody ever gave you: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”
Why Jeya Narrative? Because they understand what quality is, and they gauge the male psyche.
Comments will be moderated before being displayed.
10 questions for Kirsty Thomas, Co-founder of design studio Tom Pigeon, which is based in the East Coast of Scotland. She talks Charles Eames, brutalist architecture and sailing boats.