For Marimekko's 
Artwork Studio Manager, 
Print's Not Dead

For Marimekko's Artwork Studio Manager, Print's Not Dead

By Aileen Kwun
Petri Juslin has held exactly one job in this thirty-year career.

Since 1986, he's served as artwork studio manager of Finnish lifestyle brand Marimekko—the midcentury mainstay whose vibrant wares range from clothing and accessories, to tabletop items, linens, and goods for the home. Earlier this spring, a new capsule collection produced with Target even included bathing suits, beach towels, and lounge chairs.

Since the beginning, the brand's prolific product range has been united by a refreshing approach to color and pattern, crafted from a signature, in-house screen printing process—which is where Juslin comes in. For every pattern that is produced, Juslin has shepherded it from drawing board to realization.

We caught up with Juslin while he was in town for New York Textile Month to discuss Marimekko's unique textile printing process, the intersection of craft and industry, and the importance of imperfection.

Marimekko's Tuppura ("cottongrass"), designed by Aino-Maija Metsola.

How would you describe your day-to-day?

My official title is artwork studio manager—which maybe doesn't tell people much about what it means, but it's quite interesting. I'm not a designer myself, but I work with the design department, and have worked with lots of designers for years: I discuss their work with them, help articulate what they want, then I find technical solutions to create them. I teach them about the different capabilities of our printing factory, then I talk to the printers to challenge them—usually to try and produce something we're often told is impossible. So I'm a bridge between production, creative, and art direction.

Sounds like a very instrumental role to hold at a company like Marimekko, whose brand DNA lies directly in its graphic sensibility—and the particular method by which it's produced.

Yes, and especially because we have a heritage in print design, it's important to us—the whole company started around print design. I have to be aware of that heritage so that everything we do is somehow continuing the story and the tradition—that it looks like Marimekko and that people recognize it as such.

That overprinted aesthetic—where you can see the planes of color overlap—seems to be Marimekko's signature look. 

Absolutely. That's what it's all about, the whole Marimekko style. Our new young designers, too, are very conscious of this and know this as well, designing and playing around with the overlap effect. Benjamin Thompson, who introduced Marimekko to the United States, had a wonderful definition of it; he said that it was "all about movement and colors in space," which I think is a beautiful description—it's important to have that sense of fluidity and movement, which shows in a lot of our works. It's not a static graphic. Imperfection also shows a mark of the human touch; it's alive.

Sometimes people will show me patterns that they bought from an auction or an estate sale, for example, and ask, "Are any of these Marimekko? Which ones?" And I can immediately tell whether or not something is Marimekko. It's something in the design—I can't define it. Even Armi Ratia, who founded the company, said, when asked: "I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it."

Nearly all artwork first undergoes a screen printing process at Marimekko's printing factory in Helsinki. At this stage, patterns are separated by color, then translated onto screens that will print each section of the fabric.

Each layer of color is then spread across the fabrics by hand, transferring dyes through the individual silk screens. In this process, different hues are applied individually, one layer at a time, creating Marimekko's signature for slightly imperfect, overlapping planes of rich color.

How do you negotiate between retaining the brand's timelessness, while at the same time producing new graphics and patterns for two collections each year?

It varies; sometimes we go a little crazy with the designs and produce too many, then can't handle the demand for it. Now we have crystallized the message a little bit, and we use a lot of archival prints, but we still want to bring new and fresh modern designs into the Marimekko world. It always includes a bit of something new and something old.

We have a positive problem in that we have so many good designs, but we can also always find anything from the archive. We receive letters from around the world, asking things like, "Could you please produce this specific design from 1965? My mother had it and it's very important to me...." But we cannot produce everything, unfortunately. We have to make decisions and choose.

Tell us a bit about the process of creating a new design, from start to finish—how does an illustration, for example, eventually make its way onto mugs, plates, towels, and apparel?

Everything starts with the printed fabric. The pattern itself has to be quite powerful, and then we put it through the screen printing process. Then, if it shows its capability, we explore applications for it onto different types of products. But there are rare examples where everything worked the opposite way—from product back to textile. But that doesn't happen often; normally it's a fairly intuitive process.

What do you feel distinguishes Marimekko's production process from other textile manufacturers?

I think the most extraordinary and unique thing about it is that we work collaboratively between the printers and the designers, and everyone else in-house. We work together. It's not just that we take a picture and make something out of it—it's a whole process that involved the designer at every stage. Even if they are freelance designers, we have them with us every step of the way—and they're usually very happy about that. Their opinions are very valuable to us throughout the process.

Once the screen printed graphic is finalized and approved by the creative and production teams, the pattern is printed onto cotton fabrics using long flatbed machines.

Once printed, fabrics are run through a mechanical dryer, which presses and sets all the layers of color in place. Marimekko's team then inspects and views each roll of textile by eye for any mistakes along process. Approved rolls are then shipped off to vendors and, in some cases, make their way onto any of the brand's myriad clothing items, products, or home accessories.

How would you describe the current moment in textile design, now in 2016?Pattern design is very popular nowadays. I've worked thirty years in the industry, and it's never been so popular. When you open up Instagram or any other online platform, there are hundreds of thousands of young designers showing work. It can be difficult to navigate through it all, but sometimes we'll come across someone that our creative director will keep in mind—and whose work will be a good fit for a collection we work on later on down the line. 

What plays into that selection process?
People are very thoughtful and careful about what they decide to bring into their homes. Especially with textiles, which come very close to you, and into your home—you don't accept everything. It has to be something you connect to very specially. If the pattern pleases you, it could just be as simple as that, and the result will make you happy. 

Petri Juslin, Marimekko's artwork studio manager since 1986.

For more on Marimekko, check out our previous visit to its Helsinki factory, and read our profile on two alumni of Design Research, Ben and Jane Thompson's legendary store that introduced the Finnish brand's wares to the United States. 


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