Nicole and Petra Kapitza on the beauty of colour, big breaks and running a creative studio as sisters
If you're a fan of bold, colourful and geometric art, then you'll already know about Kapitza – the creative force that is renowned for this particular line of work.
Nicole and Petra Kapitza are sisters who share a passion for print, pattern, minimalism and colour. Originally from rural south Germany, they founded their studio in 2004 in the heart of East London and have since become pattern and colour experts. Grafik magazine even deemed them "the first ladies of pattern design".
Their distinctive style (which you can see on Instagram) has led to collaborations with brands as big as Gucci, IKEA, Clinique and Swatch. And their popular prints and artbooks have caught the attention of the creative community worldwide.
In a cafe in Clerkenwell recently, we sat down to discuss their success so far and what's changed since they exploded onto the scene 15 years ago.
You're an established creative duo, renowned for your colourful, geometric art. How did it all begin?
Petra: We both had full-time design jobs; however, in our spare time, we worked with artists and galleries to create innovative art books. These collaborations worked so well that we decided to start our studio.
What was your first big break, when you looked at each other and thought, this could work?
Nicole: It has to be our first significant collaboration with Clinique. It was terrific when they approached us and said that they'd been fans for years. We have since done a further, global partnership with them and feel that our art and colour style is perfect for their brand. It’s the best feeling in the world when we are approached by clients who love our style exactly how it is and when the two brands work together well.
As sisters, do you work well together?
Petra: Yes, we work very well together. Of course, not without one or two arguments, but the glue that binds us is our mutual respect for one another's skills, taste and commitment to the work.
Nicole: We did deliberate for a while if it was a good idea to start a studio together, but our ambition to create work we believed in eventually won out.
Tell us more about your different personalities and how you both operate in the business.
Nicole: We share most tasks in a fluid way. For the design part, we bounce projects back and forth; for the business part, we usually decide on an individual basis who does what. It would be good if we were more organised, and we have tried, but somehow that never seems to work for long.
What qualities do you admire in each other that makes Kapitza work so well?
Petra: It works because we are both equally creative and passionate to push every project to get the best solution possible. And of course, being sisters, there is a profound trust – we know we can always rely on each other.
What's changed since you launched? What new challenges do you face?
Petra: The studio has changed many times since we launched. We started as a graphic design studio and became a font foundry, book publisher, app developer and print studio as well as artists. And we are still evolving!
Nicole: We love challenges, and believe it’s what keeps us on our toes as creatives. This year we have been commissioned to create two large-scale projects, one for a hospital interior and another is an installation for a design fair. Both are real challenges. Especially as we're working at this more extensive scale and tackling the production side of it, but we love seeing our work in this way.
Can you talk us through a favourite collaboration? What was the brief, and how did you get there?
Petra: We are just back from Vienna installing our first large scale project 'Kapitza World'. It’s a site-specific project in a disused bank building from the 1970s, and part of the Vienna Design Week. For this space, we created an immersive experience through colour and calming vertical and horizontal stripes on the walls and floor. We also designed our first furniture with two custom made benches to allow people to relax and hang out in the space. The project was a collaboration with Japanese washi (paper) tape company mt, and the entire installation was made with coloured masking tape.
Do you have a favourite colour? Can you tell us why?
Nicole: Our favourite colour is 'multi'! A colour, for us, exists only in relation to others. We curate colour combinations for maximum effect and consciously employ different shades and hues of one colour to dramatise the impact of their neighbouring colours. We curate 'colour stories' where each shade and hue has a role to play in the composition. For example, we might add a small spot of intense colour to create contrast or a very muted colour to create tension in the piece.
Talk us through your distinctive style. How have you developed it?
Petra: The inspiration and starting point for our artworks are the rules of basic geometry. We always begin with a geometric shape, circle, triangle, square, line, etc. and then come up with rules we can apply to the form. I.e. split it into different sections, move it around in a predefined space, rotate it, etc. It’s all very minimalist and nerdy, but we find that starting at point zero each time allows us to innovate.
Nicole: We have a multitude of ongoing studio research projects, which we pick up and develop when we have new ideas. Most of them go on for years, some end up in a particular project, like the books we have published, some are the inspiration for our commercial projects. It is crucial to have this experimental space to continue to create new work and keep inventing.
You have a new project for a local hospital. Can you tell us more?
Petra: We are incredibly excited that the Royal London Hospital (which is our local hospital) has commissioned us to create art for an entire building. We have been commissioned to create art for multiple waiting areas, long corridors, wayfinding, etc. Our idea is to use a wide range of media, including murals, window vinyl, art prints to create a dynamic flow through the entire building.
What have been the career highlights so far?
Nicole: Being nominated for the 'Designs Of The Year' award by the Design Museum in London. We were honoured to be in such fantastic company of the other nominees. Designers of all backgrounds have been nominated for their innovative approach, and it's so great to be recognised for something we are always striving for with our studio research projects.
Any mistakes that you've made that taught you some valuable lessons?
Petra: To grow as an individual, artist or studio you have to push the boundaries and try out new things constantly. You inevitably make mistakes, and each one teaches you a lesson. The most valuable lesson we have learnt is to understand and protect intellectual property. As creators of original art, it can make a massive difference to your long term success.
What advice would you give to people looking to follow in your footsteps?
Do what you love and keep going!