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Liselotte Captein
+31 (0) 6 41471197

Studio > OK72 / 1.06
Oude Kraan 72
NL-6811 LL Arnhem

Henriëtte Heezen 


Liselotte Captein designs colourful products, such as dotted shawls or bags with a weave pattern shown in blown­-up form, a banner of several metres in length for an apartment building and light fixtures. Her interest does not primarily concern products as such; rather, it lies in the design of patterns: the challenge of finding out whether existing patterns, compelling grids or other rigid systems are willing to open up to alternatives, shifts, trans­lations, coincidence. For this researcher the final product appears to be little more than a temporary stop on the road.
Captein’s approach is part of a tradition in Dutch design which is initially conceptual, reduces reality to its essence and favours plain design, with an occasional humorous touch; where there is decoration, it is subject to planning, for instance in the form of a pattern’s vibrant repetition or in recurring, slightly shifted dots. The designs are simple yet complex; they are characterised by a Scandinavian clarity but otherwise show widely varying sources of inspiration, such as nature’s organic stylistic elements, old embroidery patterns or the simplicity and refinement of Japa­nese designs.
Captein’s starting point used to be hand­made designs, but she recently discovered the surprising possibilities offered by digital designing. This development was accelerated when she took a course in digital pattern design at Amsterdam’s Akademie Vogue, resulting in a stream of new ideas and approaches. Thus coincidence has started to play a larger role in her designs: she found that design tools can produce unexpected changes. The ‘Shaper’ tool makes it possible to adapt a grid put in place by hand. In this process the tool to some extent finds a route of its own by automatically proposing additions or interpretations. These may be considered alternatives, suggestions to build on a path already mapped out. The rigid format intercepts the flow of movement, as it were, in order to propel it into unforeseen direc­tions, resulting in unique translations of initial insights.
The Dieuwertje series resulted from a self ­imposed assignment by Captein to make a shawl for a relative, Dieuwertje. Dieuw­ertje’s traditional Dutch living room formed the inspiration for the pattern: a geometric design taken from a simple Persian rug and reduced to a grid and dots such as found on printed Smyrna patterns. 

The problem of foreground and background 

For a competition to design a carpet (CarpetVista, 2017) Captein carried out in­ depth research.To this end she combined a study of nature, more specifically of landscape, with the effect of perspective and light and shadow, what is also known in the modernist theory of abstraction as the problem of foreground and background. The moment dots or a line appear on a white surface, endless space becomes defined space: a foreground and a background.
In bird’s eye view a landscape will automatically appear as a col­ourful pattern of surfaces and lines, possibly including the con­tours of wooded areas and, depending on the light, with varying shades and shadows, wooded boundaries or furrows in the soil. It is these images which literally form the basis of a design: a pattern in which reality is reduced to shapes and residual shapes. These in their turn invoke new realities depending on the way they are ordered and on the observations of the specta­tor. In this way the landscape became the inspiration for a carpet with a pattern resembling a parquet floor in checkerboard motif as much as a weave of strips of fabric. This pattern forms the basis for the No Stars and Framed series, a range of products showing bright surfaces: bags, shawls or pillows. These series can be in black and white or make use of two colours, with striking combinations such as fluorescent yellow and white or, by con­trast, warm gold and brown. What gives the design its own sig­nature is traces of writing, an irregularity or a line cut short just a little: the sensitive hand is never far removed and the pattern ultimately evades predictability’s compelling course. 


Designing to Liselotte Captein means more than coming up with a pattern and applying it. She herself likes to quote Armi Ratia, one of the founders of Marimekko: ‘I don’t really sell clothes. I sell a lifestyle. These are designs, not fashion ... I sell an idea instead of dresses’. In the case of Captein it may be less about a ‘lifestyle’ and more about an approach, about the adven­ture of continuous exploration within a framework, with mini­mal means. It calls to mind how architects work: modelling in space, visualising that space, all the time gauging depth with a set­-off in the foreground. All of this is done intuitively, the way Gerrit Rietveld carried out spatial exploration. He did not work according to a preconceived plan, but with a clear desire to make space (which he referred to as ‘infinity’) visible in the finite. Like Captein, Rietveld preferred to design in white and grey, sober hues as a basis for colour, creating every opportunity for light to have its effect. 

Captein’s study of the effects of light, of restriction, overlap, per­meability and filtering of light by capturing it in fixtures. It would not be appropriate to see this as a translation of the two­ dimensional design into the third dimension. After all, spatial design with light as a main visual element calls for its own exploration and approach. Nevertheless, the two approaches start from a visual inquiry into the effects of light and dark, black and white, in other words into the greatest contrast and every shade in between.The square forms the basis for the Lighting LOT­ 001 lamp. ‘Engraved’ in the (plastic) cube is a reg­ular pattern of lines, such that more light is able to pass through here than in the intermediary fields.The parallel lines close to the edge serve to emphasize the square (as with a tea towel or a handkerchief ), while at the same time calling attention to the next field: the beginning and end of a continuous pattern. In light fixture Lot’15 this continuous movement is suggested by overlapping circular segments. What the eye fails to notice immediately in this case is the semitransparent structure of col­oured dividers on the inside of the lamp which acts as a barrier for some of the light and creates the various colour nuances. Here again the basis is nearly geometrical and somewhat rigid, but the effect is organic and fluid. Once more her love of landscape and nature is revealed. 

Spring 2021
[Tanslation: Anneke Leenhouts] 

Liselotte Captein studied drawing, painting and graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art and Design in s-Hertogenbosch and interior architecture and furniture design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (1992-1996). She had her own business as an interior designer in Amsterdam and in the late 1990s started a bistro, Captein & Co. Since 2010, she has been working as Captein Design, a product, lighting and pattern designer (Amsterdam/Arnhem). Her knowledge of pattern design using digital techniques was broadened by a course at Akademie Vogue in Amsterdam.

 She is currently researching into the possibilities and limitations of design tools as compared to hand-made design in series such as ‘Mind the Gap’ and ‘Me and my Machine’.