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Camilla Engstrom on finding focus, feeling grateful, and just going for it.
Camilla Engstrom is an artist and model based in Brooklyn, NY. She also designs her own collection of clothing, drawings, and objects under the name Hus-Hus, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, click and prepare to be obsessed with the witty humor, honesty, and charm of her line, but be warned, you may find yourself wanting everything…
Q / Hi Camilla! Hope you are having a good morning! How do you usually start your day? Do you have a routine that keeps you focused?
A / Yes, I usually go for a run or a walk first thing. I think about the things I am grateful for and then I think about my goals. I try to keep the goals few but big (it’s easier to stay focused and achieve them that way) and the list of things I’m grateful for long, because it puts me in great spirit.
Q / You mentioned that you just moved into a new studio space away from your apartment. Do you feel like this move has changed the way you work? What would your ideal work space be?
A / Definitely. I feel more relaxed and focused. I get so much more done. My ideal studio space is a big barn upstate with a ton of natural light.
Q / How would you say your environment affects the quality and kind of pieces you produce?
A / I’ve only made serious work in New York so I’m not sure what it would look like if I worked from somewhere else. This is something I need to try.
Q / Is there a place or time of day that allows you to feel most productive?
A / I’m the most productive during the earlier part of the day.
Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / Anywhere as long as I let myself find the space and time.
Q / What is your favorite way to disconnect and relax?
A / Leaving the city as often as I can.
Q / What was the last adventure you went on? Did it inspire your work in any way?
A / The last big trip I did was to Mexico with a couple of friends. Every morning around 5:30am I would walk along the beach. I remember coming up with many great ideas and also killing old ones.
Q / You have moved around quite a bit and spent your childhood in China and Sweden. What led you to NY and how is it different working here than where you grew up?
A / People are very ambitious here. They want the most out of work/life and it’s very inspiring to be around people who follow their own path and dreams.
Q / You’ve worked as a designer for J.Crew and also spent some time modeling in China. How did those experiences lead to your current career?
A / I was at J.Crew a pretty short time but I worked at a couple of places before that, and I knew pretty immediately that working in a corporate environment wasn’t healthy for me. Modeling in China was brutal. I knew I wasn’t happy doing either but I still felt there was something to both careers that I liked so I made it into my own thing…making clothes under my own label Hus-Hus and modeling as often as I can but under less pressure.
Q / How would you say the fashion world shaped the way you create your work? Your textile pieces and painting seem to function just as well on their own as on a garment. Which side of this is more important to you?
A / I’m an artist but I’m also a designer. It’s a tough thing to balance. I put as much time into painting or embroidering a shirt as making a painting. I hope that someday people will understand the work behind my clothes.The clothes are just a canvas. After I left the fashion world I decided pretty immediately that all the clothes I embroidered or painted had to be vintage or recycled. I want to minimize my environmental impact as much as I can. After my years in fashion I’ve really come to understand how damaging mass production is and I hope there will be an end to it soon.
Q / What would be your ideal work day?
A / I have two ideals. One is more quiet: Wake up upstate. Have a great work out, meditate and then walk over to my studio and paint the rest of the day. The other one is more intense. I’m making a meaningful documentary with a small team of people and we are in some foreign place.
Q / Was there anyone in your life who shaped your career in a formative way?
A / Yes. My grandfather, who was a journalist and an artist, gave me the confidence to follow a more creative path. I always thought you had to work under someone else to be successful, but I was wrong.
Q / Did you ever work as an assistant or apprentice?
A / That’s all I’ve been doing until I did my own thing. I love learning, so I can see myself do it again sometime.
Q / Do you have anyone who works with you now?
A / I have two lovely women who work with me a few times a week in my studio.
Q / Your paintings and drawings have such a distinct style and vibrant use of color. Are there any specific references that inspire your palette?
A / My work is very impulsive. I don’t sketch for hours or think too much about what feels right. I just go for it. Right now I’m into a lot of red and pink and chubby figures.
Q / Do you keep any collections?
A / I don’t like keeping stuff. The less things I own the happier I feel.
Q / How would you define your work?
A / It’s very all over the place. I’ve always seen this as a problem but I’m now trying to embrace it. I hate repeating myself. I need to evolve and keep making new things, otherwise I get depressed.
Q / Do you have a system for creating or it is more of an organic process?
A / I always follow my gut feeling. I believe it’s important to rotate what you’re doing. If I work too long with my textiles for example without finding any time to paint I get blind and confused and unhappy. I always listen to myself. If my heart is telling me that today will be a good day for painting I will do everything I can to do so. If my heart is telling me to take a break I will allow myself to do so no matter how busy I am. That’s how I stay inspired and focused.
Q / Do you find that living in New York has changed the way you show your work?
A / Yes. I’m finally showing my work. Before I moved here I hid/threw out everything I made.
Q / Many artists have had to embrace social media in order to compete in a global market. How do you feel about something as intangible as the internet functioning as the main tool for brand awareness in today’s world? Does it play a big part in your business?
A / It does. It plays a huge part. People are on their devices all the time and I need to be somewhere in there. It’s also important to be social and not only hide behind a screen. My studio is always open if someone wants to see my work in real life.
Q / How has the internet changed the way you work?
A / Internet has helped me find inspiring people. I love seeing what other people are doing.
Q / What has been your proudest career moment so far?
A / My proudest moment will be when I find a gallery. In the mean time I need to remind myself to be constantly proud. For the small things and the big things.
Q / Do you ever collaborate with other artists or brands?
A / Yes I do and I love doing it. Working with other people is a constant source of inspiration.
Q / What part does beauty play in your work?
A / Very important. I love beautiful things but it can get really tiring sometimes. I try to mix it up by making ugly things.
Q / Do you enjoy the solitary aspect of your career? How does it factor into the rest of your life?
A / I do and I don’t. Some days all I want is to brainstorm with people. During those days I try to have people in my studio. But most days I want to be alone and work. I’m the same way with friends.
Q / What makes you most excited about your work? What gives you the most anxiety?
A / I get anxious when I have to step into new territories. I tend to burn all the bridges behind me so I’m forced to do things I’m scared of. I think what scares me the most also excites me the most. I also get anxious when I’m not growing or making progress so I’m constantly trying to remind myself to do something new every day.
Q / Are there any particular projects you’re looking forward to this year?
A / Making more paintings! I want to have studio visits and find a gallery. I’m also excited about getting my products into stores.
Q / Lastly, could you let us in on a few of your favorite people, places, and things?
A / People: My family and inspiring friends, Joan Didion, Helen Frankenthaler, Isa Genzken, Rei Kawakubo, Picasso, Donald Judd, Amelia Earhart, Charlotte Perriand, Marie Curie…and many many many more.
Places: 6 am in my bed, hiking somewhere upstate, Dia Beacon because it’s quiet and pretty, visiting my grandmother in Falkenberg, Stockholm at my dad’s house or dining at my mother’s restaurant, Chong Qing eating Hot Pot with my relatives, Paris visiting my best friend and architect Jean-Philippe Sanfourche, at my studio, in a car on my way somewhere, and next to a quiet lake.
Things: I try not to get attached to things. I hate memorabilia.
Interview & Photography