What are you creating for Heimtextil?
ROBIN: Jon and myself have a very similar concept in our businesses and we both represent some of the best designers in the decor print industry. What we are creating is a combination of our best work, our best designers’ works and what we feel is on-trend and fitting for Heimtextil.
Strangely, we felt that what was trending in South Africa in terms of design was not necessarily the same in the US. In South Africa, Australia and Europe, we found that most of our customers have tended towards pattern designs whereas in the US many customers have moved towards more ‘mural’ style wallpapers. The HP Printed Lounge is very much a combination of the two.
JON: What we’re really trying do is create an immersive experience where everything you’re seeing has been printed on the HP Latex printing solutions but at the same time it resembles reality. It’s printing your reality, that’s the theme for the whole concept: we want to get people to understand that it’s a departure from how things are done traditionally in digital printing.
In our experience as wallpaper producers, people are looking for more realistic aesthetics in printing and being able to bring that to the wall. They don’t want to see something that looks digital, they want to see something that looks realistic or photographic. What we’ve tried to do is take every surface in the lounge and use the capabilities of the printers to show that effect. It’s all to make you feel like you’re looking at a realistic, natural texturing but in reality, you’re looking at a flat printed object.
What is your favorite piece from the Printed Lounge?
ROBIN: I absolutely love the bar area. I think the pink onyx from Robin Sprong Wallpapers and the florals from Flavor Paper will make an incredible visual, especially with the floor design by Tiphaine Alston. Botanical prints are always very popular and have been for a very long time and the same goes for geological designs like onyx, marble and other minerals. People love earthly offerings and how can that possibly go out of fashion?
JON: It’s hard to say, there’s quite a variety of different exhibit pieces within it. We’re showcasing different materials and production techniques, some are really photorealistic, some are more of a departure from that. There’s a full wall based on supersized photos of my record collection so it looks like a giant stack of records. To me, it’s something not thought of as digital print or what you’d expect from a latex printer but it really exemplifies what the HP printers are capable of.
They’re simple concepts that can be turned into grand schemes that are really a sort of transformative experience. The arrangement and the level of detail just make it a really engaging experience in the Printed Lounge. We really wanted people to have an impactful experience with these prints and being able to do that’s really what makes these HP Latex printers change the game.
What inspired you for this design?
ROBIN: Onyx has been one of our most popular designs for this kind installation. We print the designs onto clear vinyl and back them with a white vinyl reversed onto the glass so that the print is behind the glass, this gives a very high end polish and, in most cases, it is illuminable to create an even better effect. The HP Latex machine has such a good quality color reproduction and print texture that it is almost as good as the real thing. I am also very excited about the floor graphic and the blinds that we are doing. I feel that these are new product to me and I feel that we can definitely expand our retail products to this area.
JON: A lot of it came from what we’ve experienced in the past, seeing the trade shows and finding the exhibits and prints interesting but just not being convinced. Our goal for this collaboration was to inspire people and show them what they can really do with the technology.
What is specific about the HP Latex printing technology that you like the most?
ROBIN: What I love the most about the Latex printing technology is the print quality and the fact that it is latex. The latex machine is a very clean machine and we work in a studio where we can work and print within the same environment. This allows our designers to have a direct dialogue with the machines, they can spot colors and errors immediately. This increases our efficiency and our quality.
The Latex technology is also quite stable across multiple machines, offering very close color and textural quality on identical machine models. The machines are quick and have a great build quality making them robust and dependable with very low maintenance as we often run our machines all night long unsupervised without many issues.
JON: It has a very smooth consistency to it. If you look at UV printing as the main alternative, it leaves a lot of dots and leaves it looking very unrealistic. The beauty of latex is the smoothness of the print and the lack of dots. It really allows you to change people’s vision of what they’re seeing because it’s so smooth and you can trick the eye a lot more than with a UV printer.
It doesn’t smell, it has a bright aesthetic, it prints really well from material to material and the variety of applications alone makes it really unique. It’s one of the biggest pluses for me and why we have 3 of these machines now.
Why did you go into design?
ROBIN: I have always been into design and involved with the creative industry in one way or another. I studied art and photography at school and then became a Navy Diver in the South African military. I spent years diving around the world and instructing people how to dive. I returned to South Africa and was introduced to Lomography, later becoming the country’s Lomographic Ambassador. I travelled a lot taking endless photographs and printing images. We would create massive exhibitions around the world, including in Tokyo, LA, London, Manchester, Cape Town, Berlin, Beijing, Vienna to Havana to name a few.
I decided to sell my images and became interested in printing them as big as possible. The digital market had just erupted onto the scene and it was more user-friendly with better material. I felt that the traditional way of printing one small image onto a wall and framing it was silly, what about the rest of the wall? Cover the whole wall in an image! I would also work at a lot of night clubs as a VJ and project large images onto the walls, totally changing the mood of the club.
Soon after that I decided I needed to help young photographers like myself to get the opportunity to display their work and started Exposure Gallery. The rule was you could display any form of image onto anything as long as it was a printed photograph. So we started making lamps, tables, block mounts, wallpapers, place mats, you name it. This is where I gained a lot of experience in digital print. I was outsourcing my printing to so many different companies with different machines and techniques it meant I saw what happened behind the scenes.
But as all things in life, they got out of hand and I had to learn how to focus. I decided I wanted to focus on wallpaper. I had already done a lot of wallpaper work and my clients knew I was capable of doing this. So I sold the gallery and started Robin Sprong Wallpaper. I decided to use my contacts from the gallery to and start representing artists in the wallpaper space. From there we gained better and better designers and grew into what we are today.
JON: I literally stumbled into it! I was doing interior design work on a boutique hotel project in New Orleans when September 11th happened and I ended up taking a time out from design after that. I then worked in private equity and real estate development and while I was doing that I did some interior design work on some of the projects we were working on.
On one project, a friend of mine showed me a wallpaper book she came across. My first thought was ‘who in the world uses wallpaper anymore?’, I didn’t know anybody using wallpaper, hadn’t seen any I thought was interesting and the whole concept of it really struck me as something that could be so immersive and impactful in a space and yet it wasn’t being used. Here was this company from the 70s that had done all these wild, wacky, vibrant colors that were big in the 60s and 70s that I had completely missed and my generation had completely missed… I just saw it as an opportunity.
I found out about this guy was burning his equipment and shutting down his company so I flew out to Oregon to rescue their equipment and I started making wallpaper. So from 2003 and seeing wallpaper as a really out of date, tired thing I was able to do hand screened wallpaper with traditional techniques but very modern aesthetics.
When digital started to come to the forefront I was really interested in that and saw how much more could be done with digital production, it really drew me in. I was an environmental science major in college and always really eco-focused so I didn’t want to do anything that was going to be harmful to the environment or myself or my employees and so I held out for a while and it was really the latex technology that drew me in: water-based, POC-free, eco-friendly, certified – it has it all! It was something I would be happy to put in people’s homes that I know wouldn’t be dangerous to them. I’ve always been a designed-focused guy since I was a little kid, I was always rearranging my room and designing things and building things, it’s always been in my blood, I just hadn’t found the right outlet until I got into wallpaper.
What is the project you are most proud of?
ROBIN: The two projects I’m the most proud of are the Marly Hotel and Harem nightclub. They were both big projects where had access to the most types of materials and created a large amount of artwork for those projects. It was a great challenge to go source the material and sampling to turn the images into the look and feel that the clients wanted.
For the Marly Hotel, they wanted to replicate the French paneling look of the Chateaux de Marly in Paris and bring it to Cape Town. The final effect was black and white ‘photocopy’ style pieces created with reverse printing onto vinyl. We used a lot of striking photography for the Harem nightclub in Johannesburg, we printed onto fabrics and curtains and under the table tops throughout the clubs and it resulted in a great look and feel.
JON: I’d say probably the Andy Warhol collection by Flavor Paper is probably one my prouder moments, just because it was such a huge opportunity. They were talking to huge wallpaper companies and yet it was our creativity and our that got us the job. It’s been one of the funniest things I’ve ever done and some of the best recognition we could get.
Andy Warhol is one of the earliest precursors for the whole ‘think different’ movement and to be able to take something as such a great global treasure with forethought and insight was so inspiring. I felt such a strong tie to how Flavor Paper had been conceptualized from the beginning and how we work with things, without even thinking about Andy Warhol, it was just the sort of go-to for how we worked and our take on color. It all dovetailed back to ‘this is how Andy would have done it’ so to be able to get into his mindset and take a product he had actually worked with was amazing.
We were able to take his print techniques and styles and think about how he would have thought about things if he could have accessed modern technology and materials. While he had done his own thing with wallpapers, to have the opportunity to go into his catalogue and take something he didn’t use for wallpaper and reinterpret them in that fashion was extremely fun for us and really rewarding. We have several of them in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian!
What do you think is going to be the trend/influence dominating designers in 2017?
ROBIN: I think naturals are going to remain a strong trend in 2017. A lot of trends come from Pantone giving their color and theme for each year. I think we’ll see a lot more around geology, especially things like bones and marble. There’s a lot of concern around nature and global warming and people are going to be a lot more nature-oriented.
I think in 2017 there’ll be a shift away from patterns and traditional styles of photography to more unusual angles. Drone photography, hard angles, really abstract angles. They’re all creating completely different results.
JON: I think design is really pushing to the forefront more than anything because there has been such a saturation of digital wallpaper production and now it’s a question of who can think it through to the next level and really take it someplace else, especially in the marriage of materials and concept. What can you do with a wall? It’s a generally 2D surface and how can you make it feel more than that? This is really where the future lies, especially in the US it’s leaning more toward happy and calm self-concepts rather than the wild side.
I think we’ll really see the political arena shift things. It’s been a very somber and semi-angry time here and I think when people come home or even go out, they either want a really transformative experience we’re they’ve been taken out of their day-to-day reality or just something that sinks them into a comfortable happy place.
What new skills do you think designers need to learn to be successful in the future?
ROBIN: Investigate the really specific software become more available. There’s so much choice and every part of the market has refined and refined its uses. People who are only training in Photoshop become drowned in too much choice. There might be a number of specific tools for what you’re looking to create that you didn’t even know existed, so go out and find them.
JON: I think it all lies on software knowledge and how to think through ways to do things differently with that. Understanding the marriage of the design techniques from a digital standpoint, knowing to use the right equipment and being able to choose materials to showcase and enhance those concepts. It’s a race to create tools for designers to allow them to get their ideas out into the world, and we’ll see new ways of doing things and they will become a big part of the game. Take 3D printing, it’s a big marriage of these concepts and we’ll see it come to the forefront even more so as pricing comes down.
How do you think technology will shape the future of textile printing?
ROBIN: With technology, there’s so much that can happen now in terms of combination. Technology has reached a point where a lot more people are realizing the potential and now things are becoming more niche. It goes beyond being just ‘a fabric designer’, it’s such a broad spectrum. Now you can become a thread designer or a hem designer. Technology is going to make all of these areas much more niche. Technology has already shaped and shifted so many industries and it’s going to keep continuing, it’s something everyone needs to get ahead of now.
JON: I think it’s more and more in the arena of what’s being done in design is being pushed by what technology can do from a production stand point. Fabric printing has completely changed the aesthetics of clothing. 3D modelling has allowed one-off and bespoke design to create something so unique. Customization is such a huge thing and the more the technology drives what’s possible the more designers will be able to think beyond that and push it further. A lot of it is hand-in-hand development, especially in the future, because you’ve got technologically savvy people designing these machines but they don’t understand where they want designers to take it.
HP has been at the forefront of embracing that kind of discussion, we’ve seen them bringing big designers to collaborate deeply in the past. What Robin and I are doing now is showing the different opportunities and potential from this kind of printing and showing how it can be taken even further in terms of printing and concept to advance the art and technique. This kind of design is about who can make the most out of a space and these printers are really ahead of that.
What would your piece of advice be for a young designer?
ROBIN: I would say invest your money into developing your technical skills. You have to realize sometimes these skills just aren’t available, not everywhere will have the most up to date training. You must keep up to date with technology and what it’s doing, be resourceful and entrepreneurial.
Don’t follow the sheep, be self-disciplined, be inquisitive and find your inspiration to do the things you want to do.
JON: Keep art and your heart at the forefront of what you’re doing and always keep your personality involved in things. Become as technically-savvy as you possibly can because the more skills you have to bring to the table and the more useful you are to a design firm with the self you can bring, the more you can do something unique. It’s a fine balance between the two and being able to make something but putting your own voice into it and producing something that’s different will give you your edge and your chance to shine. Design-wise, the world is your oyster: if you can think it, you can print it!
About Robin Sprong
Robin Sprong Wallpaper started in 2006. This business was borne from Robin’s passion for printing photography, as he used to work for an international camera company called Lomography. In South Africa, printing was very expensive process, and large format digital printing had only just emerged within the market. Robin felt that there was a lack of interior printing solutions, such as wallpapers and canvas prints, and wanted to break the mould of printing images that only get framed. His vision was to print pictures for the entire wall and create new dimensions for interiors. His background as a photographer provided him with sufficient content from which to draw inspiration.
RSW is now one of the best names in the wallpaper industry in South Africa. His work has featured in countless magazines, front covers and on TV, both locally and internationally and his clients range from interior designers to interior agencies and private homeowners.
Recently, RSW have been busy with a multitude of projects such as the Ritz Hotel in Sea Point, The Theatre on the Square in Sandton, dozens of restaurants and nightclubs all around South Africa and abroad. Some of their better known clients and references are: InHouse, Stephen Falke, John Jacob Interiors, Source IBA, Collaboration, Soda Creations, SKEP, T&Co and Saville Row.