kintsugi…

Creative conundrum

Genuine first world problem. What interior would a creative designer choose for a classic VW camper? Restore back to the original to try and remain ‘authentic’ and original? Upgrade to modern standards with plush materials and utilise the latest technology? Or are there other alternative routes that could be explored?

My classic split screen VW camper
My classic split-screen VW camper

There are many things I love about my classic VW camper. It’s a simplistic, almost minimalistic design. A perfect back to basics camper for road trips. It has enough of what you need, but no more.

I love its originality and the fact that it has not been too messed about over the years. Yes, the paint is mostly original and faded with age and Californian sunshine (no I’m not going to paint it!). There are a few battle scars it has picked up over the years. In part, it’s this ‘honesty’ and marks of age-related character that I love the most about it. It simply adds to and enriches its ongoing story. You only ever get original once. Getting it restored or repainted in my eyes, would take away much of this charm.

Design inspiration

Creative inspiration can really come from anywhere or anything. It can often be an accumulated outworking of your individual discoveries of interconnected ideas and experiences. My interior design inspiration for the bus, for example, is a good point in case. The ‘original character’ of the camper with all of its apparent ‘imperfections’ was in itself an inspiration. I have often been fascinated by the distressed textures found on objects.

broken, but beautiful boat on Barra beach
broken, but beautiful boat on Barra beach

Being broken doesn’t mean something can’t still be beautiful. It’s all a matter of perspective. Like this abandoned colourful vintage wooden fishing boat on Barra beach. I’m sure it will continue to deteriorate over time. I like to photographically capture things like this as a frozen moment of beauty in time.

Broken beauty

Signs of a life well used, can often really be seen as signs of love. In Japanese artisan culture, there is a practice of ‘Kintsugi’ – The Japanese Art of recognizing beauty in broken things. It seems a really interesting and intriguing concept. It also feels strangely appropriate as to why I really appreciate the originality, the faded paint and various character marks from the camper’s previous use and journey over time. I researched some of its previous histories back in California. and managed to get in contact with one of its early original owners! I even found out how some of the dents came to be! We remain in correspondence and they now get joy from seeing the new adventures the camper goes on!

‘Kintsugi’ (Golden joinery)
The Japanese Art of recognizing beauty in broken things

Repair work on this16th century Mishima ware Hakeme type tea bowl with Kintsugi gold lacquer
Repair work on this16th century Mishima ware Hakeme type tea bowl with Kintsugi gold lacquer

Associated with Kintsugi is a Japanese aesthetic called Wabi-sabi which represents a Japanese worldview centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection where things can be considered to be better through imperfection. This repaired 16th century Mishima ware Hakeme type tea bowl with Kintsugi gold lacquer is an example of this. The repair work is not hidden. There has been no attempt to blend it in, disguise or hide it away. Instead, a feature is made of it. In fact, the feature is made with more expensive materials (gold) in a way that actually celebrates its repair or imperfection. I love this idea.

Top Typography

This ‘better through imperfection’ concept became the design narrative to drive my ideas for the interior. But how this was going to be worked out, I wasn’t exactly sure? However, it soon became apparent that the solution could well be staring me (literally) right in the face!

‘I like it. What is it?’ – letterpress poster by Anthony Burrill
‘I like it. What is it?’ – letterpress poster by Anthony Burrill

I love the work of UK graphic artist, printmaker and designer Anthony Burrill who lives not a million miles away from me. A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and doing a little work for Anthony and he very kindly gave me a ‘I Like It. What Is It?letterpress poster which I subsequently framed and now it hangs on my living room wall.

distressed and colourful letterpress woodblock type
distressed and colourful letterpress woodblock type

It utilises traditional letterpress print and woodblock type. Apart from the charm of the traditional printing process, I love the worn imperfections associated with the age-worn, woodblock type. This was exactly the type of aged character/imperfections that could be the basis for an interior for my aged camper. This was the source of inspiration I had been looking for!

reuse | repurpose

Reuse is often better than recycling, especially where necessity becomes the mother of invention. I wanted to make a table for the camper, a storage locker to fit in the rear roof area, plus a full set of interior panels for the vehicle. For the interior finish, I decided to reuse some of Anthony’s discarded test print letterpress posters. It’s always fun to bring new life to discarded items. Added to the list of items to be included in the interior design renovation process were some salvaged 1960’s camper interior hinges and a rusty old Triumph motorbike spanner I had buried in my toolbox for years! The hinges could be refreshed and used in the locker door design, and the old rusty Triumph motorbike spanner, well that’s the locker handle sorted!

reuse | repurpose – Triumph motorbike spanner handle
reuse | repurpose – Triumph motorbike spanner handle

Design hell

Sometimes you have to break something to make something new. Is there a special kind of graphic design hell for someone who cuts up traditional typographic letterpress poster prints? Why have I cut them up? I had bought some new plywood panels for the camper ready for the interior transformation. These would be the base for a distressed typographic montage concept I envisioned for the interior. I wanted to repurpose the test prints of some of Anthony’s older posters to create an abstract typographic montage. Slightly punk-esq in style, like a music venue wall of aged and distressed concert posters.

cutting up letterpress posters for the table top
cutting up letterpress posters for the tabletop

The design process was like trying to create an InDesign/Photoshop composition, but using the real-life tools of a scalpel, ruler, glue, jigsaw and sander! Messy chaos can be good fun! It is good to get away from a screen sometimes and see objects as they really are, rather than just a collection of vectors and pixels! Top tip; always measure twice and cut once…

Messy chaos

Working through a variety of different coloured posters, a selection of Anthony’s iconic designs and sliding them around on a large board to get the kind of look and feel I was after. Once the layout and position of the different posters were established, I cut them to shape so they could then be applied with a découpage type of technique.

découpage typographic montage interior panels
découpage typographic montage interior panels

Decoupage is a wet process that causes the paper to wrinkle. However, once dried, most of the wrinkles in the posters pulled flat. I then sanded the surface, adding to the distressed look before adding numerous layers of matt varnish, with more sanding in-between coats. It all takes time, but the results I feel were worth it. These were plain ordinary plywood panels. Nothing special about them, but they have been made better through the inerrant imperfections of the distressed letterpress posters!

Locker door Triumph motorcycle spanner handle
Locker door Triumph motorcycle spanner handle

Perfection

The table, the storage unit and interior panels are not perfect. They are unique. Much like the faded and worn exterior of the camper itself. So they’ve become a perfect match for the interior and in keeping with the overall character of the vehicle. They have a history and heritage that now adds to its ongoing story…

Finished typographic camper door panel
Finished typographic camper door panel

So what do you think?

Perfection can be boring. Real perfection is found in the imperfect. The interior project has been a great example of this, as well as being (a lot of time-consuming) fun to complete. The camper feels more personalised and complete now with a more practical and usable interior fitted. Looking forward to some more happy road trip adventures ahead…

Finished letterpress poster camper table top
Finished letterpress poster camper tabletop

If you enjoyed reading this, please feel free to subscribe, like and/or share it. I’m interested to hear what you think? Agree or disagree? Add your thoughts or comments below, conversations always start somewhere…

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