Amela Špendl is an amazing designer, who loves urban spaces, philosophy, film, art, concrete jungles, black and white photography, lush green parks and so much more. We could easily say she is a passionate urbanite. When is not creating coloring books about our stunning capital city of Ljubljana, she studies how urban spaces work and tries to improve the quality of life in them.
We kindly invite you to read the interview with Amela Špendl and get to know the Urban Coloring Book of Ljubljana.
WHAT DID YOU DREAM ABOUT BECOMING WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
When I was growing up, I was very curious and explored everything from technology to drawing, reading, writing, maths. As a grown-up I’m still interested in a lot of things both at work and in everyday life. I’m lucky I was brought up in a family that has been very supportive of my curiosity.
And yes, I think I’ve always wanted especially to draw and explore. This has formed later to a wish becoming an architect and a philosopher.
WHAT BRINGS YOU THE BIGGEST JOY AT WORK?
The work itself I’ve selected and I love to do, then the creative process, thinking, research, drafting concepts and forming ideas. Joy are also satisfied customers. Regarding the illustrations from my book, I’m really pleased to see it makes people think about public space. E.g., one of my customers told me that he has only realized the importance of tree-lined walkways along Ljubljanica river when he was coloring my drawing. Then he took a stroll along Ljubljanica and counted the trees. Yes, that’s also the joy of work.
HOW DID YOU START DESIGNING COLORING BOOKS? WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR URBAN COLORING BOOK LJUBLJANA? WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PICK THE MOTIVES?
I got the idea when I’ve noticed a tremendous rise of popularity of adult coloring books and realized it’s an excellent way to present the architecture of a city.
The design itself began earlier, I’ve tried to present the city through architectural drawings. Though I’ve drawn countless sketches before, I’ve realized that an architectural sketch is not an appropriate form for coloring, so I had to start drawing from the scratch. So my images of the city in the coloring book style came to life.
My inspiration for motives was the desire to present Ljubljana through a multi-layered narrative. Through architectural landmarks I’ve pointed out Ljubljana’s typical medieval and baroque style and also historical figures like France Prešeren and his Julija, The Water Man and Urška, and of course the architect Jože Plečnik. I wanted to tell about the modern culture of Ljubljana through hipster bars, recognizable fashion and multitudes of SUP boards on Ljubljanica, to make a point that Ljubljana is a trendy city on par with other European cities.
While the Urban Coloring Book looks like a book for relaxing coloring, it is a tool to invite the users to think of architecture I’m drawing.
IS LJUBLJANA A COLORFUL CITY OR DOES IT NEED A BIT MORE “POP OF COLOR”?
Yes, Ljubljana has it’s colors. Its colorfulness comes in gentle shades. In the sunshine it shines, in the rain it looks brick-colored or even magenta, in the winter grayness it’s different again. These colors make the city calm but relaxed, old-town tradition is symbolized by golden color on facades and interior. I’m most excited by the colors of Ljubljana in the summer when the city is in bloom.
Numerous European cities don’t have as strong urban beat as Ljubljana and because of such intense happening the city gets totally different colors and the capital starts to live in another rhythm. Young people fill up the city’s public space and enjoy urban activities. But I admire and enjoy the white Ljubljana in December or its rainy gray version.
Through time Ljubljana has formed it’s color scheme and every new development adds a new hue.
DO YOU PLAN ON DOING ANOTHER COLORING BOOK ABOUT LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA OR SOME OTHER PLACE?
Of course. My last year’s interactive exhibition »Vienna Secession« was not accidental. It’s just an excerpt from the new coloring book of Vienna that’s supposed to get published by the end of this year. Drawings of Vienna are a great challenge and serious responsibility as I need to present the history of the grand city by selecting the most representative architecture, motives and patterns that carry the typical spirit of the city I sense when I visit and live in it. It’s not an easy task at all.
Some people asked me to draw their city too, Maribor, Piran, Celje and I consider such response counts as a positive critique of my book. I might draw Slovenia in a single book.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SLOVENIAN SOUVENIRS TO GIVE AS GIFTS? IS IT YOUR VERY OWN COLORING BOOK LJUBLJANA?
My favorite souvenirs are the ones created by our designers, illustrators and other creatives. You feel original ideas and creativity in their work without explicit appeal to consumers.
People like amiability, sincerity, genuineness and authenticity. I select gifts that represent our architecture and architects.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE SLOVENIA?
Quiet, green, varied, modest and unique.
If I close my eyes and think what associates my of Slovenia, it’s its landscape. Individualism is a very strong character trait of Slovenians. I say this because identity of Slovenia is created by its people and vice-versa. That’s why Slovenia is so successful in building its unique image.
HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR FREE TIME?
Since I live in the old-town of Ljubljana, riverside and castle hill public spaces are a kind of my garden and backyard where I spend most of my leisure time. I walk around the town a lot, from Tivoli to Špica, I attend events or just sit and read on a bench by Ljubljanica. Sometimes I believe I live in a perfect urban environment. Jogging through the wonderful Golovec hill in the afternoon, swimming at Kolezija in the morning, rowing a canoe at Ljubljanica or walking my dog makes me really happy.
WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-VISIT DESTINATIONS IN SLOVENIA? IS IT PERHAPS LJUBLJANA OR DO YOU TRAVEL TO A DIFFERENT SPOT IN SLOVENIA WHEN YOU HAVE THE CHANCE?
I consider myself well informed of Slovenia and Ljubljana. Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city and explore other towns or landscapes. One needs to always explore urban and natural landscapes, find new places, and visit them in different seasons. Strolling around the countryside where every small village has its own story or visiting small towns can be inspiring and interesting. Spring of Soča, Kamniška Bistrica, vineyards of Jeruzalem or town centers of Idrija, Velenje, Kobarid…
YOU LIVE IN LJUBLJANA, THE CAPITAL OF SLOVENIA. WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT LJUBLJANA?
I like a bit hidden Ljubljana the most. Because I pay so much attention to details and I like and know the city well, I have my favorite spots that a casual observer might miss. I like different parts of the city depending on what I expect from the urban space in that moment. I like places with which I can communicate. I find a bench, a wall or a step. I like newly developed tiny squares next to the reconstructed Slovenska cesta, I also like dynamic spaces, liveliness in the city, Saturday morning at the market. I rest at the banks of Ljubljanica with different views of the river every time, I have Sunday breakfast with a view on the Castle hill.
And yer, the cities belong to the inhabitants. Ljubljana is not just houses and quarters but also us people who give identity to it.
AS A PROFESSIONAL IN THE FIELD OF RESEARCHING URBAN SPACES HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE LJUBLJANA? WHICH ARE YOUR FAVORITE URBAN SPACES IN LJUBLJANA AND WHICH COULD USE A MAKEOVER?
I’d describe Ljubljana as a city that’s both small and large, quiet and dynamic, in historical terms some kind of Agora and Roman forum.
It’s small in its medieval core with a lot of small alleys and squares on an island bound by Ljubljanica and Gruber’s Canal so you experience the walkable city. When you cross Ljubljanica, urban space opens up and widens, it becomes a big city. The tension between the character of a small medieval town on an island and the strict Roman grid of the city was the origin of Plečnik’s development of Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is a wonderful city with a scent of Ljubljanica river.
The best urban places are the ones I can upgrade with my imagination and I feel their character, the places that are intimate and with which I can connect. That’s why I’m repeatedly attracted to small places along Ljubljanica, small medieval markets like Ribji, Dvorni, Stari, Gornji trg, Trubarjeva cesta or newly developed spots at Slovenska cesta.
New developments are essential, a lot has to be done with mobility concepts and finish some developments like NUK 2 that could create new urban spaces.
WHAT‘S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LIFE HAS TAUGHT YOU?
Finitude. Dialectics of space. In philosophy and architecture, in my professional work in environment and urban space and in my private life, I’ve learned to accept the fact that everything changes with time.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO OR PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE?
Set a goal and follow through.
Urban Coloring Book Ljubljana
The coloring book presents architectural monuments, culture and lifestyle of Ljubljana through hand-drawn line drawings.