The Metropolis Perfectionists | An Interview with The City Works

At the back end of last year I had a little browse around the lovely Renegade Craft Fair, of course immediately going into illustration magpie mode. And why wouldn’t I when the first stall I came across featured wonderful London cityscapes by The City Works? I’ll forever be a city girl, wherever that be in the world, so these beautifully detailed yet minimalist prints had me from the get go; it was refreshing to see a literal take on the city with more thought process than most. After an awkward introduction of myself to one of the founders, Rowan Ottesen, I made a mental note to get back in touch and talk to him about the duo’s current projects and future ventures and thankfully I didn’t forget.


The City Works are now based in the magical Vienna (lucky buggers!) but they currently have a huge presence in London – you can see their murals on Carnaby Street and a host of other places. The other half, Sylvia Moritz, focuses on the design process and after what seems like a massive year for the design duo, they are now having a little breathing space in their new home working on new ideas and commissions. I’m a big advocate of the artisan life so I adore the idea of them travelling around and researching each place to draw – kind of an illustrated version of much loved Boat magazine. Collaborations like this are extremely fascinating to me – it feels like a gutsy move to make and what could be better than working with your partner in crime on something you both love? Find out more from my chat with Rowan below:

First of all there is obviously two of you working on The City Works, who does what?
That’s right, The City Works is currently a design duo comprising of myself and Sylvia. We tend to share most of the responsibilities, but broadly speaking, as the ‘Creative Director’, Sylvia dedicates most of her time to drawing, designing and curating collections, while I mainly take care of new business and the administration side of things. When working on a big new design project we both roll up our sleeves to take on the art-working. 


How did you get together in the first place?
Sylvia & I met while studying Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts. After graduating we worked in a few different London design studios, but we were never very good at being told what to do, so we decided to be our own boss and took the leap to form The City Works. 

Interesting – your designs might just be some of most intricate I have ever seen, how long does it take you to complete a piece?

Thank you! They’re certainly the most detailed we’ve seen as well. Our intricate cityscapes can take many months from start to finish. We first undertake a vast amount of research for each location, this is followed by multiple sketches and finalised with many days (and sometimes nights) of art-working. Our London Cityscape Poster is our most detailed design so far, and is the best part of six months work on and off. 


You’ve adorned Carnaby Street store We Built This City with your wonderful cityscapes. How does it feel to be in such a prime location and is there anywhere else can we see your work in London?

The storefront and interior for We Built this City is one of our favourite projects so far without a doubt. It is a special feeling to see our style on such a large scale in the very centre of London. The Carnaby Street organisers are very enthusiastic about supporting We Built this City because of all the top London artists inside, and to have permission to illustrate such a space with a lot of creative licence is a rarity and an opportunity we took with both hands. 

There are a few more ‘cityworks’ dotted around London, including a trio of murals for the University of the Arts London. These can be seen at different student halls across London. There is a Finsbury Park mural at a building called Sketch House, an Elephant & Castle mural at the Highline Building and a Shoreditch mural called ‘East London Skyline’, in Will Wyatt Court. We have been commissioned to work on more murals like this, in new cities, with our next planned to go to print in the Summer of 2016. 

Wow, that’s incredible! The City Works is quite obviously going to be taking over the world! At the moment though your city collections comprise of London, Vienna and a very sweet Christmas inspired Bethlehem, where is next and how do you decide on which city to illustrate?

Everybody knows that the world is full of great cities, and we have already amassed a long list of places we want to see and work with. Choosing the right place takes a little deliberation, because we want to strike a balance between popular tourist destinations, while also shedding light on lesser known places. Our next release will be ‘Scenic Scotland’, a collection of Scottish city designs. It’s going to be an opportunity for us to incorporate a little more nature into our designs, as well as the beautiful historical buildings that Scotland is so renowned for.


A massive thank you to Rowan and Sylvia for providing me with their answers and beautiful imagery. What do you think? Where would you like to see illustrated by The City Works? Follow them on Twitter and Instagram for more updates on their city life.

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