Joanna Hellgren is a talented young interdisciplinary artist living and working in Stockholm. I fell in love with her work immediately when I saw it, and I hope you will as well. She works with illustration, painting, typography, and graphic design to create magical worlds and beautiful, unseen places. Her books feature line drawings of children in wanderlust, black spaces, haunting animals. Hellgren sums up entire worlds of imagined Scandinavian magic with an approach which is intelligent and consciously playful. She says “The mind works better while drawing.”
This is maybe my first proper interview with an artist-- lucky for me that Joanna is so nice.
Just a few questions about your work, which I love so much.
What inspires you?
Nature, people, literature, film, music, news, walking and talking.
How do you begin a new artwork?
I usually have an idea about a situation or an atmosphere and start from there. Sometimes it’s about trying a technique.
When it comes to comics I try to figure out where I want to go, and then just begin. The mind works better while drawing. When the story is coming along I talk about it a lot with close friends. That way, the characters takes shape, and I learn more about them. It’s almost like gossiping. In free drawings, it’s usually a similar process as for the stories, but a shorter and silent one. For illustration, I always think about the text for a few hours or days, if I have the time, before starting. Often I return to my immediate idea, a questioning or an intensifier of the text, depending on what it is. I try to tell something that’s between the lines.
Which artists have most influenced you?
Tove Jansson (the drawings and all her books), Alice Neel, Henry Darger, Lucian Freud, M.C Escher, Egon Schiele, Anke Feuchtenberger, Jockum Nordström, Karin Mamma Andersson, Claes Jurander, Marcel Dzama, Lena Cronqvist.
So you work in graphic design, illustration, and even comics. What is your preferred medium?
It’s literature; it’s often while reading I want to draw. Or while walking or watching movies. When I’m really seated to work, it’s not as easy, but then music and radio is a great help to keep me in place.
Do you always listen to music while you work? Do you have favorite albums to work by?
I always listen to music or the radio. I love to learn something I never expected by listening to some slow, obscure documentary. I have lots of favourite albums, but the last months, it’s been a lot of Charles Aznavour an Frida Hyvönen (Silence is wild).
Do you find it difficult to balance your work in illustration and graphic design? Does one interest you more than the other?
From the beginning I was more into drawing and free art, but as my art looked so illustrative, and since it was often inspired by books or stories, I chose to study illustration. I have always had my nose in a book, and making them was a favourite game as a kid. I even learned bookbinding! My interest for typography came later, and my skills are quite basic. I love designing books and make them readable and beautiful, but in other fields, I don’t have that much experience.
Until now, illustration and design works very well together, even though sometimes, when I have suggested a more graphic cover for a book, clients who have already worked with me prefer that I do an illustrative one. I like both, I don’t want to choose.
Your work is so beautiful, it would be hard to choose. Do you have any upcoming projects or publications in the new year?
I’m be working on the second episode of my comic book Frances, scheduled to be published in early 2010. The first came out in October. I hope to participate in some comic reviews and to have lots of illustrations to do for publishers and magazines! I’m also planning a small exhibition together with a friend in Stockholm.
Happy New Year! - Joanna
Too see more of Joanna’s work, please visit her website http://www.joannahellgren.com/
Frances, épisode 1, was published by Édition Cambourakis in October 2008.