“Make a Plan, Be Persistent & Make It Enjoyable!”
An Interview with Norwegian Illustrator Maria Midttun
Maria Midttun is a Norwegian illustrator currently residing in the UK working on her rather minimalistic projects for clients all over the world. She is keen on print but acknowledges the fact that one can’t really skip digital. To learn more about her work, projects and plans, I asked Maria a few questions. And to make it more international, she was enjoying the sun in Vienna, Austria, while answering them.
Let’s start at the very beginning! How did you start your journey in the field of illustration?
In the beginning, I did a lot of free work, and if I didn’t have a job I would keep myself busy with my own projects – making zines or other things for my webshop and art markets, which in turn would get me more commissions. Over time the unpaid to paid work ratio has shifted, although trying to get by in London, I’ve always had a part-time job to support my income. The hardest part has sometimes been to find the right balance and distributing time between my part-time job and my illustration work.
You did your BA at the Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) in the UK. Why this school and not another one, let’s say, in Norway?
I knew I wanted to study and live abroad, so I did not even apply to any schools in Norway. Norway is a very small country, and I am from a very small town, so a part of my motivation was definitely a need to see another place and experience life in another country. How I ended up at the AUB was a little bit random, but I had a really great experience studying there.
What was the best advice you received there?
It is hard to mention one specific piece of advice, but the general advice one of my tutors told me was not to overthink things so much, have fun with it and trust your guts. Thanks, Joel!
Now you’re a visiting tutor at the university. What advice do you usually give to students who are about to kick off their career in the field?
Make a plan, be persistent and make it enjoyable! Your plan and goals will probably change along the way, but, when I was fresh out of university, it was really helpful for me to set both short- and long-term goals in order to stay on track and keep up motivation.
Has your job as a tutor influenced your way of creating somehow?
Definitely! It makes me more conscious of the decisions I make, and working towards improving my practice. It helps me not get too comfortable, see my strengths and weaknesses and how to work with those.
Your style is quite distinctive; it definitely has a minimalist charm. Would you say it is Norwegian/Nordic?
I agree it can be minimal in both form and colour, but I would not necessarily say it is a Norwegian thing. It is where I am from, yes, but I’ve lived my entire grown-up life elsewhere which I believe influence my work equally if not more. It is a personal taste and how I make stuff. For some reason, I’ve never made – or managed to make – intricate work.
How did you develop it?
It’s been a very slow process, and it would change a little bit all the time. I was never very conscious about it, but recently I’ve been trying to make decisions that will allow for more experimentation and open up for new ways of working, rather than limiting my work and what it can be used for.
Taking a closer look at your projects, it seems you don’t like to use so many colours, when doing so those tend to be pastel ones. How do you decide on when to add some colours and when not to?
I have always found it difficult to include colour in my work. My process is very much monochrome and when it comes to the colour stage, I often prefer it black and white. Saying that, I really want to use more colour in my work and it is something I try to work towards. When I use colour, it is usually a client request or in relation to print which makes it a bit easier for me to get my head around. One of the reasons I like riso printing (Risograph printing) is because the colours are given and there’s no surprise in how they come out. It is also easy to understand how the colours blend.
Your illustrations have been displayed on vinyl records as well as in books and magazines. Does your approach to creating differ depending on the project type?
How I approach different projects definitely has more to do with the working relationship with the clients than anything else. It depends a lot on how involved they would like to be in the process. For personal projects, there’s often very little planning, unless it something I haven’t done before. So far, most of my work has been applied to flat surfaces, but I think if I were ever to work with 3D objects, for example, I would definitely approach it in a different way in order to achieve a good result.
Which piece of yours are you the proudest of and why?
My latest one! I just finished a short comic for Blokk Forlag called Lava Rock, it will be out later this year as a part of a larger publication. It’s a personal story about a lava rock, superstition and creative block. It’s supposed to be a little bit funny and silly, which I hope people get from it. I’ve wanted to illustrate a story for a long time, but haven’t had a project or a story I knew I wanted work with. This project finally allowed me, and also pushed me, to settle on a story. Sometimes a strict deadline is all you need. I’m thankful that Anja and Ingrid at Blokk trusted me to make this without seeing any narrative work of mine.
Print or digital?
I have a soft spot for printed matter. Both for my own work, but also for what I enjoy: zines, books, magazines, and all sorts of printed goods really. Saying that, I would never disregard digital, and it is in fact impossible to do so.
Noise or complete silence while working?
I live by a busy road, so complete silence isn’t really an option. I like to listen to music, reverberationradio.com is a favourite, and also podcasts.
Where do you find inspiration?
Often in cinema and photography – movies with killer cinematography always make me inspired. A lot of my friends do creative work in different fields, and it is always interesting to chat with them about how they work and get new ideas.
What do you enjoy doing when not illustrating then?
With a chance of sounding really boring, there’s often no time for much else. Working from home, I definitely make it a priority to see people when I am off. There’s always a gig, new exhibition or a magazine launch going on, so I enjoy checking out those types of things and staying in the loop. Otherwise, I like to make non-illustration stuff and I normally have a DIY project or five on the go.
What would you do if you were not an illustrator?
Good question! I’ve been fixated on illustration for so long, I almost can’t remember if there was ever another option. I’d probably still do something in the creative field; I love to make stuff and it would be fun to work with different materials, maybe I’d be a product designer of some sort!?
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the comic mentioned above and have taken a couple of days off. Now I’m working on a T-shirt design for 323 Clothing in LA as well as a couple of personal projects and creating new stuff for some art markets that are coming up in the summer.
What are your plans?
Right now I am visiting a friend in Vienna, so for the rest of the day, I am going to check out some museums and sights. It’s sunny, so I’ll eat an ice cream at some point. Other illustration related plans are to complete a bigger self-published project sometime this year and include more narrative work in my practice.
// Maria Midttun was interviewed by freelance journalist, editor Barbara Majsa.