Josephine Kyhn | Interview
Copenhagen-based illustrator Josephine Kyhn is a wonderful storyteller. We first saw her works on ArtRebels and decided to talk to her. Here is the interview, enjoy!
We recently found your illustrations on ArtRebels and were instantly interested to find out more. So please introduce yourself to our readers and tells us about your collaboration with them.
My name is Josephine Kyhn, I’m 27 years old and I live, work and study in Copenhagen, Denmark. I am doing my Master in Illustration at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and currently I am an intern at the Danish newspaper ‘Dagbladet Information’. In the spring of 2015 I will be starting my final master project, which right now I think probably will be some kind of book, maybe a children’s book.
‘Stripes & Stripes’
Part of ‘Memories from a Walking City’
About 4 years ago I was contacted by ArtRebels who invited me to be a part of their online platform. It was really exciting because I knew that they had a wide audience and had many visitors on their website. So I accepted the offer and started selling my illustrations in the webshop. After a while I also began doing several collaborations with them, amongst others ‘Papercuts’, ‘Byens Hegn’ and ‘Trailerpark Festival’.
‘Black Cat Night’
You say that you like to tell stories ‘through experiments with material and expression, and balances between the naive and more surreal.’ Can you share some insights regarding these stories and the themes you often approach? What inspires you in your storytelling activity?
My experiments are mainly based on my mission to find myself in the illustrative world and to find my own style. I can honestly say that I have spent almost all of the 5 years at school trying to find my own expression, which is something I see as a good thing. I have always had a hard time settling on a specific way of working, because I am so easily fascinated and inspired by other people’s work. You would probably not recognize my drawings from 3-5 years ago if you compare them to my work today.
My characters and universe have always had a kind of naive and playful expression, combined with sometimes surreal compositions and environments. It really depends on my mood and inspiration whether my approach is complex and surreal or more simple and down-to-earth.
I feel like there is some kind of story or experience behind every character or composition I make. That there is something to be told. There are stories developing from my mind, inspired by people, life, the universe and how all these things affect us. Narratively I feel that both the more complex and surreal stories need to be told, as well as the simple and everyday ones.
Works part of ‘Daughters of the Moon’ project
My inspiration varies a lot, and is deeply affected by everything around me. I can find inspiration in almost everything and it is very random how it pops into my mind. Sometimes I have different periods where I enjoy drawing specific stuff, which is reflected in my work. I also enjoy reading fables, fairytales and different short stories as an inspiration. In my bachelor project I illustrated fables by the American author and humorist James Thurber, and my latest book-project was based on a story about the Moon from Italo Calvinos ‘Cosmicomics’; a lovely collection of short stories about the universe. I have always been fascinated about space, other worlds and the idea of places with different creatures and existences.
Part of ‘Daughters of the Moon’ project
In all my longer projects I have always chosen to tell a story rather than working on a concept or subject, whether it’s something self-written or an already exciting story I fancy.
Your characters are mainly female, and we rarely saw a work where you illustrate a single character. Also, we noticed that there is a certain connection between the characters and the environment where you place them, as in the case of ‘Daughters of the Moon’. How would you describe your characters, their evolution so far, their world?
I’m very fascinated by the female body and I guess that there are more aspects to it than the male body. At the same time I think that in some ways, I am reflecting myself in every character that I make. Perhaps I also feel that, maybe, the male characters are my weak point illustratively.
‘Swimming with Otters’
The amount of characters is probably a result of the stories that comes from the interaction between different characters. I love these kinds of dynamics and relations created between different characters, and the surroundings and the elements for that matter. The environment is a big part of my compositions, and the place where the characters can develop within the illustrations. It creates a certain curiosity for the viewer to analyze and explore the universe, and how the characters and the surroundings relate to each other. In ‘Daughters Of The Moon’ this was very easy for me, because Italo Calvino gives you an amazing visual universe where his characters and the environment indeed merge together. My interpretation of the conflict between these girls and the Moon comes from a world I create within Italo Calvinos world.
Part of ‘Daughters of the Moon’ project
If I had the time for it I would illustrate all of his stories from the ‘Cosmicomics’. It contains everything that fascinates me about space and the universe and how it all started.
As my style has developed I feel that my characters and their universes have as well. They have grown more confident, strong and characteristic as I have myself. I guess the worlds they exist in, are the worlds I could imagine myself explore in some other dimension.
Color seems important in your work, and also details – plants, water, stars. How do these elements influence the story?
Colors are a big part of my universe, and I don’t think I can ever go through an illustration using only black and white, except when I do linocut or woodcut. Even if I have the greatest intention on using only 1 or 2 colors, somehow a third always sneaks in. I feel though, that my color preferences and my view on what colors work has developed towards a more simple approach over the last couple of years. My universe is probably best represented in colors.
Solo exhibition, IDOART LAB, Aarhus, Denmark
I was once told I had a kind of ‘messy’ style, but that it worked for me. I guess that all these elements are a natural part of the way I build up my illustrations; using a lot of different elements depending on the story and theme. As said before, the world around us is a natural part of our lives, and I am very fascinated about what it visually can bring to an illustration. And then, plants, water, stars and everything the earth has created is just plain awesome!
Tell us about your technique and projects. How does it all usually start and when do you feel it’s final, with nothing more to add? And how do people usually interact with your works? Do you leave them clues to easily decipher the message or do you prefer to let them have their own versions of the story?
I have experimented a lot over the years with different materials and tools, both analog and digitally. I wanted to try everything and could never settle on anything. Today I feel I have found some tools I feel comfortable with, and in which I can still explore and try out new stuff. I mainly use pencils, graphite and Liquitex in different ways, sometimes only analog and sometimes i draw up the whole composition and color it and work with it in Photoshop. I’m still trying out how a complete digital style would look like, as it is the preferred media where I’m doing my internship right now.
I usually do some research on the subject for inspiration and references. Before I start an illustration I usually have a rough sketch or mock-up in my sketchbook with the different ideas. Sometimes I almost have a finished illustration in my sketchbook, but I also enjoy doing lose and random doodling. I remember my first years in school where the teachers kind of pushed you to do a lot of experimenting and a lot of sketches in the projects before settling on anything, but in the end it kind of felt unnatural and ‘fake’ for me. I’m just not that kind of a person who does 50 different versions of a sketch, more like 3-4 maybe.
It’s hard to tell when an illustration is finished, I guess it’s just a feeling. Sometimes you can keep on adding things, other times you just know when to stop. My style is kind of simple, in the way that it doesn’t contain that many layers, so I guess it’s easier to say ‘when’ than if you were working with a lot of different layers. Composition wise, I feel it is finished when it tells the story I am aiming to tell, without too many ‘words’.
I would love to have people making their own view and interpretation of my drawings, and I think everybody decodes images differently and make up their own stories. It is probably the more weird and surreal illustrations that make people wonder why ‘these naked girls are climbing over a big pile of trash’ for instance, but I hope that even the simplest illustrations give people the desire to imagine beyond the lines.
Solo exhibition, IDOART LAB, Aarhus, Denmark
When I work with an already written story I like to try not to show the most obvious versions of the points in the text, and I think that also gives the viewer a more exciting experience when reading it.
What were your biggest challenges as illustrator? What about the best moments? Is there anything you would really love to do next?
As said before, I have had a hard time finding my self illustratively, and have been through some different styles. There are so many talented illustrators around you, and every time I saw something that fascinated me, I felt like I had to do ‘something like that’ to be a good illustrator. Which is stupid, because what you most of all need is to be true and sincere about your own work, and show people that this is what you are good at. Your enthusiasm should be reflected in the work you do, because that is what will make it personal. I can still find inspiration in other peoples work, but in a completely different way than before.
I get very excited every time someone appreciates my work, and especially when someone wants to work with me. These are always great moments. I guess some of the best moments was when I got my first illustration published in NIDO Magazine some years ago. It really made me feel like I was on the right track. Another great moment was my semester on HAW Hamburg in the spring 2014, where I finally felt comfortable about my style. It was kind of an epiphany for me.
Right now I’m doing a lot of editorial illustrations at my internship, and sometimes there is too little time for an illustration. You are also often bound by the article you are illustrating for, and have to do a lot of compromising in your style.
For my master project starting in February I really want to do a book for children, and I even have an idea for my own story. I’m looking forward to be immersed in a project again, hopefully developing an interesting and imaginative universe.
Finally, we saw that you collaborate with festivals, magazines. Who would you like to work with and what are your future plans? Also, if there are any upcoming shows, do tell us.
I am a big fan of Nobrow and Wrap Magazine. Nobrow publish very nice books and graphic novels, and I enjoy exploring new artists in their magazine. I really like Wrap Magazine’s amazing ‘wrap-concept’ and the great articles about illustration and art. They always work with very talented artists, and I love that I can use their wrapping papers for gifts or as posters in my home.
The Danish magazine ‘Ud & Se’ (Out and See) is available in the Danish trains, and they also have a lot of interesting writing which I would love to do illustrations for. Last but not least, I have a dream of getting a picture book published one day.
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ArtRebels.com is the curated web shop community for handpicked artists and visual designers from around the world, both established and new talents.
All images © Josephine Kyhn