Interview: Illustrator Mattias Adolfsson Discusses His Award-Winning “The Second In Line”

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Mattias Adolfsson is an artist and illustrator working from his studio in Sigtuna, Sweden, just outside of the capital city of Stockholm. His path to being an illustrator took several turns, beginning with his interest in Mathematics and Architecture in his university days – eventually finding his rhythm as an illustrator after years of work doing 3D animations for the game industry. Infused thoroughly with a wonderful sense of humor and whimsy, Adolfsson’s work is a combination of hand-rendered ink drawings with watercolor accents that he meticulously produces in his sketchbooks. Adolfsson’s latest book, The Second In Line, has garnered the artist the prestigious Most Beautiful Swedish Book award by the Swedish Bonkkonst. Set up in 1993, it is the Swedish Book Art award which annually chooses from the top 25 books in production based on aesthetic quality as well as typography and technical printing. Check out our exclusive interview with the artist and a look into his latest works below.

HF: We’d love to get to know you a bit, for those that have not seen your work or heard about you before. Where is your studio and where are you from?

MA: I’m from Sweden (born and bred), my family (an artist wife and two unruly teenage daughters) and I live in a small town called Sigtuna just outside of Stockholm, the capital. I share a studio with my wife, which is located in a converted garage but at the moment we are planning to relocate to a larger studio somewhere.

HF: Tell us a little about your artistic background, there must have been some inkling that this was going to be your creative path. Do you recall the early days when you realized you would always be an artist?

MA: I’m not sure that I always wanted to be an artist in my childhood – I wanted to be an archaeology or something that involved history. When reaching my adolescence I found that my talents was in math and physics and aimed to be an engineer or something even fancier. I did draw though but had no great plans for it I guess. When it came down to university I started training as an engineer but found the non-math parts to be very boring so I opted for Architecture, then Graphic Design. I fell in love with computer graphics when studying graphic design and ended up spending ten years making 3D animations and computer games. It was not until I really got tired of the game industry that I gave illustration a chance.

HF: Your works are quite detailed, filled with lots of busy people and activity. It’s fairly easy to notice your genuine admiration for architecture. Do you feel like you are somehow satisfying that itch to create or build structures by producing such time consuming yet awe inspiring images?

MA: I studied to become an architect but felt I was not really cut out for the profession. You could say that drawing houses and cities connects me to a dream I once had… It was just a dream of becoming a sophisticated visionary Architect, dressed in an orange cape.

HF: Did you have any influences early on, other artists or storytellers that helped strengthen your own narrative and style?

MA: I loved Tove Jansons books and comics as a child (and still do especially her comics), Richard Scarry’s books was very important to me while growing up and it was the first books I read in English. I also read a lot of Tin Tin and Asterix, mostly European stuff but I also loved Peanuts. Later I was really into Metal Hurleant and underground comics like Freak Brothers and Robert Crumb.

HF: With such a ife-inspired outpu,t you must never leave the house without pen and paper – I would assume you travel everywhere with a sketchbook and materials, but do you also wake up at night to sketch out ideas?

MA: I feel naked without my sketchbook, I love it when a plane or train is delayed and I can spend some extra time just drawing. At nighttime I shut my brain off though, when working with games there was a lot of late evenings and nights. Nowadays I have a hard time working nighttime and try to plan my work as to avoid it as much as possible.

HF: When working on a new series or a new book, do your ideas begin with one sketch or doodle or do you have an entire idea in mind when you begin?

MA: My books are really just selections of my sketchbooks and I have a great cooperation with my publisher/designer (Jens Andersson). He tries to get a good sense of rhythm into the books. We are starting with the third book in the “in line” series, after that I might try to plan out something in a different vein with some kind of more planned storytelling.

HF: I’ve noticed that there are some recurring characters in your work; a dog, a lady, and, I assume, the main character is a representation of yourself. Are these others actual characters or people in your life?

MA: It’s part of my family my wife and our dog and the main character is a idealized version of me (I tend to leave out our teenage daughters out of my drawings).

HF: What would you say is your greatest inspiration?

MA: I get a great influx of ideas while traveling. While at home I have to focus on a lot of other things that comes as a freelance artist; be it commission work, paper works answering correspondence, etc. Being cut out of the loop frees my mind for creativity. I do listen to a lot of music and podcasts/lectures, I get a lot of inspiration from things I hear rather than see these days. But traveling to a new country always sparks something in me.

HF: Tell us a little about life in your studio, do you set aside time to just be creative and working? I get the feeling you might enjoy traveling and working on the go a bit too?

MA: I always make sure I get to do some private drawing each day, if I have a lot to do I try to do something in my sketchbooks while relaxing in front of the TV or if I’m traveling I try to draw while on the train or plane. I have no rituals when it comes to creating I just need my pen and some paper.

HF: You’ve recently won the prestigious award of Most Beautiful Swedish Book for your 2014 release of The Second In Line, a gorgeous 2-book set with a poster. What did that feel like to achieve such an award, and how much work went into putting that book together?

MA: Quite wonderful, I have not got that much recognition in Sweden so it was a surprise. I had to fight my way to get to the front to be able to accept the prize! I was late to the reception and had to stand in the back.

HF: It almost seems like you don’t stop drawing and coloring, but what do you do when you’re not creating? Is there a pastime that you enjoy to recharge and regroup your thoughts?

MA: I like to go out running in winter. It’s on tarmac but when the weather allows it I go out in the forest and do some cross-country running.

HF: Your works seem to include an almost steampunk approach to mechanisms, tools, science. Are you also a mechanical tinkerer? Do you build machines or even models?

MA: I think it’s a residue from being in the game industry for ten years, modelling things in 3D takes so long making it on paper is a breeze compared to it. I can’t say I have a urge to do it in real life it would take to long to finish and I’m not that good amongst power tools. I think my drawing has always been intricate even when I was a kid, nowadays It’s almost like some kind of meditation making machinery as I can spend a lot of time in one image, and not having to bother with getting new ideas for a while.

HF: Aside from the books, do you also exhibit your works? We’re curious if there is a place to see your art in person?

MA: Well, we are planning a reprint when we print the third book in the series of the first two volumes in the series. I have some stuff at gallery Nucleus in Los Angeles and will have some pieces at Kaleidoscope at Carousel Gallery.

HF: Finally, is there one bit of advice or information that you wish to the young artists and art lovers out there?

MA: Looking back at my youth, I sometime marvel on how I could waste so much time. When you get older you understand how precious time is (especially when you get to be a parent). Getting to be good at something is hard work and it takes a looong time so start early and be persistent (and patient).

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