Monica Hellstrom Illustrator Interview

Monica Hellstrom

View Portfolio

Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I knew I wanted to be a commercial illustrator when I was 6-years-old. That’s when I realized that pretty pictures in advertisements were created by someone and that I could be that someone. It made me intensely happy, and also relieved. I never had a desire to be a fine illustrator.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
My big sister, the beauty of nature, Charlie Harper, and children’s books from the 70s.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
It was probably an elaborate fish, mushroom, bird, or a princess copied from a book. I do have a gory image of a sword swallower against a background of girly pink, which my mother stored away to embarrass me at my future wedding.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
Neither of these options occurred to me even for a moment. I was always expected to do something artistic, or academic. Also, there was no pressure on kids when I grew up–and where I grew up–to have those kinds of careers. We were free to make our own life choices.

Did you study art in school?
I studied art at Beckman’s College of Design in Stockholm.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
I find inspiration in colors, extreme close-ups, nature; other things too. I’m drawn to details and inclined to make patterns; something I hope to develop more fully in the future.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
Visualizing comes first. Then it’s lots of hard, patient work mixed with a bit of magic.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
I love Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures; their lightness, warmth of humor, and precision: the telling of a story with almost nothing. Growing up, my favorite illustrator was Paul Klee, for his use of color and his simplicity. For the same reasons, I love Tove Jansson’s Moomin drawings.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
I’d double as a historian but I could also just as easily be an astrophysicist, or an interior designer.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
I got new markers every Christmas. I remember one set, in particular, that included a pink-beige color that I couldn’t get enough of. It may have been the start of my passion for combining colors.

Do you have a favorite illustrator supply, a favorite method, or favorite location, where you like to create artwork?
I love screen printing, by hand, and wish I could do it more often. I plan to spend my retirement printing things, or scrapboarding.

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
My art is clean yet organic, sparse but heartfelt, with block colors and simple lines. I’m not a fan of the third dimension.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved upon?
I think illustration is incredibly powerful; just think of all the famous poster images that linger in the collective consciousness. We, as illustrators, should ourselves be more aware of this.

Why does art matter to you? Why should it matter to the world?
I cannot help but see. That is just how I am. I can’t imagine not being able to engage with art one way or another. Art helps us see and reflect. It allows us to engage with the world and our conscience.

If you could look back or forward a hundred years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
I cannot imagine the future. As for the past, it depends so much on success and class.
If you were good, and ready to compromise–drawing portraits of the wealthy as a Sargent or Zorn–you could do well, indeed.
But for the vanguard, I think there is no time like the present. I can mourn the loss of illustration in ad and poster culture; there were certainly more jobs for people like us in the past, but I’m not sure life was better for those who had them.