Monica Hellström is an illustrator working from Sweden and the UK, with many years in the field. Her distinctive style strikes a balance between the stylized and the realistic, combining organic linework with splashes of bright color, to create a graphic, yet intimate and emotional effect.
She is particularly popular as a portrait illustrator. With seemingly small means, her images capture the personality of her subjects without compromising their dignity and integrity. She has also often been engaged for product illustration, such as food, clothing, and interior design, as well as fauna and flora. She treats these with the same attention and respect as her portrait subjects, lending them personality, elegance, and a splash of fun. Among her clients are high-profile magazines and book publishers across North America, Europe and the UK. She has also done pro bono work for non-profit organisations promoting social issues that she is passionate about, such as racial and sexual equality.
How do you define your identity? Do you identify with (or advocate for) any marginalized communities?
I am a privileged normie: cis, white, and middle class. But my sympathies are strongly with marginalised groups, especially in terms of gender and race.
Where is home?
Oxford and Stockholm
Describe your illustration style in one sentence
Graphic, with a combination of sensitive hand-drawn lines and flat colour swashes. 5. What lights your soul on fire? Music, art, and things that grow.
What themes do you enjoy exploring in your illustrations?
I love drawing people, but also animals, flowers, furniture, and food. I like to go really close onto my motifs, but I also like to create patterns, and to draw lettering.
What techniques do you use?
Pen and gouache, as well as Photoshop.
How much of yourself and your own story can we see in your work?
I am visible in my work in my aesthetic, and in the sense that I invite the viewer to see the world through me.
Is there an unmistakable thread in your creative work?
I always try to love something about my subjects, even difficult ones. My palette is recognisable, crisp and with a lot of white and black.
What do you want to be known for?
Simplicity, sympathy, colour and a bit of style.
Which projects excite you most?
The best ones are the ones where you have a good partner on the client side, with trust on both sides. Some images are almost co-creations, and those are often among my best.
What is your dream gig?
I would love to be able to develop fabric patterns.
Where, when and how do you best create?
I am most creative in mornings and evenings. I prefer working at home, with all my comforts around me.
How has your style evolved since you started?
My style has become cleaner and more mature and realistic, but in many ways it remains the same..
What do you find most challenging in your practice or in the illustration industry?
Being freelance, with all its uncertainty, loneliness, and poor pension plans, is probably the most difficult aspect of my profession. But it can also be liberating, and having a good agent gives you a professional family, which really helps.
How as being an illustrator changed your life?
It has defined my entire existence, not least in giving me a voice and a sense of my worth. I get the freedom to dwell among colours, and to create worlds!
Name a tool you can’t live without!
Tell us about a project you worked on that was meaningful to you as an artist.
I illustrated a story about how young women who had augmented their breasts had higher suicide rates. It has stayed with me a lot. The resulting illustration also helped me grow up as an artist, bringing me closer to my present style.
What influences or inspires your art?
I think my greatest inspiration are the colours I observe everywhere around me, in everything from art to supermarkets.
What would you tell your younger self?
Have fun, don’t worry about what people think, and learn more techniques! You don’t have to tell a story: the image can be enough!
Why do you think art speaks louder than words?
I like words too, but art is better at inviting the viewer to co-create. There is also something almost visceral in enjoying a visual thing, such as a beautiful colour combination, a sensory thrill that words cannot replicate.
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