Who? Maia Fjord
Profession? Third year Illustration student at Arts University Bournemouth
Nicola Manuel: As an student in their third year, approaching the last stretch of university you will surely (as anybody else who has studied would know) be as busy ensuring you’re getting everything ready for the summer ahead! How have you found the last three years at university and what has been the most valuable experience learnt?
Maia Fjord: The last three years at university have completely changed me as an illustrator. They’ve exposed me to a lot of new aspects of illustration to be inspired by, and allowed me to try out a lot of new things without having to worry too much about if they don’t work out very well. For example, although I’ve always been somewhat interested in graphic novels and comics, it is only within the last year or so at university that I’ve begun to experiment with creating my own, and discovered that I really enjoy it! I think this freedom to try things has been incredibly useful to me, and as a result of it I’ve discovered what it is I like to do as an illustrator and how I like to create imagery, which is something that I wasn’t too sure of when I begun my degree. On top of all that, working closely with the rest of my class and collaborating on projects has also been very inspiring; there are so many talented people on my course and seeing how their work has developed has really made me strive to improve! I think all of these things have been very valuable experiences, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.
NM: That’s really what the experience of university is and what is does offer people who study. Working in the creative field definitely is something that teaches you that working with people and offering opinion is highly important. As opinion is a huge factor within illustration, what for you makes a piece of illustration successful?
MF: Oh man, that one’s a bit difficult to find a specific answer for! I’m not sure; I think you can just know straight away by looking at something. You’ll know whether you think it looks good or not, and without being visually appealing in whatever way then I’d say it’s hard for the illustration to be successful. There are lots of different things that can make an image visually appealing, and people do of course have different ideas about what they think looks good, but in my opinion fairly obvious things like the colour palette, composition and textures play a big part. However, beyond the initial reaction to the visuals then I’d say you can begin to notice other aspects of the illustration that can make it successful, such as the meaning behind it and how well that meaning is being conveyed (which are of course also important), and little subtleties and details that add to it. But overall, if the intended audience of an illustration’s initial reaction towards the visuals is negative then I don’t think it would really be too successful, even if the meaning is conveyed well.
NM: Couldn’t agree more! An illustration, for a commercial point of view, has to work immediately through working visually as little time is spent looking at it – whether it be on a billboard or in an editorial advertisement. Working on an illustration for a personal level is completely different though, and meaning really does come into play.
Out of projects you have completed, can you name one that works well on its own and one that works stronger with text?
MF: Lately I’m really enjoying working on comics- I’ve collaborated on a couple of short ones recently and made zines out of them, and at the moment I’m putting most of my time into creating a children’s picture book presented in a comic format, about a girl and her imaginary friend. Projects like those work well by themselves because all the information you need to make sense of the narrative is right there in the imagery. I’d say that a picture book I worked on last year called ‘The Small Ones’ would be a good example of something that works better with text. The story was actually written by my grandmother in the eighties, and I used the first two chapters and presented them as a complete book, with alternating pages of text and illustrations. With that, the pictures don’t make too much sense without the words! Recently I also designed a skateboard to be used as wall art by a company called Crowd, based on the word ‘International’. I think the design looks pretty good without knowing about the ‘International’ part, but maybe it makes a bit more sense once you do know.
NM: You’ve certainly worked across a few mediums to produce your work! What are you currently working on and what inspired you with your decision on it?
MF: At the moment I’m working on a 32 page children’s book- I’m not sure whether to call it a picture book or a comic, really. I think it’s a little bit of both! The story centres around a girl and her imaginary friend, although it’s not entirely obvious whether the friend is actually imaginary- he could be real, as no one else is really around to see him or looking in his direction when he’s there. The characters and narrative of the book developed over the past couple of months as I’ve been working on it on and off, but I’ve always enjoyed working with imagination as a theme. I think in that sense I’m probably a little bit inspired by my grandmother, who was also an illustrator. She wrote the book ‘The Small Ones’ which I previously mentioned, and the narrative there centres around the idea that if your circumstances are making you unhappy, you can use your imagination to brighten your life up a bit. Format-wise, I had loads of fun working on the collaborative comics I mentioned, and I knew I wanted to try a similar thing but on my own, and with a bigger project so I would really have space to let the story develop. Also, I just love comics and graphic novels, and I think there should be more beautiful comics for kids out there (that maybe adults can appreciate too)!
NM: Sounds really interesting! Are you showing this book at your final degree show in a couple of months time? Great connections in the family especially with your Grandma being an illustrator.
Working within illustration and creativity can have its highs and lows. What are your three constraints and three motives to work during the day?
MF: Motivating myself to work during the day without any set schedule that I have to stick to can be difficult at times, but I find that if I’m interested and enthused about whatever I’m working on, or there’s the pressure of a looming deadline, then I can work all day pretty much without any breaks! I’m a great writer of to-do lists, and if I set myself a schedule and list of things that I want to achieve per day, then I get a lot more done. I’m a bit of a night owl though, so I tend to stay up until the early morning working a little too often. It can sometimes be quite hard to avoid distractions when you’re organising your own work day- at the moment I’m in the middle of reading a really exciting series of books, and it’s taking a lot of willpower not to read them all day but to work instead! So, if I had to pick three things that motivate me to stay working, they would be: the pressure of deadlines, wanting to see the projects I work on coming to fruition and (hopefully) looking good, and the fact I actually like illustration and enjoy the work! Three things that can hinder my workflow would be: lapsing into periods of procrastination a little too often, the tendency to sleep for too long in the mornings due to not having a set time I have to be at work by, and the many distractions working from home has to offer.
NM: Got to love writing to-do lists. I’m pretty sure my life is created from to-do lists – got to love writing things down. Sounds like you’re a motivated person for sure. It’s always important to have something on the side of doing work as well, like you’ve mentioned you have in your reading.
To wrap up this lovely interview, tell us where you’re aspirations are going to take you and what grand things we can expect from the name ‘Maia Fjord’ in the future.
MF: I have a few other interests outside of reading and illustration as well! But I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit of a nerd and right now reading is pretty great.
As for the future, I can’t really say where exactly it’ll take me- it’s hard to be certain about these things within the creative industries. Having said that, I plan to freelance as an illustrator after my degree is over and hopefully make a bit of a name for myself! I’m both excited and nervous about graduating, but I’m looking forward to working on some new projects, both for clients and for myself. As for the immediate future, I’m currently working on the last stages of my children’s comic, so keep your eyes peeled for the finished product! I may even be selling a few copies for those interested.
If I were you, I’d keep a track of Maia and her talented illustration work. You will have the opportunity to visit Maia’s Degree Show called High Noon Show, which is being held at The Embassy Tea Gallery in London from the 2nd to the 5th of July, with a private view on the 1st. More information? Follow this link… http://highnoonshow.co.uk/