Mona Stenseth Larsen is a Norwegian illustrator and designer living in Oslo, whose work I discovered one day on Instagram and instantly fell in love with her unique style. She is also the mind and hand behind Emmeselle, a brand producing handmade commercial artwork, illustration and design.
And although I must admit I felt tempted to ask her questions about her experience as an entrepreneur as well, I decided to keep that in mind for some other time and focus on her work as a designer, for now.
Where have you studied design/illustration?
Behind me I have a few years of different studies – all related to creating something visual. I started out as a visual merchandiser, whilst taking classes in interior design. I had to try some freelancing as an interior stylist before I realized I really wanted to work with graphic design. I moved from Trondheim to Bergen and started studying design & media communication. After my studies I began to have a few clients that wanted to work with me on a regular basis, and everything kind of started snow-balling. I’ve been so lucky to never run out of work, and always having new and exciting customers. I love working as a designer, and with everything graphic – but what I love the most is being able to create hand-made expressions and drawings. However, I have never studied illustration!
What are the tools you use most?
My tools are pencils, water paint, micro pigment ink (Micron) and rough paper. I scan my originals in high-res. quality and make them digital in Photoshop. I rarely do much with them afterwards – I want them to look hand-made and not too digital.
What is your typical working process?
I always write down random ideas that tend to pop up at any hour of the day. When I’m strolling down the street, I can suddenly get the urge to paint something I saw passing by a window or a garbage bin or whatnot. When I’m starting a new piece, I prefer everything around me to be neat and tidy. My head is messy enough as it is. My work process is then sketching, composition, color choices, then drawing, painting – and I always wait a few hours with the finishing touches. It’s always nice to give your brain and eyes a short break before looking at your work again. It makes you look at it more objectively. Also, a mirror helps. Particularly if you’re struggling to get the proportions of a shape right.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently working on a few different things. I’m doing some illustrations and layout for Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique – which gives me the opportunity to draw vintage sports cars, something I have never done before. I’m also creating a new poster collection for my own brand, which is printed directly on old newspaper sheets from the fifties. I’m selling my products in design shops and in my online webshop. I’m also staring up a few other commissions for new clients, whilst running my everyday business – sending out posters, mailing orders and meeting new distributors.
What usually inspires you for the pieces you create?
I’m very much inspired by the fifties and sixties. I love everything vintage that tells a story. I can browse flea markets for hours, look at old books and advertising. I also love nostalgia from my own childhood, remembering items that used to give me a nice feeling. I take that memory, and try to re-live the moment by putting an item into an illustration.
At the moment I’m really into browsing everything from Femke Hiemstra, Andy Warhol, Gabriel Moreno, Lauren Mortimer and Petra Dufkova. Oh! And I never get tired of Roy Lichtenstein.
Any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Develop your own style instead of trying to follow trends. It represents YOU and that’s what’s going to get you new clients. Be humble, respect both others and yourself. Learn something new every week, try to push yourself to do better and work harder, and never promise anything you can’t keep. I try to live by the rule “Under-promise and over-deliver” to keep people from getting disappointed. Work hard, keep your production up and let other people see what you’re creating. Pretty much… Do what you love and love what you do?