In a world inhabited by weird looking dogs, liquid bodies, horses, vibrant colors, tactile pencil portraits and absurd humor, we also find norwegian illustrator Mari Kanstad Johnsen (b. 1981). To be able to go further into her wonderful visual world we took a chat with Mari about her life, the creative process and the importance of a good chair.

The first time we came across Mari‘s work we were stunned by her rough pencil technique and bizarre sceneries, and already back in 2011 we made a very small post about her illustrations. In return we got the most uplifting and positive reply: “Wow, that is a really nice blogpost! And also a great and inspiring blog! This really made my day, thank you so much.” Because we really love Mari’s work, and since she seems to be the sweetest person, we decided to catch up and get to know her a bit better.

Mari’s workspace. Photos by Mari Kanstad Johnsen.

Mari’s workspace. Photos by Mari Kanstad Johnsen.

Mari is born in Bergen and has roots in a family of artists and illustrators, and therefore it was a natural choice for her, to pursue an education within the creative field. “I moved to Oslo to study fashion, but it was horrible. I only did one year before dropping out, then I was two years at a pre-artschool where I mostly painted” After a couple of some-what turbulent years of finding the right path, Mari finished a BA degree at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, and was now focusing more on illustration. In 2010 she finished a MA at Konstfack in Stockholm with an 11-minutes long animation film, and since then she has been working on various personal and commercial projects as an artist, illustrator and children’s book-writer.


Can you tell us about your working process?
I usually get one spontaneous idea which I am not completely happy with though, then I'll work with some other ideas, until I have to start thinking about the final result. Then I usually return to the original idea. It’s a bit unpractical, but I save all the detour-ideas as starters for other projects. Maybe some of them will be interesting for something completely different.


Do you have a project that you are especially proud of?
I think maybe Blue Cabin, an artist book I made during a residency at Knust/Extrapool in Nijmegen, Holland. I brought some drawings and sketches with me from Oslo, but mostly the content of the book was put together and planned during the two weeks stay at Extrapool, including risographic printing. This was very hectic and intense. I think the book has a freshness that can disappear when I have time to analyze things too much. Also the quality of the production of the book is a result of guidance and experience of the super riso-printers/pre-printers at Knust.


What are your biggest source of inspiration/influence at the moment?
Old and new art. I really enjoy sculptures at the moment, both figurative and abstract. And paintings of landscapes.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a children’s book by Lene Ask about a girl trying to do her homework but having problems with the letters. This is very much in process, but here you can see a temporary cover, which might be the final cover. I'm also working on some personal book projects, and I might do some ceramics and animations for a project before christmas. That would be nice!

A temporary cover for a children’s book by Lene Ask (which might be the final cover as well).

A temporary cover for a children’s book by Lene Ask (which might be the final cover as well).

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I hope to keep doing a lot of projects where I can learn to do new things and develop how I work. I want to work more with artist books, and I also want to be able to use more time on painting and to be more analogue.


What would your advice for other creatives be?
Oh, I actually don’t know! Keep on doing things that you find interesting, and always try to make room for personal work. And sit in a good/proper office chair while working (I'll definitely focus on getting one this week).


Rikke Luna (f. 1988) og Matias Albæk-Falk (f. 1988) er stiftere af, og driver derudover formidlingsbureauet I DO ART Agency samt I DO ART Books.