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    Monki x Vanja Ivarsson
    Monki x Vanja Ivarsson Illustration

    Meet Vanja Ivarsson

    Illustrator, comic artist and magazine editor based in Stockholm. An inspiring creative who makes dreamy and gender-ambiguous 3D-art, film and prints her own magazine.

    We’re so excited to collaborate with her on our opening of the new Monki flagship store located at Drottninggatan, Stockholm. She illustrated merch and other fun things for the concept “From King to Queen”. We caught up with her to get to know her better.

    Who's Vanja?

    How would you describe yourself?
    As a “head in the clouds” kind of person. I tend to drift away in my own thoughts. At the same time, I have a lot of energy and really enjoy going out with my friends and goofing around with them.
    How would your friends describe you?
    Determined! Or maybe stubborn, haha. I’m very set in my ways and when I get an idea, I need do it immediate¬ly. But I think they would say I’m nice too :)
    What is your proudest moment? 
    Getting accepted to Konstfack (an art school in Stock­holm) meant a lot to me. 
    Can you tell us any fun facts about yourself? 
    I sometimes tend to climb on tables and do music numbers at parties. My favorite one (in terms of songs to sing) would probably be “Memories” from Cats or “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush.
    What do you think are your strengths? 
    Where do you get your inspiration? 
    I draw my inspiration from my life experiences, from things that are nostalgic to me, from the music I listen to and from the people around me. 
    Favourite music to draw/create art to?  
    Hmm, it really depends on the mood. Sometimes I listen to ambient music like Grouper or Croatian Amor, but if I have a lot to do and I wanna get pumped I listen to Hyper pop or Scooter.  
    What is your process when doing an art piece and what is your preferred medium?   
    I like to switch around. Sometimes I like doing 2D illustrations with clear lines and some colouring. Other times, I approach it more like a painting and use a lot of gaussian blur and noise with layers on top of each other in Photoshop. And sometimes I just want to work with 3D. I’ve experimented with laser cutting which I would like to explore further. However, it always starts with a walk, then pen and paper to sort my ideas.  
    You work a lot with 3D, what made you fall in love with that?  
    I think it all started when I was playing video games as a child. As well as watching kids’ shows on TV with 3D animated evolution sequences — child-me thought that was really dope.
    Follow Anja and her work
    Instagram @vanja.ivarsson 
    Vanja Ivarsson
    Vanja Ivarsson


    The collab

    What made you want to collab with Monki and create this artwork for the store? What was your vision?
    When I heard about the campaign for the first time, I thought it was a really fun idea. I immediately started to think about what I could do, I had it in the back of my mind while planning for my graduation.

    I then stepped into the mind of the main character (the Queen) from the concept. Thought a lot about how it would be to be her and what kind of world she’d live in. That’s when I came up with the big shoes she’s wearing, her fierce nails and the overall mood of the illustration. 

    Empowering women is a hard topic, but I thought to my­self, “this is a fun, lighthearted way to approach it, with power and an offbeat spin to it.”
    What are your favourite details from the illustrations?
    The shoe, laughing with its mouth and sharp teeth. It’s just vicious! But also the cat wearing boots and a thong, it’s a bit teasing. I wanted to communicate the empow­ering message in a cheeky, humoristic way. By taking on this serious topic, but with a smile — just like the cat.
    Is there a message or theme you always try to portray in your work?
    Maybe not always, but I’m very drawn to the surreal and I think a lot of my work reminds one of a dream. I like it when you can’t tell what’s real and what’s only happining inside a character’s head. 
    Which challenges did you meet during the creation of the artwork? 
    I wanted to create something to show that I really care, in a way that you haven’t seen before. Which in turn made me scared about failing, because I want my thoughts and feelings connected to the theme to be perceived as they are — genuine. I wanted to create something for young girls and women that could be both fun to see and to feel empowered by.
    Any advice on how to find one’s style? 
    It’s really important to not be afraid to draw something that’s not trendy or feels embarrassing to you — if you feel that way, I think it’s a good sign. Personally, I work a lot with nostalgia, like old movies and video games. But I also take a lot of inspiration from my dreams. I would also recommend to ask yourself, “What moves me? Why am I interested in this?” Also, before making art, try to copy stuff you like to understand WHY you like it. Know­ing your art history can be good too, it was after I took a course in art history that I knew that I wanted to create art instead.


    Advice to artists in the making

    Any advice on how to find one’s style? 
    It’s really important to not be afraid to draw something that’s not trendy or feels embarrassing to you — if you feel that way, I think it’s a good sign. Personally, I work a lot with nostalgia, like old movies and video games. But I also take a lot of inspiration from my dreams. I would also recommend to ask yourself, “What moves me? Why am I interested in this?” Also, before making art, try to copy stuff you like to understand WHY you like it. Know­ing your art history can be good too, it was after I took a course in art history that I knew that I wanted to create art instead.
    What are those nostalgic things that still inspire you? 
    My childhood bedroom and the objects in there. It can be old clothes, curtains, jewellery or books and video games. One video game I remember fondly is ‘Spyro the Dragon’, which was the first game I played. Also TV- shows and films that I watched growing up, like Sailor Moon, Digimon and Resan till Melonia by Per Åhlin. Also I used to watch my dad’s VHS of Yellow Submarine over and over which really made an impact on me. As I got older, I discovered manga. The one I remember the most was ‘NANA’, — it was about two girls moving to a new city, sharing an apartment and the challenges of adult- hood.
    If you could talk to your 15-year-old self, what would you say? 
    It might sound cliché but I would probably say some- thing like: appreciate your brain and your world, don’t try to hide it. And maybe don’t stretch your ears that much — you will regret it.
    Vanja Ivarsson illustration
    Vanja Ivarsson

    Female empowerment & the art industry

    What does female empowerment mean to you?
    I try to create female characters that don’t necessarily have the stereotypical attributes of a woman. When drawing self portraits, my characters have been per- ceived as male in the past. I think that says something about our visual expectations on women.
    However, I still love giving my characters typical female attributes like big lashes, hair or lips — but at the same time they can have broad shoulders, big noses and bod- ies.

    I like to think of my characters as blobbs — they can shapeshift into different versions of themselves (some- thing I’ve noticed that happens from frame to frame in my comics) and it doesn’t really matter if they are a boy or a girl. I guess I’m trying to create a middle ground between the Tomb Raider woman and the hyper-mascu- line one.
    What makes you feel empowered?
    When I solve a technical problem - usually in Blender (3D software). Just because you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of dudes when browsing YouTube for tutorials and it can be a bit tiresome. It’s always nice to see girls making 3D tutorials. Shout out to Intranetgirl!
    Who is your greatest inspiration?
    My classmates, we collectively grew and learned from each other, I think that’s very beautiful. Other artists I look up to right now are Austin Lee, Lala Albert and Moa Romanova. And my friend Sara Kupari — I love her. I’m actually wearing a tee right now that she made. 
    Which values are important to you in your work? 
    Hmm, honesty is very important to me, creating things that feel genuine. It means so much to me when I’m able to reach someone through my personal stories and I think those are my strongest memories from experienc- ing other people’s art as well.
    What do you think are the biggest challenges for young artists in the creative industry? 
    A lot of artists my age feel like their art needs to save the world, which I feel is unfair. At the same time, there is much that needs to be done and we all want to inspire change for the better. I think It’s about finding a balance.
    Do you feel like the illustration and design industry is empowering? 
    I feel like my friends and I are very good at taking care of each other! There can be a lot of competition and some- times unnecessary comparing of art styles, but we’re also good at having each others backs. The cre- ative world should be more like a big collective, where we collaborate, create and lift each other up
    What helps you to take a step back and empower yourself? 
    I try to figure out what I can create now that doesn’t feel like something I’ve done before. Something that would make my younger self feel proud of and happy about.
    Do you feel there’s a lot of competition between artists? 
    It can be a lot of competition, but I think we’re also good at looking out for each other. Often the competition actually comes from the outside rather than from the actual artists. It’s important to not let that affect us.
    Any tips of other artists and illustrators to keep an eye open for? 
    There are so many — I’m very into Lala Albert and Austin Lee right now, but also in my magazine Katla you can find lots of people that I think you should keep an eye out for!


    School, work & future

    You’ve just graduated, tell us a little bit about your biggest learnings?
    I chose Konstfack for my BA because I wanted the mix between illustration and design, so that I could continue with my comics as well as develop my graphic design skills. I learned so much, but the most important thing (which I learned pretty late...) is the importance to take breaks and just hang out with your classmates. It does wonders to both you, your classmates and your work.

    What is your dream for the future, career wise? 
    Hmm, that’s hard - I want to do so much, haha. But I would like to write a graphic novel at some point and keep doing illustration and design work. I would also like to work more with 3D, animation and hopefully create more films. I love working with film since I get to com- bine my two biggest interest, art and music/ sound.
    Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
    I’m a co-founder and editor of a comic zine called Katla together with my friend Mattias Wallenius. I also do comics for a Swedish publication called “Det Grymma Svärdet”, so keep an eye out for my work there! This fall I’ll also be working on my BA project, which is a 3D animated film, and submit it to some festivals. 
    Tell us about your magazine, Katla?
    I founded Katla together with Mattias, and we’re both also editors. We want Katla to be an alternative space for comics to what we usually see in Sweden today, Kat- la is a space for new artists where it’s not so important to do perfect work, but rather a place for having fun and experimenting. 
    Where to buy Katla: 
    Konst-ig – a bookstore specialising in publications on architecture, art, design, fashion, graphic design & pho- tography, located at Södermalm, Stockholm.
    Rönnells – an antiquarian bookstore specialized in fic- tion, art, & academic literature, located at Östermalm, Stockholm.


    Stockholm inspiration

    Where’s the best place in Stockholm, for you, to get inspiration? 
    By the water, it’s something about the sea and the bridges. I enjoy walking around Skeppsholmen, but also the Slussen area. I also love to just walk around and look at ornaments, different colour combinations and windows. My childhood bedroom had a beautifully arch window, and that has really stayed with me and features a lot in my work.

    Thank you <3

    Get to know Vanja a little more on her Instagram @vanja.ivarsson