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 is Vanja?
As a “head in the clouds” kind of person! I tend to drift away in my own thoughts. But I’m also very energetic and can be very loud...
Determined! Or maybe stubborn haha. I’m very set in my ways and when I get an idea, I want to do it right away.
Getting accepted to Konstfack (an art school in Stockholm) meant a lot to me. The day I learn to blow a proper bubblegum bubble will definitely be up there as well...
When I was ten, I used to dress up as my favorite manga character from Tokyo Mew Mew and make everyone call me Ichigo (her name).
Things I saw on the internet as a pre-teen/teen. Like AMVs, TV-shows and the music I used listen to. I also draw a lot of inspiration from my dreams, I often reach for my sketchbook when waking up in the morning. Other than that, the people around me are very inspiring.
Hmm, it really depends on the mood, I listen to all kinds of music. If I’m a bit scattered in my thoughts, I usually listen to music like Grouper or Croatian Amor, but if I have a lot to do and want to get pumped, I go for stuff like Hyper pop or Scooter.
I like to switch it 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.
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.
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 and 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 sharp nails and the overall mood of the illustration.
The shoe, laughing with its mouth and sharp teeth. It’s just vicious! And 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 mischievous smile — just like the cat.
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 happening inside a character’s head.
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.
Advice to artists in the making
It’s 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 asking 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.
My childhood bedroom and the objects in there. It can be old clothes, curtains, jewelry or books and video games. One video game I remember fondly is Spyro the Dragon, which was the first game I played. TV-shows and films that I watched growing up, like Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Resan till Melonia by Per Åhlin. 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 called NANA, — it’s about two girls moving to a new city, sharing an apartment and the challenges of adulthood.
It might sound cliché, but I would probably say something 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.
Female empowerment & the art industry
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 perceived as male in the past. I think that says something about our visual expectations on women.
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!
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 Sophie Koko. And my friend Sara Kupari — I love her. I’m wearing a tee right now that she made.
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 experiencing other people’s art as well.
A lot of artists my age feel like their art needs to save the world, which I feel is somewhat 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.
I feel like my friends and I are very good at taking care of each other! There can be a lot of competition and sometimes unnecessary comparing of art styles, but we're also good at having each other’s backs. The creative world should be more like a big collective, where we collaborate, create, and lift each other up.
It can be a lot of competition, but I think we’re also good at looking out for each other. Often the competition comes from the outside rather than from the actual artists. It’s important to not let that affect us.
There are so many — I’m very into Lala Albert and Austin Lee right now, but in my magazine Katla you can find lots of people that I think you should keep an eye out for!
School, work & future
To me, trusting your intuition is very important. You shouldn’t be scared to do something even if it might be far from the assignment. You’re there to learn, but also to create something that you can feel proud of. I think experimenting, collaborating, and spending a lot of time at school, hanging out with your classmates while discussing different ideas and emotions, is the most important thing.
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. Also work more with 3D, animation and hopefully create more films. I love when I get to combine my two biggest interests: art and music.
I’m a co-founder and editor of a comic zine called Katla together with my friend Mattias Wallenius. I 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.
I founded Katla together with Mattias, and we’re both also editors.
Katla 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 with visual storytelling. For us, the images are as important as the written word.
Konst-ig – a bookstore specialising in publications on architecture, art, design, fashion, graphic design & photography, found at Södermalm, Stockholm.
Speaking of Stockholm!
By the water, it’s something about the sea and the bridges. I enjoy walking around Skeppsholmen, but also the Slussen area. I love to just walk around and look at ornaments, different color 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.