“Always striving for beauty but letting the process, and struggles, show.”
Interview by Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Stina Persson studied fine art in Perugia and fashion drawing in Florence, and also has a degree in illustration from Pratt Institute in New York. Using ink, watercolor or collages with ceremonial Mexican cut papers, she creates a style that is both vivid and elegant. Persson fuses the traditional with the edgy to introduce a modern look to illustration – a look that is appreciated by numerous clients including Nike, Microsoft, Louis Vuitton, Veuve Clicquot, L’Oreal, O.P.I., Vogue Japan, W Magazine, and WWD Magazine.
Jaeger: Many of your works have an identifiable style: an attention to movement and the female form, a contrast between flowing bright color and the drama of unexpected and harsh lines. How did you develop your style?
Persson: It is what comes natural to me. My way of solving a solution looks like that. Something bright, needs something dark, a pretty face needs something uneven or raw. I want there to be a balance, but then again that balance is very subjective.
Jaeger: Who are some of your inspirations—visual artists and fashion designers?
Persson: I love the lines and anatomy of Egon Schiele, the brushwork of Jenny Saville, the genius of Miuccia Prada, Matisse’s cut paper and the list goes on, but mostly I get inspired from the streets, the thrift store finds and nature.
Jaeger: You once described your goal as an artist “to make the ugly prettier and the beautiful a little edgier.” Could you talk a little more about how you came to that goal and how it manifests in your artistic process?
Persson: Being Swedish and Scandinavian I think there is a kind of less-is-more moral that comes with the mother’s milk. The “too perfect” was never an ideal when I grew up. And honestly – who needs to see another Photoshopped supermodel? I believe in always striving for beauty but letting the process, and struggles, show. I sometimes wish I could have a more nativistic look, but that would be forced in my case. That wouldn’t be the way I see things.
Jaeger: You use a variety of interesting mediums in your work: ink, watercolor, and cut paper. How have different mediums driven or influenced your work?
Persson: Yes! Very much so. The watercolor work is a constant struggle as that medium is already so soft and feminine. I do my best to keep edges and attitude there. With ink and collage the edge comes with the medium and I need to make sure there’s elegance and beauty to even up the raw quality.
Jaeger: Why did you decide to use ceremonial Mexican cut papers? Is the addition of this material conceptual or purely aesthetic?
Persson: Way back, when expecting my first child, an Italian friend gave me a book of Italian names to see if we could find something suitable. The names in that book were amazing, so dramatic and so steeped in old school farmer religion, and very foreign to me. Later I spent many vacations in Southern Italy, and decided to paint portraits of the names in the book.
Then in 2010, I had a solo show in New York showing these portraits, and this is when I first used the papel picado, that I coincidentally got from the same Italian friend that now lives in Mexico City. They worked so well to give a delicate feeling of the traditional lace and embroidery typical for that region without being literal.
Jaeger: How does the natural world and organic movement inform your art?
Persson: The shapes and lines are inspired by the organic lines seen in nature, or in the human figure. I would love to work more in nature and with nature as it seems to get more and more important to me. We now have a house in the countryside which I think influences me a lot. I am slowly coming to terms with the Swedish climate and part of that is appreciating flowers and trees even as they wilt or stand barren.
Jaeger: How do you push your boundaries as an artist?
Persson: Not enough maybe. I hope to dare more, and risk more. But working commercially it hasn’t always been so easy, but that might be changing.
Jaeger: Could you talk a little more about the intersection in some of your work between art and advertisement? How does your creative process differ when you are creating work for a client versus a personal project?
Persson: The difference in my work when working on a personal project and a commercial one was greater before. Over the years I have become quite good and staying true to me and my style even when working commercially. And it helps. It is quite draining to work on pieces without depth or personality. Both me and the client are happier now, I think.
Jaeger: What is your typical studio day like?
Persson: Biking to work. Checking and replying to email. I work worldwide and a lot of things happen while I am asleep. Then getting a good cup of coffee from a place nearby, which I love. Then usually working on a project either personal or commercial, but usually no drawing or painting until after running or working out for an hour mid day. Once that extra energy is gone I paint or draw or cut and paste until it is time to go home.
Jaeger: What has been one of your greatest challenges as an artist?
Persson: Making the commercial work keep my personal aesthetics. Juggling family life and working. And now – taking more risks…
Jaeger: What advice do you have for an illustrators just entering the field?
Persson: Keep getting better. Don’t miss deadlines. And get inspirations from fine art, sculptures, and music rather than looking at other illustrators. That will keep your work more fresh and unique.
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