Tomas Björnsson is a freelance illustrator living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was born in Copenhagen in 1973, and still lives there with his wife and daughter.
He has had several solo exhibitions and sold many original illustrations to private collectors and companies.
He received his first professional commission at the age of 17. The first book of illustrations came the following years, illustrating around 40 fruit and vegetables.
Today he works with a broad range of clients including: Carlsberg Breweries, Nelson Canada, Samvirke COOP, DUI ( a larger childrens and youth organisation), Qualitas (Iceland), Heineman Publishing, Bonniers, Socialdemokraterne (the Social Democrats), Psykiatrifonden, Nelson Thornes and Optometric Management to mention a few.
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I have been drawing my whole life. When I was a kid, my dad had his own advertising agency and I wanted to go into advertising as an art director, probably because I didn't know anything about illustration. It was not until I did the fruit and vegetables illustrations, I realised that I could probably live and work as an illustrator.
Who or what inspires you?
Everything inspires me, especially everyday life. I have always found city life very inspiring. Urban decay is very inspiring, and the absurdity of the stressful business areas can be quit fun too. Books are great, I love the characters of Carl Hiaasen, they are so fantastically absurd and almost beg to be visualised. The last couple of years I have found great inspiration in books like ”The art of Megamind/Monsters vs. Aliens/ Robots/Ratatouille” etc.
Illustrators like C. F. Payne, Tim O'Brien and James Bennett, and artists such as Ron Mueck, Robert Bechtle are always a big inspiration too.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I have a Ba(hons) in Illustration from University of Wolverhampton, England, and a MA in Visual Culture from University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Recently I found a cheap life drawing class, which I try to attend every Monday evening.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I don't. I don't work with an illustration annual sitting on my lap. I try to give my best on every assignment. By following the latest trends, I would not be true to myself and that would stress me out. I find that getting really good at one or two styles will make the clients return for more.
What are some of your current projects?
Right now I work on a children’s quiz page for a children’s and youth magazine, that I do a lot of work for. It's really a great job, because they pretty much leave everything it up to me, always with long deadlines and a fun and open minded art director (what more can you ask for?).
I have just finished my first Danish children’s book (two years ago I did a French one for a Canadian publisher). I'm now trying to get it published, which is a lot harder than I thought.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I'm not sure, but it does make me proud when an art director says:”That’s exactly what I had in mind”.
A couple of years ago I did an editorial illustration supporting an article about how some people break down because of financial debt created through poor financial advice. I'm not too happy with the execution of the illustration, but I like the idea I came up with. I think that was a successful illustration, to answer one of the next questions.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I mainly work in two different styles, which I try to push as far as I possible can. I really love working like this. That said, in the last couple of years I have done about 20-25 book cover illustrations as Photoshop collages/matte paintings. I have plans, that one day; hopefully very soon, I will do a couple of very large dystopic urban landscapes as matte paintings.
Also I'm planning to find work painting murals for companies. But actually I would really like to try character design for animated films. I think my style would fit right in.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Take business and economics lectures, because when it all starts rolling, this is the hardest part and you don't really want to waste valuable painting time buried in tax papers. Always be willing to do changes if a client asks you to. Carry a sketchbook with you and use it every day, But most important – stay positive and have fun!!!
What makes a design or illustration successful?
It depends on the job. Sometimes it just has to sell and therefore be attractive in a way that supports its purpose. Sometimes it has to give more substance to the literature and other times it’s a comment.
For me, a good illustration captures my attention and makes me think, laugh or cry. The illustration has to take the story/idea a couple of steps further than what it illustrates. It is what brings life and history to its subject. A good illustration will make the story/idea linger and grow in my head and a good illustration is one I would like to have framed on my walls.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
An old illustrator once asked me: ”Are you sure you want to be an illustrator, because one day you will end up hating to draw and paint?”
Urban sketching is my salvation. It gives me so much inspiration and energy and reminds me of how wonderful drawing is. I go out and sketch whenever I've got the time, and when the Nordic weather allows it.
And not to forget my wife, she's my greatest support.
But I do get a kick out of working, I love it, and each commission keeps me motivated to do better.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."
If I wasn't an illustrator, I'd be a fire fighter. Well in actual fact, that's what I am – Putting out art directors fire with my illustrations.
I would most likely be some kind of social worker or maybe even a teacher.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I don't really like television; it's full of crap reality TV, which I find a complete waste of time. But then along came ”The Walking Dead”. I'm hooked on the comic books, so obviously I love the show, and I find it very well adapted. Now I'm looking forward to the TV version of”Criminal” by Phillips and Brubaker. Other than that I don't watch much TV.
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