Words by Anders Rydning & Veronica Mike Solheim
Photography by Saga Sigrudardottir
Even though the glory days of MySpace are long gone, Esra Røise might have to send the creators a thank you-letter for their contribution to her success. After sharing some work on the once massively popular site during its peak, international fashion magazines like Nylon and Dazed and Confused started contacting the illustrator. With an interest in home tattooing, bad embroidery and hardcore music, one might think Esra Røise’s pieces would amount to a dark and depressing story. On the contrary, the artist uses her fascination for women in her creation of feminine and playful art, portraying the idea of being young and free.
Can you give us a short introduction to your world?
–I’m Esra. Half-Norwegian and half-Turkish freelance illustrator and exhibiting artist, based in Oslo, Norway. I do different kinds of illustrations, but predominantly fashion-oriented works. I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl, and it’s always been something I’ve been excited and passionate about, so I knew from early on that I wanted to incorporate it into my livelihood somehow, but the route towards landing it as a day-time job was very gradual. It’s always been a hobby, but at some point, I started getting more and more requests, until I finally took the leap and quit my day-job at the skateboard shop to pursue illustration full-time. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done, but I have never regretted it. I really have the best job in the world.
You’ve been doing a lot of work within the fashion industry. How did this happen?
–It has been a very organic evolution. Back when Myspace was really hot, I uploaded some of my work to my profile and it got shared all around the internet. Eventually, it attracted the attention of magazines like Nylon and Dazed and Confused, who approached me and asked if I wanted to do something for them. The pay for those first jobs was rather terrible, but the exposure was fantastic. I didn't even have a proper website at that point, but working with Nylon really got my work out there, and seen by a lot of the ‘right people.’ After that, the ball kinda just started rolling on itself and I gradually got more and more inquiries, which ultimately landed me jobs at Vogue and Levi’s, among others. The Superga collaboration came about via my friends at Blender Agency whom I have collaborated with before. They thought that Superga and I would be a good fit so they facilitated the deal, and it is really one of my favorite projects to date.
Fashion seems to mean a great deal to you.
–I’ve been interested in fashion since I was little. I remember one of my favourite things to do as a little girl was to play dress-up in my glamorous aunt’s closet. I would try on her furs and pearls and arrange little runway shows with my siblings as the models. I am still very inspired by fashion and the industry itself, with all its weird and wonderful creatures. Since it is something that interests me in my personal life, it tends to be the subject of my personal work as well.
What’s your fascination with portraying women?
–Women are often so limited in their portrayal, so working with such an exhausted theme, I find that the challenge lies in creating female protagonists that can differ from the standard norm of beauty. I like drawing obviously beautiful people, of course, but my favorite muses tend to be the ones that look slightly ‘off.’ I love gangly postures, crooked noses, gapped teeth, etc. The inspiration lies in the imperfections rather than the polished and pristine. And as to why I never really draw men—they don’t really interest me that much as a subject. I find women more aesthetically appealing. It really is as easy as that.
How would you describe your work?
–Feminine, playful, naturalistic. My hope is that my work comes across as interesting and aesthetically pleasing. I always try to evolve within my own style and push myself to try new things, new techniques or subjects, while still staying true to my own voice.
What do you think of being a freelancer?
–The worst part is definitely the insecurity of it all. You never have any guarantees and there isn’t really any way of knowing what the future brings. It could be great or it could be nothing. It can be very frustrating, but I love working as a freelancer. The freedom of being your own boss definitely outweighs the downsides.
How do you spend your days?
–The beauty of working as a freelancer is that there is no definite structure to the day. I can start working as late or early as I please. But generally, if I’m working on a commission, I’ll get up around 9. I start off with some breakfast and coffee and read the news. At the moment, I am working from home, so the walk to the office is just across the living room. I start working between 9.30-10, and usually I’ll spend the first hour plowing through emails and making more coffee. Then, depending on the day, I‘ll have client meetings—either via Skype or irl, or at my agency, ByHands’s office—before I draw for some odd hours. I share the home office with my hubby who is a musician and web designer, so around midday, we’ll go for lunch in the neighbourhood before I get back and draw pretty much on and off for the rest of the day.
What do you need to get into the work zone and how do you obtain a level of efficiency from home?
–For the longest time, I thought that having an office outside the house would mean stricter difference between ‘free time’ and ‘work,’ but when my job is also my hobby, it is very much a lifestyle (although that sounds very corny), so it automatically seeps into each other. But that’s the way I like it. Besides my tools, I only really need peace and quiet to concentrate. Not quiet in the sense of stillness, but just in the sense of no interruptions from other people. I am so easily distracted, so an open office space really doesn't work for me.
Can we assume that you listen to music while working?
–Absolutely. I like most kinds of music, though my preferred genres tend to be in the noisier end of the scale. I have a lot of favourites, but at the moment, I’m listening to the new Ty Segall record, Norwegian hardcore band Haust, Destruction Unit, old Sonic Youth and Fleetwood Mac. The mood of my music definitely sets a tone for the work I am doing. For instance, hardcore or punk rock makes for excellent deadline-music.
If you had to choose one favorite illustrator, who would it be and why?
–One of my all-time heroes is Raymond Pettibon, who is the ultimate anti-hero—very anti-establishment and very true to himself, but always very inspiring.
For fashion-related inspirations, I love Finnish Laura Laine and Swedish Lise-Lotte Watkins who have both managed to find their own unique voices and stay true to themselves while evolving throughout the years.