An unknown woodland

Since the mid 90’s, illustrator Lars M. Aurtande has adorned countless journals, magazines, children’s books and textbooks with his characteristic and humorous illustrations. Alongside an impressive resume of publications, Lars can boast with a long list of awards, as well as numerous exhibitions. The other day, he found himself stuck at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam due to a personnel strike. We used the opportunity to mail him a few questions.   

Hi Lars! Please introduce us to your world of illustrations.
For the last 15 years, I have worked as a freelance illustrator and visual artist. My work ranges from children's book and magazine illustrations to theatre scenography, sculptures and fine art. If I do have a style, it must be the content of my work, rather than my techniques, that ranges from acrylics, inks, screen prints, books and magazine illustrations, to theatre puppets and scenography.

I've always been attracted to fairy tales, myths, fables and other visual storytelling. It is important for me to create images that evoke wonder and has the ability to involve several possible outcomes - as seen from the viewer's point of view. I aim for projects that are crossovers between illustrative work and fine art with a strong narrative direction.

Tell us about Larry's Botanical Studies. What's this book about?
The idea emerged while I was sitting on some rocks by the sea with my children. It was one of those dream moments; the sun was shining and we where drawing plants and flowers on big sheets of paper. After a while, some mutant animal robots and fable creatures just happened to show up in the drawing. It was such great fun to mix realistic studies of flowers and plants with pure imagination.

The visual universe can be compared to an unknown woodland. On the forest floor, between branches and plants opens up a world that reveals animals and fable beings in stark conflict with robotic machines. This vision has references and parallels to my own perception of the world as an arena full of wars and conflicts. My vision is no doomsday prophecy, rather my way to comment or question the reality with humorous means. I allow myself to be fascinated by the striking similarity between complicated cable connections and the root system of trees, or pipes in a ventilation system and digestive system in the body. My aim is to create "beauty in the ugly”.

What's your fascination with books and its visual language?
I love to dive into a new imaginative world and stay there for a long time. The synergy of the people involved is of course essential for the project to become a dream job. Open minded, not-too-serious editors and authors are important. I have made several picture books with author Bjørn Arild Ersland and editor Geir Nummedal, who are a great example of this. We would let the text go back and forth several times, peeling it down to a minimum in order to let the illustrations speak, and be as important as the text. Great design is essential for a project as well. Blocks of letters that are thoughtlessly placed on top of great artistic work just makes me sad.

You are for sure a diverse illustrator, but do you have any tools of choice?
I will use the kind of tool that fits the job. For my commercial illustrations, I have for the last few years been using a Wacom drawing table a lot. Its quick and ideal for screen or digital print. For my more personal work I use a Pentel black ink brush, preferably directly carried out on paper without any kind of sketch work. This is because I don’t want any kind of self-censorship in the process so that ideas and motives are allowed break free. This is the same tool I have used for the «Larry´s botanical studies». Lately I have been experimenting with black polyuretan rubber. It's ideal for casting sculptures. It gives a nice and realistic and slightly soft feel. A book review once said that I have «one of the largest toolboxes among Norwegian illustrators…» I kind of like that. I'm obsessed by creating objects, books, paper drawings, screen prints, sculptures. I want the object I am making to choose the tool and not the opposite. 

What other illustrators do you like, and why? 
I must admit I don´t have a list of favourite illustrators, but it’s loads of good ones in Norway. I don’t have a TV, and I spend very little time looking at other peoples work. I get my inspirations from being out in the nature and observing objects. If I should highlight someone, it must be illustrator and visual artist, Øyvind Torseter whom I shared studio with for many years. He’s still a close friend and a great inspiration. I also admire the old Norwegian master T.H. Kittelsen. His drawings for the old Norwegian folk tales are marvellous. They got a perfect line and nerve, and a perfect balance of obscureness and humour. They make you wonder. I would also mention my old British, but not so famous hero, Richard Dadd, who inspired me a lot in art college. His most famous picture, The Fairy Feller´s Masterstroke (painted from 1855-64) has probably been my greatest inspiration of all. After getting insane and killing his dad, he was sent to Bethlem Royal Hospital in London where he did the painting. It's inspired by Shakespeare and old British folklore, and includes numerous little characters, from a trumpet playing dragonfly, to centaurs and other strange creatures. The painting also inspired Freddy Mercury (Queen) to write the song with the same name.