On Process 02.
Interview by Hannah Lee
The new year brings a new series of interviews with Icelandic designers. The Icelandic Design Centre presents On Process, designers and illustrators on the act of making. Next up…
Sigurður Oddsson, known as Siggi Odds, is an Icelandic designer and illustrator, currently living and working in Reykjavik.
He works primarily with the music, fashion, and culture industries in a variety of styles and disciplines. He is known for his experimental approach to design, and works to expand his visual vocabulary in a multitude of mediums.
How do you describe your current practice?
I guess most people would split it into graphic design on one hand and illustration on the other, but when I can, I try to incorporate some of my illustration into the various graphic design projects I do, and my illustrative style is very graphic, so I would say it totally overlaps, and I like doing both. Currently I work as an AD for the agency J&L in Reykjavík, working mainly on branding projects, but then I also do a lot of extracurricular activities, mostly illustration or design/branding projects.
You have a very distinct style. Can you talk about how your work has evolved?
My illustration style started in my research of North West Coast aboriginal Art, on which I wrote my BA Thesis in 2008. I had been more than well aware of this type of art, since growing up in Vancouver as a kid and youngster, but this formal research of the technical, spiritual rules and traditions behind it really took over everything, and I just kind of fell in love with both the great masters of this artform, and also the formal principles of making images with a limited set of forms and colours. At first, I basically just tried to imitate the exact traditional rules and principles behind NWC native art, but as I always wanted it to progress, I think it has, and I’m not sure people looking at my most recent pictures would even think of the NWC influence, at least not at first glance.
I’m particularly interested in your daily process. How do you integrate illustration/drawing into your life?
There’s usually some project or other that I’m working on, so if I’m drawing something, it’s most often sketches for some idea that I’m working on for a project. My sketching is very rough and unflattering, but totally necessary, as it’s where the idea comes from. Very rarely do I just jump right into producing a final illustration or logo or whatever. Usually everything begins with some sort of list of words really, and then some sketches or drawings from that and then at some point I usually just take pictures of the highlights of the little thumbnails I have drawn and start working.
I also occasionally draw on my phone in a program called Doodle Buddy. It’s so simple and rough, I like the limitation to it.
I have a bunch of much more professional drawing apps but I always go back to this basic crappy one.
Music, silence, or other? And if so what are you listening to most recently?
I usually have my headphones on when I’m working, although sometimes I tend to forget to actually put on any music. I have a hard time listening to something when I’m thinking very hard about something, but I love listening to something nice when I’m in the zone working toward some endpoint.
I grew up listening to metal and hardcore and generally pretty extreme music, later I only listened to minimal techno for years but recently it’s become more eclectic. I was actually really surprised when I took some spotify yearly overview thing and it said that the genre I had listened most to last year was R&B, haha. My 16 year old self would have found that very amusing. But some most recent artists that have been on repeat: Arca, Andy Stott, Randomer, Kindness, Blood Orange, Sophie, Raime, Inc., Kelela, Bok Bok… with the occasional Bloodlet, Mínus, Nirvana or Meshuggah nostalgia rocking out session…
Your tools of the trade:
I probably spend most time with Adobe Illustrator – I have a love/hate relationship with it, like most other people who I know who use it a lot. Physical tools are just the basic pencils, artline felt pens and coloured pencils on paper – that’s pretty much it. I take a lot of pictures on my phone as well, for my Instagram as well as just for reference, so I would say my phone is a pretty important tool as well, also for the occasional drawing I do on my phone…
What is your favorite mark making tool? What do you love about it?
As much as I use the computer to make images, I always feel the best stuff comes out of sketching something out roughly on whatever – an electricity bill or sketchbook or business card, and really with whatever, pen pencil or eyeliner. When the idea has been put down roughly you can then take it forward with better sketching or digitally.
How often do you travel, and how do you incorporate your practice?
Not as often as I would like! Being on an island thousands of kilometers away from the next mainland has its disadvantages, and the cost of going somewhere for work or to network or something like that is usually too much to make it worth it so that’s definitely a downside to living here. The occasional trips I do make to take part in some projects are however probably the best ones, as you meet so many likeminded people that you keep in touch with and usually do something cool with later on.
I do however try to get somewhere sunny at least once a year – my girlfriend and I have gone to the South of France every summer/fall for the past 6 years and I can’t really imagine not doing it, as it’s like the ultimate getaway from the harsh Icelandic reality. We also have a little baby now who is going to benefit from getting some sun so we’ll probably keep it up.
I usually take an insane amount of pictures when I’m travelling – I can’t help myself from taking a photo of every weird piece of type or illustration I see, apart from the standard travelling photos of the ocean and what not. Sometimes I’ve also used the vacationing abroad time for just abandoning the digital world and tried to just draw plants with pencil on paper for a month, which is very rewarding and meditative.
Social media to you is…? How does sharing influence your work?
It’s a great tool to both stay active on a daily basis on a semi-professional level, taking pictures of things that are loosely related to my work, and not, and even for posting things that don’t really belong anywhere else, that are more whimsical and spontaneous. But more importantly it’s a great tool to follow others who are doing the same and connecting to them on an instant level. It’s almost embarrassing how much I hit like on some people’s work, but then again it’s almost equally embarrassing when someone that I’ve looked up to for years likes, comments, follows, or even reposts your stuff. So all in all, it’s an awesome place to check into from time to time, be inspired, whether it be travel pics from somebody on a backpacking trip in Cambodia, or a funny illustration, and also post whatever is going on yourself and maybe do the same for others.
How is abstraction/inventiveness incorporated into your work and why? Do you have any specific designers/illustrators you are inspired by?
I suppose abstraction came into my work at first just as a fun way to restrict the image making process, creating some rules that I could adhere to, and then people could recognise the work from that. I also really enjoy exploring new forms of abstraction, for example in recent years I’ve been working with double meaning, like making portraits composed of shapes that also have some meaning, which is a nice tool to make use of. But I also get very bored very quickly on one way to make images, so I’m constantly trying out new things.
A teacher of mine in art school told us that we shouldn’t (only) seek inspiration from our contemporaries, more accurately he (Jeffrey Nebolini) said to us, “Don’t just fucking hang on Design is Kinky all day looking at what people are doing today” or something to that effect. That had an effect on me and I’ve kept that in mind ever since, taking inspiration from other fields of creativity like fashion, art, product design and whatever else. But of course I also keep up to date with whatever is going on today, and I follow a lot of my contemporaries who I really think are doing something fresh, as well as a small but good selection of creative blogs.
I find mistakes to be an integral part of the creative process – can you share a mistake or failure you’ve encountered in your practice?
I feel it really kind of has to happen at some point in each project before the end result has been reached – you never really know how the final thing is going to be when you have an idea and start working on it, and I feel that it’s usually some element of surprise or something by mistake that makes it interesting, so you have a little eureka moment. At least with me, the final colour palette is always left to some extent to chance – just twiddling with some colour bars or making some inversions or whatever until it looks surprising in some way.
One specific example of a good failure was a client illustration that in the end wasn’t approved, but then later became perfect for another project, in a really unexpected way.
Also I’ve experienced, more often that I would’ve liked, that when you fail horribly at your first attempt at something, that even though it’s painful to have to scrap something that you believed in, the end result of the final thing is usually much better than the original one, so it’s a difficult and painful way to the best possible outcome sometimes.
During DesignMarch, Siggi Odds will participate in the follow events: