On Process 01.
Interview by Hannah Lee

In the attempt to dissect its inner workings, we are starting a new series of posts on the process and the act of making design, the first up is Rán Flygenring.

Rán Flygenring is an Icelandic/Norwegian illustrator, currently based in Oslo, Norway. Once dubbed “The Official Illustrator of Reykjavik”, Rán has since taken her practice abroad, using her illustration as a contemporary style of reportage. We sat down to talk about her approach to drawing, her nomadic lifestyle, and tools of the trade. It was fantastic to get a look into her unique process and ideologies behind illustration.


How do you describe your current practice?

I’m focusing on the role of illustrator as a reporter. Using illustration as a documentary tool imbues a different narrative into journalism. It has the potential to take something from the text and directly link to information. I believe people have a different connection to drawing, different from written or photo journalism. Telling a story in a one frame image can bring fiction and information together.

Mynd skreyta, the Icelandic phrase for illustration, literally means image decoration, which is very different than what an illustrator does. It is more than making something visually attractive; reportage is an important way to use illustration to have a voice and be active.

I’ve found line to be a vital element across disciplines, as well as a reflection of visual beliefs. Can you talk to me about your line?

My line has always been there, I’m aware of it, I can’t change it. Even if I draw on a computer, it’s still there. It’s inherited, through both learning and influence. I think line is partly genetic, my mother and father were both architects, it is a mix of their styles as well.


I’m particularly interested in your daily process. How do you integrate illustration/drawing into your life?

I try to draw something everyday. Practice, everyday. As a morning person, I work best creatively in the morning, and ideally, do practical things later in the day. I go to lectures/exhibitions as often as possible. I go to just listen – drawing fits in here perfectly. Boring lectures activate other fields. Keeping the critical part of your brain busy with something else engages your brain in different ways.

Music, silence, or other? And if so what are you listening to most recently?

I listen a lot to silence, but also podcasts- This American Life, Radiolab, and radio shows, mainly Icelandic and Norwegian. When it comes to music I am at the moment enjoying Händels Messiah and Ane Brun, the newest album from My Bubba and some golden beauties from Svante Thuresson.

Your tools of the trade:

-Rotating fountain pen
-2B pencils, I use pencils a lot.
-drawing on ipad recently, stylus pen


What is your favorite mark making tool? What do you love about it?

The ball pentel extra fine r56; it has a line that is far away from static and has a bit of a quirky and interesting variation to it.

What are your preferred tools for travel? If any.

I have been traveling for 2-3 years. What I have found is important is minimizing your tools, working with what you have. Watercolors are perfect for that. I draw everything by hand, and travel with a Japanese flat scanner.


Can you talk about the influence of travel on your illustration?

Travel is my main inspiration. It makes you so observant, it keeps you curious. In daily routine there is some curiosity that is easy to lose. When you are drawing, you are making constant connections and observations.

Work wise being able to travel is a luxurious place to be. I am not dragged down by huge objects, and I am making connections with people. I am forced to minimize, which can be limiting, but in other ways also honest.

Social media to you is…? How does sharing influence your work?

It does influence how you make work. I have a love/hate relationship with social media, I use it as a platform to put things on, (like Tumblr and Instagram) and the immediate response is something that is really fun to play with. Illustration is a pretty fast process, but I enjoy the immediateness and use it as a part of a dialogue. It definitely affects my work.


When you are illustrating a specific scene, what do you tend to focus on?

People are the biggest point of interest in drawing. I work alot with my line to create a narrative within the scene. One little look or situation between two characters can spark a story. I can invent what happened using tiny cues from different situations to become something else. I want to explore how things end up happening, or relationships between subjects. I fill in the gaps.

Sometimes it is purely observational, linking your hand to what you see. It’s really important. One often forgets to look. When you’re drawing a building, for example, you can see immediately when you stop looking. Your head starts inventing, and you can see it in the drawing that the building is not honest.

How is abstraction/inventiveness incorporated into your work and why?

There is some truth in something extra. Life outside of your head is much richer. Training the observational part of your brain is necessary, you’re creating a database. This automatically influences projects and work. It’s an exercise.

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 believe it is better putting work out there that is not perfect, than not made. Failing happens all the time. I’m rarely happy about what I do, it hardly ever happens. I dont see it as a bad thing.

Some years ago I went to a lecture by a Finnish architect studio, where they presented projects that didn’t happen. I found that really brave. The way we often present our work is always presenting the best work, lie behind the things that succeed. It is more interesting to look at all this stuff that went wrong. One should be more willing to share the worst parts.

I am closely connected to the process. I enjoy that much more than the finished result, which usually ends up in a big black hole of something that doesn’t work.


I was commissioned to illustrate a comic book in Reykjavik, and I thought I have no clue how to make comics, but I have to say yes. It was really, really, really hard, and it had its limitations. It was maybe daring or being brave. But also a bit naive, naive enough to do something like this can be helpful.

I think this is something the field in Iceland allows you to do – experiment and try things out. Iceland gives you opportunities to work and get better. This is the only way to test and try things. Then failure becomes a personal thing, and it’s often these things that people like the most. It’s really about being less conscious about your creative process.

Explore more of Rán’s work:

Images courtesy of Rán Flygenring