“I’m a french-fries-loving, time-optimistic and eco-friendly poster maker and freelance illustrator based in Copenhagen, Denmark,” replies Michelle Carlslund when we ask her to describe herself in one sentence.
We catch up with Michelle on her birthday in early October. “My boyfriend got me a trip to the zoo, and a porcelain lion. In a minute I will actually draw a lion for a circus-themed book I am working on with a Swedish publisher. My little sister just stopped by with chocolate turtles. It seems that my 27th year will be animal-themed! Not bad!” These quotes and Michelle’s works nicely reflect the interesting personality of this young Danish talent. She sees herself as a morph of a kid and a grown-up, and her aim is to bring out some playfulness in us grown-ups leading our busy lives with jobs, responsibility and stress. Michelle founded her company, Michelle Carlslund Illustration, five years ago while she was still studying graphic design. In 2013 she started to work full time as a poster maker and illustrator, and now her posters and cards can be bought in over 200 design shops around the world. “I would love to see all the shops lined up along one long street. I can’t really imagine it properly! What got me here is a mix of chance, hard work and the way my products are selling themselves by being visible in shops and spreading to others. And Instagram has become my best friend in the last year or two.”
Fascinating illustrative universe is inhabited by strong men, eclectic cityscapes, playful puns, cheeky tigers and honey-loving bears. She wants to create works that are playful, warm and nostalgic. “Sometimes I think it is enough for an illustration to be pretty to look at, but more often I like to have an edge to it. Or something a bit strange or odd. A feeling or a detail that makes you think again and perhaps imagine how the situation in the illustration ended up like it did.” For example, Michelle often draws only four fingers to people in her illustrations. By doing that she wants to point out that it’s a world different from the real one with no rules. “And just because I can!” Michelle hopes that the energy and love she puts into her illustrations is passed on to the people who buy her works. “When I exhibit at design fairs around Europe, people often stop and smile a lot or even laugh when they get to my booth. This always makes me a very, very happy and grateful little illustrator. I always feel like ‘Yes! She or he gets it!’ If they like what I do, I know that we speak the same language, and it makes me happy that there are people out there who enjoy taking a peek into this illustrative parallel universe of mine.”
Michelle’s choice of techniques has changed a lot over the past years. Earlier she used to cut, glue and draw a lot, because she wanted to have an original piece of all her illustrations. Now she is more into using an electronic drawing pad. “I am now quite caught up with using different brushes in Photoshop. This way of working is old news to a lot of people, but I never really explored it before. I really like the opportunity to change and rearrange elements in the computer using my electronic drawing pad and pen. I’m not good with vector, and I love the way the lines feel more alive when you draw them by hand.” To find a perfect color palette for an illustration Michelle tries different options and relies on her gut feeling. She compares it to the very delicate ability of a chef balancing out different tastes in a dish. “Of course, I get inspired by the colors I see around me. The trending colors crawl under my skin, and at some point I feel like using them, and they feel just right, too, although they didn’t a few weeks earlier. Just like I used to hate plateau shoes and now own several pairs…” The majority of Michelle’s posters is printed on a sustainable stone paper. Stone paper is made of limestone and oil-based non-toxic binder called HDPE. The production of stone paper releases half as much carbon dioxide as conventional paper. Stone ￼paper iscradle-to-cradle certified, and under the right conditions it will start to decompose. “I think there is too much stuff in the world already. If I am going to add more, the least I can do is to make it as sustainable as possible. It is tough, though. Being green is crazy expensive. But I have managed so far and will continue to do so as much as I possibly can.”
Michelle is always busy doing something new, also commissioned works. This year she has, for example, designed mini poster collections formag émoi émoi. Lately she’s been working on creating a character for a new mall in a suburb of Copenhagen – “a very commercial and different commission for me”, she says. No matter what the project, Michelle follows her motto. “One of my bestselling posters has the text ‘Don’t forget to kiss’. That is more of a life motto. But as you maybe get now, my life and work philosophy really melt together. It is a reminder to have fun and not to take everything – including myself – too seriously.”