Swedish illustrator Johan Thörnqvist has a special power. He blends the every day with the fantastic, bringing a dreamlike quality to city landscapes or turning a simple sticky note into a work of art. As a Fiverr Pro seller, Johan is sharing the same fantastic work he has done for magazines, books, and games with a worldwide audience. For someone who brings so much fun and whimsy to his work, he has a lot of deep and serious ideas about building a successful creative partnership with a client. He shared his path from agency work to full-time entrepreneur with us.
Nico: First of all, thank you for participating in this interview. For those who don’t know you, can you give us a little background about yourself, what you offer on Fiverr and when you decided to take the jump into a freelance art career?
Johan: I am an illustrator and art director. I have been illustrating professionally since I quit my job at an advertising agency about eight years ago and started freelancing. Since then I have worked in many different spheres, mainly with video production and illustration. Right now, I run a small production company with two colleagues and we do video (animated and live action) and illustrations. We work mostly with advertising agencies or the marketing departments of larger companies (mainly in Sweden but also internationally) and don’t really advertise our services in any way. So when I saw that Fiverr was going to start offering Pro accounts, I decided to apply and give it a try and see if I could expand my client base. I was not expecting much, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the response.
Nico: Great aesthetics is what companies and brands are often after. In your opinion, is a beautiful illustration the perfect illustration?
Johan: Well, that depends on what the intended use and goal of the illustration is. If its purpose is to be a beautiful image, maybe to set a mood or something like that, the aesthetics is the most important part. However, if the illustration’s purpose is to tell a story or convey some other kind of information, the illustration’s ability to do that in a good way is just as important as the look and feel.
Nico: Let’s get straight to the point – what is the coolest illustration you have ever designed and what are the essential components that make it look great?
Johan: I think a series of spreads I made for Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine turned out pretty good. It’s about a town in Sweden being moved to make way for mining. I especially like the title page where the illustration interacts with both the type and the background image. I think the somewhat quirky and fun subject matter, a clear idea and art direction from the client, and great source material in the original photographs made this project turn out well.
Nico: I’ve written a children’s book. How do I approach an illustrator? Is there anything I can provide to help them create the very best artwork for my book?
Johan: Try to be clear about what expectations you have and give as much information as possible. The finished text is good to have. And if it’s not a part of the text, try to give a brief description of the world where the story takes place and a description of the characters (who are they, what they want). You might tell the illustrator what in their portfolio made you want to work with them and also if there is something in the portfolio that you don’t like that much. If you have any visual references (other illustrations or photographs) for what you want the world and characters to look like, that helps a lot.
Nico: If a client wants their illustration in a style and finish not shown in your gallery, can you still do it? Do you have a preference as to what you illustrate?
Johan: Sure! I work in a bunch of different styles of illustration, animation, 3D modeling, vector illustration, and various types of photo manipulation. But I have found that it works best for me to have a fairly consistent style in my portfolio to differentiate myself from other illustrators and give the client a good idea about what they are buying. I love trying out new styles and ways of making images or video – although it’s a bit harder to give an estimate or get people to pay for something that they have not seen you do before.
Johan isn’t just an illustrator. He creates worlds, blending simple objects like credit cards with a galaxy of possibilities. Look carefully at his work on Behance, Instagram, and his Friends and Family studio site and you’ll discover new characters, props, and details that spring from his imagination. And his advice about how clients and artists can build relationships by being open and direct with each other is equally powerful. Don’t let aesthetics stand in the way of storytelling, and don’t be afraid to be specific about how you think artwork can tell your story.
When browsing artist portfolios, do you prefer seeing a consistent voice, or a wide range of styles? Artists: what’s the most important thing a client can tell you about the story they want to tell through your creation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.