This series, as well as the images in the Personalities series below, constitute my collection of oldies.
They are advertising images, book covers, magazine jobs, even a simple, handmade sculpture made in nineteen-century style, for a documentary about the great and once world famous Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull.
I have included some images that I still like from my very first portfolio. This portfolio I compiled when I was only twenty, but to this day, I am actually quite proud of some of the images.
If you are interested, look for the lady in clover with a little putty orchestra above her reclining body, and have a look at the weather-beaten, grey-bearded, somewhat dour-looking face of Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. The latter is in the Personalities section, the former an Allsorts piece.
By the way, the two flower shots are actually sculpts made from coloured beeswax, with details added in paper, cotton and rabbit hair – just in case you might wonder what they are doing here.
In short, - welcome to some highlights from my livelyhood and my pride and joy through my years as a sculpting, modelmaking illustrator
Photography by Finn Rolsdorph, Roger Fredericks, Paul Sutter, Erik Fuglseth and myself.
Digital work by me.
In Scandinavia, we celebrate Christmas with two types of Santa Claus. Firstly, we have the imported one, the Coca-Cola guy. We also have what we call the fjøsnisse ("barn gnome"), which to a large extent serves the same purpose as Santa Claus. The fjøsnisse is an interesting mythical figure and may date back to a time well before that of the Vikings.
This figure used to be known as a kind of primitive life force, connected to the very homesteads of peasants and farmers. There was no debate about the way this (always male) figure looked: approximately 60 cm tall, old and wrinkly, with a weather-beaten face, wearing grey and coarse clothing, solid patent leather shoes and a red knitted hat.
There appears to be a strong physical resemblance, I hesitate to admit, to the Pan-European garden gnome, mercy on my soul.
Um, about souls – garden gnomes have none, as anyone can plainly see.
Our fjøsnisse, on the other hand, had a strong one, an often abrasive mind and a mercurial temper. Nonetheless, even without the kindness and warmth of Santa Claus, he was known to be of a quite jovial and humorous disposition. But only, however, if he remained unoffended and unharmed, for beware of this little imp if one neglected his needs and wants. Thankfully these were modest – mostly oatmeal porridge for food and a heap of hay for a bed.
Modern Norwegian stories and imagery often depict a slightly less obtrusive character than what people of old would have claimed him to be. However, this may simply be proof of this old rascal's considerable survival skills.
Have a look at my own versions of the fjøsnisse, made from memories of sightings at a tender age.
I generally have little time to sit down and just make things without the larger framework of a project of some sort. Several of these sculptures I made for casting, and selling as a series of art objects.
Oh well, I may still come round to the selling bit.
All work by me; sculpting, photography, digital.
These maquettes, or pre-production character-sculpts, are work I completed for the digitally animated Norwegian film Free Jimmy (2003), directed by Christopher Nielsen.
I was the character designer on the project, as well as lead digital modeller and an animation mentor of sorts.
I must add that Christopher Nielsen, the film's director, had previously created most of these characters as drawings for his large body of work for cartoon magazines and books. More often than not, I act as the original and decisive designer for such animation characters; this was not, however, the case for this project.
Rather, my task in this instance was to translate characters that relied heavily on a two-dimensional visual lingo into convincing, rounded and completely three-dimensional figures.
I have since made a host of other characters for different film projects and I plan to publish images here of some of this work, as soon as the production companies free them for this purpose.
These dolls are part of a series of dolls I made for a project called Hunting the Kidney Stone (1996) directed by Vibeke Idsøe.
The characters vary from 15 to 40cm in height and were made from polymer plastics. In several cases, as the designs demanded this, the clothing was cast in liquid latex. All dolls had armatures that allowed for some movement in front of a camera.
The dolls were all exact portraits of the actors in this popular sfx-dense Norwegian film, which was made only a few years before digital effects quickly became the standard, which was the case even in Norway, so far from Hollywood, California.
I have always been more far more absorbed by drawings and paintings than by sculpture, and I still like the illusion of three-dimensionality a lot more than the actual spatial-art object.
Any two-dimensional, illusionist, or simply descriptive image seems to promise a sort of magic that bronze casts, for instance, do not hold for me.
This is a bit strange, even to me, given the nature of my activities.
I do enjoy drawing in its own right, and also I draw as a necessary stage for making most of my three-dimensional work. But I have thus far never made drawing or painting the actual centre of my activity.
I went to graphic design school a long time ago, as the 1970s blended into the 1980s. These were the days of mullets ("hockey-hairdos"), disco music and the Vietnam War, and the present computer company luminaries were busy dreaming up Pixar and Microsoft in school dormitories.
Of course, Photoshop and Digital 3-D were yet to be invented.
During my design school period, I strongly disliked what I perceived to be the ridiculously high-brow, pseudo-intellectual austerity of the regular art world.
Advertising seemed a reasonable field for anyone with an affinity for shaping something out of nearly nothing and who had no personal cause or agenda, which is how I saw myself during those years.
Advertising work was always the basic goal of most of my classmates, while myself, I successfully avoided positions in such agencies (there is one important exception, which I will come back to later, in the Acknowledgements section).
Instead, I opted to work as a freelancer. Since my main interest was in flat but dimensional work, I enlisted the help of the first of several photographers to make 2-D illustrations out of my handmade creations.
My greatest inspirations back then were Peter Fluck and Roger Law, who, under the company name of "Luck and Flaw" (alternating with the eponym of "Tooth and Claw"), where busy starting the famed Spitting Image TV-series in Britain.
My role-models had a very sensitive and artistic photographer in John Lawrence Jones; I entrusted Finn Rolsdorph with camera and light work. He had few peers in the Norwegian commercial photography field. Unfortunately, he would soon die tragically at a young age.
The advertising agencies took well to my freelance efforts, and I was able to steadily broaden my activities by taking on commissions from a range of other clients. These included newspapers and book publishers; truth be told, I indiscriminately took on commissions for anything from television programme puppet designs to making miniature caricatures for wedding cake decorations.
During this period, I worked closely with photographer Paul Sutter and eventually Erik Fuglseth, who became the photographer I trusted with nearly all my projects until that chapter of my working life came to an end.
I continued spending the nineties working on commissions for advertisements, publishing houses and several animation projects as a partner of the Oslo-based animation company Studio Magica.
It was animation and an ever slower illustration market in the advertising industry at the end of the decade that all but ended the interesting yet exhausting chapter of advertising work for me.
At Studio Magica, I wrote, designed and directed a short puppet animation film called Sausage, in addition to trying my hand at a few television spots, commercial an otherwise. I also experimented in new areas from time to time; one interesting example was creating a number of sfx-dolls for an early Norwegian sfx-dense movie, Jakten på Nyresteinen (Hunting the Kidney Stone, Vibeke Idsøe, 1996).
I began the new millennium as a director of character design as well as animating scenes and supervising digital character model work for the animated feature Free Jimmy (2005, directed by Christopher Nielsen).
After this lengthy and very interesting experience I continued taking on freelance assignments in the animation community, creating character and environment designs for several feature film pre-productions. My role would typically be that of concept artist.
I contributed to the design for the trolls in the notable Troll Hunter film (2010, André Øvredal) a job that was well matched to my own particular interests in these predominantly Scandinavian mythical beings.
My special knack has always been for making life-like and convincing personalities out of sometimes grotesquely caricatured humans and other creatures. This would eventually lead me to my own, present specialized territory, that of trolls and other fantastical creatures.
I still accept commissions regularly, sculpting and illustrating for interesting projects that happen to arrive at my doorstep.
This image helped me greatly in establishing a reputation for myself and for being able to carve out a career as a freelance illustrator.
I received the assignment soon after a round of visits, portfolio in hand for the very first time, to a group of the most important advertising agencies in Oslo, Norway. At that time, it was the only cheap and feasible way for a novice to start winning assignments and for making a name for oneself in this area of work.
The above image won me the gold medal in an important national Norwegian advertising and illustration competition ("Form"); it was in fact my very first troll image.
Finn Rolsdorph shot the photograph.
On my first visit to Finn's studio, I discovered that there was a rather large Norwegian money-bill on the lacquered wooden floor. I bent down to pick it up and was impressed when I detected that the bill was glued under the lacquer, making it an integral part of the floor treatment.
This was the life; here were like-minded people, I thought, and probably big money to be made!
Some things, however, remain under lacquer and in dreams.
I have since been awarded several other prices in competitions, including some outside of Norway. However, none would have an impact on my professional life like this one.
Sadly, I had created this first troll with soft and non-preservable materials (i.e., Plasticine for heads, hands and feet), since the aim was to make a nice, flat image, not a sculptural decoration for some advertising person's office. This was typical of my way of thinking back then and it accounts for the scarcity of old work on my own shelves these days.
It only took a few days after the prize-ceremony before some rather itchy and probably not entirely sober advertising employee changed the creature's appearance drastically and permanently during some late-night party.
It raises some interesting questions about human nature.
It certainly says nothing about the nature of trolls, the creatures that ultimately turned out to be almost as interesting to me as regular people – from a professional perspective, at least.
The event prompted me to start looking for more durable working materials, so perhaps after all this mishap was for the best in the long run.
I am happy to say that, the destructive nature of the partying populace of ad-agencies in the eighties notwithstanding, I did keep a copy of the photograph, which I decided to use as the basis for the very first image for my Troll Project in 2005.
I took up work with Studio Magica at the start of the 1990s, being invited there by Norwegian animation expert and cinematographer, Morten Skallerud.
At this time, a decade and a half before I finally commenced troll work in earnest, I took hours during my regular weekday and weekend schedule to sculpt a series of thirteen troll heads. These would become the core of my largest single project so far.
I now reflect on the significant role trolls have played in my professional life, as they did in my very young imagination, long before I had to invent a job to apply myself to.
One of my table tops captured on a busy workday. Present are also radio chatter on my computer and, I am sure, one or two mice that like to scurry through my wooden walls in winter.
For much of my early work, I used Plasticine (faces, hands, feet, shoes, any living or organic-looking surface). Later, I came to enjoy working with polymer “clays”, i.e., malleable polymer plastics. The most readily available of these in Norway is Fimo Soft. You may find others in hobby or art supply stores, but a couple of these can make work very difficult and troublesome due to bad texture and really unattractive sculpting properties.
I will avoid naming any of these, but one very commonly sold such product will make most young and fledgling, enthusiastic artists grow sour with frustration.
If you want to buy Fimo, ask for fresh and short-shelved packs, as this material is supposed to be exactly as SOFT as the name suggests, and the material hardens during months of storage.
Fimo comes in a number of different colours; I prefer the white one, but sometimes I also use the skin-coloured variety.
The reason for this pitifully limited attitude to colour is that I often simply need to make a uniformly coloured maquette, in which case white is just right for me.
If I make a human or semi- human character, only the head, hands, and sometimes feet will need to be sculpted in Fimo; the rest of the character probably will have parts made from other materials. Therefore, skin colour will often be just right, too, as a base for further skin-like paint elaborations.
Additionally, Fimo can be painted in any acrylic or latex colour.
Any sculpture made from polymer or other plastic "clay" materials should have an armature inside, since a piece bigger than a few cm without something to hold it up will most likely collapse before it is finished.
It is not difficult to make armatures from steel wire and attached pieces of polystyrene.
Use a very soft and porous white type of polystyrene. In Norway, this is marketed under the name Styropor, as well as a couple of other brand names.
This white polystyrene will not make your piece crack upon heating in the oven; the harder lilac, blue or yellow ones will, since they take more time to shrink during heating than the polymer does.
These somewhat harder polystyrenes can be very useful for other work, such as making backdrops for your creatures, for quickly making lightweight elements like props, or for cores for Das-Pronto objects (I will come back to this again later) and sculptures. So buy some, those materials are cheap.
For the polymer to stick to the polystyrene you need to spread some two-component, quick-cure epoxy on the surface of the white chunks; this will also secure the volumes better to the metal wire.
Other hardening compounds may also work; however, some chemicals destroy polystyrene very quickly. If the one you happen to try does not, you will still have to wait much longer for it to harden than when using quick-cure epoxy.
Wait for the epoxy to harden before starting to sculpt.
Any such plastic clay piece must be heated in your kitchen oven to harden. A few needle-sized holes should be made in the bigger volumes of the polymer so that the gas fumes can escape from the polystyrene during heating. This way, you minimize the risk of cracks. You should also slow down the cooling process by wrapping hot pieces in some cloth, like a towel, until they have cooled down.
The Fimo wrapping pack instructions advocate a rather short heating period for hardening. I have found, however, that it is better to prolong this process. Fimo is supposed to be baked for 20 minutes at 120 C, a period that will allow for most sculpt sizes to come out hard; however, they will be brittle and vulnerable to the smallest little mishap. Instead, keep it in the oven for an hour, or even ninety minutes.
The colour of the piece will yellow and darken to some degree, but the final result will be much tougher and more durable. But avoid using too high temperatures, as this may destroy your work and cause poisonous fumes.
I once nearly caused a fire by forgetting to adjust the oven temperature, having cooked a meal immediately before curing a polymer piece.
There is also the issue of noxious fumes.
I have no expert knowledge about the actual chemistry involved in this, but the manufacturer does supply a warning about overheating and heating for too long. So I make sure to have proper ventilation when curing my sculpts, and my advice is to do the same.
One particularly great quality of polymer clay is that you can rework a piece several times by cutting away parts after hardening to put on new, soft material and then harden the whole piece again. Take note, however: since polymer will darken during heating, any further additions of polymer will turn out lighter in shade than the prior ones. So this reworking may force you to paint the piece's surface to make the sculpt uniform in colour.
Personally I find this to be a small price to pay for this extremely convenient flexibility.
After the piece has hardened you may want to paint it. It is important that you render the surface ready for this, as the cured polymer and your fingerprints on it will make a slightly greasy surface, which may repel paint to some degree.
Use a clean, old white rag or some tissue paper and scrub the polymer surface with industrial grade alcohol (isopropanol). Avoid white spirits or other members of that unfriendly, slow-drying family.
This washing will make any paint stick better to the surface of the piece.
In addition to the scrubbing, you can sand the piece lightly with fine sanding paper, but only if you think it will look good without the very finest details. Sanding should be done before washing with alcohol.
In many cases you actually need a smoother look to an object. You can cut, file, sand and polish to your heart’s content, as this modelling material is extremely versatile.
So sanding will make paint stick even better to the plastic and is advisable in case your project might suffer some wearing. If this is the case, also put some varnish on top of the acrylic paint. This can be matt or shiny; the spray variety, or whatever you prefer.
A further word about chemicals:
I use thin rubber gloves when handling enemy-category chemicals. Open windows before you begin to work; get plenty of fresh air in, avoid inhalation of fumes and stay well clear of electrical charges or open flames during the operation, since alcohols, both liquid and fumes, are quite flammable.
I addition, do not forget to protect your lungs when sanding. Wear a mask! This will make it possible for you to keep breathing much longer after you reach middle-or-old age. You will want that.
I never much liked working with plastics other than the "clay" variety, but I do turn to them in hours of dire need. Some of these compounds have changed since I first began losing countless brain cells, nose down in pots full of stinking, dangerous brew.
Today, you can find seemingly smell-and-risk-free plastics for a variety of purposes. Nonetheless, my scepticism about these products never completely evaporated. Who knows what they will discover years from now? Perhaps tumours are stealthily growing in the model-maker communities as we speak, globally, lethally, tragically.
I have therefore learned to take precautions with any chemical substance that does not naturally belong in my refrigerator or food storage. I do this in the hopes of expanding my life expectancy.
Do the same even if you are young; youth is a condition that will soon pass.
Always be wary of chemicals that make you dizzy, I say.
Larger works sometimes demand other solutions than polymer clay.
The reason for this is partly the rather steep pricing of plastic and perhaps more importantly, the fact that polymer clay is difficult to heat and cure successfully in large chunks.
Yes, very difficult and unpredictable, believe me, I've been there:
It's around midnight. I have in my hands a cracked, large polymer piece, still warm from the oven and it's only a few hours until planned delivery to my client.
Bad planning, bad material for the job.
And absolutely no fun.
I have since found Das Pronto and a couple of other such paper-based products (Silkis, Paper Clay) to be excellent for many larger projects. Das P., as much as others of its kind, is actually a commercial, air-hardening, light grey paper-mâché, but the "clay" name seems to have stuck in this case.
Notice, however, one disadvantage is that these other “clays” often force you to plan further ahead, since they take considerably longer to harden, making them unsuitable for on-the-run activities.
My other materials include all the common, everyday stuff, such as cardboard, foam-board (Capa-board), metal wire, wood, balsawood, latex, white glue, superglue (big dashes make your head swim, so beware!), building-silcone, and two-component- casting formula silicones, etc.
My working procedures have evolved interestingly since I first started working in this field. One rather dramatic factor was that I at long last became certain that I could do my own photography well. I have lit and shot almost all of my own work ever since.
Photoshop, however, is what really, really changed everything for the better.
For many years my work was completely fingermade; that is to say, without digital elements. However, since around 2003-2004, I have hardly done any project without some sort of computer-work.
Yes, that´s how slowly I was getting it.
"Duuhh!" you might utter.
"B-b-b-ut how was I to know!" I´d be likely to stutter.
I want to express my gratitude to some people without whom my early work would have been near impossible.
Firstly, I will mention a small number of outstanding photographers who taught me what I needed to know to get a grip on the light-and-shadow side of producing my illustrations They were my tutors in the craft of composing satisfying, interesting and professional images out of my three dimensional efforts.
Hence, I thank you, Erik Fuglseth, in particular. I would not have wanted to miss a single hour of our long and fun collaboration.
On reflection, perhaps only some of the tired hours we sometimes spent working after 12 o´clock at night...
I am likewise grateful to Paul Sutter, Roger Fredericks and the late Finn Rolsdorph. My hours in the company of these good photographers and pleasant fellow workers were among the most interesting, fun and rewarding in my life as a young professional.
I wish to thank Arne Nordli, Art Director of the former Forende Annonsebyråer, Oslo, for his strong encouragement and practical help when I was fresh out of designer school. It was absolutely unusual and unexpected when he gave me a position in his company branch as his employee for several months while completing my illustrator's portfolio, all at the company's expense. During this time, I learned about important aspects of the workings of an advertising agency and I also used the time to plan my future in my craft. It was an extremely rewarding experience and I remember his friendly generosity with warm thankfulness.
Thank you to Bjørn Roggenbihl, who noticed my abilities and encouraged me, with gusto! He gave me a number of important commissions that helped me accomplish my dream of dreams, to be a real, live ILLUSTRATOR!
Thank you, Unni DePresno, for giving me several early, very interesting and frankly crucial animation commissions. Your enthusiasm and friendly help were extremely important as I started my life as a young animation professional.
I want to thank Morten Skallerud for the perseverance and generosity he showed while helping me make my short film “Sausage". This film turned out to be very important for what was since to come in my professional life, and Morten was my friendly tutor and guide in all things filmic. His insights and advice about film-language were invaluable to me; perhaps most importantly, he was an outstanding cinematographer/ lighting artist on the project. Without him my film would have been a lot less than what it eventually became.
Thank you Bente Lohne and Håkon Gundersen for all your help and kind support. Your exciting projects and generous encouragement were unexpected, very satisfying and well timed in my life.
I would also like to give remembrance to some people who are now deceased, who made a big difference in my life when I was young and inexperienced. They shared their knowledge freely, and generously led me to believe that I should keep doing what I most liked to do in times when this was in no way self-evident to me.
I remember with fondness my earliest photographer, Finn Rolsdorph, who regarded my work with much respect and started me off on my long learning period as a photo-dependent illustrator, green as I was at age twenty-something
Peter Haars was a knowledgeable, good man and a friendly, enthusiastic commissioner of my work. He gave me my very first job in the publishing world and was ever eager to spread the word about my talents among his peers.
I am greatly indebted to Gro Strøm, who was the very first person in the animation community who saw in me a real talent. She gave me work, important contacts and a crucial boost to my self-confidence as a young animation professional.