Mathilde Friis Olsen, Illustrator
Mathilde Friis Olsen has drawn the mermaid illustration which is gracing the back of our first watch collection, and is certainly a talent to watch. We have met her for a little walk around the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. On one of these rare days where Copenhagen was actually floated with sun!
Dear Mathilde, you have just finished your Bachelor in Architecture and started with your Master degree. What does your education look like?
My master degree is called “Type and Wayfinding” and is actually a part of the Design School, so it’s all pretty new to me. Anyway, I guess it looks a lot like the Architecture School, so we are working on small, short projects in the beginning and then a semester project in the end of the semester, which is running over two or three months.
There is a lot of self-study, so it’s a very flexible education, where you have a lot of responsibility. I really like that you can decide how to use your time and when you want to meet in the day, because I’m much more productive in the afternoon than in the morning. The focus is mostly on the process, so there’s a lot of pressure in how you use your ideas and inspiration in the beginning, and how you use it during your work towards the final exam.
What do you like most about your studies?
My friends at school always hate me for saying it, but I really like the exam period. I like that you have to push yourself so much and I like to experience that I can be creative under pressure as well, and create some really great drawings. It’s a really intense period, but I love to see how your work through several months turns out in the end – always completely different from how you imagined it. I also think it’s amazing to look at your final project, when you know it has been in your head only, and knowing it didn’t exist a couple of months ago.
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
No, not at all. I have always had many interests, so I guess I could find myself studying many different things. I actually wanted to work at the police for a long time, but I had to be older before I could take the test to get in, and that’s how I started at the Architect School – just to spend some years until I got old enough. Then I really fell in love with the school and the creative work, so that’s why I’m still here. Also, I have always been creative. I have always been sewing, drawing and painting, so I guess it’s actually the perfect study for me – I just didn’t know until I tried it.
Walking around in these inspirational surroundings, it is no wonder that the Danes are worldwide known for architecture. It is literally a dream to study here, just next to the water with small boats floating on it. Do you think that your environment affects your creativity?
Definitely! I love the study environment and the mentality here. You really want to be here. Also, you get some very close friends, and it’s mostly just fun to be here. You really need someone to talk to about your thoughts and problems during the creative process, and your co-students are great for advice and help. So I wouldn’t have liked this study so much if it hadn’t been for the school.
And then, we have the most beautiful view in Copenhagen, so I have nothing to complain about.
Next to your studies, you also create illustrations and paintings. How do you balance that?
I always get inspired when I’m relaxing from school, so I always produce my illustrations in my vacations, and since I’m selling my stuff in shops, they send it to costumers - so I don’t really have to do any work when I’m busy at school.
For your creative work besides your studies, where do you get inspired?
I always use Pinterest a lot. I make kind of a collage in my head from pictures I see at Pinterest or Instagram and that’s what turns out to be an illustration.
Do you need days where you’re “creatively off”?
Yes, indeed! As I said, I’m always more creative and inspired when I’m relaxing, so I really need it for both my school work and my illustrations. I think it’s really difficult to push myself into being creative. I also have days where I’m just not creative at all. People often think that it’s an easy study because we’re “only drawing all day”, but it’s hard business for the brain to pop out creative ideas and aesthetic solutions all day.
You paint very different objects, people and of course also buildings, from different perspectives. What do you like most about being an illustrator?
I really like the freedom and the contemplation. I love to disconnect from the world, and I can sit for hours without talking to anyone because I’m really focused on my work. And then, of course, I love when people like my work, and I love to see people sharing my art on Instagram, for example when they have bought some of my work. That’s a huge compliment!
For the book Share, you have been featured as one of the most talented Scandinavian artists to watch. What are your plans for the future, concerning creative projects? What do you want to focus on?
I’m not quite sure yet. I enjoy doing my graphic and artistic work that I’m doing besides school, so maybe I can, somehow, do something in that direction. My dream would be to sit in some kind of a creative collective where I could be a freelancer and get inspired from others and maybe do some cooperations. But of course, right now I’m focusing on my studies and I would definitely try to get a job in a design office for a while, to get experience.
Is there a drawing you are especially proud of?
My all-time favorite illustration is Crying Blue, because she turned up out of nowhere, and turned out to be one of my most popular drawings. She is my first try ever with watercolors and it was just an experiment on how it would work out if I mixed very saturated colors when they were still wet.
I’m also very proud of my new watercolor painting Untitled No. 2, because there is a silence and an atmosphere in her look that I really like! (Editor's note: Below on the right side.)
In your portfolio, you use different techniques and materials. What would you choose if you had to pick a favorite?
Watercolors, no doubt. I like that it has its own life on the paper, but you can still control it and make some insane details around the eyes and mouth – which is my favorite part!
What creative area would you like to explore more?
I would love to try to make a mural some time. I think it’s really difficult to draw very big, and that is definitely my biggest challenge. I actually also have a secret dream of writing a book sometime – I think it’s the same creative process as drawing or making a project in school. I don’t know what it should be about, or if it should be a book with illustrations, but since I was 10 or 11 I have really wanted to publish my own book.
Last but not least: Your favorite Instagram accounts for inspiration?
My study-buddy from school @lukarone takes really great and beautiful fashion pictures. I have always been a huge fan, and she has that eye for the detail and great light. Also: @newheroesandpioneers and @annabylove.
➸ For more impressions, have a look at Mathilde's own Instagram account