Meet Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars: A Freelance Illustrator

Iva Mikles
Meet Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars: A Freelance Illustrator

Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars is a freelance illustrator from Stockholm, Sweden who is known for his style of digital, vector-based art combined with handmade textures and patterns!

“… Above all, I think the secret is grit – if I just show up to the office every day and do the work, the rest tends to sort itself out.  …”

(c)Gustaf-Ohrnell-Hjalmars-2
Artwork by Gustaf Ö. Hjalmars

Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.

I grew up in the university town of Uppsala, north of Stockholm.

Uppsala boasts the oldest university in Scandinavia, and academic life has a huge impact on the city. There’s a certain pressure to pursue an academic career, and I actually started to study law there. I felt a nagging feeling of being in the wrong place though. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a huge passion for drawing, and before embarking on traditional education, I felt I had to give this passion a shot. My notions of how to follow this dream were very vague though, so I ended up studying industrial design at first, thinking that there had to be at least some drawing involved.

During that time I did an internship at the studio of an established industrial designer. After some time he dryly noted that I seemed more interested in drawing objects than designing them, and that’s when the penny finally dropped.

I realized I needed to find a line of work where drawing was the end goal, rather than a means to an end.

What inspired you to make art?

Stylistically I find a lot of inspiration on Instagram. It’s such an easy way to find out what contemporary artists are up to, and it’s an endless source of input.

Apart from that, I think inspiration is constantly to be found in one’s everyday life – in an old record cover found at a flea market, seeing someone with a particularly nice outfit on the street, or by simply being out in nature. Above all, I think the secret is grit – if I just show up to the office every day and do the work, the rest tends to sort itself out. 

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?

I studied at Konstfack in Stockholm, Sweden’s largest university of arts, crafts, and design.

My studies there gave me tools that have been hugely beneficial through my career – we got to try our hands at traditional printing techniques, as well as delve into papermaking, typography, animation, and practically everything else related to illustration and graphic design.

It was a great opportunity to experiment and lay the foundation for my future career in illustration. Getting admitted to Konstfack also felt like a stamp of approval, and was a huge boost to my confidence.

(c)Gustaf-Ohrnell-Hjalmars-4
Artwork by Gustaf Ö. Hjalmars

How did you develop your own art style?

My current style is the result of 10 years of trial and error.

I’ve tried a lot of different directions, from working with brush and ink, pencil cross-hatching, and cutouts. The multitudes of styles that I experimented with often resulted in me being asked by clients to mimic someone else’s style.

In the end, I felt I needed to develop a cohesive personal style, that could be presented to presumptive clients in an easy way. I wanted to get away from being a chameleon generalist, and rather be sought out by clients for my personal style and approach.

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

I had the luck of having a very entrepreneurial friend that I got to know during my art school years.

After graduation, he started a production company specializing in animated infomercials and commercials. When I started out as a freelancer, he was my biggest client. This gave me the opportunity to build my portfolio and find new clients without having to take a daytime job.

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

I make my living through commercial projects, be it editorial work, advertising, packaging, or artwork for animation.

I feel very fortunate to have such a broad spectrum of clients that appreciate my style. Thanks to them, my job never gets boring!

What are you currently working on?

Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to speak of upcoming or current projects before they are published.

I have a number of projects that I’ll be thrilled to share once they are live though! Anyone curious about my work is more than welcome to follow me on Instagram – I try to post regular updates on what I’m currently up to!

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

Perseverance and grit!

As an artist, you have to be a long-distance runner, keeping your eyes on the long-term goals rather than the quick wins.

I also think that generally being nice to people is key. There’s a lot of talk of the importance of networking, but as a somewhat introverted person, I believe that just being friendly and easy to work with will get you far. After all, any commission is teamwork between you and the client, and no one enjoys working with a diva.

(c)Gustaf-Ohrnell-Hjalmars-3
Artwork by Gustaf Ö. Hjalmars

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator but do most of my sketching by hand, pen on paper.

So that’s it – a graphite pen, a stack of A4 copying paper, a Wacom tablet, and a computer with Illustrator installed. It all fits in a briefcase which is great for mobility – it’s such a privilege to be able to work from the family’s summer house for example.

What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?

I read a lot – mostly fiction – and it’s my best trick of getting out of my own head.

Ironically, a well-written novel often resonates more with me than most visual art. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel the need to compare it to my own output?

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

Be nice and work hard!

Get in touch with Gustaf

Thank you, Gustaf, for joining us today!

All artworks by Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars, used with permission.

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