Ep.38: Mattias Adolfsson on importance of details in your artwork and starting from scratch

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Oct 26, 2017 •  Interviews

Mattias is a freelance illustrator living just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. He has worked with everything from computer games to children’s books. He is most known for his detailed ink illustrations, posting new creation on Instagram almost every day! He has already released 4 personal books, one of them “The second in line”, won “most beautiful Swedish book” and several other awards. He dreams of traveling the world and publishing illustrated books about his travel experiences!

Get in touch with Mattias

Key Takeaways

“It’s never too late to change”

Resources mentioned

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Art tools

Special thanks to Mattias for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Mattias Adolfsson, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where it’s all about how you can turn your creative patient into a profession. My name is Iva, and my guest today is a freelance illustrator living just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. He has worked with everything from computer games to children’s books, and he’s most known for his detailed illustrations both in new creations on Instagram almost every day, he has already released four personal books, one of them the second in line, one the most beautiful Swedish book and several other rewards. He dreams of traveling the world and publishing illustrated books about his travel experiences. So please welcome Matthias Adolfsson. And let’s get to the interview. Welcome, everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have my guests here. Matthias. Hi. Hi. How are you?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I’m fine. Thank you.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, perfect. My pleasure that you are here. And I’m super happy that he took time from your busy schedule. And let’s dive in right away maybe to your background, and you can share some of the artistic stories or some of your creative outlets when you were a child.

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah. I have a very, you would say, not a straight path to my artistic career. When I grew up, it was like, being an artist wasn’t really wasn’t, it was not an option because it’s was not really an industry in Sweden for for art. You can be a children’s illustrator, but it was really difficult to make a living of it. And my mother, actually she started to become an illustrator. And she never worked as he or she had another carrier ship or she was home with us. It’s and then she chose to be Secretary and work with economics. So was nothing I really thought about. So I I liked studying in school, I was really good at math. And I really started very early to program computers. I made some computer games and stuff like that. But I still was a teenager. And then when he came, came to choose university I chose to study to be an engineer. So I studied one year and I felt that was not really for me. So I took some years just started to work, I worked for the Swedish telephone company, and then I did my military service. And then I started studying to become an architect is that but it was the same thing. Two years. It wasn’t really for me. So I switched to graphic design. And then I finished, I had to find Masters of Fine Art in graphic design. But it’s the same thing. I wasn’t really that into graphic design, and we didn’t really have any illustration. So I died on the side I’ve become more and more interested in 3d modeling 3d visualization. So the last year when I went to studying graphic design, I, I worked on the project in 3d had not really an idea what the end result would be if it was like some kind of this tool story I didn’t know it was supposed to be a book or if it was supposed to be a sale was a story about some Polish cosmonauts going to Mars was a pretty large story and was made into my thesis work. And again, company contacted me and then I got hired and it produced the game and then I stayed on and made three more games I think. And then I switched to be a freelance 3d artist making music videos and seeing things for the industry. And then we have a little slump in our economy after 911 So I applied for a game industry job began so the I noticed the largest game company in Sweden called dice and now it’s bought out by Electronic Arts. So I work, let’s say, four or five times a day, remembering four or five years in the gaming industry more. But then I just came to some kind of passes when I just couldn’t continue working with computer games anymore. It’s might have been my age. So it’s also it’s, it’s creative. And it’s really nice working in those teams with lots of bright people. And it’s when I started making computer games, we were maybe say four or five people making one game, they and three 400 people. And in the end, I kind of returned to my childhood love of programming. So in the end, more or less only program, making tools for the other artists and stuff like that. But on the same time, maybe the last year working in games, I got into blogging, something new then about 2006. And I started maybe getting tired of the commission work. And then in 2007, I quit on the day of my game job and I can’t do it anymore. I have to to do something else. And then I started illustrating. And that’s what I’ve been doing since it’s 10 years this year.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, wow. And so what fascinated you the most on illustration and creating stories on your own world?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I think it’s probably was with me all the time. Because I when I when I studied to be an architect, I spent most of my time there just scribbling in sketchbooks. So I had the most of the time. While at university, I was kind of the funny guy. So I spent most time just having a fun time and maybe drinking a little too much. But I found out that being a funny guy, it’s it’s not that rewarding. So I kind of put that maybe like strange wheat into my drawing system. So it’s my way of the nowadays, telling jokes. It’s been my images. And it’s it’s been a strange path to get where I am now to answer your question, but

Iva Mikles  

yeah, definitely, because you have like really long path, like changing and patient like, Oh, I like this. And because Well, young artists, they have actually this problem as well. Like, oh, but I like too many things. So how do I know that I chose the right path? But yeah, I think it’s like never too late to change. Because you try. You know, yeah, don’t lie. Yeah.

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, it’s never too late to switch contests, something I always try to tell people. So it’s yeah, it can be difficult to make the decision to change, but on occasion,

Iva Mikles  

so. So what will help you the most when you were starting in the new career path, you know, because you are already like establishing in 3d world or in the gaming world. And like starting from kind of scratch with illustration, what was the best thing you’ll learn about, like starting something new?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I think I’ve had a lot of things as plus working with this computer game, it’s I was used to work with really large projects. And that it was felt like I was more or less starting from zero. So, I will say and I will say that, I think I was very lucky, it was 2006 and then login was the thing. And I think it was very lucky because I got featured on rather large sites directly. So from from the get go, I reached a level that was I had no kind of expectation and not just to make a living, but then I got the fairly good commission work directly and then so I think that you have to be a bit lucky. And also, I think I put very long, very much time into my art. When I decided to start illustrating I really, it’s something I go on to do everyday. So I just draw and draw and draw go and go and put in so many hours. And that’s a very important thing. I think.

Iva Mikles  

So, so how does your normal day look like? Do you have an office at home? Or do you travel to your office,

Mattias Adolfsson  

now I have an office, I share it with my wife, she’s also she’s an artist, paper artist, that I would say, wake up. And then we take a grab a little dog, we’ll take a stroll. And then I just sit down and try the starting part is always the whole thing. You know, sit in front of your computer, sir, but I tried to. And I’ve also, I’ve always had a harder time starting with the commission work with my own stuff. It’s like a, I wouldn’t say it’s like a drag, but it’s, it’s so fills me with such joy. Like the whole body is just flowing with the actual it’s feel so nice to be

Iva Mikles  

doing like more

Mattias Adolfsson  

information and yeah, and when I do commission work, I have to do a lot of for me tedious stuff like making pencil sketches and then I work mostly with clients abroad and then I have to wait until like, Okay, is it okay and what we have to make a new sketch so it’s, it’s more takes a little bit of the enjoyment out of it, but that’s the way I earn money. So yeah.

Iva Mikles  

When you mentioned already like the client work and project so what do you leave from what are your main income streams is the commission or also different things?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I would say that commissioned work, it’s, it’s the bulk of my earnings, but then I have republished books, and I sell. I had a cooperation with a French firm, they make late baby blankets, and we’re going to make a deep Burrell, so I’ve locked off different streams of incomes, and I also sell the regionals online. So I will say it’s about 5050 commission work and my books and originals, I have, I hope in the future, to track down the inflammation part, because I really want to only do my own stuff. Yeah. And

Iva Mikles  

when you’re working on your own creations, it’s mostly watercolor and ink pens, right?

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yes. It’s only Yeah, I worked so many years with the, with the complete computer media, so I can’t go near to see this. And I think also, I, I understand that it’s a great tool. Working with breakups and stuff like that, but it’s also puts the art more in, in the now because there’s such a evolution of the tools. So you can always tell this is made now,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, last year or what? Yeah,

Mattias Adolfsson  

and then and that’s okay. Because most of the art produced is four years now in 10 years, it might not be that interesting, but I think there is a timelessness to traditional art you can’t get it with that’s just my opinion.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, I also really liked the textures and everything when you work with physical and you have

Mattias Adolfsson  

a degree Yeah, it’s something it’s just the fact that you can touch touch the art is something try to go to a museum and do that. But it’s something really wonderful I think,

Iva Mikles  

do you have like a favorite tools like favorite ink pen or like other

Mattias Adolfsson  

colors? Yeah, I use fountain pens. I used to work with dip tents but then I found any who can work in the fountain pen and that’s it’s a real rabbit hole when there you can really fell into a rabbit hole when you use counter passers by more and more and more but I I prefer just to have the one because otherwise they have to choose. This is their plan from the pilot Falcon and it’s the one question I get all the time what term to use, and I think it’s the actual plan is not that important. But it’s for me, it’s it’s nice to always know to waste know that The tool is perfect for me.

Iva Mikles  

But I think it’s really good to experiment with, with the tools before you extract your favorite one. So that’s why we always discuss like the tools with artists use, though. It’s like, oh, you have to use this one. But just to try and

Mattias Adolfsson  

yeah, I think it’s probably I’m not a young person anymore. So for me to change the tools, I’ve kind of done that. But I think it’s nice. If you’re young or two, I think you should try playing around as much as possible. And also, not to get stuck with the digital only try to have the sketchbook on the side. Because it’s so important to have the to learn that as well. I think a lot of young artists, they choose just digital now. And I think it’s it’s appealing.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because I also mentioned it in other interviews, but I also started just with digital, because when you do like the traditional first it can be intimidating. And then the Yeah, is much easier. So now I’m trying to go back to traditional and learn more about traditional tools. So definitely important.

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, and I don’t think it’s a it’s a small, small thing, but it’s like a party tree. Just to sit see somebody someone drawing on a paper. It’s like magic for other people. So it’s it’s kind of magic on the computer, but on the computer, you can do some strange things. So it’s yeah, it’s different.

Iva Mikles  

Did you mention also the ink you use for us to try maybe can you mention the brand or? Yeah,

Mattias Adolfsson  

yeah, it’s I do those live feeds. And I get the same question four or five times each day. So nowadays, I just have the bottle ready like this? Yeah.

Mattias Adolfsson  

I paid for it. The trunnion is it’s a Germany documenting I find other things as well because they used to say that in permanent ink destroyed fountain pens.

Iva Mikles  

Okay. Yeah. And what about the watercolors? The the also have a like a favorite one use?

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, yeah. It’s more. I haven’t really kind of made comparisons but I used Windsor Newton it since I was a child, not a child.

Iva Mikles  

From when you start with,

Mattias Adolfsson  

from when I started, but I would say and I had this big artists commission for a hospital and then I made very large watercolor drawings, and I had to be sure that they stayed true to their color in 75 years. And then I bought the sneakier waterfalls because they are supposed to be the best dichotomy. I have them at the end and the difference to it. I haven’t tried it. Now. It’s like, when I started to be an illustrator, one thing that really was, for me, I was hesitant to start because I more or less always work, black and white. Because I’m partially colorblind. So it’s always been the big thing, putting color to stuff because I can’t really see the full spectrum. But when I started I just thought, well and that’s probably why I really love the watercolors because it’s more analog and it’s more random process. If I color it in digital, I really have to It’s true color. So for me, it’s it’s much better.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, really interesting. Yeah. Because also when you are working with color and light, it’s also important to have a values right. So basically, that’s how you start, I guess as well. Like you said the color palette Do you want to use?

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, I think you can see the color palette I use is it’s it’s not really bold. It’s it’s you can always see my hesitation. I think.

Iva Mikles  

For me, I was like, Oh, these pastel colors. I really like these like muted tones. And it’s my favorite part actually about their artworks.

Mattias Adolfsson  

Okay. Well, it’s just random. I’m checking

Iva Mikles  

in do you also create your own mixtures of the colors like these is my color palette I like to use the most.

Mattias Adolfsson  

No, no, everything is just it’s just like a steady. It’s like my watercolor box becomes a slum. So maybe once a month I just washed it out and then I make a new slum No, it’s It’s strangely random.

Iva Mikles  

Okay, so like how you feel? Yeah,

Mattias Adolfsson  

yeah. Now it’s not even our fee like, it’s what’s in front of me.

Iva Mikles  

Good. I would like to know as well, did you ever receive like the best advice ever? Or like something you wish you knew over the whole time of your art career?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I think no. I when I went to studying graphic design, there were two maybe you could say all birds in our class who wasn’t really interested in graphic design, it was me and a woman called kami Lang man. And she started with the blogging thing. We spoke, we ended up making working on the same game company, but maybe say 10 years afterwards, I met her and we spoke and she had started blogging, and she had become a US blogging star, getting commissioned from the New York Times and stuff like that. So and she got me into posting things on the web. So her advice was vital for me. But otherwise, most advice I’ve received is probably so much. People are giving advice so much from their own universe. So as they to someone who works on commercials, they say you must contain to this. So I think it’s very important to if you try to give advice really try to see from the other person, because I can’t say that. I’ve got any good advice. However, apart from coming in, listen.

Iva Mikles  

So to be visible on social networks, and share your

Mattias Adolfsson  

advice for me. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And what about like, worst advice? Or do you see like, people are getting like bad advice when they are starting out? As you said, like, just from their own universe?

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, I think, yeah, but I got so much so many other advice like that. So I got I don’t think I really could. I can’t remember that. Because it’s, but I, it’s when you go back and listen to stories from other famous artists, there’s so many of them who has given, I’ve been given advice, that you must stop with your artist endeavors because you’re lousy, and then they turn out to be great. So you never know. And you should be really careful when getting advice. Try to get them open as possible. Try to be positive, but maybe not use to do this.

Iva Mikles  

And do you have some other motivation to keep going and just not to give up and or something you do daily, like meditation or

Mattias Adolfsson  

drawing parties to meditation from a and it’s I wouldn’t say that going gives me joy all the time. But when it does, it’s the best thing ever. I think that’s the only the only thing I need to be motivated to really get that. It’s like this sense of flow of this big give. Scientists speak about that. And that’s exactly what it is. So when that stops maybe I would quit

Iva Mikles  

I’ll just dry out or something. Yeah. So and how do you do your networking now? Is it only social media? Or do you go to I don’t know sketch clubs or meet other like people around.

Mattias Adolfsson  

There most networking is, is online. But now I get invited to travel. So I’ve been traveling quite a lot. And that’s a really wonderful thing with this carrier to be able to travel and then I kind of network. So it’s been it’s, it’s like it’s like being low key rock rock star. You come somewhere and it’s like screaming girls everywhere. Perfect. Yeah. And as payment guys as well. So it’s specific. But that’s also something I really enjoyed with this. It’s like a tribal thing. You go somewhere and it’s like you have more in common with the people you meet there than the people in your country. I wasn’t aware that. It could be like that. It’s really nice. But I get all my like permission, Birkenstocks, it’s online, but the traveling it’s it’s the best thing for getting invited to it again. So it’s it’s like a spinning wheel.

Iva Mikles  

And so can you mention some of the events you go to?

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, I’ve been invited to elica festival in London. It’s really nice. And then, when I was in LA, last year, I was contacted by Singaporean artist called the nickel. I can’t pronounce it. So I got to go to Singapore for their the festival as well. And they had the Writers Festival there. Otherwise, I usually go to Angola, I’m in France. But I’ve been to, I’ve been to Russia to Georgia into I was last year I was in Iran. And I was in a really nice workshop in Vienna last year. Called workshops as they unfold. Okay, that’s really nice. So I can’t remember, it’s like, I haven’t traveled to the big country yet. But I would like to. And maybe South America, and more important to Asia would like I’ve been to Taiwan as well, that I would like to go to the one plan I have is to try to kind of produce a book while traveling. So I like to travel to through Asia, and maybe to America, South America and producing a book while I travel. But it’s, it’s possible.

Iva Mikles  

So it would be like a travel sketchbook with some stories or more like urban sketching, or either No, yeah,

Mattias Adolfsson  

I don’t know yet. It’s just very vague thoughts. But I would like to do.

Iva Mikles  

And if someone would like to start doing what do you do now? What would you advise them to start with you maybe have some favorite books to learn from our online classes, or just like, start with this?

Mattias Adolfsson  

I would say, for me, it was like, when I got sets, it’s learned me how to really value your time, because, okay, I can’t waste waste any more time I have two or three hours here. And then it’s just with the kids. So try to really value time and try not to waste. And I think it’s nowadays it’s so easy to just wait, waste so much time, especially with the mobile phones and stuff like that. So yeah, I think I think a lot of people try to shouldn’t be like, you have to do I have to sit now, for five hours drawing it should or painting or anything should be. I’m doing this because I really enjoy it. So try to enjoy it and try to really value your time because you can waste everything.

Iva Mikles  

Do you plan like a week ahead? Or a month ahead? Or do you have like a planner where you write down your tasks? And like each day? What do you have to do?

Mattias Adolfsson  

So? So it’s like, on some occasion, it’s like, just madness, but I am. I think, just try not to waste too much time and try to because I think a lot of kids growing up now with mobile phones. I think that we come to an age when they’re 2025 What did I do with my childhood? It’s like, when I was a child we were out playing on the on the streets or in the forest all day long. And it’s I think it’s it’s a baby it’s an if you think about what did I do? If you think back just one day What did I do on my phone? Yesterday? It’s I waste a lot of time now as well. So I’m part of it, but try to think like Yeah, and I think that’s also a great thing if you work on the computer. You are kind of stuck in that world. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, try to maybe combine also traditional and digital Yeah, yeah, different things. Yeah. And can you maybe recommend that some some books as well? Like for starving artists where if they want to learn something

Mattias Adolfsson  

I am never used I kind of can’t say that I’ve really read the new books. They’re probably great books. Teaching out the craft, but I’m more. Don’t myself. I really love to be on source. comics were made in the 50s So, so wonderful. So I would recommend them for an IBAN. I’m not sure how well translated they are, I think that it’s an American edition. But yeah, it’s great, but I don’t really know any. So how you do it?

Iva Mikles  

Okay, so you are modeling the observation and just

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah, I think in her comics tree is so good with capturing the emotions of the characters. So, and just so playful with the media, it’s probably because you never know how to do it. It’s replaced with the panels, sometimes it’s to draw stuff in them. So it’s, it’s very organic. And I think it’s a good lesson. How you can add up when you don’t really know how to do something.

Iva Mikles  

How do you spell the author’s name? I didn’t.

Mattias Adolfsson  

tuba. T ov. A YMCA, okay, I can spell it out and we can predict the movements so if you just put the movements got it gone transformed into Japanese thing you have to go back to the source because it’s completely different. It’s more like it’s, it’s like kind of an anarchy and they traveled in time and so much happening.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, really interesting. And so and what I wanted to also ask you when you are drawing your your artworks and you want to see how it will look as a copy, do you scan it and print it out at home before you send it to publisher or a client or do you keep it there? Or do you take pictures with the camera

Mattias Adolfsson  

I just scan it and the only thing that happens is a bit of I lose a bit of the contrast so just an hour have a macro that just push up the blackness but then I just send it because I want it to be as true to the region as possible and I don’t really have the know how to do the enhancements to the image so it’s more or less exactly

Iva Mikles  

Okay, yeah,

Mattias Adolfsson  

I think I think I would say that and that’s my work is always better in real life. It’s not really suited for the computer

Iva Mikles  

and some of my last questions I want to ask you is about the future and I would like to know what would you like to be like in five to 10 years like a dream scenario and you are not afraid of anything you know failing nothing so this is like how it should be

Mattias Adolfsson  

well, I would prefer if I just could to I could probably take up a couple of Commission works each year that I would prefer to focus more or less only on my own stuff continue producing books and traveling it’s it’s pretty close to a perfect I didn’t froze no I pretty confirmed as it is now. I just want to earn a little bit more money so I could be more relaxed and then and also traveled a little bit more last year I traveled very very much but so more or less like now but yes computer work.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. And my last question will be about firefighter future and I would like to know what would you like to be remembered for in like 100 years.

Mattias Adolfsson  

I just kind of the first thing that come to mind. It’s a line from a Frank Zappa song like the little tacky pamphlet in your daddy’s bottom drawer. So it’s, it’s not important at all for me. It just to be on a dusty bookshelf somewhere and someone just pulls it out and looks so this looks pretty funny. That’s enough for me. Perfect. I don’t want any monuments.

Iva Mikles  

No. But now and it’s really nice and now like hopefully you will create more books and so people can just collect then have this big collections of your Are several creations that will be super cool. And before we say goodbye, maybe you can share a key takeaway or last piece of advice, and then we will finish.

Mattias Adolfsson  

Yeah. Don’t listen to all artists.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. Because then everything is changing all the time. And yeah, we have to try different things. Yes. Perfect. So thank you so much for being here. It was really nice. And thanks, everyone for joining and I’ll see you in the next episode. Bye bye. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you so go check it out. If you enjoy this episode, please leave a review on iTunes hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcasts because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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