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Illustrator Profile - Ulla Puggaard: "Nature has always inspired my work"

By Robert Newman   Thursday February 9, 2017

Ulla Puggaard is an illustrator, art director and calligrapher who grew up in Denmark but currently lives and works in London. She does a mix of editorial and commercial work, and recently completed 31 hand-drawn book covers for Penguin Books, which featured her distinctive lettering. Much of Puggaard’s illustration and design work reflects her interest in the environment and sustainability.

MY LIFE:
I am a Nordic designer and illustrator. I grew up in Denmark, which has heavily influenced the graphic style and choices of colors in my work. I call it the Nordic Gloom.


As a child I used to run through the forest every day on my way to school. Nature’s color and textures have always inspired my work.

My dad read the Moomins books to me when I was a child. The original stories are set deep in the forest. The Moomins are a very diverse bunch of characters and the original drawings by Scandinavian illustrator and writer Tove Jansson are amazing and full of details.

I am presently located in London where I have been working for the past 15 years. This September I completed an MA in Design Research at Goldsmiths College London with a focus on co-design and sustainability. I am very interested in the environment.

MY WORKSPACE:
Sharing studios with other creatives has been common in my practice over the past 12 years. It’s great to share knowledge and collaborate on projects with other studio members. My studio spaces have mainly been in East London, the fast-growing area that has become home to many creative industries today. Hence there is never a dull moment and always something interesting going on. East London has a very diverse mix of people, markets, shops, galleries, etc.

HOW I MAKE MY ILLUSTRATIONS:
I would describe my work as a mix of ink, pen, and paint, often finalized digitally. But the final choice of media depends on the type of work and client I am engaging with.

MY FIRST BIG BREAK:
I have so far been very fortunate to work with a range of interesting clients, publications and art directors. I still remember my first assignments for The New Yorker and The New York Times. It was my agent Kate Larkworthy (who I still work with), who introduced me to those influential publications.

One of my big breaks was working on the advertising graphics for the Audi A6 Campaign for the agency BBH London. I admired the art director Kevin Stark for his great ideas and design aesthetic.

MY INFLUENCES:
Many different artists influence me. Denmark since the 60s has been home to some influential architects and designers like Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen, to name a few. It was common during their time for a design practitioner to be working in many disciplines outside their immediate remit. This has always inspired me to seek inspiration from all kinds of design and art.

MY MOST ADMIRED CREATIVE PERSON:
I admire the artist and illustrator David Shrigley’s work, which always makes me laugh. He manages to combine his illustration alongside his fine art work as an artist exhibiting in galleries. I am also inspired by the work of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. He is known for sculptures and large-scale installation art, employing elemental materials such as light, water, air and temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience. I also admire the work by English conceptual artist Gillian Wearing who graduated from Goldsmiths College in fine art using a mixture of photos and video in her work. I was particularly inspired by the artwork: Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs That Say What  Someone Else Wants You To Say (1992).

MY CREATIVE INSPIRATION:
I do a lot of lettering and hand lettering writing. The city is covered in writing—from stickers on lampposts, various shop fronts, streets and neon signs, road markings, and a sign next to a hat on the pavement—it’s all about communication. It inspires and intrigues me!  I live in East London; it’s impossible not to get inspired simply by roaming around in the area.

My greatest inspiration comes from my rural upbringing. Living close to nature and its great diversity has taught me huge lessons.

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING ALONE:
I am a social person—sharing a studio works well for me.

MY FAVORITE ART DIRECTOR:
I have been fortunate to work with many great art directors. One is Naomi Usher at Usher Studio. We have worked on various design projects together, including work for the PS122 theater. Naomi has a critical eye and keeps pushing the development of the idea. We usually end up with a good outcome.

I also enjoy working with the art director Andrew Stocks from The Guardian UK. He has a great graphic eye and is good at matching a story with the right illustrator. In an ever-challenging world for newspaper and editorial design, The Guardian G2 covers still stand out.

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ILLUSTRATORS:
I really admire the cartoonists at The New Yorker—to name a few, Bob Mankoff, Robert Leighton, and Frank Cothan. It requires ready knowledge and creative wit to be commenting on the daily current affairs. I wish I had that kind of skill.

A MEMORABLE ASSIGNMENT FROM THE PAST YEAR:
My most memorable assignment in 2016 so far has been completing 31 hand-drawn titles for Penguin Books. Working with the art director Matthew Broughton at Penguin Random House UK was real fun. I am proud of our final outcome.

DREAM ASSIGNMENT:
I am very interested in collaborating with other designers, no matter their respective discipline. I recently worked with a musician and a computer programmer on a sustainability project. In this respect I suppose my dream job in the future would be working with something related to sustainability in a collaborative nature.

OTHER WORK:
Besides my illustration work, I am also working as an art director. I have recently completed an MA in design research with a focus on sustainability, technology and co-design—which supports my ideas and development as an illustrator. I am a also a guest teacher at Chelsea College of Arts, Interior and Spatial Design module.

HOW I STAY CURRENT:
At present the industry is changing and I think it’s important to be able to collaborate with others more now than ever. I believe it is important to co-design with the aim for a more sustainable future.

HOW I PROMOTE MYSELF:
I still try to maintain personal contact with my clients. Social media outlets are good platforms to promote your work; however I still like to talk to the client rather than just communicate via a hashtag.

ADVICE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT:
My advice to upcoming illustrators is to follow your passion, but make sure you collaborate and learn from other creatives around you.

See more Ulla Puggaard illustrations, new work and updates:
Ulla Puggaard website
Twitter: @ulla_puggaard
Rep (US): Kate Larkworthy
Rep (UK): Central Illustration
Rep (Scandinavia): Tomorrow Management



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