We at Zeum are long time fans of Illustrator Esra Roise, and as such getting the chance to chat with her has long been in the works for us! She has produced illustrations for such brands as Nike, and LEVI’s, and her work has also graced the pages of numerous top magazines such as Nylon, Vogue (China), Glamour, GQ [… seriously we could go on]. Her personality, and everything that inspires and astounds her is integrated seamlessly into her many bright, colorful, playful and undeniably beautiful pieces.
Tell us a little bit about yourself Esra! Where are you from, how old are you, and how did you get started as a fashion illustrator?
I’m 33 years old, and I work freelance as an illustrator, doing most things from editorial to commercial work, but with roots in fashion illustration. I’m based in Oslo, Norway, which is also where I’ve taken my BA from the Academy of The Arts. I’ve been drawing pretty much since I was a kid and I have always known that this is what I wanted to do… I never really had a plan B, so I am beyond grateful to be able to have the best job in the world, and draw for a living.
Please describe your work in three words.
Realistic, feminine, pencil-drawings.
List five things in life that fascinate you.
Music, people, nature, science, and the fact that I can never ever have chocolate in the house without eating it all. [A/N: Oh same here my friend.]
In crafting your portraits would you say that you work predominantly from photographs or with live models?
Live models that want to sit and pose for you isn’t as easy to come by, so my work is predominantly from photography and imagination. I take croquis-lessons every once in a blue moon to brush up in the anatomy skills though!
What is the greatest piece of art and/or life advice that you have ever received?
Don’t be afraid to set high goals for yourself, and do your own thing.
We have to say that we are particularly curious about your “Tough Grrls” series! What inspired it, and can you tell us a bit about the striking ‘one eye blind’ detail to each portrait?
I’m very much fascinated by the feminist riot-grrl movement from the 90’s, and all the strong female personalities from that era. That, in combination with just having returned from a hardcore festivale in New York, where I’d seen all these amazing female oriented punk-bands was very much what initially inspired the series.
Working within this field, I think it is difficult not to be affected by the way women are being portrayed in the fashion industry. I mean, the media does a lot to perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes, and the fashion industry certainly isn’t helping much, so I wanted to celebrate strong females that was not just sexual objects, but badass ladies that could kick your ass if you got in their way…
Can you tell us about any songs, stories, or films etc. that you feel have had a significant impact upon the creation of any of your pieces?
I am almost always listening to music when I work, and i find that whatever i am listening to often impacts the outcome of the work… so if I’m listening to Bat For Lashes for example, you can be sure it’ll be more touchy-feely than if I’m listening to Black Flag. haha.
What artists [of any medium] do you admire, and why?
There are of course many illustrators I greatly admire… Lise-Lotte Watkins and Finnish illustrator Laura Laine, for example, are some of my favorites, who have managed to find their own unique voice and grow within it. I am also a long-time super fan of Raymond Pettibon and Lucian Freud who have been dear to my heart since I first started exploring art, and their way of working with color and texture still inspire me on a daily basis.
Your portfolio consists of works created in various mediums, collage, watercolor, sketch etc. Do you feel yourself favoring any medium in particular at the moment? And if so, why?
I have always loved drawing with pencil, and though I like exploring new mediums, I always come back to it…
I’d say that what I really enjoy most is the great degree preciseness allowed through pencil drawing, and how it mixes with the uncertainty of the watercolor and ink. I’m also really into the randomness about collages and how the backside of what you are cutting out often can be just as interesting as what you were originally planning to use. Digital embellishing is also something I really like, and although my starting points are always analog, I really enjoy the juxtaposition of mixing the two.
At the moment I am really into muted palettes and working with Indian ink and pale acrylics. It is a nice change from all the color I normally do. Haha
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have been lucky enough to work with some really creative and inspiring people throughout my career, so it is difficult to pick favorites… but I would be lying if I didn’t say that working with Vogue felt extra special.
Levis, Vice, and Nylon magazine have also been great, as there is a lot of freedom to just do my own thing.
I have also recently started doing textile print for good friend and amazing designer Veronica B. Vallenes, and working in that medium has been an exiting and fun challenge so I really hope to do more of that in the future.
What does your work mean to you and what do you hope that it will mean to your fans?
That is a difficult question to answer… I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but my work is my life pretty much… it is a very big part of what I do and who I am. I mean, sometimes a job is just a job of course, but I try to do my best with every project I get, and I put a lot of my own personal preferences into a lot of the pieces.
My hope is just that people will enjoy it, I suppose, and, if I’m lucky, feel excited and inspired to do their own thing.
Are there any projects that you are currently working on that you can tell us a bit about?
I recently finished a rather big collaboration with amazing jewelry designer BJØRG, which was super exciting. She basically gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, inspired by her gorgeous and avant-garde jewelry, and it was a great opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and do things a bit different than what I normally do. The result is a series of 11 works, all made with ink, pencil and acrylics that went in a slightly more raw and distorted direction. It remains one of my favorite projects to-date.