Known for his elegant illustrations featuring a distinctively whimsical style and bold use of color, Stockholm-based Klas Fahlen has developed a worldwide following. His creations can be found everywhere from Kate Spade to Kohl’s, and on food and wine packaging around the world. In 2011, Fahlen earned the Cannes Design Lion for his work designing packaging for ICA Foods. More recently, Klas has partnered with Chronicle Books to design a new line of letterpress journals and notecards featuring his signature designs.
We recently interviewed Mr. Fahlen about the new letterpress line and his approach to design.
Q. How did your partnership with Chronicle Books come to fruition?
Chronicle Books approached me about the project and gave me free reign. I was excited because it would be letterpress, which I don’t do very often.
Q. Tell us about the note cards and notebooks you designed. What is the theme and what inspired you?
Quite early I thought of pens and hands and scribbling and writing, just what I use my notebooks for. So I fiddled around with different ideas of pens and pencils and hands.
Q. Speaking of scribbling and writing, which tools do you use in your studio (pencil, paint, pen, paper?)
After getting tennis elbow, the doctor recommended I use a pen and a tablet, so I pretty much changed my traditional way of making images which was drawing, scanning and assembling in Photoshop. Now it’s all digital and I’ve got a monster Wacom24hd where I do all my work.
Q. Can you describe your illustrative process?
Before tablets, I just made some coffee, grabbed some paper and started doodling really small ideas and from that free process something develops. One idea leads to another…
Now, I’ll do the same but mostly directly on the computer. I sometimes sketch and take a picture with the iPhone and use that as a start.
Q. Did you formally study art or design in school or university?
I drew guns and soccer players when I was 10. I drew so many guns and rifles that my Mom was concerned. That might be one of the reasons I later chose a design/illustration path instead of fine arts, I just liked the graphic shapes and design of weapons. I took art classes at age 20, and then attended Beckmans College of Design.
Q. We’re big fans of Kate Spade, and we loved your designs for the brand. Can you describe how you developed the concepts for your Kate Spade illustrations and what emotions you were looking to stir among the brand’s customers?
Initially they asked me to design a scarf with a NY city motif. After it was complete, I think they liked it so much they suggested some other ideas for which I’m glad.
When I create images like this, I try not to think of the end customer or client. If I do, I may start to censor and block out some ideas that could potentially be too childish, humorous, cliché etc.
Q. Do you consider yourself part of an artistic community? If so, which artists, designers, illustrators do you admire and why?
I look to many other illustrators and I like to analyze their techniques and workflow. Then I borrow some of it and make it my own. I’ve always liked Swedish designer Olle Eksell, but there’s so many talented people out there – if you just Google “illustration,” you can be sitting all day surfing and finding amazing illustrations. I’m not that connected with other illustrators, which seems to be the case with many people these days, how they work and connect digitally via blogs, Twitter etc.
Q. What advice would you offer to young illustrators and design students who are just beginning their careers?
I think the only advice I’d offer is to try to find the kind of images you like to design and then just keep developing from there. Don’t look at what styles are dominating right now. Of course you should understand different techniques, but I think you have to find a way of creating images your own way (even if it looks like @#*)& in the beginning) and then just refine it. If you really like it, chances are that others will as well.
Q. What’s next for you?
I’ve designed a cookie tin for Marks & Spencer which will be out soon. Also just made a big map of London for an architect studio, as well as some product designs for Japanese ASKUL and their smaller brand Lohaco.
ENTER TO WIN one of four sets of journals and matching notecards by commenting below. Tell us what you’d use them for below or on Twitter by mentioning @mohawkpaper! Contest ends on Thursday 4/4 at 3pm EST.