Øyvind Torseter


Øyvind Torseter

Øyvind Torseter is a Norwegian artist and illustrator who has created eight books on his own and several with other authors. He's received numerous awards for his books, including a Bologna Ragazzi Award and the Norwegian Book Art Prize. In 2014, Øyvind was a finalist for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award.

In this post, Øyvind talks about the creation of two books which feature the same character: the hugely successful ‘Hullet’ (The Hole) and his new picturebook, ‘Mulegutten’, which was inspired by a traditional Norwegian folktale and will be published in May 2015.

Øyvind Torseter on Cappelen Damm's website

Øyvind: I have just finished a new picturebook that will be published by Cappelen Damm here in Norway in Spring 2015. It is based very loosely on ‘The Troll with no heart in his body’, one of the traditional Norwegian folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe. The tale is about Askeladden (Ash Lad), the main character in many Norwegian folktales. He represents the small man who succeeds where all others fail.

Asbjørnsen and Moe's 'Norske Folkeeventyr / Norwegian Folktales', 5th edition, 1874.

Asbjørnsen and Moe's ‘Norske Folkeeventyr / Norwegian Folktales’, 5th edition, 1874.

I have had an interest in these traditional folktales for the last couple of years, and have made a lot of drawings by mixing images from the folktales with my own figures and images. It is fascinating working with them, as they trigger the imagination so much.

In the original tale, Askeladden had to go on a quest to save his brothers from the Troll. He had to go inside the mountain, where the Troll lived, and confront it. The Troll in the tale does not have a heart in his body; it is hidden and not to be found. The only way Askeladden can get rid of the Troll and save his brothers is to find the Troll's heart and destroy it. Inside the mountain, Askeladden meets a princess who is also captured by the Troll, and together they start searching for the Troll's heart.

My book is called ‘Mulegutten’ (Mule boy). I made my own story based on the original tale.

Front cover for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

The book is a mix between a picturebook and a graphic novel. I don't usually have a lot of text in my books; the storytelling is mostly visual. But this time I did much more writing. Most of it is in speech bubbles.

I read the original text over and over again, and then put it away. I wanted to use the text as a starting point and then develop my own story.

The following pictures are scans of the original drawings for the book before being cropped.

These are two of the first drawings I made, without really knowing how the story would go, creating the visual universe and working from there.

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

This is how I usually work when making my own books. I start making drawings without thinking too much. After making a lot of drawings, I start to put drawings together as sequences. Sometimes I do a bit of cutting and pasting.

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

This is the longest story I have done; there are a lot of images. At times, the project and my studio got very chaotic. There is a lot to keep track of when making a long story. But I really enjoy it. The chaos makes the images and the story grow in directions I cannot control.

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

Line drawing is my ‘default’ way of working. I like to draw directly without sketching, and to include accidents and coincidences that happen on the way. The drawing process itself is very important in how my projects develop. I have to be focused and concentrated while drawing; the line has to have the right feel to it.

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

I use colour to compose, pinpoint or tell a story. I use it in a controlled way as a contrast to the free line drawing. Here is a drawing before and after some cutting/pasting and colouring. I used masking film and acrylic paint to colour these images.

Artwork for 'Mulegutten' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

I mix different drawing tools and techniques. Here are my most important tools: fountain pen, ink, acrylic, soft pastels, watercolour, ink pad, handmade stamps made from erasers, knife, wax crayon, masking film, and different kinds of paper.

Øyvind Torseter's most important tools

I have some characters that I like to use in my books: an Elephant man, a sort of a cat woman, and Mulegutten. I like to draw these characters.

This is from a book called ‘Detours’.

Artwork for 'Detours' by Øyvind Torseter

The main character in ‘Mulegutten’ was also the main character in another of my books called ‘The Hole’. This is a book with a hole punched right through the book, and a story about this hole.

'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter – published by Cappelen Damm

I wanted to make a very physical book. So I drilled a hole through a lot of sketchbooks and started to draw using the hole through the papers as a starting point. I often start with a visual idea in my books.

At first, the ideas were obvious. Then after a while, the ideas got stranger and more interesting.

Development work for 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

Development work for 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

After producing a lot of these sketchbooks, I started working more critically – putting together sequences, maybe adding some new drawings... then turning the sequences into the story.

Spread from 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

These are fountain pen drawings: scanned and bitmapped. I did the colouring directly in InDesign using Pantone colours. This was my first time working in this way. It is interesting because the display and the colour in InDesign was so different to how the printed book would look.

Spread from 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

In a way, it was good working in this way: not knowing exactly what the printed book was going to look like. Also, the book is meaningless on the computer screen because it is a story that can only be told as a physical book.

Spread from 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

I was a bit nervous about the printing of this book, and about the punching of the hole (after the book was printed, each book had to be holed manually). But everything was fine when I got it from the printer.

Punching the hole in Øyvind Torseter's 'Hullet / The Hole'

Here are some of the cut-outs from ‘The Hole’.

Cut-outs from 'Hullet / The Hole' by Øyvind Torseter

Illustrations and photographs © Øyvind Torseter. Post edited by dPICTUS.

Hullet / The Hole

Øyvind Torseter
Cappelen Damm, Norway, 2012

The protagonist of ‘The Hole’ has discovered a hole in his apartment and tries to find an explanation for it. He seeks expert advice. But not everything can be explained. Perhaps he’ll just have to accept that the hole is there?

‘The story is at once simple and profound, amusing and philosophical, the sort of quiet meditation that gently, playfully tickles us into existential inquiry.’
—Brain Pickings

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