Art as we all know is very subjective, what one person sees in a drawing, the next person may not. However, my experience in looking at art, whether it be drawings, paintings, sculptures or installations, is that the viewer will usually know straight away if they like the piece of art or not. It will stir in them a passion, a raw emotion, a reminder of the past or a feeling in the present, but a sensation nonetheless.
Swedish based Maja Säfström is one of those artists. Her approach to illustrating is full of wit and humour, it makes you smile even if you are having a long, frantic, horrible day.
Each drawing is quirky, usually of animals, mainly monochromatic but always so stunningly simple and funny. You can spend hours lost in her world of drawings and not to mention laugh deeply to the little quotes that sometimes go with it. I can imagine to have a coffee with Maja or even better a glass of wine, would entail a sore tummy from all the laughter she would provide you with.
Above: Our Monkey Lion print sitting happily in the boys shared room
Her drawings deserve to be in a book, to bring together in its entirety, her fabulous world of wit and drawing delight, and I was over the moon to find out that she was indeed releasing a book and that it was published last month. It has been published in both Swedish and English.
We were over the moon excited to receive a copy of her new book as a gift in the post and we have been in love ever since. The illustrations are picture perfect and the facts are downright brilliant. It is like a David Attenborough documentary for children. Maja has been able to find quirky, unknown and amusing facts to fill the pages of her gorgeously illustrated book, like Otters (they hold hands when they sleep in the water so they don’t float away from each other!), a Moose ( can feel a fly landing on its antlers) or Mosquitoes ( not only bite on you they also pee on you!).
I wanted to get to know the witty and talented Maja, author and illustrator of “The Illustrated compendium of amazing animal facts” and I was delighted when she agreed to be a part of my Kids Gifts and Toys Q&A session!
Meet the Maker – Maja Säfström :
Q1. Tell me a little about yourself, I know you are a mother, an architect and illustrator but what else do we need to know ?
Actually I haven’t been doing much architecture since our son was born, so it has mostly been him and the illustrations lately!
Becoming a mother and becoming a full time illustrator the same year has been super overwhelming, I don’t think I have anything to add to my description of me as a person at the moment.. Maybe in a few months when I have settled in a bit more I could recognize some more features in my life!
Q2. Who has been the biggest influencer in your life?
Oh, hard question, I think the biggest influencers are naturally the ones you spend most time with, and both my parents are very artistic in their own ways and they have influenced me a lot in supporting me to follow my dreams. It can be hard to see that since you only have two parents and not much to compare with but now I can look back and notice that they actually made me dare to take some unconventional choices for my life, and i am so grateful for that.
Q3. Your new book, “The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts” is filled with brilliantly funny facts and oh so beautiful illustrations, how long has the process taken from the idea of the book to actually having the gorgeous copy in your hand? Describe the feelings when you first touched your newly published first book.
Actually when I received the first mail package with the final book inside and opened it I almost felt like I had to throw up! It was so many feelings going around in my head. “Is this good enough? “Omg, now it is REALLY too late to make any changes…” “How many copies have they printed???” “What if people hate it?” it was a lot of negative thoughts at first.
And I called my Dad and told him I had received the book and that I was freaking out because I wasn’t happy about it “Why am I not happy about it?” and he laughed and said “Oh that’s normal, in fact its only going to get worse” and he told me some really funny stories about famous Swedish film makers and how they never looked at their final films and always hated the result.
And then he said “The only thing to do is to keep working, make your next book!!”
And luckily my publishers have already given me a contract for a next book, so I could just turn around and work on that! That actually helped a lot, and then now when I have been promoting the book, I have had to look at it a lot, and I have kind of gotten used to it now!
If you would ask me how I feel about the book now, I actually love it. It is one of the things in life that I am most proud of!
Q4. I am in love with not only your illustrations but also the wit and humour found within them, together they are the perfect combination and I think is what distinguishes yourself from other artists, how often do you spend drawing in a day? And how many copies does it take to get to the final perfect drawing?
Wow thank you so much for that sweet description!
Oh I used to draw sooo much! Hours every day, it is so fantastic to draw, like meditation. Now since my boyfriend and I had a baby (we split the days, every second day one of us are in the studio and the other with our baby Wille) I haven’t had as much time drawing. Also with all the work with the book, this autumn I translated the book into Swedish which was actually a lot of work, but the drawings were already done so that brought down my daily doodle statistics..!
Ideally I would like to spend at least half my working day drawing, but that rarely happens nowadays.
For the redoing of the drawings.. that is a good question. It really depends, I usually make the outlines with pencil and then make the final drawing with a fineliner, that way I usually only have to make the drawing once. I might scan it and fix some details in the computer. If I don’t use a pencil I usually need a few more tries before nailing the drawing!! I actually hate redoing drawings, although intellectually I know that it is super good for my development as an illustrator, it is just that it makes me think “I could spend this time creating another nice motive, why am I wasting this time drawing the same old thing”.
Q5. You have collaborated on some of my fave brands, Frank and Nora, Dazed But Amazed and Tobias and the Bear, it must be wonderful seeing your prints onto linen and clothing. I can see you doing a soft toy collection of some of your beautiful animals or even a television series. What are your next big aspirations?
Oh I don’t know really, I am discussing a few interesting projects with amazing people, but for now the thought of another big project is stressing me out a lot!
Right now I try to focus as much as I can on my next book!
Above: Maja’s collaboration with the fabulous Dazed but Amazed
Q6. Stockholm is an amazing city I have had the chance to visit with my family, what do you like the most about it?
Oh I used to think that when I had kids I would totally move somewhere else, Stockholm is nice but it is also super annoying in so many ways. (try finding a place to live here and you will understand what i mean!!) but then we were so lucky and got a really lovely place to live just outside the city, and our studio is really close to our home.
And we have so many friends here. It is incredible, Wille has already so many friends that are the kids of our friends. I am really happy for that!
Q7. As a hardworking working mother, do you find you get any “me time” and if so, what do you like to do to relax?
Wow, oh I don’t know, before when i was only an architect i would answer “draw” but now it’s my job so.. Ah i would probably still answer draw because it is such a huge difference drawing something just for fun than to draw for commission..
Q8. With your son has recently turned 1, how do you find drawing and working with him now he is more active?
If he is awake i would say it is totally impossible! But he usually sleeps 1-2 hours in the middle of the days, and if I am not busy I try to go to a nice cafe and sit and draw while he is sleeping. It is a super nice break in the day! First I can’t wait for him to fall asleep but after 45 minutes I can’t wait for him to wake up again, he is a totally amazing, funny little person.
Q9. You are famous for your cat illustrations, so tell us do you own any cats and how many?
I don’t!! ( I actually don’t believe anyone “owns” a cat) haha ;). I grew up in a house in the countryside and there we had cats, they where outdoor cats and we (ma dad) gave them food every morning and evening, and they would ALWAYS come when we called. I loved those cats.
Now we live in an apartment in Stockholm so I don’t have a good place to hang out with cats, maybe that is why I draw them all the time! To canalise my longing for a future cat!
Q10. If you were sent up to Space in a rocket ship and could take 3 things with you, what or who would they be?
Ha ha. does it have to be things? Will Daniel and Wille also be in the rocket ship with me? in that case I would bring paper, pencil (since ink is not good for drawing in space) and .. my iPhone! ha ha (i would ask Daniel to bring a charger)
Such a humble, honest and heart warming Q&A with the gorgeous Maja. Ooh so inspiring and full of that charm that we all know and love.
For more information on Maja please check out her website or Instagram, and for her book, any fab independent book store will be stocking it worldwide and you can also find it at Amazon and Booktopia.
Also here is a little video I created of the book showing some of the gorgeous illustrations that Maja has created. I still a novice at videos, so please bear with me!