Balancing studio life with little ones: Danish duo Hvass & Hannibal share their Nine to Five

Copenhagen based Sofie Hannibal and Nan Na Hvass (aka Hvass&Hannibal) chat to us about a typical day in their studio, sharing some insights along the way into how they're career has developed.

“We both have small kids,” says Sophie, “so the day usually starts with a tiny foot in the face, and often far too early. When all the oatmeal, brushing of teeth (those other than your own), and taking the kids to daycare is out of the way, we land at the office! We usually start with a meeting, going through what essentials we need to do that day, accompanied by a very big cup of Yorkshire tea with oat milk. Creative work comes first, as we try to wait a little before checking e-mails. We don’t like starting the day by feeling behind; a feeling we get when we begin with emails. We’ve learned that we are much more creative and focused, if we start the day pursuing something that we want to do, instead of little practical things that we have to do.

We’ve learned that we are much more creative and focused, if we start the day pursuing something that we want to do, instead of little practical things that we have to do.

Sofie Hannibal

We live in Copenhagen, Denmark. We often get asked “how our surroundings inspire us”, and to be honest, we don’t really know. The physical sorroundings probably don’t inspire us that much at all in all honesty. For instance, we like to draw jungle imagery, which is a type of scenery you don’t find anywhere near here. When we recently went to Bali, we thought we would find a lot of inspiration for those kinds of illustrations, but actually it’s much more fun to dream up exotic plants, than draw the ones that already exist.

Birds, 2o17

For us a short work day of around 7–8 hours works; because we now have small kids, we work much less in the evenings than we used to. It’s a huge luxury, working like this, and also means that we’re more focused and efficient when at the studio.

Creative block is really very rare. We’re so experienced now, that we kind of know how to work through it. When we’re in doubt about something we simply talk to each other, and discuss the best way to move forward. We’re in a shared office, with a lot of other creatives, that we also talk to about our work.

When we’re not working a lot of our time is taken us with our kids. I have a three and one year old and Nan Na has has a two year old. We usually hang out with them (and their fathers of course). At the moment we’re doing a collaboration with a crafts company, Kit Couture, and wanted to test some embroidery pieces. We were both surprised by how addictive it was! We both sat up until very late in the evening. Nan Na also has a life long hobby (or more like a life project) of rolling woollen lint from sweaters and scarves in to little round balls!

Canaima Risograph, 2017

A bit of anxiety is an inherent part of what we do, as doing projects you don’t always feel qualified or confident enough to do is necessary to keep things alive and interesting. If we only did projects we felt qualified to do, we wouldn’t grow and learn.

Sofie Hannibal

Dark Sunshine, 2017

We’re lucky to have some amazing agents that hustle our work for us. Though also a strong client base thats comes to us directly. We’ve been lucky that way, from the very beginning. If our career had relied on an ability to hustle for work, we wouldn’t have any jobs. Luckily it seems that our thorough and loving approach to every project we do keeps generating more new work for us. This seems to continuously happen, more or less on its own. We were lucky to be featured in international design magazines at the very beginning of our career. That got us on the international design map very early on, and from then we’ve been working for clients all over the world.

Time Stood Still, 2017

Under Giant Trees for band Efterklang, 2006

Our cover ‘Under Giant Trees’ for the band Efterklang got into Communication Arts, where an art director saw it. We were subsequently hired to create a desktop image for windows 7. Before long we had some pretty big clients on our list. All this was while we were still studying and so we started to take longer and longer breaks from design school in order to do commissioned work.

Earlier this year we were invited to speak at the ING conference in Dubai, alongside speakers from NASA, MoMA, Disney, Pixar and loads of other amazing people we admire, like Debbie Millman. That felt like a career peak of sorts, to share stage with all these extremely talented people.

Illustration for Apple iPad, 2017

We Love Graphic Design, poster, 2017

We would love to be the kind of creatives that go into a paint stained wood work shop, but in reality we sit at our computers, a lot! Our preferred tools are Wacom boards, and we create almost all our work in Photoshop. We’ve recently started working on iPad Pros with the Apple pencil, which is an amazing tool too, achieving a more pen-to-paper kind of feel. We’ve also done a lot of tactile work over the years, using fabric and wood, paint and dyes. But for such projects we’ve worked at other workshops or had residencies.

A lot of our digital work is inspired by our tactile work, and vice versa, so even in our digital work, we tend to have a craft based approach.

 Sophie Hannibal

Our current studio, where we’ve had a huge loft bed shelving system built is a dream we’ve always had but couldn’t realise until now, because all our previous studio spaces were low-ceilinged basements.

Magic Chairs, 2017

Sophie: For me a secret passion of mine would be my garden, and small garden house, where we live in the summer. I’m not very good at gardening and way too impatient, but I love it nonetheless, planning and talking about building another shed or planting a tree. More and more friends are buying houses in our allotment union, Nan Na and her family also have a house there, so we hang out and have dinners and the kids play around. I totally forget about it in the winter and don’t miss it at all, but when spring comes and we start moving out there again, and the tulips and cherry tree are in blossom, it’s wonderful.

Nan Na: Whereas for me it has to be traveling! Though, I recently discovered a new passion for building wooden furniture. I recently built a little loft bed at home for my daughter, with a slide coming down and really loved doing that. But these are not really secret passions. So maybe the little woollen lint balls are my secret passion!


Posted on Feb 10th, 18 by | Twitter: @lisahassell

Founder & director of Inkygoodness, Lisa is a published writer and arts journalist, focusing on creative business, graphic art and illustration and design education. Her words regularly appear in Computer Arts, Creative Bloq, Digital Arts and IdN.

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