[OFFF16] Festival Speaker Interview: Lil’Ol Lady

Julie Katrine Andersen aka Lil'Ol Lady is a graphic designer, turned design professor, turned typographic artist from Copenhagen.

Taking up knitting as a hobby was a turning point to making art/illustrative pieces and exploring the medium of tactile image making in ever more ambitious ways.

As part of our series of interviews with upcoming OFFF16 speakers, we caught up with Julie to uncover her inspirations and find out more about her creative process.

You describe yourself as a “graphic designer, turned design professor, turned typographic artist” – how did you get started?

I studied in Copenhagen at the The Graphic Arts Institute of Denmark (BA) and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (MA). I actually had an OK job as a software instructor (Macromedia and Adobe) before I went to school. I liked teaching, but I became more and more jealous of the people I was teaching, because I was eager to learn myself. So I applied to an awesome graphic design school and got in. I saw it as an investment to go back to being a poor student, because I was making good money at the time, as opposed to a lot of my classmates. That’s why I worked my ass of doing my BA, because I wanted to get everything that I could out of it.

I think many students today don’t always think consciously about their time at school as an investment or how to make the most of it.

You will never again have that time to experiment, screw up and learn – so use the time wisely to do just THAT!

When and how did you get into knitting as a design route?

I was actually looking for a relaxing hobby and took up knitting. But I found it a little boring to knit scarves and then that little monster called ambition reared its’ head. So I started to think “what else can I do?” and being a graphic designer I just kinda stumbled into making art/illustrative pieces. And from there things just started to get bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!

I started to think “what else can I do?” and being a graphic designer I just kinda stumbled into making art/illustrative pieces…

What challenges did you face in the early days and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge was overcoming myself. Having confidence that I could do the stuff I had in my head and dreamt of, took a bit of time and experience. But for each piece I made I got more and more courageous. Nowadays I have a sort of “deal” with myself, I say to myself: “if I can think it, I can make it!” And that usually turns out to be true.

Was there a moment when you realised you’d “made it”? What were you doing at the time and how did you feel?

I haven’t had that feeling yet. And I don’t think I ever will, cause I’m always looking for the next thing to do bigger/better/crazier. I often consider this a flaw in myself, this constant striving, looking for something to excite me. On the other hand, that urge helps me to constantly move and evolve.

Sometimes I wish I could just sit down, be content, and think “I made it”, but I can’t. I’m nowhere near wherever that “made it” place would be, anyway. My goal is world domination. Call me when that happens! I might kick back and relax then.

There will be a lot of designers and illustrators out there struggling to get started. Can you share any advice that helped you?

Oh I could write a loooong list! But I think the advice I got, that helped me out the most, was from illustrator Jody Barton. I was plucking up the courage to quit my dayjob as a design professor and start my own business, when Jody gave a talk at the school where I worked. I remember him saying something like: “Everything you do is like planting seeds. You may not see the result straight away, but don’t panic, just be patient, some seeds grow slower, some faster, so things will come back to you at different speed”.

This way of thinking helps me a lot. It eliminates that spreadsheet way of measuring success, as a constant tally up of actions-reactions. Sometimes you put something out there, and there isn’t an immediate reaction. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure, it might come back to you at a later point. I’ve definitely found that to be very true.

Jody Barton once said ‘Everything you do is like planting seeds. You may not see the result straight away, but don’t panic, just be patient, some seeds grow slower, some faster, so things will come back to you at different speed’

My other advice is that you should go into this business with guns blazing, shouting your name from the rooftops! Don’t spend hours on end doing a visual identity for yourself, that no one will ever see. Spend time doing a promotion project for yourself that establishes who you are as a creative. Go in with a BANG! When I made YOLO it was exactly that, and it worked.

In terms of marketing yourself, what tools, tricks or resources have you found to be the most helpful? Tell us more…

I never think of marketing as marketing, because the moment I start to think like that, it always ends up with something that I find self-indulgent and inauthentic, and I feel like I’m playing a role that isn’t me. I’m not comfortable doing that. But maybe I’d do much better if I was. I like to do/send out promotion projects. For me, it is much easier to do work that does the talking for me, than to go out and “market” myself. This Christmas, for example, I did a project called BIG BALLS. I hand knitted sets of Christmas ornaments, where one said BIG and the other said BALLS and on a card it stated Henri Matisse said: Creativity takes courage! And I think you have BIG BALLS! I sent pairs neatly boxed out to courageous people whom I admire, and clients that have been ballsy. I think it’s much better to reach a select group of people than to do spam marketing. So my only tip/trick is to be yourself and to get up close and personal with the people you’re trying to reach.

Have you made any mistakes along the way? What did you learn from that/those lesson/s?

Ohh god yes! But most of them stem from not listening to myself and being too busy thinking about what other people thought of me and disregarding my own intuition. The better I get at staying true to myself, the better my work get.

I just like to figure out stuff and make things, complicated things, things that make people go “…huh!?”. Like threading 32.014 beads four times each or hand piercing 203.224 holes in a piece of paper.

What’s your proudest project to date? And why?

I think I’m still most proud of my exhibition “Be my Valentine Bitch” at gallery Vess in Copenhagen in 2012 (opened on Valentines Day). It was a turning point for me, and something extremely personal, because the exhibition was about a quite painful event in my life, that had lingered for years; a bad break-up and an idiot x-boyfriend’s famous last words to me (thanks for all your shit bitch!). Finally, I worked my way out of that dark place and it ended up being something I was really proud of and probably the best PR I ever did. It also showed me an extremely important life lesson; shit WILL happen, but it’s up to us to turn negative into positive.

Like they say; when life gives you lemons, (don’t just smother them with nauseating amounts of sugar and make lemonade) ask for salt and tequila, and down it in one!

Who has been your biggest inspiration in life? And why?

WOW! That is a really big question. I’ve been scrutinising over this one! Is it too corny to say my mother? It’s not like she’s inspired me to take the path that I did, but more in the sense that she has always installed in me, that I can do anything that I’m willing to work hard and fight for. This has inspired me to find my own path, which hasn’t always been easy. My mother is from Finland and the Finns have the non-translatable word; SISU. It means to have guts, to push through difficult times and to show mental and physical strength against all odds. I’m a sensitive person, and when I’ve gone through tough times my mother has always given me strength and hugs and said SISU. I think it has resulted in an extreme stubbornness in me, and even as a grown woman it still inspires me to keep pushing ahead.

You have a very distinctive style. What inspired it?

Do I? I actually think I have no style at all, so I’m really glad that someone can see a common denominator. I think my biggest design inspirations are probably quite straightforward and visible; I’m in awe of people like Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes and Sean Freeman, people who aren’t afraid to do crazy stuff by hand. But on the other hand I’m also very inspired by artists with a visual sense of humour. My work visually has little in common with them, but I LOVE artists and illustrators like Mr. Bingo, David Shrigley, Ian Stevenson and Paul Davis.

I think these opposites; the crazy craft and the visual humour, is something I always try to integrate in my work. This is why I say that my work looks like something an old lady with an attitude problem could have done.

What do you find the most challenging aspects of your work? And the industry you work in?

In regards to my own work, the most challenging part is the first 5% of any of my projects; the part where I figure out how it’s done. This process drives me crazy, but it’s also what keeps me coming back to doing it. Because when I DO crack that nut, it feels SO good! And not everyone has that tenacity. I usually say the last 95% are easy peasy, I don’t mind the endless repetition, it’s easy, almost meditative, and to me time is just a commodity that’s free.

In regards to the industry I would say the most challenging is very simply finding your own place and way in the business. Realising and matching what you do best, with the right studio/agency or whatever. That has taken me a good while to figure out! And I ended up working for myself. I’m a tough bitch of a boss. But we get good stuff done here at Lil’Ol’Lady HQ.

Describe your morning routine:

When the alarm goes off I snooze a few times. This drives my man crazy, but those 20 minutes are sweet bliss! He then usually hollers me out of bed, I take a shower, and we head down to our local café for coffee and a bit of breakfast. Then I bike to work. More coffee. Have a chat with my office mates and then start work. If I’m in the middle of a craft project, I’ll be biking around town in the morning to find the exact right materials. That part of the projects is often frustrating, because Copenhagen is small, not so well-assorted and very expensive. Sometimes I’ll knit for a full day, we’re talking about getting a rocking chair in the studio so I can sit in the window like an old lady.

What’s your work setup look like? What tools can’t you live without?

I don’t actually use a lot of tools on a daily basis. All my work starts on my computer, and then I choose a craft technique to work with from there. So I would probably have to say my laptop. I’m also a complete phone junkie though. I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person to scribble down stuff in a fabulous looking notebook, but I somehow have a fear of the white paper, it really gives me performance anxiety, so I write a gazillion notes on my phone instead. On there it’s not supposed to look good, so I’m much more relaxed doing that.

OFFF is only a few months away! Are you looking forward to the event? Have you done much public speaking before?

I’m super excited! I’ve done a lot of speaking events before, but I somehow think of OFFF differently, which excites me. When I was there last, the audience was so energetic, spirited and interacting with the speakers in a way that I found so full of passion and charm, so I hope they will like what I bring too.

Can you tell us anything about your current & future project? What are you working on right now?

I’ve actually just started work on a new exhibition. The work title so far is TOURETTE. In short, it’s about all the truths I want to tell a select group of people.

I had a heated discussion with someone who asked me what the hell it is that I do. I heard myself say that I probably have creative tourette, and I then realised what a perfect description that actually was. I say all the things in my work that I daren’t/shouldn’t say in person. So a bunch of people have it coming! Watch out! 😉

lilollady.com | offf.ws

Inkygoodness are one of the official media partners for OFFF16 Barcelona, May 26th – 28th, 2016. Tickets are now on sale. 


Posted on Mar 16th, 16 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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