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Saturday 13 February 2010

How to Get an Idea with Lena Sjöberg

Photo: Klara Schyberg

Ed: One of the vital requirements of children's authorship is to be an Ideas Person - but even the most creative amongst us can struggle for inspiration. And what to do when you are inspired and publishers reject even the most fabulous of ideas?

Re-published with the kind permission of Anna Nilsson, enjoy this guest post by Anna from Pencil & Pipette.

One day on my meanderings on the good old web I took a wrong turn, ended up in an American web-shop and just as I was about to turn around and walk out something caught my eye – a tiny publication titled How to Get an Idea and penned or drawn by someone with a very Swedish name.

The website invitingly let me have a little peek inside, but since they – unsurprisingly – did not give any clues as to what the answer to the burning question might be, I decided to track down the author and write her an email. She turned out to be an incredible and amazing person with quirky beautiful work and interesting ideas.

And so, I’m honoured to present to you: Lena Sjöberg!

You’ve written and illustrated a little book on how to get ideas – is getting ideas a skill that people can learn, or is it an innate quality that some people are just born with?

Lena: If you are a person who likes solving problems and who easily get new ideas, you probably have access to your creativity.

And that, I think, it´s something you bring with you from your childhood. We all have that skill, more or less, from the start. But if you grow up in an encouraging environment, where you feel that creativity is a talent as useful and positive as many other skills, you will pay attention to it, and appreciate it. And you learn how toreally use it! And that is lifelong great fun!

But I also think you have the possibility to learn, even if you feel that you are inexperienced in this area! It´s all about practice.

A while ago, for example, I decided to start walking 30 minutes every day, and that I should use this time for focused creative thinking. (I needed time to think about how to come up with new illustration ideas,and new stories for books.) First I found it depressingly hard and boring. My head kept on echoing: I must think of something, I must think of something, I must think of something! For 30 long minutes. And no creative thoughts at all.

But after a while something started to happen. The echo in my head slowly faded, and small new thoughts began popping up. Now, when my feet start to move and I know I have this walk in front of me, I can almost hear the clanking sound in my head when some kind of creative machinery starts up. It´s really valuable! But of course, sometimes other thoughts slip in. About totally different things… And sometimes I´m just too lazy to go out at all.

You run your own publishing house – Ritförlaget. How do you start up an enterprise like that?

Lena: Lately here in Sweden, the big publishing houses have been growing even bigger (by buying up many of the smaller publishing companies). The conditions for authors and illustrators have grown worse. It is harder to get yourself published and sometimes you have to compromise (creatively) more then you wish.

For me, starting my own (very tiny) publishing house, was a way not to compromise with my own work. Some of my books are still published by the bigger publishing houses, but some I choose to publish myself – for example, books printed in small editions or noncommercial ideas - books that will not sell thousands of copies.

Starting up is the easiest part – you just register your company name and find out what you want to do with it. The hardest part is reaching out. Book stores are not interested in small publishing houses. But internet is a way out! Web book shops are super – you noticed my Idea book! And I also run my own big-cartel shop where you find the books by Ritförlaget. And blogging!

I think a lot about in what ways artists and designers can change the world. Do you feel like illustration is your calling, what you were meant to do on this earth? Is that important?

Lena: I have always felt a strong desire for making pictures of all kinds and making up my own stories. But sometimes when I meet skilled persons of other professions, like doctors or policemen or politicians, I feel so impressed about what they are doing. They are making good and important things for the world. They are making a difference! (Just think of the relief workers in Haiti this very moment!)

But as I really love my job, I guess I will continue making pictures and making up stories. I try to make the best books for children as I can. My ambition is to make books about things that I find really important. And hopefully people can bring these stories with them, in some way.

As an illustrator, photographer or graphic designer, you can also try to be aware of not using stereotypes in your work. That can be a way of making difference.

If you are an illustrator: choose to draw persons with different nationalities, even if persons skin colors are not mentioned in the text you are illustrating. Make the vice-president of the big engineering company, or the chairman of the board, be a woman in your drawing. Just as naturally as it should be! A family does not always has to contain a mother and a father in a picture. Draw two women with a child, or two men. For example.

And humour is a great thing. Humour wipes away destructive thoughts. Humour and creativity: an unbeatable combination. :)

Check out more of Lena's work on her website or her shop or her blog.

This article contributed by Anna Nilsson of Pencil & Pipette.