In Conversation With Kim Ekdahl
last updated 28 April 2023
Interview by Nina Fiol
We sat down to chat with Bright artist Kim Ekdahl, about her career, inspirations and dream projects. She even shared some helpful tips for beginner illustrators. Kim has been a part of the Bright family for about 3 years, and has worked on some incredible projects throughout that time including the children’s book Hokusai: What The Artist Saw, which she collaborated on with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as covers for middle-grade books such as Ghosted, and Amira & Hamza: The War to Save Worlds.
Here’s what Kim’s agent Alex Gehringer, has said about working so closely with Kim: “Not only is Kim the most brilliant collaborator, she has a singular ability to convey a character’s rich inner world through a seemingly simple expression or gesture. Particularly her female characters – I’m always struck by their complexity and depth. Kim is truly a master at telling a story with a single scene!”
Talk us through your creative process. How do you approach a brief?
When I read through the brief I like to take some keywords from it and write them down in a notebook to start a little moodboard. I then also add some of my own words or scribbles (it can be a color palette, items I’d like to include or words to describe the mood) to get a clearer overview of what I want the illustration to look like. Then I start sketching out a few ideas and depending on how many sketch concepts the client wants, I choose the ones I like the most to present to them.
Your work is aesthetically unique to you, how do you approach translating your ideas to the page?
I think my approach to client work vs personal work differs a lot. For client work you usually have a brief with a clear description that you need to follow, which makes me have to plan the illustration a bit more and put all the elements in the sketch from the beginning so the client can get a good sense of what it will look like in the end. For personal work I sometimes do it like this (if I want to convey a specific message or feeling) but often I work more intuitively instead . I usually just start sketching with a loose idea in mind (for example: A korean woman in a hanbok). When I start coloring I experiment a lot and I don’t have a clear picture yet of what I want it to look like in the end. “Maybe I should add some branches and flowers? And some kind of pattern in the back? What if I change the color palette? Let’s try adding an orange filter- hey this looks cool let’s keep it like this!” and so on. It’s all a bit chaotic but I really enjoy this part of the process. You can see a bit of this process of this illustration here and some color palettes I went through before deciding on the final one.
Who/What have been your key influences as an illustrator?
I think in general I would say fantasy books and video games, and I’m still inspired by them a lot. When I was younger I would get completely immersed in those worlds, and I really fell in love with the stories and the artwork. I think they are what made me seriously think about the possibility of pursuing art as a career, thinking that maybe I too could be a part of creating these amazing characters and worlds for other people to enjoy just as I had.
How did you begin an illustration?
I always drew a lot when I was younger but then I stopped in my early teens. I think I wasn’t aware at the time that you could actually make a living doing art so I didn’t put much thought into it then. In my late teens/early twenties I got more into video games which made me want to work in the gaming industry. There weren’t really any 2D or concept art programs where I lived so I thought maybe I could try 3D instead and see if it could be for me. Long story short, it wasn’t. But I graduated from that school and worked for a small gaming company for a couple of years before I decided I wanted to try and become a freelance Illustrator instead. Even if I don’t work in 3D now I don’t regret those years, I learned a lot of skills from it that I still have use for in my work today.
What’s your favourite part of the illustration process?
Definitely the coloring. I really enjoy experimenting with color and love to create new and interesting color palettes!
To an up-and-coming artist, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
I think today when young artists are starting to post their work online it can be very discouraging if your post doesn’t get seen or if you don’t receive a lot of likes.This is easier said than done and I still also struggle with this sometimes, but try and see your progress and art journey as something that’s separate from the likes on social media. If you’re proud of a piece, continue to be proud of it and remember why you like it, even if it doesn’t receive many likes. On the other hand it’s also easy to get carried away when you receive a lot of likes on a certain type of work, which can make you feel that you need to only create art like that to stay relevant. I think it can just be nice to just stop and think every now and then- “What kind of art would I want to create if it was just for myself ? “ Also, I hear this a lot from younger artists that they will apply to the art competition or agency or start selling their art “when they’re good enough” and my advice is to just try anyway. You never know what someone else sees in your art so just go for it. I definitely had the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing the first times I worked on client projects and definitely had the imposter syndrome looming over me. But I learned along the way and you will too.
What would be your dream brief?
It would be cool to do some work that relates to being a korean adoptee, since I am one myself. I’ve always wanted to create more work that touches on this subject but have often shyed away from it cause it can be a difficult subject and has felt too personal at times. But I’m starting to be more open to doing more work that’s personal so a project concerning these questions would be interesting, and maybe even therapeutic.