Erica Jacobson’s vibrant illustrations are simply delightful

It’s hard not to be drawn to Erica Jacobson’s tropical and colourful illustrations while we cope with January blues.

Swedish illustrator and graphic designer Erica Jacobson creates fearless, warm and bright illustrations that are hard to ignore. Her approach to objects such as shoes, palm trees and fruit is exotic - almost tropical. Although that may seem a far cry from this January weather, it will surely send positive and summery thoughts your way.

Her passion for art began from a young age, and after completing a Masters degree in graphic design and illustration, her talent took the manifestation of lively, colourful and contemporary. Erica works with pencils and pens on regular paper before rendering digitally. Although designing for interiors – such as wall patterns and big prints - is a rare occurrence for Erica, it’s one of her favourite types of projects.

She’s also worked on commissions for children’s storybooks, theatre posters, book covers, T-shirts, packaging and TV title sequences. Regular clients range from Save the Children to Paperchase. She’s also won several awards and design competitions. 

We talk to Erica about where she finds inspiration, why she loves using colour and what happened when she made a business card in orange.

MH: What are you inspired by?

EJ: “I just ordered some books with artists I am into right now. For example Sonia Delaunay, Hisui Sugiura (Japanese graphic designer), The Collier Campbell Archive (patterns), Alan Kitching (typography). I try to see exhibitions as often as possible, and Instagram is also a forum where I find many interesting illustrators and artists. Henri Matisse always is recurring reference. 

I did my masters degree in Cuba. I went there because I was curious about their graphic poster tradition. I also wanted impact from another colour and cultural scale. Travelling inspires me, as well as plants and trees, screen prints, books, patterns, handwritten and experimental typography.”

MH: How is illustrating for interiors different to your other work? 

EJ: “It is often about patterns so there is usually an intense dialogue with the art director. It’s about small changes, or making the pattern bigger or smaller. It’s really fun and challenging to step out in a room or create for an object. As these commissions are more rare I appreciate them especially. This year I created the Christmas campaign for The Pharmacy, and of course you’re proud to see your imagery throughout the city. Recently I made 6x4 meter big textile tapestry to the scenography for theatre play Othello.”

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MH: Talk us through your creative process. What tools and software do you use?

EJ: “I begin by getting as much information about the commission as possible. The best jobs are when I feel secure with the art director and the mission from that person. They have, hopefully, good straight-forward contact with their client. That makes it all so much easier. I read the text if it’s an article I am going to illustrate. I work harder on ideas than I did when starting my career. 

There is no use starting too early on making a final without having the frame set clear, so I start by imaging the sensation and style I’d like to achieve. I do some rough sketches and Google models. Then I draw and paint in goauche, everything in black as I vectorise and colour it all in Illustrator. 

There is always a first version I will send so it can be approved before making the finals. I think many times the first composition can be the most interesting. I move around objects and keep adding drawings to the picture until I’m satisfied.” 

MH: You work with a lot of international clients. What’s the collaboration process like? Are you given a lot of creative freedom? 

EJ: “My style is quite lively and not so accurate, so I mostly get a lot of freedom. Although I like to have close dialogue with the client. They usually have references of my earlier work and a clear brief. It’s not so different from the process in Sweden.”

MH: Why do you incorporate a lot of bright and bold colours into your work? 

EJ: “I laughed when I read this question, and I am happy you asked it. The short answer would be that I love colours. It’s a little hard to explain but my eyes are always drawn to strong colours, in clothing, interiors. Life is more fun when bright colours surround you. As I draw people, food, and contemporary lifestyle I want the artwork to have a certain energy. But bold colours can get uncomfortable for some people. Once I made a business card in orange, and one staff member got quite annoyed. I had to make a white version for him. But most often I get contracted due to my colour range.” 

MH: What are your favourite scenes/objects to draw?

EJ: “City life, shoes, palm trees, faces, hands, fruits.”

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MH: Why is illustration important to you?

EJ: “Most people can relate to some pictures even though many are not aware of what illustration can be. I think the importance is bigger then what it gets credit for. There are so many areas where illustration is really important. The first book as a child you are given, or in teaching books at school, first collection of cool stickers etc. It might be easier to read a text if is accompanied by an illustration. Cultural expression in this sense creates a good energy in our society like music, theatre, dancing. In this quite turbulent political situation of the world it is more needed than ever.”

MH: What projects are you working on at the moment?

EJ: “I am doing some illustrations for magazines, a book cover and yesterday a new packaging commission came up that I hopefully will start with soon. I will also participate in an exhibition at The Stockholm Design Week in February.”