Mathilda Holmqvist's Work Brings
People Together, Often for Food
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Being a freelance illustrator and graphic designer has afforded WNW Member Mathilda Holmqvist the ability to combine her two favorite passions: visual communication and food. A lot of her work exists within London's food scene, like a recent large-scale project designing a food court next to the Thames under Hungerford Bridge. In our interview, Mathilda tells us why she elected to switch over from painting to pursue a career that employs her creativity in an everyday and communal sense.
Mathilda also offers some really useful advice on maintaining creative curiosity. "It’s more fun to be a beginner at something than a master, so don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone as you’ll approach a project with a really different energy as a beginner than if it’s something you’ve done for years."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Mathilda and how did she get here?
I started out studying painting at a private school in Sweden and then moved to London to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths. After graduating I worked full-time as studio manager for a sculptor for 3 years until I finally made the move to go freelance.
I really loved my years of studying art but a few years after graduating I realised I much preferred working directly with people, and for my creative work to be more useful in an everyday sense rather than contained to hanging on walls to be looked at. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!) So I moved on to working with illustration and graphic design, and for the last few years, I’ve worked mainly within the food scene in London, which I love! Food is my other passion besides visual communication.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links most of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
Probably something along the lines of bold, sensitive and atmospheric. I started out creating quite painterly illustrations with lots of textures and details as that was how I was used to working, but as I developed as an illustrator my images have become more minimal and scaled back. I don’t think of myself as having a signature style but rather of my work as being a progression of my development as a creative. The style is more a reflection of what inspires me at a specific time and what I’m trying to communicate.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career so far?
When I had worked as a studio manager for about 2 years, I applied to an illustration competition to create a whisky label for Bunnahabhain. During those two years I hadn’t done much creative work as I felt disconnected from painting but hadn’t found a new creative platform to replace it with. At the time I was a bit worried I would end up working for the creative industry rather than as a creative. But unexpectedly I won the competition, which led me to recommit to working creatively and exploring illustration and design. It turned out I both loved the process making of illustrations and graphic designs as well as the community. A year later I moved on to freelancing.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Having expensive Swedish student loans to pay back as soon as I graduated was definitely a challenge, as it didn’t leave much room for internships or just exploring different options. Another thing was getting a hang of how the illustration world worked, since it wasn’t an industry I was familiar with. I found pricing and contracts very confusing in the beginning – and still do sometimes!
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
Together with my boyfriend, I run a design collective called Pencil x Pixel, where we mainly design branding for London and UK-based food traders and producers. This spring we were commissioned by Southbank Centre and three separate food traders to design a food court next to the Thames under Hungerford Bridge. It was the biggest commission scale wise we had done to date. It was so much fun working on that scale and thinking about how people would physically experience and interact with the area, the colours and designs, as well as getting all of the food trades individual branding to work together cohesively. It was a challenge I really enjoyed and one of those projects that felt really rewarding and satisfying to complete.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
I would love to illustrate and design a cookbook! I have always enjoyed reading cookbooks and love learning about different cultures through their food traditions and recipes. So to dive into illustrating a really thick cookbook that people would use for decades would be a dream.
How would you define the London creative scene?
Extremely talented and full of friendly but really hard working people. It is also very diverse and dynamic.
How do you see the creative landscape shifting in the UK/Europe?
I think visual design is becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives, which is great as it’s creating more work for creatives. It’s also become a bigger part of companies’ identities, no matter the industry. Even smaller companies are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to design and branding. I think this is leading to more being asked of creatives in shorter amounts of time, but maybe it’s always felt like that?
If not here, where would you most like to live?
Either in a cabin in the North of Sweden or Vancouver. Vancouver would probably be better for work… but North of Sweden would be great for inspiration!
Who are your biggest creative influences?
At the moment I’m very inspired by Aaron Draplin’s ‘Thick Lines’ posters. I’m going through a bit of a 60’s and 70’s phase and just love how those posters in a very contemporary way evoke that era for me.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
Not much at the moment! I had lots of worries starting out but am at a pretty happy place at the moment creatively. I’m sure there will be more worries in the future but for now, I’m just enjoying working.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Album: Anything by Alison Krauss
Film: It’s A Wonderful Life
TV: Parks and Rec
What is your most treasured possession?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A wallpaper designer, fashion designer, astronaut, actress, Disney animator and a painter in the south of France (I was very good at dreaming of the future).
What do you do when Not Working?
Cooking, eating, seeing friends, playing softball, baking, reading.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
It really depends on what kind of creative rut I’m in, but either ‘just do it’ or ‘work hard and be disciplined’ or ‘take time to refuel your inspiration’ usually does it for me. I also found this to be true, that it’s more fun to be a beginner at something than a master, so don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone as you’ll approach a project with a really different energy as a beginner than if it’s something you’ve done for years.
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Lilian Darmono for her wide creative skills and talents (I don’t think there’s anything she can’t draw!) and my very talented boyfriend and collaborator Ian Sargent who teaches and challenges me creatively almost every day.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m working on three exciting branding projects for local food traders. I’m also hoping to take some time to work on a personal project I’m developing around food and hosting dinners this autumn.