Art Circle #1: Emeli Mårtensson

Art Circle #1: Emeli Mårtensson

In our Art Circle series, we take a closer look at artists and artworks that share our connection to the circle. First out is okolo’s illustrator Emeli Mårtensson.
Hi Emeli! You’re the pen behind our illustrations. Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m based in Stockholm, Sweden, after half a life and career in Italy. Currently I freelance as a print designer and illustrator, while finishing my second novel. My fifteen years in fashion (I founded and ran the 5PREVIEW brand until 2020) coincided with my fortieth birthday, when I decided to jump off the fashion train and take a writing course. Since then, I’ve made a cautious return to illustration and pattern design, but I still feel that the fashion industry should go slower.
What kind of projects do you enjoy most?
I like projects that grow organically, but within a clear framework, so things don’t get too blurry. I love working together with other people in a group where everyone is good at different things.
okolo’s name and logo originate from the circle – as a visual form, as the letter o, but also as a more symbolic concept. How did you match your style of illustration to okolo’s brand?
The illustration project was both inspiring and challenging. Its organic, sustainable aspects appeal greatly to me, and I liked the simplicity of the desired expression, as it rhymed with my own ideals – black ink and white paper, minimalist, modern, fresh. The challenge was to connect objects that at first glance express “nature”, but differ greatly in form and function. To let a new reality wind its way into existence.

Intricate, overworked images can also be beautiful, but I’m more inspired by spontaneous illustration – like Japanese calligraphy, where a couple of simple strokes carry so much meaning. With okolo, I was so glad that this approach was well-received and appreciated. Being able to make big circles with coarse brushes and spatters of ink – can it get any better?
Tell us about your studio!
It’s a small apartment in the southern part of town. I lived there when I was twenty, but it stood empty during my years in fashion. When I closed down my fashion business, I needed a new space to create, so I emptied the flat and let my paints, pens and brushes move in.

It has high ceilings and large windows that let in a lot of light, with a view of a quiet courtyard. The floor could do with a makeover, but I like the feeling of time standing still, regardless of trends or how things should or shouldn’t be. I have my drawing board, a coffee press and an old radio – and no internet.
How do you stay creative?
My problem is more about limiting my creativity! I come from a creative family (my mother worked with textile design and my father was a furniture designer and architect). I was raised with a strong DIY attitude: if I don’t have a bookshelf, I build one; if I want a corduroy blazer, I sew one.

When under stress, I find it impossible to squeeze out good work. With too many wills, voices and opinions surrounding my work, I come to a stop. I’ve also noticed that it’s very difficult to both write and draw during the same time period; there’s only room for one thing at a time.

So my advice is to get rid of the other stuff and make space for your creativity. Also, creating is not just about setting up a canvas and painting – it can also be cooking a nicely composed dinner, or collecting shells on the beach. But for that, you also need time.
At okolo, we love finding new sources of inspiration. Is there any artist you want more people to discover, and why?
An artist who makes my heart beat faster is Raymond Pettibon, who I discovered during a visit to MoMa in New York. His technical talent is incredible – he works a lot with ink and creates the most fantastic illustrations. Also, I’ve always liked his world, which is rough, dirty and not too arranged. He has designed lots of album covers and flyers for punk rock bands, but is most known for his oceans, waves and surfers.
Where can we see more of your work?
My website features a selection of illustrations and prints. More ongoing work is on my Instagram @emelimartensson_illustration. And hopefully my new book will be available soon.

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