It all started roughly eight years ago in a world where MySpace was still more important than Facebook. A talented young illustrator Esra Røise was working in a local skate shop as she figured out how to turn drawing into a career. Growing up in an athletic family, Esra opted to explore her artistic side and would rather let her crayons work those papers.
It was a natural call for Esra to step into illustrating and it is not surprising that she undertook studies at Oslo National Academy of Arts and later at Einar Granum School of Fine Art. After building up her portfolio during this time she wanted to have a place to showcase her work and settled on the social platform MySpace. It was not long before her account started to attract attention and the job offers started coming in. Today Esra is one of the most popular illustrators both in Norway and abroad.
Esra currently resides in Oslo, Norway and has combined her home into the perfect universe of art, plants and music under one roof. There is also cat-toys, lots of cat-toys. Esra is mother to a rescue cat by the name of Missy or as she likes to call her, Cat. Esra has her own little working space in the corner of the living room where her recent works cover the table in a nice, creative mess. I asked her how she manages to stay focused when she is working from home. It can be hard to stay on task when you work from home and Esra mentions that having a second room is highly beneficial to staying productive. Here she can hide all of her unfinished work and not have it in her face 24/7. It is always a challenge being self-employed but in Esra's case the pro's far outweigh the cons.
Esra's work is extraordinary, it is a touch of her identity. The combination of fine pencil lines, watercolor and ink has become her signature. She has always been into realistic, natural drawing, which is something that has been with her since the beginning. Like all things this has evolved with time becoming more refined. Esra never thinks that she is a fully educated artist and always explores new mediums to push herself to evolve within her style.
Pink lilac silk shirt from F5 collections
I've heard that you have your own little home tattoo studio. How did you get into this?
I have been interested in tattooing for many years and I'm particularly drawn to the DIY aspect of prison tattoos and home tattooing. I wanted to try, so I ordered a starter kit online and practiced on assorted fruits and leathers before I was comfortable enough to stick a needle in myself. My friends finally convinced me to start practicing on them instead and after using the starter kit for a while I bought a proper custom-built set from a professional, so now the tools are decent at least (Laughs). I have the greatest respect for the profession and I am in no way a tattoo artist, so I don't take any commission as a tattooer. It is just a hobby that I really enjoy and that I practice on close friends. We do trades! The barter system really is my favorite kind of currency, especially because I have creative and talented friends.
What do you like to do when you actually take some time off and leave your work behind?
I like to check out exhibitions, go to concerts, make small tattoos on friends, read, travel, drink, make bad embroidery and draw.
Favourite go to place in Oslo?
The botanical garden is really close by and one of my favorite places in the city.
What inspires you?
Seemingly small unimportant everyday situations, and snapshot photography with their impulsiveness, bad cropping and weird angles, people around me, art, nature, music, the fashion industry and pop-culture in general. I'm inspired by pretty much anyone with a passion and does their own thing.
Describe your style?
My style is pretty straight forward and relaxed. I think when it comes to both in life and in music and fashion, that I'm attracted to uncomplicated but smart things that have a history and a little bit of an edge. I mainly listen to alt/indie/hardcore/punk/classic rock and I wear whatever I feel comfortable in. My go to uniform tends to consist of jeans and t-shirts. I've always been drawn to menswear and I tend to steer away from stereotypically feminine items but, I love wearing red lipstick and I'm heavy on accessorizing with jewellery. I guess it is the crow in me that is attracted to shiny things (laughs).
You worked in a skate shop for quite a while, do you miss the inner skater-girl and do you still skate?
Yes, I worked there for about six years putting together decks and hanging out. I used to skateboard when I was younger but I always sucked (Laughs). On occasion, I still work with the skate brand Element through their Eden Advocate-programme and it feels nice to still contribute in a small way, to a community that I really appreciate.
When did you start to get international publicity? Do you feel that your work has been more popular abroad than in Norway?
My first big jobs were for international clients and it wasn't until I had received some recognition abroad that I feel like the ball started rolling here in Norway as well. But that is just the way it works, not only with illustration, but with other creative jobs too. It helps to get recognition abroad when you are trying to establish a career locally. That being said, I feel like the market for illustration has steadily grown in Norway over the past couple of years and bigger, more commercial clients are opting for illustration in areas where photography has predominantly been used. I am excited to see what becomes of this shift in focus.
You have worked with some big names, Vogue, Stella McCartney and Nike to name a few. Did they contact you directly for a specific job and how was it working with big names like that?
The clients reach out to me either directly or via my agency with a more or less specific brief on a project. I send sketches to be approved by the client and from there it goes back and forth until the job is done. The Vogue jobs are often illustrations as supporting elements to text, so the guidelines are pretty loose, depending on what kind of text it is. The job for Stella McCartney was a mini campaign for the launch of the ready to wear collection and, although it was a theme, the project was very open to interpretation which was awesome to work with. The best jobs are definitely from clients that trust my creative vision but, I find that the bigger the client the stricter the brief (which makes sense of course) however, a little creative freedom is always appreciated.
What is the biggest challenge of being an independent artist?
Money! (More laughs) and the uncertainty of working freelance. You never really know what the future brings. That being said the freedom you get from being your own boss and working with something you genuinely love is not something I would give up quickly.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Maybe a big house full of cats, surrounded by your creative universe?
Oh my god, that sounds amazing! I'll take that please! (Even more laughs).
Pink lilac sweatshirt from F5 collections
Esra's next exhibition will be held 30th November - 8th December at Rathkesgate 4, Oslo
All photography by Ronja Penzo
Illustrations by Esra Røise