August 23, 2017

Karoline Holhjem – An International Illustrators Project Blog

With a lifelong passion for drawing and art, the Norwegian illustrator and graduate Karoline Holhjem uses her fascination for the surreal and dream-like to create everything from childrens books and writing, to animation and musical productions.


Karoline is a graduate from Birmingham City University, taking part in The International Illustrators Project – an international exchange of outstanding and emerging illustrators and comics artists across the UK, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Karoline’s blog post shares her first experiences of her working with Reinis Petersons in the first round of workshops. Reinis is an illustrator and animated film artist based in Riga, Latvia. Nominee of The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and The Hans Christian Andersen Award, Reinis has illustrated dozens of children’s books and board games.



My idea started by imagining a surreal magical forest, and then I developed creatures that could live there. I was thinking of the visual potential; a magical forest can be so creative and beautiful, and so there’s lots of ways to make the story look appealing. From this I made one character that didn’t fit in with the colourful and happy forest: a black shadow-spirit. The plot is that the shadow-spirit wants to be colourful, like the other creatures in the forest, but his way of trying to become colourful is to steal the colour from plants and other creatures, which of course the others don’t like. The theme of my story is the feeling of being left out, or feeling different, and it also touches upon how to live together in a community that is the forest.
I’m inspired by Tove Jansson and her fantastic Moomin universe. The creativity and surreal characters and places make it possible for almost anything to happen, and there’s also this calm and steady humour. Reinis Petersons showed me an illustrator called Kitty Crowther, who has some similarities with Tove Jansson’s style, and I quite like her drawings. I find this project very exciting because we are given so much freedom to tell our story and to explore our visual language for it. I’m looking forward to trying different styles and techniques, developing the characters even more, as well as figuring out the best way for the story to come across to the reader.



I don’t think any of us knew what to expect, we all just heard it would be a good opportunity for us to take part in this project. During the week we got to know Reinis Petersons and some of his work. It was inspiring to listen directly to a professional illustrator and see all the different work he is producing. Reinis seems like a diverse, hard-working, and humorous person.

A lot of the workshop consisted of helping us produce ideas and stories fast. Reinis gave us different tasks, like drawing shapes and making them into characters, and design money for a made-up country. All the time we collaborated on each other’s drawings, passing them around and making up stories together. We did one exercise where we drew objects from a hardware shop, and made them into characters, which then the next person created a plot for, and the next person turned into a one-page comic.

One exercise I found particularly useful was when we folded and cut paper into a small 6-page dummy-book, plus front and back cover. We were told to draw on the pages in a specific order, always passing our books around so not one person drew in the same book twice. The first person does page number one, and sets off the story. The second person makes the last page, page 6, which shows how the story ends. The next person does page 2, and then the next 5, and next 3 and finally 4, so the book is made from both ends, and the middle part is made last. In the end the two last people made the front and back cover (7 and 8).

I think this technique is nice because you don’t have to think about how the whole story links from the very beginning, and if you already have some parts of a story planned you can start with those pages and use this technique to try and fill out the rest. It challenges you to create a finished plot in a very short time. It was good to start off together, share our ideas and get pushed to produce the story so quickly. Soon we will have a Skype-tutorial with Reinis, and then when we meet for the second workshop in June we will finish all together again.

Karoline Holhjem, May 2017