by Adam Callaby
While best known for her illustrative work, she’s dabbled in everything and anything, from comic art to web design, graphic design, photography and even handicrafts. Filling her portfolio with countless works, both commercial and personal. It’s no wonder Pau Norontaus is a busy lady. We managed to catch up with her to chat about geek culture, her choice in career, and the work that inspires her.
1. Could you briefly describe to our readers who you are, what you do, and the style of your work? In other words, describe yourself as an artisan in the most flamboyant way possible.
I’m Pau (“Perfection”) Norontaus. An (amazing) art student slash (fantastic) freelance illustrator hailing (humbly) from Turku, (fabulous) Finland. Comics, illustrations, websites, graphics, handicrafts, posters… I’d say I’m about as versatile as they get! I’ve drawn most of my life and found digital arts around six years ago. While I’m studying fine arts at a local academy, I have a strong commercial background with various comic and web related projects. I love to entertain. And geek. I like geeking. And cats. Also, music. And Simon Pegg.
2. What kinds of education, internships and training have you been through? And do you believe that education is pivotal when it comes to training as an illustrator?
Knowing what I wanted from life early on, I dropped out of high school and switched to media studies. After graduating as a media-assistant and gaining the core knowledge of graphic design, I continued in Turku Arts Academy (University of Applied Sciences). The vocational school offered me internships at advertisement agencies, and there I witnessed the hectic rhythm of the field. I learned a lot about working for various clients. On top of that I’ve participated in a few courses and workshops, some of them international. My customers include magazines, bands, companies, production teams and private commissioners. Many of them I met during my internships.
But, I would say – start practical. Once you know how to work (and how to get work), you’re more free to focus on the arty side of your craft. That is, if you wish to make a living. You can be a great artist, working on your own. But to learn the language of the trade; deadlines, technical details, restrictions and so on, you should work with other people. Schools offer the contacts!
3. You art style has been described as being both reminiscent of an adult fairy-tale, and being messy and deliberately fantastical. Would you agree with that? Could you point out any moments during your career that have altered the way in which you draw? For example, was there a certain painting that inspired you to draw differently, or an artist that convinced you to alter your illustrative process?
My style has been described? I’m in awe. I’ve always sort of seen myself as the mundane handyman of images. You need a kid’s comic with a pseudo manga vibe? I’ll draw one. You need a death metal poster? Blood and zombies it is. A choir concert illustration? Oh look I’m suddenly all romantic about birch trees.
I assume you’re talking about my more personal works, which, I suppose, do have more of a style. And that would be a good way of describing it. There have been a few key moments that changed the way I do things. First was around the age of 15, when I finally agreed to use colors (I blame the traumas caused by horrible watercolors in elementary school). At 17, I found comics and started a few failed attempts of my own. At 19, I got my first digital tablet, and that opened up the possibilities to draw on Photoshop. In my schools we’ve done all kinds of things from sculpting and photographing, to filming and traditional print-making. I’d say each new technique changes my style some, and each image I see and like gives me something new. At times, when I’m feeling especially studious, I even imitate ideas and color palettes. But it’s more about collecting new skills, than altering my ‘natural’ look. I try to keep myself flexible and above all, fast.
4. You have a keen interest in other art mediums, and it says on your website that you enjoy both writing and painting alongside your more traditional illustrative practices. Can you tell us what it is that draws you into painting and fiction, and why do the darker and more sinister styles, which are obvious in your paintings, captivate you so much?
As a kid I was far more into literature and theatre, than fine arts. I’ve written a play for a local youth theater and was the librarian of my school. These days, sadly, I’ve lost the touch. When I entered the Arts Academy, I chose painting as my major. After a year, it changed into drawing. There were various reasons: first of all, drawing is cheaper – and I can do it comfortably at home. There’s no need for messy studios, when all you need is a pen or a computer. As for the sinister themes, they come from my love for horror and zombies. It’s also… How to say this without sounding like a lazy idiot? Working on messy and dark paintings is much faster and easier than focusing on lifelike details. In all of my work the common feature is haste. I’m very, very, very impatient. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 10 hours on a piece (the average being closer to 3 hours.) Though I must point out that I have made a few paintings for kids, too! So it’s not all grim.
5. Perhaps not the best question to ask an illustrator, since it’ll probably be hard to choose. But what has been the most exciting or entertaining project that you’ve done? And what does it take for a project or job to catch you eye?
The largest project was drawing a comic album for a kid’s show… But that wasn’t exactly my personal best. I’ve made so many fun illustrations, so it really is hard to choose one. I’d have to say: hosting workshops for kids. I’ve done that a few times now, discussing and working on comics, fairytales, and drawing in general with children aged 5-12. Those have been fun moments that combine arts and sharing my knowledge. I do like teaching, and have made quite a few online tutorials.
6. You have mentioned that one of your favourite quotes is by George Carlin, who said – “People who see life as anything more than pure entertainment are missing the point.” What exactly is it, about that quote, that you connect with? And how does it affect your life and your work?
I’ve never been big on brooding. Life goes on and you work to change the things you disagree with or stop moaning. If something isn’t worth the trouble of actually doing something about it, it’s certainly not worth crying over. Enjoy life. Have fun. Don’t force yourself to be unhappy. It also has something to do with my, for an artist, uncommonly down-to-earth way of thinking. Will I become the Mozart of silly comics? Hardly. But I can make a living. Or not. If not, I’ll just do something else and draw on my free time. That’s cool. Life is OK. Have a beer and hopefully more than a few laughs on the way.
7. By your tumblr, deviantart and website, it is obvious you have a heavy interest in the geek culture and various fandoms. We were wondering, just how deep does your inner-geek go? And if we gave you permission to let loose, what would you say about such things like the rise of Hipster-Culture, and the blurring of the lines between geek-cool?
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved fantasy and sci-fi and fairytales and ponies and kittens and ghosts and– Truth be told, the first fandom I ‘joined’ was just 2-3 years ago. While I’ve always had several favourite series and books (and yes, I have LARPed, many times.), I’ve never seen myself as a huge geek. I didn’t even use the internet daily before I was 15! I just like stuff, you know? I also enjoy partying. And live gigs. And a whole lot of other non-cavetroll-y activities.
That said, I am invested in the geek culture. Personally, as one who’s never had the capability to remember anything (I once started dating a guy and forgot), I’m not keen on the pricks who exclude people out of fandoms. You like a show and want to call yourself a fan? Be my guest. That’s what I do, too. No one needs to be able to list every producer, typo, and line artist in chronological order. It’s the same idiotic thing I’ve witnessed organizing metal gigs; insecure people trying to keep their little clubs ‘pure’ and their ‘scene points’ to the max. As for hipsters, some of them annoying as heck, but all of them are free to mind their own business. If folks don’t complain about my interests and ugly-ass hobo clothes, why shouldn’t I return the favor?
8. You’ve gained a large amount of attention due to your participation in fan art. Do you have a certain topic or fandom that you prefer to draw about? Is there a certain thing that draws your attraction to a fandom? And has there ever been a time when something you’ve drawn has caused a negative response, for example, crazed uber-fans that hate your personal interpretation?
Let’s see… I have made fan art mostly out of the Dragon Age series, and most recently for LotR and The Hobbit. I like to draw things I like at the moment. It’s as simple as that. The themes change quite often, but one important part is the activity of the fans themselves. I draw fan art FOR the fans, so if it goes unnoticed I’m likely to lose interest. Give me lots of feedback, and I’m happy to have another go. That might be why I kept with the DA comics for a relatively long time – people seemed to care. I don’t recall having negative feedback … a few nit-picky know-it-alls, and some over eager fans.
9. When it comes to your own interests, what sorts of designers and artists interest you? Do you have any professionals that you avidly follow? And how do you connect to them?
As I’ve mentioned before, I have trouble remembering details such as names. But my favourites would be Dave McKean, James Jean, Alphonse Mucha, and Caspar David Friedrich. Fairly conservative and old fashioned, now that I look at the list. In general, I just love looking at their art. I don’t really follow anyone, perhaps buy a few posters and books. I did go see McKean in San Diego Comic-Con this summer, though. That was great. On a larger scale, I connect more with music than visual artists.
10. While this may be obvious to ask. Do you have any personal goals for both your art and your career, that you wish to achieve? And is there an ideal place you would like to reach in ten or so years? Perhaps an ideal job to challenge you’d like to take on?
I’m such a dream crusher. Wow. I’m tutting at my own ideas before I’m even typing them! Making a living as a comic artist in Finland is nearly impossible. I will continue work as a mixed illustrator/graphic designer/comic artist/web monkey/art teacher, but I would love love LOVE love love to get a chance to work as a concept designer for a game or a movie. And I mean a proper game, not one of them cellphone thingamajigs with bouncy balls and sassy birds.
11. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak to us. And for our last question, if you have one piece of advice for someone else who is also trying to get noticed, what is it?
Don’t be afraid to try new medias, styles, and themes. Even if they won’t be exactly to your liking, you’ll learn something from them. They’ll also allow people to see you’re not just a one trick pony. Work a lot, and work for free if the project interests you. Next time the people involved might be able to pay you, and it’s all free advertisement! And. Well. Yes. Fan art also helps. Just make sure that won’t be your only “thing”. Don’t bash yourself, but don’t be too cocky either. Outside of fiction, no one likes a 20-something smart ass. No one. Nope.
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Writing by Adam Callaby