The Power of Exaggeration
18.03.20 Words by Hannah Valentine

The Power of Exaggeration

The London-based Swedish artist Alva Skog explores portrayals of non-binary figures with bold colours and extreme perspectives.
18.03.20 Words by Hannah Valentine

In their illustrations, Alva Skog portrays the exaggerated figures of women and non-binary people, giving them authoritative dominance with towering stances, strong bodies, and huge powerful hands. We talk to Alva about the pressures of short deadlines, how their personal projects have influenced their approach to drawing and representing people, and how important their illustration agency has become to them.

You’ve had a roller coaster couple of years since you graduated from London's Central Saint Martins university. If you could time travel, is there any advice you’d go back and give yourself?
Weirdly, no. I was very prepared for graduating and going out into the industry. I think that because I was a few years older than my classmates, and because I’d done a two year course in Fine Art before starting my Bachelor’s, I had the tools to prepare myself for going out into the industry. I was not necessarily aware of it then, but I can see now that my journey so far has been rather smooth. Rather than giving any advice, I would reassure myself that the hard work and dedication will pay off.

How would you define your illustration style?
My style is made up of bold colours, skewed and exaggerated perspectives, and sculptural bodies. I usually depict women or non-binary identities, whom I like to make appear powerful – for example by using a low perspective so that the viewer feels as though they are looking up at the characters. By using extreme perspectives and playing with the size of different body parts, I try to make my illustrations dynamic and full of movement. When I started developing my style I was exploring female identity – it started with a project called Advice for my Younger Sister, about growing up as a young woman – but as my style has developed, I have also started to explore depictions of non-binary and gender fluid identities.

"I am very determined to avoid sexualising the characters – my experience is that women are too often sexualised in media and advertising, and this is not something I want to contribute to."

How would you describe your approach to drawing bodies, and why do you depict them in that way?
The way I portray my figures changes slightly depending on the context or my use of perspective, but my characters usually have big expressive hands – I believe a lot can be expressed through hands and I love drawing them – large curved shoulders, small heads, thick waists, strong calves and big feet. When I was working on the project, Advice for my Younger Sister, I wanted to move away from the stereotypical representations of women, feeling very aware of how these representations affect the way young women come to see themselves and their own bodies. Now this is something I always consider when I draw. I am very determined to avoid sexualising the characters – my experience is that women are too often sexualised in media and advertising, and this is not something I want to contribute to. To be a feminist is to be aware of the patriarchal structures of our society, and as a feminist illustrator, I have a responsibility to be aware of and, at least try, not to repeat these structures in my professional work.

Talk us through the process of working with a client like the New York Times. What are the challenges when working on projects like these?
The deadline can be quite tight for a commission from a client like the New York Times. For example, I was commissioned to do an illustration for 'In Her Words' – a column highlighting a woman's take on the news, and I had one day to do it. I like quick turnarounds because I like working fast and it's the best feeling in the world when you see your work in the paper the next day. However, since this was my first commission with the New York Times and I have always dreamt of working with them, it was quite nerve-wracking. I felt like I had to prove myself. I would say that the most challenging part therefore tends to be the pressure I put on myself, but as soon as I start sketching and think of an idea that I like, the adrenaline starts to rush and I immediately feel better.

You're represented by the illustration agency Jelly London. How has this affected the way you approach your work and practice?
I signed with Jelly London when I graduated and it has been one of the best career decisions I’ve made. I’ve had a number of projects over the last year that I wouldn’t have been able to manage without their help. The people at Jelly are so nice and friendly, and they really care about their artists. By working with them, I can focus more on my creative process rather than the business side of things. Having an agency to support me has been so good, because I know I’m not alone and that they would help me if something were to go wrong. I’m super happy I get to work with them!

How would you like to expand your practice in the coming year?
Last year was so over my expectations and so many career goals and dreams came true. This year I’m making time for drawing for the sake of drawing – having fun with coloured pencils – and I’ve started to practice embroidery. I’m also giving focus to more personal career goals, for example I’m currently working on a project about sexual consent which I want to develop and make into an exhibition.