Original Interview: September 2017

Hvass & Hannibal

Oh how we’re loving what the awesome ladies Sofie and Nan Na are doing at Hvass & Hannibal ❤️  Read on to hear their wonderful stories of their early creative memories, the tenacity they had starting out and how staying true to yourself can lead to awesome things. 

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
Sofie: In kindergarten I used to draw very detailed patterns, starting from one corner and spreading out over the paper. I also loved to braid chains in different coloured yarn. When I was 6, I started a weekly course in Art and Design after school, and later a Visual Communication course.

Nan Na: Even before I could read or write, my dad made me keep a diary, and every evening after dinner, my brother and I sat down and described the day, either via a drawing or some scribbles, and then he transcribed the contents according to our descriptions, which he wrote discreetly in the corner of each page. These diaries are an amazing thing to have and to look back at now – to see the early abstract drawings with our little descriptions of what we were trying to show, and to gradually see how the drawings and texts became more and more representational is really quite special. And I think this was invaluable drawing practice from an early age: to create forms and articulate what they represented, as a daily ritual. Wow, I should really be doing this with my daughter too!

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
We both studied at the Royal Academy’s School of Design here in Copenhagen, and already during the first couple of years we started our partnership. We were quite old, compared to students in many other countries, when we started studying, Nan Na was 23 and Sofie was 24. After high school, we spent some time, doing many different things, Nan Na studied photography and Sofie worked as a graphic design intern at a big newspaper. So when we finally started to study, we already had quite a lot of skills and were very eager and ready to start our own business. We took on anything we could get our hands on, for instance we did a mural at a music venue, which luckily led to more jobs, and gradually we had international clients, and suddenly we didn’t really have time to study. So we decided to take breaks from school, but it meant a lot to us to complete our master’s degree, so we kept coming back to study in small portions, and finally after being enrolled for 9 years, we got our MA’s.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.
Nan Na: We do personal and tailor-made work, from illustration to identities, textile design, printmaking – anything that has a visuality to it. We put a lot of ourselves into all our projects. We don’t have any employees (except interns, occasionally) so we have our own hands in all the work. I like to say that we are like a really amazing restaurant that only has one table, and if you are lucky to get a seat, we will shower you in design love.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?
Nan Na: A typical day is… not typical! (But common for any day is that we drink a lot of English tea :-D) The days really differ depending on what tasks we have, and that’s what’s so good about this job! 😀 Some days are about client meetings, other days are about practical issues related to production or to our online shop where we sell our own prints. I feel that the best days are in the beginnings of projects, working with those first early sketches, where your mind is at work in pure creativity, when practical thoughts about limitations, client needs, budget or production are less present.

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?
Nan Na: When we started out, I think our work stood out quite a lot from what was the norm at the time. But we weren’t trying to enforce that or trying to assimilate a certain style, or trying to predict where things would go. We were simply being ourselves in the most naive way you can. I think if you are too calculating about what style to develop and how, then there will easily be a dissonance between you and your work and it will be hard to maintain a personal connection (or sense of meaning) with what you do. You might look at pinterest or something, and feel you should be working towards a certain popular style, not realising that in fact what what you see as your own flaw might be exactly the charm that would differentiate your work from others – and if you are too old or experienced to be naive about it, then you have to be brave!

What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
Sofie: I knew that I wanted to work with art and design, from when I was about 16. For many years I struggled with wether I was good enough to pursue a career in design, but I’m really happy that I believed in myself and kept going, even though it took me a lot of years of applying to art schools and being rejected, until I was finally accepted when I was about 24. So my advice would be work hard and believe in yourself: then you can do anything you want. And don’t follow trends (too much).

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