A Conversation with Anders Arhoj, Author of Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book
I’ll never forget my initial reaction to Find Me: It was a mix of a beguiled What is that?! and I must acquire this book! With die-cut eyes on both the front and the back covers, the package itself embodies Chronicle Books’ “We see things differently” vision. And the detail-rich illustrations featuring a mix of the cute and quirky contribute to a uniquely immersive reading experience. Even after perusing the pages repeatedly during the editing process, I still find myself discovering new narratives within narratives and subtle (and not-so-subtle) embedded humor.
I recently caught up with Find Me’s creator, Anders Arhoj, also the proprietor of the stand-out Studio Arhoj in Cophenhagen, Denmark, for a closer look at his artistic process, both in his picture book work and at his ceramic studio. (And, yes! We’re already working on a Find Me sequel for Spring 2019!)
Anders Arhoj, photographed by Erin Gleeson
What inspired the creation of Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book?
The storyline of the big brother and the little sister looking for each other is based on my childhood. We lived on a farm far out in the Danish countryside, and my younger sister and I would play hide and seek in the gardens and woods. We also spent a lot of time building houses and worlds around Barbie dolls and [the TV show] Masters of the Universe (very 1980’s!). Our parents never played with us, and we weren’t allowed to watch TV during the day, so we had to come up with our own games and adventures.
As an adult, I’ve worked on character design for 17 years and I’ve always been obsessed with world building around the creatures I draw. Reality or ”realism” as a style has never really interested me, so creating a book where everything is fantasy and abstract—yet with a core storyline—was a fun challenge.
Find Me’s cover is incredibly unique. Why was creating a text-less cover important to you?
I wanted the cover to be graphically bold in order to catch people’s eyes. I wanted the cover to actually signal “Find me!” or “Look at me!” on store shelves.
I also just love book covers without text. In my apartment’s floor-to-ceiling living room bookcase, I always place books on display with covers facing outwards, and I regularly shift books around to enjoy my large collection. I see books as works of art.
You are not only an author and illustrator, but the proprietor of the dynamic Studio Arhoj in Copenhagen. How would you describe the aesthetic vision behind your ceramic creations? And how is that approach connected to your work in Find Me?
Well, I guess it’s all connected! Just like my illustration work, our aim at Studio Arhoj is to pursue new adventures in color, texture, and design. And, based on old techniques and recipes, to create modern, functional, and fun pieces for everyone that can’t be found or bought just anywhere.
The Studio’s vision is also to discover new possibilities for clay and glaze, and to bring out the bright world of anime pop and neonlight Tokyo together with our legacy of clean, pure and functional Danish design. If you look closely at the illustrated spreads in Find Me, you’ll be able to spot a few Studio Arhoj pieces!
Which picture books or artists have inspired you as an illustrator and picture book creator?
My biggest idol is probably Mary Blair. Her color schemes and palettes are awe-inspiring and key to the look of early 1950’s Disney films. I’ve learned a lot about color styling from her work, such as the magic combination of purple, red and pink. I even pondered whether to buy her house in LA when it was put on sale a few years ago!
Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli is also a big source of inspiration. I’m a huge fan of Japan, so I relish the atmosphere of his movies. I can spend days obsessing over his character design and backgrounds. Miyazak’s world building is so complete—I love the mix of melancholy, optimism, and nostalgia.
Of course, I also love Richard Scarry and his Busytown books which I read all through my childhood, along with great comics such as Percevan and Valerian et Laureline from France, and Japan’s Yoko Tsuno.
What is your picture book creative process?
When creating a book, I sketch until there is a clear idea of the concept. But a lot of time is spent thinking, and considering ideas until something sounds fun and worth pursuing. Then I do color styles, which involves assembling all my rough sketches into a schematic flow, and drawing some character studies to make sure my main characters work in different body positions and moods.
Finally, it’s time for the deep dive: actually illustrating the book! I usually listen to audio books and make sure my fridge is well stocked, because I like working without interruption. That’s really important: If I’m constantly walking to and from an illustrated spread, it loses its energy. It’s not that I don’t revise several times (and then some more) later, but the major pieces and elements should be done in one long sitting, and that can take days. My current record of not leaving my apartment is three days.
After a spread is complete, I take a few days off to do other things, and also to exercise. Sitting down for long periods strains my back, and I actually have carpal tunnel syndrome, which many illustrators suffer from. So I make sure to re-energize before I sit down to create a new round of illustrations. That’s why a book can take months despite not being super-long. The detailed spreads in Find Me required many, many hours to complete—there was always another empty spot somewhere to fill out!
Finally, I send everything to my editor who (hopefully) is happy!
Whether it’s in the pages of Find Me or in your ceramics, your creative work has a focus on character and personality. Even the glazes convey an ethos! Why is character and personality important to the art that you create?
In general, I never think much about the “why” of what I create, be it a Yuki Vase or a book. Things just sort of happen. I’m just not interested in doing anything that’s boring. I try to entertain myself through my work, and if what I’m working on isn’t really exciting me or my team, we just toss it. And, of course, that happens often!
Regarding the characters that I create, I really don’t know where my obsession comes from except that perhaps I’m still a child on some level. Or, maybe my inspiration comes from growing up on 1980’s pop and a toy culture filled with comics, plastic figurines, and, of course, constant building with LEGOs (the company is from Denmark).
How would you describe the experience of reading Find Me? Do you have any hopes for how a child might experience your book?
I think I am a dreamer at heart. I’m always thinking of a place—either a physical place or a mental space— where I want to be or where I have been. Find Me is about traveling and searching, whether it’s for a person, or for that place you think about and go back to throughout your life.
I believe it’s of the utmost importance to make children dream and to encourage their imagination. It’s important not to be passive or wait for entertainment and life to come to you. That’s why Find Me has almost no words: You must create your own place, your own storyline. You look at the illustrations, use your own imagination, and ask yourself: Who are these creatures? Why are they this way? And, in the process, maybe you discover something about yourself.
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Thank you, Anders! You can find (ha!) Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book here. Also, be sure to enter to win our giveaway for two Studio Arhoj custom-made Familia figurines, inspired by the book.
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