The inspiration for artist, illustrator and editor Erlend Peder Kvam’s new zine, Drawings of People with Signs (which is exactly what it sounds like) came to him in an unexpected way. “I was walking in the mountains outside Bergen in Norway earlier this year,” Kvam says. “A little girl shows up on the trail carrying a big sign on her shoulders, on the sign was written ‘Skjerp deg!’ (‘Pull yourself together!’). I was shocked by the direct message. Later on I realised she was on her way to a climate school strike, which was a new phenomenon for me at that time.”
Seeing the girl marching with such a strong message made Kvam begin to work on a set of drawings which centered around different characters and their signs. “The girl I saw in Bergen was physically connected to her own statement. Her words turned out to be an extension of her character,” the creative explains. “I have always been interested in combining text with drawings and she was my perfect character!”
In the 24-page zine, Kvam’s drawings are pen and felt-tip based with printed text offering a naïvety and pared-back approach. His hand-drawn style makes his characters more charming and they vary from smiley inanimate objects to people with Monster Munch-like fingers and toes. The signs his characters hold range from the funny, like someone holding a sign that says ‘Cat person’ as a dog licks them, to the topical: a big, grinning plane proclaims ‘Guys, I’m eco-friendly now!’
“I write a lot, collecting words and sentences,” Kvam says of his process. “I usually write first, then draw around the text with markers.” For the artist, it’s key he’s in the right frame of mind to actually create something in the first place. “Sometimes I am staring at a white wall to gather motivation,” he says. “I stole this method from American cartoonist Carl Barks. When I draw I listen to free jazz, I need to feel free, to feel like I can do anything I want.” For Kvam, this confidence is crucial when it comes to drawing.
Kvam says he has changed drawing techniques and visual styles over the last few years, but the constant has been trying to say something new. “I hate the feeling of repeating myself,” he says. “I feel like I’m constantly trying to renew something within the way I’m drawing. This feeling of freshness keeps me going.”
Originally Kvam’s drawings started as individual pieces, so when it came to putting together the zine the artist wanted them to work as a whole. “I was trying to find a good composition of drawings, between the intuitive and the conceptual,” he explains. “It was crucial that the drawings somehow complemented each other. I wanted the series to be diverse and I wanted to make my drawings look like things other than just jokes!”
Like hand-drawn memes, Drawings of People with Signs feels a timely take on self-expression, in an era where we’re often trying to condense what we stand for into pithy one-liners, which reveal a whole lot more about our character than we might think.