Sofie Nilsson on not having one specific style and doing what you love

Illustrator Sofie Nilsson – Interview by Femke

From studying at Hyper Island in Sweden to working at creative agency McCANN in Norway, Sofie Nilsson’s journey with illustration started years ago at the back of a school classroom…


From Malmö to Amsterdam to Oslo, you’ve moved around a little bit! How did you get to where you are now?

I grew up in the countryside in the very south of Sweden (near to Malmö), and even though I love it there I’ve always dreamt about travelling, living abroad and exploring new places. My biggest goal during high school was to move abroad at some point in my life. I’ve ended up moving 9 times the last 7 years — within Sweden.

Most of my moves has been completely random and/or spontaneous to some extent. What they have in common is that they’ve always been related to my dream of becoming a designer.

It was when I was living and working as a freelancer in Malmö that I heard about Hyper Island from a childhood friend. I decided to apply and ended up submitting my application two minutes before the deadline. I got it, just in time!

Halfway through my studies I was living in Stockholm as part of my Hyper Island Studies and began to apply for different internships — I think I emailed around 20/30 places, all over the world. After a while I landed a 6 months design internship at a creative agency in Amsterdam.

I loved my time in Amsterdam a lot. It was an amazing experience, though sometimes stressful. When moving to a new city in a new country, with a foreign language and un-refined skills, it’s easy to be overwhelmed at times.

I pushed myself a lot during this time, while struggling to figure out what kind of creative I wanted to become. I learnt so much about myself and my own capabilities.

After those 6 months I went back to Sweden to graduate and figure out my next step. I spent almost every waking hour for a couple of months at my parents house practicing illustration. Illustration is where my heart lies and after some time I landed a job at McCANN in Oslo, Norway as an illustrator and designer — so I moved once again. I’ve lived here for almost 8 months now and I really like it.

Hyper Island Graduation

You studied at Hyper Island — for those unfamiliar, can you briefly explain what Hyper Island is and how it differs from traditional education?

Unlike a regular school or traditional education, Hyper Island focuses on “action learning” (learning-by-doing and learning-by-reflection). There’s no teachers or books to read and no exams. At Hyper Island we work with real clients and real briefs. We try new things, fail and learn from it. We were always encouraged to try new things.

As someone who has also studied at a traditional university, I can really see and value the difference in learning methods. At University we rarely got to try things. Instead, we read about it in books. That’s not really my way of learning which is why I found Hyper Island so exciting.

Is there anything significant from your childhood that you think shaped or contributed towards the maker you’ve become today?

My dad. He’s always been the creative person in our family. He taught me how to paint with brushes on canvases and brought me to art shops to browse the supplies when I wanted to try something new. He always encouraged me to follow my dream, which was to be creative.

When I was around 10 years old my favourite hobby was colouring and drawing. I collected colouring pens and always brought them with me to school — every single day. I would sit at a table in the back of the classroom and draw instead of follow the lecture.

My teachers didn’t find this very productive. Soon, they scheduled a meeting with my parents to talk about this “problem”. The problem being that I enjoyed drawing too much.

I think it’s sad that most of our traditional schools don’t have room for (or value) creativity amongst children. We need more room for creativity in our societies.

Despite getting in trouble for drawing, all it did was alight a spark within me. This spark is what’s continued to tell me to create and do what I love.

Your illustration style seems to vary slightly from project to project — do you enjoy being able to work on such unique projects?

I’ve always thought that to be able to make it as an illustrator you have to master your own unique and personal style. I’ve since realised that isn’t true.

In the past this pressure to have a unique style has created a huge creative block for me. I thought that I had to spend all my time on finding my style instead of having fun with it and trying new things.

Your style and tastes as a creative is constantly changing. Letting go of the pressure to find a unique style has been really liberating for me.

Nowadays I really enjoy being able to work in different styles as it allows me to try new things. I’m the kind of person who wants to keep learning. I’d probably get bored if I had to work in one specific style for the rest of my life. While I enjoy being able to meet requests from clients, I usually combine it with what I feel is me.

While most of your work is illustrative, you occasionally produce a motion piece. What got you into exploring motion design?

I’ve always been interested in animation. When I transitioned towards illustration I uncovered an opportunity to learn how to bring my illustrations to life.

When I applied for Hyper Island my first initial plan was to apply to the Motion Creative program instead of Digital Media. I changed my mind in the last minute — afraid that I didn’t had enough experience in animation softwares used in the program.

In retrospect, I’ve come to learn that mastering software or tools doesn’t matter. Just do it, and you’ll learn it all along the way. This is where passion and motivation goes a long way.

I’m super happy with where I ended up. Being an illustrator is exactly where I want to be right now.

What was the idea behind the One Icon Each Day project?

I got the idea for this after working on a project for Converse. During the Converse project I created new icons for their return form, which comes with each online purchase in the European market.

I enjoyed creating icons. So I started this side project as a way to practice during my internship in Amsterdam. I wanted a project without boundaries that I could do just for fun, and for myself. So, I decided I’d create something small every day, so I ended up creating small icons that were inspired by something from that particular day.

I decided not spend too much time on each icon, which helped me learn to let go and just create. Being a perfectionist as a creative everyday can be very time consuming, so any chance I get to challenge myself on time is golden.

Are you working on any side projects right now?

I don’t have a side project going at the moment. Lately I’ve been focusing on my job at McCANN while trying to develop a healthy work/life balance.

In my spare time I continue to create random illustrations through a long list of side project ideas that I want to explore. I’ve always loved having side projects as that’s usually where I learn and grow the most.

My biggest problem with side projects is that I want to start all of them at the same time! The next challenge for me is to illustrate my own, and very first, Sticker Pack for iMessage. I’d also love to start making enamel pins, it seems like so much fun. I love putting my work into the physical world and into peoples everyday lives in some way. Having my own web shop would be the dream.

You can find Sofie on her website, Twitter or Dribbble.


What is The Creative Series?

The Creative Series is a publication run by Femke that highlights the under-deserved creatives of our industry. If you’re interested in being featured or want to submit someone, please reach out to Femke on Twitter.

Enjoyed this interview? Please consider recommending it below or following the publication for more interviews — thanks!

About the interviewer

Hi I’m Femke — a designer, writer and podcaster who overlaps between a day job, freelancing and side projects. I love to help other creatives be the best version of themselves. I’d love to get to know you more, say hi on Twitter 👋