Agnes Nordh sitter vid sitt skrivbord
Photo: Maja Kristin Nylander

HDK-Valand's designe profile decisive for Agnes’ choice


When Agnes Nordh was younger and dreamed of becoming an illustrator, people often told her, “You’ll be able to do children’s books.” To that she always replied, “That is not what I’m going to do.” But now, after three years in HDK-Valand’s undergraduate programme in design, she’s singing a different tune.

She hasn’t quite finished building her nest. The little corner that is Agnes Nordh’s workstation is not nearly as cosy and inspiring as she would like it to be. The walls are relatively empty, and many of her pens are still packed away in a travel bag.

Picture books are appealing

For the last few months, Agnes and her partner have been living on Tredje Långgatan in Gothenburg. Their flat is meant to serve as both home and workplace – at least to begin with.
“We had to choose between staying in our old one-room flat and renting a studio to work in, or else try to find a bigger flat where I could both live and work,” says Agnes.  

The idea is to keep the costs down for a few years. She received her undergraduate degree from HDK-Valand last spring, and now she wants to take time to explore life as a freelance artist in peace and quiet – maybe even experiment with some riskier projects during this time of life when she has only herself to support.

Agnes Nordh raves about the design idiom of the 1960s and 70s. She sees Per Åhlin as a model.
Photo: Maja Kristin Nylander

In addition, immediately after graduation she embarked on a further course of study. For her thesis project, Agnes made a picture book, and it gave her a taste for more. In a freestanding course at HDK-Valand called “Att bilderboksberätta 1” [Telling Stories with Picture Books 1], she has been deepening her interest in the topic this fall.
“The next step is to submit the book to various publishing houses and hopefully get some responses,” says Agnes. “At the same time, I have other picture book projects that have begun to simmer during this course.”

Creative vein since childhood

She no longer thinks there’s anything negative about being called a children’s book illustrator. On the contrary. And that’s the direction she’s heading now – although she also believes that picture books today are no longer the same thing as children’s books. But what she disliked in her youth was that many seemed to equate illustrators with those who do children’s books. Personally, she was more interested in graphic novels – or in getting to work with graphic design, or perhaps fabric patterns.

En hand som skissar på ett papper
Agnes Nordh used to always sketch by hand, but over time she has come to work more digitally.
Photo: Maja Kristin Nylander

In any case, she was certain that what attracted her was working creatively. Almost her entire childhood was about drawing and painting.
“My twin sister and I were drawing all the time,” she says. “We had a neighbour who was with us too. So we were three girls carrying on in a stairwell together. Sometimes my dad took us out into the forest to draw trees. When my mum did a watercolour course, she came home afterwards and taught us kids.”

Agnes could always take for granted that her parents would express themselves artistically.  
“I thought everyone had parents that could draw well, more or less like everyone can read. So of course I’ve inherited some kind of artistic streak from them, even though they haven’t had careers in the arts.”

The Bachelor’s programme prepares for the future

In upper secondary school, Agnes chose the aesthetics programme in her childhood home of Uppsala. She followed that with two years of study focusing on art at Kävesta Community College outside of Örebro. Then came HDK-Valand in Gothenburg.
“I definitely considered applying to Konstfack [the University of Arts, Crafts and Design] in Stockholm,” she says, “since I’m from Uppsala, you know. But I hadn’t yet totally decided that I wanted to become an illustrator. Instead, I was struck by HDK-Valand’s design profile and the opportunities here to choose a specialization during the course of the studies.”

Agnes Nordh står och håller i en mapp med illustrationer
Work on her thesis project, “Behind My Hands”, led Agnes to focus more on working with picture books.
Photo: Maja Kristin Nylander

Compared with the fairly undemanding life in community college, Agnes has found university studies to be pretty tough occasionally. From time to time she has struggled not to be too fixated on, and thus handcuffed by, the fact that the undergraduate programme includes both evaluation and grading.

But in retrospect now, she is mostly happy about the tools and the viewpoints she acquired in her studies.
“I’ve learned so much – things that are going to be with me for the rest of my life,” she says. “More than anything, I’ve come to understand how I work in the design process, how I get from idea to conclusion. At first I had a hard time thinking about target groups and explaining why I do what I do. But that’s the kind of thing you have to be able to deal with if you want to work in this industry. That’s how the real world works.”

She also appreciates the network of old classmates and teachers she now has.
“We can help each other, give each other tips about things,” she notes. “Having a good network of contacts provides a sense of security.”

By: Camilla Adolfsson