Exclusive Interview: The Intricately Linear Illustrations of Pia Petterson Stubbs
I found Pia via Instagram (one of our favorite tools for curation), and was immediately drawn to her geometric use of lines & her choice of colors, which produce these deeply satisfying linear illustrations. After interviewing her, what she creates in her drawings makes all the sense in the world. Growing up as a maker, fully encouraged to discover the world through the process of creative expression, Pia went on to work at the Architectural Association in London and seems to think spatially.
She since has worked in graphic design, and in the past few years has come back to drawing things by hand. Selfishly, I’m very glad she did, because meticulous doesn’t even begin to explain it. Her work satisfies the OCD in me, while her use of color creates a calming effect.
Ahead, I ask Pia about the role art has played in her life, her life as a traveller and global citizen, as well as what artists she admires & looks to for inspiration.
It’s been too long since we published an interview, so I’m glad this one rocks.
Evan: So glad to have connected with you. I’m super curious, what role did art play in your life as a child?
Pia: I always drew, painted and made things as a child. Even as young as two I would sit in my bed with my cat, drawing. And just recently I discovered paper dolls that I had drawn when I was around 10, with lots of outfits and every uniform from the big European airlines. My dad was very handy and taught me a lot about making and fixing stuff. We had a small workbench with lots of tools in the basement and I think my experience there helped prepare me for my time building stuff at the AA (Architectural Association in London). From a very early age I knew that I wanted to do something creative.
You were recently in Hong Kong for a while and now are back in Norway. How did you like HK and why the move back to Oslo? What are some of the most striking differences between Asia and Scandinavia?
Hong Kong is an amazing city and I was there for 5 years. It’s the perfect mix between east and west that I love so much about the city, but also the fact that it has incredible nature as well as a very busy city. Most people who haven’t visited Hong Kong don’t know that the city has stunning beaches and amazing forests and hiking trails. The first 4 years there we lived right on the beach in a tiny village on Lamma Island. No cars, no supermarket, just around 12 houses and a small restaurant. Dense forest (with plenty of snakes) behind us and beach 10m from the front door. But we were no more than a 25 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong Island and all it had to offer.
The move to Oslo was in part about helping my son go to school here to prepare for university next year. But also for me to see what opportunities I could find for myself. After more than 30 years abroad, I have been increasingly drawn to moving back home and feel a strong need to have a base here. I would like to find a way to connect Norway to Asia and vice versa through art, design and architecture. We have a lot to learn from each other, and these fields can function as a tool for diplomacy and cross-cultural exchanges.
Asia and Scandinavia are different in so many ways. Apart from external factors like clean air and cooler temperatures, I would say that one of the biggest differences is a feeling of order, a slower pace of life and clear ideas of equality and fairness in society.
Who are some artists that you love?
Ellsworth Kelly. It’s hard to make an exhaustive list. But of living artists I could spend all day looking at work by James Turell, Tom Sachs (who went to AA in London at the same time as me), Yayoi Kusama, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall, Maya Hayuk and Eko Nugroho. I also really enjoy street art and the work of artists like Kaws, Takashi Murakami and of course Banksy…
How would you describe your artistic style? How did you come to that style, and have you ever worked in other mediums?
Patterns. I like to find patterns and interpret them and make them into a drawing, and this is something I think I have done since a very early age. During my years studying architecture I was introduced to fractals and I was interested in looking at patterns of life and living and how that could be translated into architecture.
I later looked at the human body, especially at the microscopic level, to find patterns there.Just after my son was born almost 18 years ago I started painting these patterns with acrylic on large canvases. My drawings and paintings were a bit more organic then, but the principle was the same. I particularly enjoyed the process of mixing the colours. I would never plan the colours, but one would simply follow another and it was all about the combination. I would have to step away from the canvas to pick the next colour – sometimes for quite some time. I still work in a similar manner now when choosing colours.
I also had a long period of time where I only worked on the computer doing graphic design, and it’s only in the past 3-4 years that I have started drawing things by hand again. And I’m finding it incredibly satisfying and liberating and almost meditative.
What are your thoughts on the role of social networks like Instagram that are entirely visual, and serve as a platform to discover art or be discovered? That’s how we found your work, in fact!
I love Instagram! I’m especially inspired by snapshots that over time form an ongoing story to follow. I like Facebook too, but don’t find it inspiring in the same way. It’s more useful in a personal sense. In terms of art and inspiration I’m much more drawn to the visual world of Instagram.
Have you traveled much? How has that travel shaped you?
I have both traveled and moved a lot. In all of my 49 years I have lived in 13 cities in 11 different countries across 4 continents and traveled to many more. I definitely feel that it has given me a broad view of life and a deeper understanding of people and I’m constantly drawn to finding ways of combining things from different cultures around the world. Here too I tend to look at patterns and what unites us and makes us all similar, rather than what divides us. On an artistic level it’s fascinating to look at and be inspired by the things that shape the society in these different cultures and countries.
What’s the best film you saw recently?
The Grand Budapest Hotel. I enjoyed every single moment of this movie! The attention to detail and symmetry are very appealing to me. All of Wes Anderson’s movies have this quality.
Any advice to the aspiring artist?
Be curious. About life, nature, science, people…whatever is around you. If you have an opportunity to do so – travel and see different cultures. And last but not least, have something to say and don’t be afraid to say it loud and clear.