Jónas Valtýsson

And so we find ourselves returning to the scene of the crime, where not long ago we had originally intended to do a “couple” interview with Erla María and Jónas Valtýrsson, but at the last minute Jónas was summoned to an emergency save-the-world meeting. So we did a interview with Erla María and now we get a second one with Jónas so all in all, we come up trumps!

You moved back home not long ago and walked straight into a new job, in a time where jobs are hard to come by, is there a lot of work in your field?

Well, there always seems to be a lot to do in the advertising industry here in Iceland, when I moved to Brighton there was some stagnation, for a while at least, but it really depends on what area you’re talking about. There isn’t much work in book or record covers and things like that. There is more work like that abroad but here it seems that it’s mainly the ad firms that float.

“I find that my personal vision carries through”

Aren’t those projects going to the ad firms?

That is true. These firms work as graphic design studios,  take for instance the new restaurant Grill Market, a logo and general branding should be created at a graphic design studio but that is being done in the ad firms. For the most part I think you are right and the graphic and concept work is being done in the ad companies and they behave like hybrids. I think there is always work for people with ambition and the know-how.

You work as a graphic designer on a day to day basis?

Yes, that’s the work title. But is that what you are, in the perfect workday what would you be doing? I am a graphic designer definitely, but of late the lines between what defines a designer or illustrator, or an artist even have been blurring.

Everything I do is graphic, I do take a lot of pictures as well, depending on the project though. As a rule I get hired as a graphic designer, most would delegate the photography and the illustration but I really like doing things on my own, and I find that my personal vision carries through that way and that is important to me.

Album artwork for Darkness

Does that carry through in projects that aren’t your own per say?

If we take freelance projects for instance, a band might come to me and tell me about what they are doing and I’ll listen to their music. Then I will come back to them with my interpretations of their lyrics and how they speak to me. At that point it’s down to whether or not they like what I have done.

It is very different when I am working at the firm, there we get a brief. It’s all more to the point but I still feel there is creative scope in every project and you can make it fun, it does not have to be boring at all. Take for instance the last project we finished for Icelandair, that’s a city travel campaign focusing on people’s favourite city and was aired on three fronts: The web, in paper and on television.

Could you tell us about that project in a bit more detail, as it is a really big one?

That is true and encompassed a lot of people in the company. At its heart is a game online where people are supposed to pick their favourite city. What we where trying to capture was the element of keepsakes that one might for instance take back from  holiday in your favourite city, such as ticket stumps and postcards. The mission was simply to apply this to the three main mediums. I definitely feel we put some of our own vision into it even though it was “corporate”. Still a really fun project.

So many mediums and different production methods, this must take a lot of man power, what about the video alone?

We really should have but in this project we didn’t, it was mainly me and Dóri that shot it and some guys within the company who are really good with post production did all the computer work that was needed, but yeah it was mainly just us doing it. That must be great though just diving into the deep end? It was, neither of us where familiar with working with the video format so it was a great challenge! And then things just happen when you are doing interesting stuff, I am a firm believer in that the magic is in the process.

Campaign for Icelandair

You are also really into photography!

That is a hobby that blossomed after I got into this, it kinda started in the wrong working order for me, I was Photoshopping pictures to try and create atmospheres and would need pictures for that use and that lead me to learning to operate the camera, how to construct a shot. So I came to photography from an editing perspective and to graphic design from photography, I’m really always in the wrong place. Photographer/graphic designer or vice versa, I do think that it’s a good mix though. In five years I may have dropped photography all together and started drawing, you never know? I like trying myself in as much as I can and I don’t like to get bogged down doing just one thing for the rest of my life.

That brings us back to the personal style/touch, that carries through even if your working with a new program or camera, you will have built up a method of working that should be noticeable, by yourself at least.

Album artwork for Yersinia

I am of the opinion that we all have protocols that we work by, consciously or not. Do you practice any standard methods in your work?

Yes, the first thing you start by doing is to understanding the project and the subject matter as well as you possibly can through research and you try and understand the customers wants.

Take a record for instance, you talk to the band, to see what they want, then you look at their older work, read the lyrics, find out what the name of the album is and with that information you start to think about it, then drop it for a week, start again and by then hopefully you should have some good ideas sketched. There’s no magic formula that works for everything. I’ve been as stumped as much as the next guy, but things tend to work themselves out (the original saying “Þetta reddast” is the single hardest thing to translate from Icelandic), that is mostly the feeling you get when you are starting a new project in something that you haven’t done before, then you eventually get over it.

When I was still in University, Mugison came to me and asked me to take photographs of him, and I thought he was a cool musician and the feeling was like, fuck what to do? How do I get myself out of this. It ended up being a strange process, he had certain ideas about what he wanted. So I flew to Ísafjörður to take the pictures all the while thinking this is going to go to the dogs. As with all these things it all worked out fine and we where both happy with the result but again that’s the type of project that you’re unsure about at first but end up maybe learning the most from, you don’t learn anything without fucking thing’s up a fair few times anyway.

Photographs of musician Mugison

So has living abroad given you more perspective?

Getting a break from everything here in Reykavík was good and gave me the chance to see what really mattered to me, at least you learn to appreciate the good things.

“I sort of missed going down to the black and cold Icelandic beach”

When I look at your work I get a strong organic and nature vibe, take for instance the Codes in the Clouds album cover and sleeve. You seem at ease and inspired by nature?

Yeah sure, yes I think so, it’s a common cliché that nature moves you, but it matters to me and I have used it a lot in my work. It’s hard to describe it in detail but I grew up in Mosfellsbær which is a bit of a village, so in my youth I would clime the mountains or play in the woods, both my dad and granddad took me along to the countryside a lot, like every other Icelander, it’s kind of ridiculous to say that nature does not affect you. I’ve experienced this through my girlfriend, she lived in Italy and there she knows people that haven’t had the same exercise as us of nature, the same can be said of Britain, whereas here it’s kind of in your face. Being outside in the winter can be hardcore and you go down to the beach and they’re black with crashing waves, the landscape can be crude but that moves me.

Brighton, where I lived last year is the opposite, its dainty, people with poodles and the beaches are nice and the sea is green and a place for families to go to enjoy themselves. I sort of missed going down to the black and cold Icelandic beach where it’s all more seaweed and crushed pieces of crab shells, it’s windy and cold as hell! haha It’s a love / hate relationship.

Album artwork for Codes in the Clouds


Getting published in fancy journal, that´s pretty cool?

It’s nice but it doesn’t give you anything, I showed it to my parents and that was the end of that, because I’ve never got anything from being in one of these journals, it might be impressive to some, if they’re applying for work somewhere. It’s not hard to get into, you send a email with your stuff and they publish. So really easy work for them? Not a lot of work if they just get it all sent in! Pretty much, maybe I should start doing that as well?

How much of your work is for the company you work for and how much is freelance?

I work full time at The Icelandic Ad Agency, have been there for the last four months. I have on the other hand been freelancing for the last five years, even before I finished my studies and am never without one. That really sounds like I’m raking in the money but these are the kind of projects that pay less but give you more creative freedom.

At the moment I’m only working on two side projects, but then again I’d like to take on less projects and devote some time to refinement of my own style and to learn new things. Send them to me! Right haha!

How do you hone your skills?

The other day I spent some time teaching myself how to operate a 3D computer program, I would also like to take more photographs and work on my drawing. Mostly things like that, things that keep it interesting. There is also a lot of work around updating the website. There are a few things worse than a dead website, that is to say static with four year old material.

Working abroad, where the projects different in any way?

Well I was working in a small studio, there where only six or seven of us there and that was a lot fun, the projects were all album covers and book layouts, websites for AIDS foundations, all great project and the sort you strive for, I came back to Iceland determined to be able to do them here as well, one day that might materialize, I might work in my own studio who knows, these are the projects that everyone that learns design yearns for. You mean the little priceless projects that are saving the world one project at a time? Yeah, but you also just need to learn to relax, life is about more than work, its also about being with the people you love. Chill, eat a hotdog, drink a beer! You forget that sometimes.

And on that humble and profound pocket poetry we adjourn
to the kitchen for coffee and cakes, I love this job!

- jonasval.com

Interview: Guðni Rúnar,
Photographs: Nanna Dís