We visited freelance graphic designer and illustrator Fanney Sizemore. She greeted us with warmth, pastries and coffee in her loft apartment in 101 Reykjavík. Her cat wandered around us and we took a look around the cosy apartment, noticing quite a lot of her own work on the walls. We had heard that this Polish poster-loving artist had a thing or two to talk about and we undressed her with our questions as following.
Have you always been drawing?
I drew a lot when I was a child and as a teenager I was an art student. After I graduated college I wanted to study illustration, but they didn’t teach that here in Iceland so I chose graphic design in the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. I went to Berlin as an exchange student and when I rambled the streets there I ended up in a Polish poster Art Gallery where I fell in love. Well, I fell in love with the poster medium I mean. I immediately decided then and there to do my Master thesis in Poland someday to study poster graphic design. My final project from the Art Academy where Polish posters, where I redesigned American movie posters in the Polish style, followed by my BA thesis about Polish posters and politics.
So, did you move to Poland?
Yes, actually I did. I got in to a Polish Art Academy, but the prerequisites were that I had to learn Polish for one-year prior. Then I studied for one year in a Master program with emphasis of making posters. I didn’t continue in the program, because my Polish wasn’t good enough.
Is it a hard language, and how did you manage in the school?
I can speak about the weather and other basic stuff, but i´m not that much into learning languages full time, so i probably could have worked harder on my studies. They say that it takes seven years to learn Polish well enough, so maybe I had the language skills like a four year old. And my accent was maybe not the best either. So to sum it up, the few theoretical courses I had to take where taught in Polish, but in other courses I had professors that spoke in English. I wasn’t sad to leave. Even though the school was wonderful and Krakow is a beautiful city, I was tired of the bureaucracy that I had to go through while I was studying there.
For example, when I was choosing my courses, I filled out an Index form and when we got grades I had to take the same form and wait outside the professor’s offices to get my card filled out. And then one professor told me to come at 10:00 o’clock and the next one at 12:00 o’clock, but I had to wait two hours for my first grade alongside with twenty other students and the professor didn’t show up. I was the only student who was upset about this, I thought it was disrespectful, but one of the students said, welcome to Poland! It took me around three weeks to find where I was supposed to attend classes and I ended up in a wrong poster class. This actually was better for me because it suited my interests better. However, I got to take both poster classes because of this confusion so I was really happy about that.
How do you like the poster culture here in Iceland compared to Poland?
In Iceland? I don´t think we really have a poster culture here. I think that is a result of how small the population is here, they are often a bit too commercal, people are often afraid of doing something different. But as soon as you study the poster culture in other countries, you see more exciting things happening. That has probably something to do with the fact, that they have a longer history in doing posters. Also when it comes to the size of the posters, here A3 is considered a poster, but to me it´s not a poster until it´s at least A2.
“A great design, in my opinion, is all about a good contrast between the picture and the typography”
Some designers overload the posters with information and the posters are overdesigned visually. But a great design, in my opinion, is all about a good contrast between the picture and the typography, but still maintaining the same feel. It´s a tricky balance. I think it is connected to advertisement philosophy, because if you want to get the attention, you need to design a clear message on a poster. What I love about the Polish poster culture is that there is more to it then meets the eye at first. You´ll get the basic clear message at first glance, but when you really study the poster, you can learn something new. I like to think, that is something I´ve taken with me, and effects the way I do my work.
I think the flyer culture is also lacking in space here in Iceland compared to for example Berlin where you can experience that culture in every café, everywhere where you can choose from 20 flyers to take with you. But everything is more and more mediated online, but I’m such a dinosaur, I personally want to create for print.
Is important to go abroad to absorb life?
Yes, I think so. I think it’s always important to seek education and/or experience abroad. I think it’s important for Icelandic people in general, to leave once in a while from the island.
“At the moment I really want to go to Kentucky because I have been studying my genealogy through my grandfather that was an American soldier”
At the moment I really want to go to Kentucky because I have been studying my genealogy through my grandfather that was an American soldier. My mother tried to find out more about him when she was younger, but only found out that he had died around 1955. I started snooping around back in 2007 on ancestry.com, but I only received a reply this year from someone called Ben Sizemore. I started looking at his family tree, and all the dates, locations and names matched with the information I had. But after I got more information, I´ve been looking more into the Sizemore family history, and I can say with 80% certainty that my great great great great great great grandfather was a Cheerokee Indian. So hopefully someday, I can take a road trip to Kentucky to discover my Indian roots!
I hope this is true; this will be an adventure for sure! But where do you get your inspiration from as an artist?
The Polish poster culture has inspired me with its ideology behind their making; I have a few up on my walls as you can see. They were made in the era of communism created by artists and the posters were loaded with symbols to get their messages against the situation across to the people.
I really adore the redesigning of American movie posters in Poland as well, because the design of the poster had nothing to do with the movie itself. I did a film poster myself once, in Polish style for Haukur Már when he released his film GE9N. I was really happy to do that because I really dislike the Hollywood element in Icelandic movie posters here in Iceland. They are all so literal. The poster becomes an independent medium when the design is special or has a deeper meaning behind it. Me, Haukur and Bogi worked on the consept for the poster together and ended up with a pampered police dog barking at the anarchist cat, and the lease goes out of the frame of the poster.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of?
I would have to say the whole idea that I worked with for the band Árstíðir, I had complete artistic freedom in fact for the project. They trusted me to interpret their music with my style. I didn’t want to be literal and make something like four leaves in different colours. I was rather excited to do something like portraying time as a whole in the world I created around their album.
“I was rather excited to do something like portraying time as a whole in the world I created around their album”
The band is actually very popular in Russia so they were really happy with the nature references of the pictures. Because they are acoustic I decided to bring in old school technology intertwined with romantic nature elements.
So what can you tell me about your colour palette?
I really love warm colours, like yellow, orange and greens. It´s strange to think about it, I see it when I look back, that I very often use the same colours. But I love vibrant and strong colours, sometimes my colour palette is a bit retro, but I guess I´m not much of a pastel person.
To turn to a basic question, how is it to be a freelance designer and illustrator in Iceland?
I started off by taking my portfolio and walked around the town and back, mainly to publishers, mainly because I really love to design book covers. I ended up walking from Bræðraborgarstígur to Árbær just in one day, and all of the sudden I realized that I was physically exhausted from trying to get projects.
“I have a really hard time working on pictures by someone else, I want to create and design from scratch”
It’s been OK, but I would love to work on more illustrative projects. In my spare time I try to work on illustrations for my own children´s story. I have a really hard time working on pictures by someone else, I want to create and design from scratch. I love to work with all sorts of footage or things in my surroundings, for example from nature. I like to use my scanner to work with elements that give a certain kind of texture.
Do you like to work with elements from our physical being?
Yes, I think it’s not interesting enough for me to be computer-based designer only. I think it gives the drawings and the designs a more personal effect. I think that my surroundings inspire me on a level that I am not fully aware of.
My inspiration comes from different kinds of mediums, once I did a project about Japanese Lolitas just right after I watched the movie Kamikaze girls. Once I got direct inspiration from the game Bubbles, without realizing it until afterwards, but these are just examples on how the directness of things can affect my designs.
But what about yourself, you aren’t a Lolita yourself miss Sizemore, and what can you tell us about your name?
No, not really. I redesigned myself this summer so I like this look a lot with the hair and all. I love trees and animals as well so that is also an element in my style as an artist. I can go on and on where my interests lie and I am a complete bookworm. I like to escape the everyday life into the fantasy books I read, and in a way I guess my work portray a way to do that as well.
Regarding my name, I started using the Sizemore name when I was 18 years old because that comes from my mother’s side of the family and I grew up with her. All my siblings have changed their last name to Sizemore except one.
“Here in Iceland it´s about knowing the right people, because it´s such a small society. You have to be your own PR guy”
You are working in a studio somewhere else?
Yes, I share a studio on Laugavegur 25 with product designer Ragnheiður and more people. I really like to be around people that can be my second eyes. Especially because I have editing problems.
Here in Iceland it´s about knowing the right people, because it´s such a small society. You have to be your own PR guy, so to speak, which has kind of been my problem because I’m not so good at small talk or mingling in the “right” parties. I guess I could be called a mixed media artist/designer, and I have a pretty strong independent style, and hopefully the world will see that one day.
We wish Fanney all the best in the future, wishing her artistic abilities to size more in Iceland as well as in the Universe.
Interview: Ása Baldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís