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White Horses Magazine

White Horses Magazine - Jonas Claesson

White Horses Text

I’m a Swede living in Freshwater of Australia that loves surfing. It’s surprising to a lot of people, but yes, there actually is surfing up in Sweden. The waves are good sometimes, but we need to wear hooded wetsuits made of whale blubber to stay warm. Just kidding, that’s not true. Whales are magnificent creatures we should respect. Clearly, I have a great love for animals, particularly if they can get pitted on a surfboard, as they are the subjects in most of my artwork.

I’ve been drawing animals surfing and doing other stuff for years. A long time ago I drew a surfing bear for a Swedish surf brand called Nord Surf. Nord means North in Swedish. I also did a surf illustration with bears for an H&M sweatshirt. From there, I was kind of snowed in with the animal drawings. Snowed in means to be stuck– like, in the snow. Do I have to explain everything to you beach bums?

Obviously, my illustrations tend to be quite suited to children’s books, but what ultimately pushed me was what motivates most people­ my mom and my girlfriend kept insisting.

“No, mom, I’m not making a children’s book!” I screamed and cried. Actually, it sounded like a lot of fun, but it took me some time to get around to it. Then one day, I went out for a surf. My girlfriend, Stephanie, had been talking about doing an A to Z book, and while I was waiting for the next set to come in, I thought “A is for Anteater.” A is for Anteater! I caught the next wave in, drew an Anteater in the sand with a stick, and knew I had struck gold.

When I got home, I did my first illustration of the series and posted it to instagram, probably that night. People seemed to really like it because I captured the animal surfing with real style. There is something surprisingly natural about seeing wild animals on surfboards. I think it’s the fact that these are natural creatures harnessing the power of mother nature herself. So although they are on man­made objects doing the most radical of human activities, their understanding of the powerful ocean doesn’t seem out of place at all.

I follow a lot of photographers, surfers, travellers, and adventurers on the different social networks. I found inspiration in them. When I come across surf footage of a stylish pose– it could be a pro or an unknown surfer– I usually do a screenshot and save it. I study them and the way the animals look, then try to combine the two.

Anyways, after the Anteater, people started suggesting what I should do for B. Lo and behold­ there were a ton of suggestions. I think everything from Baboon to Buttermilk Snake was suggested, which is absurd because everyone knows a Buttermilk Snake can’t surf.

Someone once told me that the person having the most fun in the water is the best surfer, and I really think that’s true. My drawings prove that, in a way. It strips away all ego, all conceit, all the coolness some surfers try to portray in the water. These animals aren’t trying to prove anything, they’re just having a good time. The strange thing is us humans harnessing nature in such a

way. Imagine what the animals must be thinking of us floating out there in the water, trying to get gnarly on some waves.

For certain letters, I went with what the majority of people suggested, and for others I did what I thought was the most interesting. Art isn’t a democratic process, but I like how involved people got. A Sloth is a perfect longboarder, so I needed to veto any S suggestions, and a Tiger is a such a powerful, barrel­riding creature, so T was off the ballot, too.

I always start with pencil and paper, sketch it out, get the movement, the positioning of the board, try to get it so the animal looks like the animal. Sometimes I’d have an issue with a bear looking like a teddy bear– or, at first, the wombat looked like some bear that doesn’t even exist. After I sketch it out, I get my girlfriend Stephanie’s opinion. This is the most important part of the process, because behind every great children’s book illustrator is a woman. She’d give me some ideas, I’d make adjustments, and then I’d go over it in ink. Then I’d scan it, throw it in photoshop, and use illustrator for the colors.

I tried a bunch of different color options and put them next to each other. Stephanie and I would go through and look at them, making sure the colors looked good sequentially and that each drawing stood apart from the one before it.

Halfway through the project, a guy named James reached out. He’d already written some poems to go with my visuals and he sent them over. It was really nice stuff, and I could tell he was a surfer because he used all the right lingo. It seemed to flow very effortlessly, made the illustrations come to life, and gave it a common thread throughout the whole book.

I had developed a bit of a following on instagram with my illustrations, and it seemed to grow exponentially when I started posting images from this series. That really set me up well for a successful kickstarter campaign. I always liked the platform, and I knew if I could raise money, I would be able to afford better quality printing. I wanted good quality paper and a hardcover that felt like a real published book. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve that on my own. The support on kickstarter was incredible. Everyone out there should support artists through crowdfunding. You have no idea how great it feels to have your dreams and hard work supported in such a way.

It took about a year from the first illustration to the time the book was printed, but it wasn’t a year of full­time work. Drawing the animals never felt like a job, it was more of a hobby. It was just a fun idea to think that it could become a book one day. I never pulled myself out of bed in the morning, depressed that I needed to go draw a surfing tiger. There was no pressure for time. I could’ve taken five years if I felt like it.

Creating this thing was 100% fun. It was truly amazing how involved and supportive everyone was on Instagram, and it made me draw a lot more.

The response I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive, and I truly hope everyone enjoys the book as much as I enjoyed making it.


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