Kristin Roskifte

Students & Alumni. Children's Author & Illustrator.

Kristin Roskifte. Photo: Svein Størksen

Header photo: Svein Størksen

Kristin Roskifte graduated from our BA Illustration in 1998. After studying for her MA, she returned to Norway to write and illustrate her own picturebooks. Her latest, Everybody Counts, was awarded the Nordic Council Children and Young People's Literature Prize 2019 and has been translated into 40 languages.

What have you been doing since graduating from ARU?

I went on to do an MA Illustration at Kingston University, then went back to Norway and I worked as an illustrator ever since. I started doing children's books as well, writing and illustrating my own. The first one was published in 2003, and I’ve done 8 altogether now. I’ve worked mostly on children's books, but with a big variety of different commissions as well. The three first books I did were published at one of the biggest publishing companies in Norway, Cappelen.

After that, in 2007, I started a publishing company with my husband that we’re still running now, called Magikon. He’s an illustrator as well, and the idea was to do books that were mostly visual, mostly picture books for children but also some art books for adults and comics. He runs the company, doing most of the publishing, whereas I'm still doing illustration and my own books.

Is there one thing that inspired you to do what you do now?

I was always interested in drawing. That was that was my main interest for as long as I can remember. So I always knew that I wanted to do something that had to do with drawing, and I didn't even know what illustration was. When I grew up, I did not come from a very creative environment. I needed to figure all these things out myself.

It's interesting to think back because it's hard for us to imagine, and must be harder for young people today, a world without the Internet. Everything that you saw was what was physically available to you, and I did not have a lot to see when I was a child. I used a local library a lot, but I can't even remember the art section and it was probably not very big. I borrowed a book by Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and that was a huge revelation to me, that I could actually sit down and read about drawing and learn drawing for myself. That just felt like such a powerful thing. I did all the exercises in the book and and got very interested in learning the techniques of drawing. But I don't think I was very aware of what illustrators did.

It was very random, the art that I was exposed to. We had a book on Edvard Munch, so I was very interested in him, and some illustrated fairy tales. But when I came to England it was amazing how the whole world of art and illustration opened up. There was a good library at ARU. We couldn’t afford to buy books back then, so if I saw something that I wanted to remember I would photocopy it and keep it in boxes!

Kristin Roskifte holding a bouquet of flowers
Kristin at the Nordic Council Prize 2019 awards ceremony. Photo: Jonas Fröderberg/

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

I think, in general, it was looking and learning to really observe. And of course drawing! We went on a field trip to Budapest quite early on in the course and that was a huge eye opener for me. We were given a sketchbook each and just told to go out and be inspired, and draw, and try to document as much of the city as we could. We'd meet every evening and have crits, and look at everybody's observations. I absolutely loved that whole experience and the way we learned to really look at things, and to find everything and anything interesting.

That stuck with me, and I remember I made a decision to look at the world like that when we got back as well. I have tried to observe in that way wherever I’ve been ever since. That trip really started a sketchbook habit that I’ve kept ever since, and that has been the most valuable tool in my job by far.

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?

I remember that Martin Salisbury tried to encourage me to do more computer work, and I should have, but that was at a time when no-one had their own computer. We had maybe 5-6 available to us at college, and I knew that if I got really interested in it, I wouldn’t have the possibility to work with it. But of course, by the time I did my MA, I had my computer and learned the basics that I needed. So after my MA, my work was much more computer-based.

Another thing that was very valuable for me in Cambridge was that I was allowed to experiment a lot. I did a lot of personal projects that were very strange and probably didn't have much to do with illustration at all. They were more like conceptual art pieces, but I did drawing obviously. I'm glad I got to experiment with a lot of stuff like that and and I can see a link from what I did back then to my books today. Basically trying to find new ways of seeing the world. My latest book, Everybody Counts, is an idea-based book, not a chronological story, and it has a lot in common with the personal projects I did back then. So I suppose, to trust that your ideas were worth something. Trying things out and trusting your instincts.

Illustration of huge crowd of people looking skywards
Illustration from 'Everybody Counts'

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s tempting to say that I would tell my younger self not to worry so much. I was very worried about the future, whether or not I would manage to make a living from illustration. But at the same time, if I was given that advice, maybe I would have relaxed more and not have worked so hard, and maybe things wouldn't have worked out as well as they have.

And again, the world was so different back then. The illustration world has gradually changed all the way through those twenty four years, and I wouldn’t even have recognised the business today.

What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what did you learn about the city that you didn’t know before?

Cambridge was such a wonderful place. I’d seen nothing like it. To live in a place like that when your biggest passion is drawing is rather amazing. It had everything that I needed at that time, so I remember it being very inspiring.

I met some other art students and we rented a house with an extra room that we could use as a studio. We spent so many hours in that studio. I think university closed at 8.00, and we would draw until late every day. We would sit there and talk and draw. It was such a good atmosphere.

I think my favourite thing was a mixture of everything – the people, the atmosphere, the architecture. Being there with the one purpose to study illustration, to have all the time in the world to just do what I liked the most, was great.

What projects are you currently working on, both at work and outside it?

I have actually finished a sequel to Everybody Counts. It's going to be a series of at least three books, maybe more. I was going to launch it this Autumn, but at the moment I’m almost travelling full-time, reading and talking about Everybody Counts all over the world, so I don’t have much time to draw. But I will work with more focus on my next over Christmas, I hope.

But this Autumn only I’ve been to the Philippines, England, and Germany. I’m going to a book fair in Lithuania next week, and after that a book fair in Mexico. But I’m trying to find time to make more books as well. I always take all my drawing equipment, and if I don’t have time to draw when I’m travelling, I need to finish the trip off by drawing stuff when I get back home. I feel that I’m not really done with a place before I’ve done some sketchbook pages with impressions that I want to remember from it.

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