Artist of the Month in the sales department - Cecilie Maurud Barstad

Sep 1, 2023

Artist of the Month is an interview series where Tegnerforbundet each month introduces a member who is represented with artwork in our Sales Department. With this initiative, we want to give readers an insight into the members' artistic work and highlight the importance of drawing in their work.


Cecilie Maurud Barstad is a versatile illustrator, writer and artist. Whatever project she works on or technique she uses, it is all about careful observations and studies that are conveyed with warmth and presence. The fact that she is also a writer is evident in her pictures - she is a unique storyteller. Barstad holds a BA in Graphic Design from Central St. Martins and a Master of Management from the Norwegian School of Economics (BI). Barstad is one half of the illustration duo Gilles & Cecilie. She has founded and runs The Traveling Drawing Club. Barstad holds workshops and lectures for institutions such as St. Martins, Winchester School of Art, CASS, Parsons New School and LCC. As a graphic designer, she has distinguished herself with Rear Window - Vinduet mot bakgården. The book won gold in 2021 at Grafill. The text and images in this book depict life outside the window during lock-down and covid. Barstad has been a member of Tegnerforbundet for 2 years. Cecilie Maurud Barstad lives and works from London.

TF: Cecilie, can you tell us a bit about your artistic work?  

CMB: One of my favorite things to do is to draw. It's my place to be. I draw everyday life, the surroundings, the close things. I draw and write to figure things out, to solve problems and to create new things. Since 2006 I have worked together with Gilles in Gilles and Cecilie Studio. We work with mural painting, illustration and animation. In our job, we have to learn about new themes and issues that the client presents to us. We find it exciting and meaningful to work with organizations such as Amnesty International, Unicef and the Red Cross where we have used drawing, text, sound and animation to convey important messages for a better world.

Drawing can help explain something that is complex in a simpler way. Even though my job is to make pictures, I often draw in my spare time. I draw when I get up. I draw when I'm on the bus. I draw when I'm waiting for someone. I draw on vacation and I draw while watching movies or even while watching dance or ballet. I'm interested in people and what they do and how they move. I overhear conversations, observe body language, clothing and movements. That's what I like to draw. The project Vinduet mot Bakgården was a collection of observations and drawings I made in 2020, the year it was so steep.

TF: Why do you draw? Tell us a little about your work process.

CMB: I draw because it's my way of expressing myself. Ever since I was little, I've been doing handicrafts. In first grade at school, I learned cursive and practiced every day to be able to write the best cursive. I drew to tell stories, to keep a diary and to document chemistry exercises at school. I still do diary and storytelling, it has become my job. I draw to emphasize what I want the recipient to notice. I like to draw to save moments that I want many people to discover, or stop to dwell on.

My process is very much about seeing. I draw what I see. Images, text and melodies happen inside my head from the time I get up until I go to bed. I live in the city. I've lived in the city all my adult life. I don't have a car. I have a bicycle. I cycle and walk. And sometimes I take the bus. Because the bus has a view. I like to glide by. Past parks, houses, street corners. Every neighborhood tells a story, every street and every house. Walking past houses, streets and parks gives me different impressions. It makes me happy to see large colorful surfaces that give me hope and joy. I can get excited if I walk past an exciting constructed playground (like the play tower in Bjørvika) or a colorful climbing wall. It's a completely open invitation to move. It makes me sad that urban spaces are abandoned as dustbins and gathering places for windblown rubbish, that hidden corners become toilets. That forgotten streets become invisible.

My job is to create something and as a person who creates, my tool is to sense. I observe, I see, I smell, I feel, I taste, I hear. Every moment is taken in with care. I work with illustrations, it is being able to explain something that is often abstract, that is difficult to talk about, drawing can emphasize, illuminate, explain in a completely different way than text, or particularly well with text. The best drawings speak to the text and give the audience something extra to think about.

We work creatively together with the commissioner, acquiring knowledge about the theme, discussing, asking questions, I like to think of my profession as a kind of detective. In the studio, we have to put together color palettes that communicate, lines that create an image, stories that help tell the story. It provides a pause to linger, to think, to laugh, to cry, to wonder, to criticize, to be an observant collector of what is happening around us.

Illustration is a language, a visual language that can be found everywhere in the world, from symbols, logos, calligraphy, monograms, the newspaper, in patterns, on the milk carton, the rhubarb juice, the jam, in books, on TV, the internet, the mobile phone. Endlessly, almost everything around us, yet there is so much to learn about this, because what does a hand really look like, how big is a body compared to a head? I will spend a lifetime drawing my loved ones without seeing them in front of me.

More specifically, I try as best I can to separate the creative process from the editing process. First I draw and write a lot. Then I lay everything out on the floor, table and wall. I move things around and next to each other, subtract and add. I also show it to colleagues to get concrete feedback. Finally, it becomes a series of drawings, a book, an article...

TF: Can you name any cartoonists/illustrators who inspire you?

CMB: Oh dear. That's not easy. The list is really very long. I'm making a list here of some names that inspire. I'd like to write why too, but that's almost an article in itself. Vivian Zahl-Olsen, Turi, Marimekko, Tove Jansson, Anna Fiske, Mari Kanstad Johnsen, Åshild Kanstad Johnsen, Trond Bredesen, Bjørn Brochmann, Henri Matisse, Frode Skaren, Anette Moi, Renate Thor, Peter Blake, Alexander Calder, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Gilbert & George, William Hogarth, Ron Campbell,

TF: What themes concern you as an artist?

CMB: Unifying, diverse and colorful urban spaces. Creating places that invite conversation and discussion between buildings and indoors where many people move around. I'm also interested in drawing and artists. I find it very exciting to talk to practitioners and the profession. I want to contribute to the visibility of drawing by writing about it, discussing it and organizing events around drawing like our traveling drawing club we started in 2011 (so far we have held 50 drawing clubs around the world, from Cape Town to Tokyo). Last spring I was in Bologna to visit the children's book fair. I wrote a travel letter.

This fall, I will be attending the book fair in Guadalajara, where I am one of five delegates from the European Illustrator Forum (EIF) who will participate to strengthen ties so that together we can improve illustrators' rights and working conditions worldwide.

I'm interested in communicating the subject and the profession in general. How important it is that ownership of the works you create lies with the creator. Why drawing is important as a craft and language.

TF: What is the role of illustration and drawing today?

CMB: I think it's important that illustration and drawing become a natural and important part of the design process early on. To explain, to help convey complex things, to communicate with text in an inviting way. In our career, illustration is often commissioned at the very end of a project. But when we get the opportunity to be involved early in the process, we develop better products. So I want all designers and illustrators to talk more about what they do and why this job is important.

Why should we care? Is design just decoration? And when did most people forget that arts and crafts are one of the most important building blocks in everyone's life? Making something with your hands extends life. It's sustainable. It gives meaning. It's quality. It improves mental health. It is heritage and belonging and culture in many homes. Some of us specialize in these subjects that become our work, our profession and our practice.

As practitioners, we must be active participants in communicating the importance of this knowledge and, not least, the importance of the design method to the general public. It can help save the world. I'm also very interested in comic books/ comics/ graphic novels and how it helps to increase the joy of reading among children and young people. I have a responsibility as a parent to contribute to the joy of reading.

TF: What does it mean to draw for you in your work?

CMB: Everything! Drawing is part of the whole process, from idea to finished work. I draw every single day, both for myself and as part of my job. Drawing by hand with different tools on different surfaces is very important when I think of new things. Sometimes I have a tool in my hand, I move my hand and just draw without thinking about what it's going to be. I follow the line. Other times I draw what I see, especially landscapes, architecture and people on the move. I write as much as I draw, which is why my sketchbooks are full of short sequences of text and images. Illustrated short stories or graphic novels, if you want to categorize them.

TF: Tell us a little about your work in Tegnerforbundet's sales department!

CMB: I have prints from The Window to the Backyard and originals from The Masterpiece Series in the Cartoonists' Association's sales department.

Backyard window

A colorful book about a neighborhood in a state of emergency. From the balcony where she lives, illustrator and author Cecilie Maurud Barstad has observed, studied and drawn her neighbors during the corona pandemic. Through short texts and wonderful illustrations, we gain insight into the inner and outer lives of the various neighbors, their thoughts, dreams or worries, longing, waiting and turning points. Here we find warm and warm reflections from a time when everything was turned upside down. Small everyday observations that many will recognize themselves in. (Text: Nina Ansten, Ansten Press.)

TheMasterpiece Series - Drawings from The National Gallery, London

Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated by history. Especially when you could see paintings that described the time when photography had not yet been discovered. I could dream away in Turner's landscapes and I was one of those on the boat in The Bridal Voyage in Hardanger. I immersed myself in storms, flower meadows and Edvard Munch's dances. When I moved to London, I discovered the National Gallery, where you can go through world history through art. That's where I go when I need inspiration. I explore history and draw new images based on themes that touch me, often the love drama and humor in Hogarth's illustrations or the sacred and serious in 17th century paintings. I usually draw a frame within the sheet where I want to work and use the shoulder edges to test out colors, write notes and scribble.

See available by Cecilie Maurud Barstad in the online store.