Header from Twitter: Credit to Pernille, Sebastian Spasic, and Adobe
Pernille Ørum is one of those artists whose very resume blows you away: She practically hit the ground running as a world-class character designer out of college, working for Disney, Warner Brothers, and Dreamworks; went on to concept for movies and TV; and drew a series of Hit Girl comics scripted by Kevin Smith—a longtime fan of her work who sought her out. …All while becoming an Instagram sensation with almost a million followers and Kickstarter-funding three art books that exceeded her goals: The Art of Pernille Ørum, Coral, and Blush. Relevant to our topic, she’s also put out a collection of Mermay drawings intuitively called Mermaids in May.
She’s known as one of the internet’s favorite stylists: Highly simplified, fluid, and exaggerated enough to make her work instantly recognizable even among the myriad of artists on Instagram with Disney-inspired styles.
If you’re interested in finding your own style and developing appealing character designs, I recommend checking out this how-to interview with digital painter and her fellow Wacom partner Bobby Chiu:
She’s originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, but—as I found out during the interview—has since moved to Nairobi, Kenya with her partner to pursue his anthropology work. “I love the new environment and the inspiration it gives,” she says.
For MerMay, she’s working with Wacom on a big collaborative project we’ll be revealing nearer the end of the month, and she’s one of the most experienced artists with the hashtag, having been involved with it since the beginning and forging a friendship with creator Tom Bancroft.
I spoke to her via email.
What captivates you about mermaids?
I’ve been fascinated by them ever since I was a kid, although not sure why, to be honest. It must have originated with my love for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which has had a huge influence on my life and was what I dreamt of [making]. But it has evolved into a fascination for the myth itself and the whole world surrounding the creatures. There’s a certain aesthetic that I love about mermaids and their world, which is fun to try and emulate.
From Mermaids in May
What are your favorite prompts on the chart this year?
I normally don’t use the prompt list, both because creating a new mermaid every day is too much with my other work right now, and because I like to draw what I feel like that day. This is something I do for fun after a day at work, so I try and keep it light—but if I were to choose one, I like ‘wrath,’ since I can already picture it when I read the word. There’s a great contrast between a beautiful mermaid and the word ‘wrath.’
Did being friends with Tom get you into MerMay, or did you meet him later?
No, I think we’d met a few times and I had been on his podcast, but it was the subject, which I already loved, and the idea behind it, that drew me into it in the first place. Our friendship has grown much more since then, but that’s just a side perk.
What other projects—either personal or for work—are you most excited about right now?
I have a book which just came out this month: The Art of Pernille Ørum. I was supposed to have a book reception and solo exhibition to celebrate it along with the MerMay show at [Los Angeles pop art space] Gallery Nucleus this month, but we had to cancel. Other than that, I can’t disclose what I’m working on right now.
Speaking of current events, I heard in an interview that in order to keep your work-life balance, you had a policy of never working from home and not keeping art supplies around in your time off. How have you been adjusting to quarantine? Have you been able to effectively move your studio home?
It had already changed before the quarantine. Early last year, I moved to Kenya where I’ve set up a nice home office, although the plan is to have an office in another location at some point later. I still try to implement the rules from before: I have a room … which is only used for work and drawing, and it has worked very well: just leaving the room when I’m off from work and not bringing it outside.
You work at a frankly insane rate of speed. Are you still keeping that up, and if so, do you have any productivity tips for artists in quarantine?
I have been keeping up pretty well, but I can feel the strain starting to happen. Work-wise, nothing has changed for me, but not having a social life and doing stuff after work takes a toll on the creativity and dries out the inspiration. That’s what I find hardest, to not get the input that sparks creativity—which is why the time is perfect for Mermay right now: It gives the drawings an inspiration and direction.
Pernille’s work can be found at pernilleoe.dk, at PernillesShop on Etsy, or on Twitter or Instagram at @pernilleoerum. She can be contacted for work through her agent Ellen Mersereau.
Answers edited and images used with permission.
About the Interviewer
CS Jones is a Philadelphia-based writer and illustrator. The former is best seen at thecsjones.com, and the latter at @thecsjones on Instagram.