Australian Fine Artist

Oslo Davis

Visiting Artist Talk
Chisholm TAFE Frankston

When the visiting artists begins his chat by saying something like “I am an observer of the bizarre and the funny” you know you are in for an interesting talk. I have to admit up front that I do not read The Age newspaper, so had not heard of Oslo. It came as a pleasant surprise to have him take the time to talk to us today, as well as showing some of his work.

As well as showing his early sketches in his visual diaries, he also showed us progress shots of his process of building up the text and drawing for his cartoons. Not a lot of artists will show off the process in such detail, and explain the creative thinking behind the final product we see printed or exhibited.

Oslo covered a lot in his talk, and I want to hit on the main points. The first that comes to mind is his dedication to drawing. I am one who agrees that drawing is the basis of most if not artworks. Be it a painting, sculpture, print or graphic novel the ability to draw I feel and it seems Oslo does as well, that drawing and the continual practice and improvement of drawing skills is of major importance.

Oslo has racks of full visual diaries that he worked in when overseas sitting at cafés or walking around, from observations when travelling around Melbourne as well as a lot of reading and looking at art that he likes. He also showed us shelves full of books on art and other topics that he uses for reference and inspiration. He has a few cartoonists that he admires and has learnt some great ideas from their techniques.

Another point that I liked about Oslo was that he has chosen mediums that he likes to use for his cartoons and has developed a look for his work and a palette that he likes to use. He allows himself room to change from one medium to another and also to incorporate the use of scanning and Photoshop for finishing off his work before submitting. Technology can be a handy tool for not only advertising etc, but can be a great tool for fine artists and illustrators as Oslo has shown us today.

To ensure that he always meets deadlines Oslo has a store of four to five pieces on hand at any time as backups. When going on holiday he has more ready to send in, which is a level of professionalism that I also like.

Material for many of his works is taken from conversations and situations that he sees in real life on any day in the city. I think we forget that we say and do things that are funny if looked at from a by-stander’s point of view. Taking a normal situation and tweaking it to get the absurd or the silly into it is a kind of humour that isn’t hurtful or mean… it’s just funny.

Commissions and projects was another topic that Oslo talked about. Having multiple income streams is a good idea for any artist, and he is no exception. He has been asked to illustrate books, design advertising and concepts for festivals and supply cartoons for newspapers and magazines overseas as well as in Australia. The process of working in a committee or work group he said was one of co-operation and learning what to stand your ground on and what you can let go. A certain amount of compromise will always happen when working on a project in groups as each puts in their ideas. It can be a matter of observing company guidelines or “looks” or listening to the manner and type of people you are dealing with and the kind of work they are looking for and how you can help them achieve it.

Top Tips

Here are Oslo’s tips for working illustrators and artists:

  1. Influence: look at others’ work
  2. Marinate: absorb yourself in art that you admire
  3. Notebooks: keep records of ideas
  4. Attraction: work out what you like
  5. Juxtapose: combine things in your art that don’t ordinarily go together
  6. Language: check your words and language – especially when cartooning or making social commentary
  7. Be Silly: have a sense of humour with your art
  8. Understanding: find out what you are about and what makes you tick

Final Thoughts

The world of newspapers is changing rapidly, we keep hearing that print is dead and soon on line is the only place we will see the news and all the things that normally go in a paper. I know that has been true as far as graphic artists and pre-press is concerned. The industry has changed a lot in the past ten years and many tasks are now obsolete or rolled into having to understand digital and web production. A lot of print based workers have therefore been made redundant.

I don’t really see the same happening for what Oslo does. The web doesn’t change the liking of people for humour, in fact is provides more room by taking away the restriction of page sizes of printed media. The outlet is different but the process isn’t other than getting the image to a digital format for uploading. How papers in the future pay cartoonists for their services in an era where many think that anything on the web is free is another issue.

Oslo said that we need to get out and network, talk to art directors, editors, marketing managers etc about what we do. Convince them that we have valuable skills to provide and that they can be adapted for new technologies. As long as we prove our value and people see that value, we will have a place for our work. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, I know that I wonder “why would this person want to talk to me, I am nobody”, but if we (or I) don’t get past this negative thinking about ourselves, we will not get noticed, and will not achieve any measure of success – especially if we wish to be a professional and/or run our own business.

I think we were left with a lot to think about as well as enjoyable experience today. It was good to have someone do a presentation that the Illustration students could relate to as well as the rest of us.

Thank you Oslo for a fun and thought provoking talk. I very much enjoyed meeting you.

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