The Norwegian tells Gary Evans how he overcame a “tendency to argue” to become a successful globe-trotting artist
Even Mehl Amundsen give a refreshingly honest take on the industry and learning to work with others.
The art test called for a modern assassin with an old-school weapon. Even Mehl Amundsen created a range of thumbnails, various styles, different anatomical types, then Volta picked the design it liked most. Next, the visual development studio asked him to come up with an environment for his character. The stakes were high for the young Norwegian artist. Even had just quit art school and needed a job. The Quebec-based studio provided him with a 3D mock-up, so he had to learn photobashing and other new skills for the first time. Even worked on the test for most of the “long, stressful summer” of 2011.
“Seldom have I felt as much dread as the week and a half it took them to get back to me,” the Norwegian says. He was visiting a friend when he got the nod: “I danced around his studio for a solid 10 minutes – yelling incoherently, singing triumphantly.”
Even left Falmouth School of Art, the UK’s number one arts university, because he felt the fees were too high, a gamble that paid off when Volta offered him his dream job as a concept artist. The Norwegian now looks back on this as the greatest milestone of his career so far. But his career faltered before it got going, when he began to “butt heads” with a fellow Volta artist.
A tendency to argue
Even was born in wealthy, conservative Stabekk, to the west of Oslo. Doodling pirate ships and dinosaurs had grown into a more serious hobby by the time he was 15 years old. A few years later, he
discovered concept art and became hooked. After two years at the Einar Granum Fine Arts School in Oslo, he earned a place at Falmouth. By his own admission, he wasn’t a very good student, but he was also dissatisfied with the teaching he received. So after a year, he left.
Even remembers a lot of time in Falmouth spent sitting around in a local cafe and art gallery called Babahogs, drinking coffee, sketching and talking: “Long rambling chats with good friends is a hallowed activity for me, especially when accompanied by the fruits of the grape and the grain. I imagine it’s how some people feel about church.”
The university also taught him, however inadvertently, the importance of “making one’s mind up”. His mind was made up to quit and he was soon on a plane to Canada. He spent three years in Quebec, learning his trade from many artists he looked up to, a “small but very skilled phalanx of heroes”. He also began working for bigger and better clients. The most memorable of which – Even being a self-confessed Tolkien geek – was creating characters for The Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan.
“As for challenges,” he says, “I think getting over my own ego was the one that taught me the biggest lesson, and allowed me to grow the most as an artist.”
At Volta, Even was asked to work with an artist named Arnaud Pheu. The Norwegian’s “tendency to argue” strained the pair’s working relationship, particularly when it came to solving visual problems.
“I have a tendency to argue,” says Even. “Over the years, I’ve learned that while two adults ought to be able to disagree without being disagreeable – but that’s not always the case. However, we both came an understanding of our respective stubbornness, and once we managed to redirect our focus on collaboration rather than insisting on our own visions, we worked tremendously well together.”
These days, Even lives in Copenhagen. He gets out of bed at 7am and runs in his local park. After a shower and breakfast, he walks
I’ve learned adults ought to be able to disagree without being disagreeable – but that’s not always the case
while listening to a podcast to a place he calls Embarrassing Company. He shares a workspace at the illustration studio with Danish artist Jesper Ejsing: “A glowing ball of inspiration and 90s rap lyrics.”
For the first hour or so, Even replies to emails and Facebook messages. Afterwards, he works until around five or six, at which point he begins his daily sketch, a project that culminates with the release of an art book later this year.
Sometimes he’ll sit down and actively decide to create a certain kind of character, then come up with an idea to go with it. Other times he’ll have an overriding idea that leads the pen around the page. “It might be a pose,” he says, “it might be a combination of colours, it might even be a phrase that pops up in my head. The trick is to always be searching.”
For Even routine and discipline go hand in hand. But he does make room for his other great passion: travel.
After three years at Volta, Even heard “the strings of old Europe call.” Coming straight out of a studio job, he was unsure how much he could expect to make, at least his first year, as a freelancer. So he looked for somewhere he could live well but cheaply. Prague seemed perfect.
A few friends had already made the move to Prague and spoke highly of the place. So he spent a year in the Czech capital, establishing himself as a freelance illustrator and concept artists, and “making merry”. Then Blizzard Entertainment asked Even to join them in California.
Highlights of his time in the US include contributing to the cinematic trailer for the third Hearthstone expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods. “I got to do some of the establishing artworks,” he says, “and I did the base design for the troll character. And I had the chance to have my work critiqued by the terrifyingly skilled Laurel D Austin. That sure taught me a few things!”
Even says knowing when to stand his ground and when to back down, a skill he first learned at Volta, is one of the greatest challenges a working artists faces. California wasn’t for him, so he left for Denmark, moving to Copenhagen and returning to freelance work with a newfound talent for diplomacy.
“Working for a client involves interpreting another person’s vision. To do this, it’s very useful to compartmentalise one’s personal pride. You have set that aside for commercial work. This will make you far more open to learning and adapting.”
All about the storytelling
Even is reluctant to describe his own art, preferring to leave that up to others. As well as creating concepts, he’s a gifted illustrator and character designer whose art is always incredibly lit. Rather than separating concept art from illustration, he sees it as all part of the same medium: storytelling. The challenge, he says, is to find the most interesting way of telling the story.
“The central theme I try to pursue is believability. Not realism, mind you. The fine balance of creating something that can be fantastical, but still not beyond the realm of what could work in a world as true as our own.”
Expression, for Even, is far more important than technique. He uses a pen and paper as much as Photoshop. He’s always trying to simplify his process. A new project moves quickly from “generals to specifics”. The artist is conscious of the specific problem he’s trying to solve, so uses a kind of reverse-engineering. He knows where he needs to end up and works backwards from there. He’s also very willing to try a new approach if the current one isn’t working. “I am,” he says, “ready to kill my darlings.”
Even knows the importance of balancing his artistic side with the level-headed common sense needed to be a successful freelancer, which is probably why he’s currently so in-demand as an art teacher, something he’s increasingly doing more of. So far he’s shared pithy advice everywhere from London and Warsaw to Zagreb and St Petersburg.
Pablo Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Even offers students his own, remixed version of this famous quote: “Inspiration,” he says, “is a lovely little minx when she comes around to spice up the day. But Miss Deadline, she has no time to wait for that kind of romantic affair. She’s got stuff to do.”
Inspiration is a lovely little minx. But Miss Deadline has no time for romance
farewell “One of my recurring characters, Birker, and his companions saying farewell to new friends.” white hair “One of the many gods who are explored within my sketch project.” Spirit of the Hunted “Perhaps the most interesting of all the gods that I’ve drawn from my sketch-a-day series, this is Gypla, the spirit of the hunted.”
“Birker, with his two friends, Hedda the Goat and Mickel the Fox, making a narrow escape.” “The assassin was a chance to really put in some hours on rendering, and as a result, it all came out looking a little plasticy. Let that be a lesson – study your materials, kids!” birker Volta art test
“When their borders are threatened, the elves of the Deep Wood send their warriors into battle, armoured in living wood.” “My first piece for Riot, trying to match the quality that the company’s known for, while maintaining a little of my own style as well.” nidalee (Lea gue of Legends) Woodkin
“Gunnar the Giant, one of the many little side characters who I hope I’ll get a chance to revisit.” “Sometimes you must indulge in some Wendling-esque whims, and play with flowing lines. You can learn a lot from doing that.” The singer of pools gunnar