Even Almighty

The Nor­we­gian tells Gary Evans how he over­came a “ten­dency to ar­gue” to be­come a suc­cess­ful globe-trot­ting artist

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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.”

in­spi­ra­tional com­pany

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.

Europe calling

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

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