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In conversation with Kasper Købke

by Cass Art

Kasper Købke is a professional and award-winning Danish Pencil Artist who works internationally, creating very realistic, highly detailed and often large-scale art drawings, all done by hand using graphite and colour pencils. Whether his art is drawn on a regular canvas, directly on walls or on 3D-sculptures, it’s always drawn by hand. He also gives many public speeches and facilitates many drawing workshops, courses and lessons for schoolchildren, companies and adults in Denmark and abroad. 

 

Hi Kasper, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little about your journey as an artist?

Hi Cass Art, you are very welcome. I appreciate that you would like to hear about my journey as an artist. I have been drawing all my life. I have a father (and had a grandfather) that are highly creative and highly skilled in drawing. I remember when I was about 4-5 years old, how eager I was for my father to teach me to shade a baseball bat – I wanted it to be round. He touch me the difference of a convex and a concave, and I was simply amazed of how a fairly simple technique could be so effectful.

To be creative and to draw has been such a naturally thing for my family – to such an extent that I didn’t looked at it as something unique. I though that it was a natural skill for all people to be able to look at an object, and then draw it. Therefore I have never grown-up thinking that I would live as an artist. But long story short, I was asked in 2007 if I could create a 6-meter-long mural of the New York Skyline. Fortunately I was asked in the last month of my summer holiday from the university. If I was asked just one month later I wouldn’t have had time to do it – and then I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have worked as an artist today.
Because when I was standing on the scaffold for a whole month with my drawing pencil in my hand, several people past by – and one couple returned a few times and ended up being my next client – even though my plans just were to finish this mural and then get back to my studies.



But since that day drawing has been my main focus. But I also quickly realized that creating visual artworks can be a very lonely process, and I am an extremely outgoing person.
I love drawing, but if I wanted to make it my full-time job, I had to find a way that my personality could fit in to that. So everything I do in my artistic life starts with the drawing – either I draw myself, or I make everyone else draw. Via drawing workshops, courses, private lessons, and public speeches I teach people to draw and to implement the visual techniques in their own life and work. Because drawing is just as an important skill as reading, writing and math.

I have been fortunate to draw with thousands of children, adults, teachers and artists both in Denmark and abroad – I have seen with my own eyes the deep impact that drawing can do for a orphaned child in a South African township – the very same impact my dad gave me when he learned my to shade when I was 4-5 years old. Drawing has no borders and language barriers – and it’s about much more than lines of a piece of paper. So, bringing out the joy and skills of drawing is very important for me, both personally and as an artist.

Your work is executed with such precision to create scenes of incredible photo realism. What was it about this style that attracted you so much?

Thank you for your kind words - I appreciate them very much. Creating artworks is in my opinion a combination of technique and personality. So, the reason why I draw as I do – or rather why I need to draw, as I do – is due to my personality. For better or worse I am a perfectionist, and I have always been. When I set my mind to a project every detail is important, and that is how it has been all my life. Before I started working as an artist, I could spend a long time (and also too long time) on a task at my work or study – and in hindsight not all tasks need to be done to perfection, they just need to be completed.
But now, in my artwork I can be a perfectionist, implementing as many details as possible.

 What attracts me to this style is the possibility to make the viewer more observant of the world they live in. The high level of details forces the viewer to be more observant, because they know that the artwork is created by hand with only a pencil. They do not just see (unconsciously) the details that I have drawn, they observer them consciously. And when they meet the same or similar objects or scenes in real life, they start to observe them consciously – rather than just see them unconsciously. I love to put many layers of details in my artworks. So, one thing are the visual details – but another thing is the details of the storyline or message I want to tell. ll my artworks start with a sentence, a headline, or a message – and from there I evolve my visual stories with my drawing pencil. If I were an author, I would write my stories – but I am an artist, so I draw my stories. An example of that is that I have researched and implemented the entire life of the fairy tale poet Hans Christian Andersen in to 14 of his world-famous fairy tales. I have done that throughout 67 drawings published in a fairy tale book. So, the drawings tell the 14 fairy tales – but at the same thing they visually tell the entire life of Hans Christian Andersen.

Are there any artists/illustrators that have influenced your career and how?


Well that is a good question. I get influent all the time by many different artists. For example, on social medias and at art fairs, galleries, and museums. During these Covid-19 times I am more than pleased that there are a so well-developed online community of artists. Because all artists need to be influent to be able to develop their own artistic expression. In my opinion the bad influence is just as important as the good influence – because I need to know what my options are. What can I do, and what can I not do? I can get influent by a visual expression or by a work method – either because I want to do the same, or because I would never do the same. But all inputs help me create my personal artistic path. Therefore, it is almost impossible for me to name a single or a few artists that have influenced me That said I can say that in my childhood and as a young adult my father and grandfather had a clear influence on my artistic development, both technically and mentally. My family comes from a long line of artistic expression, so my father and grandfather have also been influent, taught and mentored by their fathers and grandfathers – all the way back to my ancestor Christen Købke, who is one of the famous Danish Golden age painters from the 19th century. His work is exhibited in museums all over the world, for example at the National Gallery in London. So, his work of course has an influence on me, but more on a mental level, than on a technically level.

 

How do you go about choosing the scenes you want to depict? What is it about them you’re drawn to?


I love to tell visual stories, as mentioned before. So, I love to select scenes that already contains a lot of historical references, and then implement my story visually in that scene – and thereby I create even more layers of references, both historical and on a reflective level. I have drawn many scenes from the Copenhagen cityscapes, because Copenhagen is an old and historical capital with many preserved buildings, monuments, and public squares etc. – but also because I was living in the centre of Copenhagen in the beginning of my artistic career.

On my list of ideas I have so many scenes, locations, objects etc. from around the world that I want to draw. And every time I begin a new artwork for a client, I take out my list to see which ideas I can implement in the new artwork. So even though most of my artworks are commissioned, I always implement my own ideas into the brainstorm I have with my clients – and in the end I decide fully how the final image composition of the artwork will be. Due to my many details I am what you can call ‘a slow drawer’. But I slowly get through my list of ideas when implementing them in all my artworks – the “problem” is though that the more I draw, the more ideas I get – but that is actually also a good “problem” ?.

 

The Daylight range is obviously key to your practice. If we were to wander into our studio what products would we find and why are these integral to your practice?

Yes, the Daylight Company lamps are an essential part of my work. I need the absolute best daylight I can get on my artworks – and I need to be able to easily change the level of brightness and the angel/direction of the light source, because I draw both very large-scaled, and within a wide range of contrast from very dark/black areas on my artworks to very bright/white. So I have always light coming from many directions when drawing – so if you visit my studio you will find Daylight Company’s Luminos lamp, the Techne Artist and Drafting lamp, the Slimline 3 Table, the Aura Ring Lamp, the Omega 5 magnifier, and the Wafer lightbox in size A3 and A2.

Over the last 12 months it’s been so strange for us all in every aspect of life. But from a creative perspective how have you found it? Have you found it stifled your output, inspired it or little affect?

It was sure a punch to my stomach when the whole world shut down. So, for about half an hour I was speechless (which does not happen often), and in a bit of a chock of what to do now. But then I started to think constructive. What could I do now? I could of course continue creating my artworks in my studio, but all my workshops, courses, public speeches etc. was cancelled or rescheduled. So how could I reach my audience and clients now – and more important, what did they need now? Within 2 days I had organized a production of 10 funny and teachable films of drawing games, that you can do with your kids at the dining table.

During the next 10 weeks we publish a new film each Saturday morning on several social medias. On Facebook alone, the films have gained more than 150.000 views in Denmark – which is a very good number for our small country. The side effect of the films has been several new clients throughout the year, which I am sure that I would not have reached without these films. In my production of artworks I have found a lot of inspiration in the current situation. For example, now I am working on an artwork for a client with the title ‘Together’. A title that is a clear reference to the Covid-19 – but as it is for me, also a reference to several other things, for example to the client’s own life and to the selected scene.

In the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown I was also inspired to create other artworks. For example, I created one called ‘Bananas’, about a banana that is being chased by a monster, and therefore doesn’t see that it is about to slip on a banana peel – one of its own. That artwork has been published in some magazines afterwards. So, I have found my way through the pandemic, and I have no doubt that I will get all the way through it – but both artistic and personally I cannot wait for the world to open again – even though it will be a new world.

 

You’re clearly a prolific artist, do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who is struggling to find a creative spark?


Oh that is a difficult question, because we all get inspired in different ways. But what I do myself is that I continue to draw. What I mean by that is that when I draw, I get inspired what to draw next. Sometimes I just draw one stroke after the other, without any set goal – because the drawn stroke inspires my what to draw next, and slowly a motif appears. To be more concrete about what I mean; You get inspired when you do create, not when you think about creating. So, no matter what artistic field you are working in put your tools in front of you, and start ‘doing’, instead of ‘thinking of doing’. When you create your mind is more open to new inputs, and therefore you get more creative when you create. If you are completely new to the creative field, and you are struggling with fitting it in to your daily routines - or if you are an artist who has lost your creative spark – I would definitely recommending you to start out with time scheduling your creativity.
Yes, it might sound odd to schedule when to be creative. But that is possible. Especially in the beginning to make it a routine for you – both quite concretely and mentally.

Find a spot in your home or studio where you can leave your creative tools out for a week. You must be able to see it all the time, and don’t have to spend time setting it up every day. Then, for one week, you must schedule 15 minutes each day to use your creative tools. Set the alarm on your phone for 15 minutes. When the alarm ring you stop creating. For each day and each 15 minutes you will for sure find a change in your creativity.

 After one week you can increase the sessions to 20 minutes – and so forth. This is a particularly good way to kick off your creative spark – or to maintain/increase it. I still use this method myself if I find my creative spark fading. And yes, that still happens from time to time – and it will continue to happen all through my life. That is just how it is – but I know how to get through it, and now you know too.

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