a talk with oslo-based illustrator isabelle feliu

we came to discover isabelle feliu's work as we were browsing our instagram feed one day, and saw this illustration made for paloma wool. the woman was grand and magnificent, the colors soft but striking. we got curious and were surprised to know she was a canadian from quebec city, now living in oslo, norway. that's how we reached out to isabelle and asked her a few questions about her illustrations and the scandinavian way of life.

firstly, how has your day been?

my day has just started, but i think it is going to be a nice one. it's friday and it's sunny, which doesn’t happen so often in oslo!

do you have a morning ritual – what do you do when you wake up?

i first drink coffee, and then go directly to my office (across my living room) and start working. i recently started doing some exercises in the morning to try to be in better shape, but who knows how long that will last!

you’re originally from quebec city, canada. how did you end up in oslo, norway?

i met a norwegian man! also, i wasn’t very satisfied with my routine in montreal; after finishing school, i started working as a fashion assistant designer in montreal, it was interesting and i learned a lot of things, but i really wasn’t fulfilled. i wanted a job that would allow me to travel and i wanted some action. things needed to change so when i met my boyfriend, i also saw it as an opportunity to discover a new place and make that change i was waiting for.

what is your main source of inspiration? does living in norway influence your work somehow?

i started out with fashion as a main source of inspiration, and it still is very important to me. but i am also very inspired by nature and animals, architecture and interiors. i think what inspires me the most is to travel, i love traditional clothing and to discover new foods. i see all of these things as elements i could potentially include in my illustrations.

norway and scandinavia in general are very inspiring places for everything that is interior design. the prices of a lot of scandinavian designers are quite affordable (not only ikea) so it is normal here to have a nice, tidy home and care about these things. it is really part of everyday life! i must say that my tastes in design changed quite a bit since i have moved here. i really love these modern, clean lines and i often try to include furniture pieces in my illustrations.

we’ve read that you have a background in fashion design and merchandising - why did you turn to illustration, rather than build a career in the fashion industry? what made you change your mind?

i really love fashion and i would love to have my own line someday soon, maybe inspired from my illustrations. it has been very useful for me to have that background, especially when i work with fashion clients. but i think i was just not cut out for that kind of career; as i said before i worked as a fashion assistant, and i also did a lot of internships in many different countries. at that time, i didn’t really know what i wanted to do for the rest of my life, but i knew that it was not it; the routine of working 9 to 5 for a company was a bit hard on me, i never got used to it – even though i work much more than that now. i didn’t feel so efficient and as i am a bit of an introvert, it was a bit difficult for me to stay focused with a lot of people around me. i also wanted the freedom and flexibility of working for myself.

being self-employed and doing something creative feels like the right thing to do for me. i never would have thought i would end-up being an illustrator, but when i first moved to norway, due to the language issue it was impossible for me to find a job. i just started doing what I loved and took it from there. i am very happy i didn’t find a job and got the time to figure out what i really wanted to do, even if it wasn’t so easy at the beginning.

your work is very colorful! was this your way of coping with the canadian / norwegian winter dullness? 

i think so! i have never been a winter person. i find myself daydreaming about tropical landscapes a lot. i am half honduran and i really think i belong somewhere warm and tropical. maybe someday!

the women you create come in various shapes and forms, and from different ethnicity. is it important to you, to showcase diversity throughout your work?

yes, it is very important to me to showcase diversity even though i didn’t really think about it when i first started developing my style, it was just the way i loved to paint and draw. when i started getting some attention on instagram, i got so many positive comments from women who felt empowered by the illustrations and it really motivated me to develop and explore that aspect of my style even more.

what keeps you focused while you’re working – what’s your mood music?

i don’t really listen to music when i work. when i sketch and paint, i often watch telenovelas – yes, over dramatic mostly mexican soap operas. it must be something uncomplicated that i won’t need to look at to understand. somehow it needs to be in spanish. it’s like it takes the stress away.

then, when i photoshop or work on the computer, i love to listen to audio books. but it needs to be books i have read before or otherwise i can’t concentrate. i recently went through the whole harry potter series, and now i am listening to jane eyre. sometimes i’ll listen to music, but it can be anything really! from classic to kendrick lamar.

any cool projects you’re currently working on? or a collab you dream about?

this summer, i am concentrating on personal work. i would like to open my original illustration online shop at the end of the summer, and i am working on my selection and on some new work that will make it look coherent.

i am also working on little collabs, one for the hotel manapany that will open soon in saint-barth and another for the women’s clothing brand, nanushka.

in the future, i would definitely love to make more collabs with magazines – especially frankie magazine that i have been dreaming of since it came out. i would also love to work with many designers like rachel comey, samuji, delpozo, vivetta… there are so many!

when you’re not working, what do you like to do?

i honestly mostly work all the time. but i also love going to restaurants, discover nice spots in the city like bars and stores, and of course, travel!

any favorite spots in oslo we should check out?

there are so many! if you want to go for a drink, you should definitely check out torggata botaniske, fuglen, summit 21 and himkok. if you want to go shopping for clothes, i would say yme, eger on karl johan street or f5, and if you just want to have a nice walk, akker brygge, the opera or vigeland park. in any case, you need to be mentally prepared for the prices! everything is horribly expensive here compared to canada.