Stockholm-based artist Chantal Horeis creates fantastical illustrations that allow us to escape into enchanting and soothing dreamlike worlds.
Chantal joins us on Close-up Culture for an insightful talk about her artistic journey and what art means to her.
Q: How did you start out as artist and what did art initially offer you as a person?
A: Since childhood, I have always been drawing and was highly encouraged in that by my surroundings. I loved anime, Disney movies and video games – I would draw my favourite characters all the time.
We had a lot of children in the neighbourhood and we used to be outside in the woods or the nearby school grounds pretending to be witches or heroes in magical worlds. I still remember and envy how vivid our imagination was back then. Everything could turn into an old castle or a gigantic ship, sailing away into the unknown. I remember coming home at night and drawing our adventures, handing everyone character sheets the next day.
During that time art was an escape, just like the role-playing. We had our problems in the family and this is how I dealt with it – I think. I never planned on becoming an artist, though. Until very late in high school I’d preferred to become a scientist or a doctor.
Towards the end of high school, I changed these plans and wanted to become a traditional painter. I don’t remember why I changed my original plans. For some reason I had not really an idea about the more entertainment, digital art industry, although, as I said, I enjoyed the products that came out of it.
So I went to a traditional art school for two years, which was not a good fit for me. It was not really traditional in the sense of old mastery painting, the art there was rather conceptual and it was hard to find someone to teach you drawing or painting, really, which was disappointing to me.
Shy as I was, I tried really hard to fit into this pretentious world of mostly very eccentric people. I made some really good friends there too, to be fair, but most of the people there scared me. And so I left without graduating.
I then moved to southern Germany to study cognitive science. Art didn’t seem like the right fit for me and, as I said, I had no idea about all the different fields there are in art. I totally lost my interest in becoming and artist and instead studied the human mind. For a while, I completely forgot about art. I would doodle from time to time but I didn’t share my work with anyone.
Part of my curriculum was to learn programming and so I was using computers more extensively. My husband – boyfriend back then – introduced me to concept art for movies and games during that time and I was hooked immediately. Suddenly I was spending more time studying digital painting and 3D modelling than anything else and landed my first internship at a local game studio before even finishing my Bachelors degree.
I did that a few months later though and also got a job offer from that game studio. So I worked there as a concept artist for about three years, mostly concepting characters and some sort of machines. I would always create my own work on the side though and learned how to express myself better.
By then I knew that art can be so many things and that I had the power to find or create my own niche. This was also the time I got into sharing my work on social media.
Q: I get transported to this soothing dreamlike realm when I look at your work. Can you tell us more about your mixed media approach to art and your journey to discovering this style?
A: I am happy to hear that, thank you.
As mentioned, I do have traditional and digital routes when it comes to art. And for a very long time I thought I had to decide between the two. I had phases where I was sure I would only draw with pencils for the rest of my life and that that had to be my fixed style now. Other times I was so fascinated by all the possibilities digital work has to offer.
I did not have to choose of course, but I think, like many artists, I spend a lot of time and energy into finding my unique, recognisable voice. It felt like I had to sort this out before being able to call myself a legit artist – which is not true and there will probably never be a time where I think that I know exactly what my style is.
It is enough for me to have a feeling for my own preferences when it comes to my work but I have to keep myself from trying to define my style. This always ends with weird formulas in which I try to imitate “myself”.
Since I could not choose between traditional and digital, I gradually started to create textures using traditional tools on paper and scanned them in or digitally coloured my pencil drawings. To be honest, it felt like faking something in the beginning, but I’m totally over that now.
Q: What do you think your art says – if anything at all – about you as a person?
A: Interesting, I love that question. Hm… definitely that I am a huge daydreamer, I guess, that I have a lot of things going on in my head, worlds and stories.
Since my characters are all by themselves usually, I would assume that people think I enjoy being alone, calm and quite – which is often true but not all of the time, haha. I obviously get caught up in tiny details and love repetitive visual structures/patterns.
Lastly, I hope it shows that I love to enjoy beautiful little moments in life. This is a rather recent development and topic in my work.
Q: You recently did a sci-fi illustration that made me yearn for a film based on the aesthetic of your work. Do you draw inspiration from films or any other forms of storytelling?
A: Now I really want to now which one it is. I love when an illustration has an effect on someone. And I totally do draw inspiration from films! I love sci-fi stories, currently I am eagerly waiting for Fridays to give me a new episode of Star Trek Discovery. Anything that has a futuristic, dystopian vibe or a story that mixes something magical into reality is always welcomed as well.
I am also someone who is easily pleased by just incredible world-building and effects. I know a lot of people would dismiss some movies I enjoyed because the stories were bad. But I can look past that and just enjoy awesome character designs or concepts of fantastic architecture or nature. Of course I can appreciate a good story as well.
Games can be a huge inspiration too. If you have never heard of the video game GRIS before, check it out. It is the most beautiful game I have ever played, both visually but also the story and soundtrack are fantastic. I also started to watch Critical Role, which is basically a bunch of amazing voice actors playing D&D on Twitch. I would have never thought I’d be into that but it’s super inspiring and fun. So yes, all of these things inspire me and I usually walk away from them with an intense itch to draw.
Q: You have chosen to be an independent artist and people can support you on Patreon and/or by purchasing prints. What does this path entail and why is it more appealing to you than freelance or studio work?
A: We are very lucky that we live in a time where social media and pages like Patreon are a thing. I have so many ideas and little stories in my head that I want to tell eventually. It would definitely be much harder to make an income doing that without these possibilities.
Having people giving you a few dollars every month to see you do more of what you already do is just wonderful and gives you complete creative freedom. But of course, having no one telling you what to create can sometimes weigh you down as well because you want to make the right decisions about your work so your audience stays excited.
I have to be careful not to get stuck into what I think they want from me, but rather keep walking my own track and trust that there will be people wanting to follow along. The entire path or only parts of it, which is fine too. My work will develop over time and I don’t want to stop that just to play it save and serve what people are used to get.
And concerning freelance or studio work, I guess I just don’t like to compromise when it comes to my art. I know it can be fuelling and fun to collaborate or draw what you normally wouldn’t, but it usually frustrates me. I think I don’t draw just for the sake of it, but to communicate something from inside myself and I like to keep full control over that.
Q: You have done live-streams with fellow independent artists such as Djamila Knopf and Lorena Lammer. Is it important to create this sense of community as an independent artist?
A: I think so, yes, at least for me. Working for myself means, that I don’t have co-workers to exchange thoughts with or just chat. I am by myself most of the time during the day, which I don’t mind.
But having this community of artist friends who have a similar lifestyle and understand what it is that’s bothering you, cheer each other up or are excited about each other’s successes is important. In the end, this independent artist thing is a lifestyle, you can’t just work towards the next finished project and hate your life all the way through. The process has to be what’s enjoyable for you as well and connections will enrich your everyday artist-life for sure.
I’ve heard once that a sense of belonging is something very important for us humans and I guess this plays into that.
Q: You’ve built a wonderful online audience. What do you hope to achieve with this following you have? And by extension, how important do you believe art can be in the age of social media?
A: I have read comments that showed me that my work actually has an effect on people, although I never believed it could for a very long time. I thought people might just enjoy a pretty picture. And there is nothing wrong with that, of course.
But reading that it made people feel, think or even do something is incredible, so I definitely see that I can have an impact, even a small one. If I am able to put small messages or emotions into the world I want to take the conscious responsibility to make this place a tiny bit more meaningful and happy. And that is a perspective that motivates me a lot.
I think for a very long time I drew and shared my work just to be seen. Now I rather want other people, who see my work on social media, to feel seen or just smile when they see an illustration. I want to give them something to feel enchanted and relaxed by after a long and stressful day, to inspire them or make them remember something beautiful they’ve forgotten.
Not all of them and not all of it at once of course, but just spreading a few happy sparks of joy and meaning here and there. Just for a brief moment.
Q: Can you share any notable interactions or standout responses you’ve had from your audience?
A: I have people that followed my work and that I have become friends with over time. I met some of them in person which is always wonderful. Someone once commented they had a really bad week and that my work just made them smile.
Last month, I posted an illustration showing two people cuddling. People messaged me that it made them want to see and be close to their loved ones or just linked their favourite person below the image. I love when people share one of my illustrations with their audience to tell something about themselves, commenting something like: “this is so me”.
When I posted a drawing of a girl cutting her hair, I got so many messages and comments of people telling me their story of when they went through a big change and chopped their hair off. Some people tell me that seeing my work motivated them to draw again, which is incredible. All these interactions make me love what I do and give me a valuable perspective on my work, more than any number ever could.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
A: I really hope I can make an adequate living off my work in the near future. I am still not there yet. But in the end I just want to continue what I do, which would be easier if I didn’t have to worry about money.
In addition to that, I really hope to work on some environmental projects in the future. I am really into sustainable living and feel the strong need to help change things and fight for the planet we live on.