Artist spotlight: Pernille Ørum
Bringing characters to life on page and screen.
Danish illustrator Pernille Ørum’s vivid characters are unmistakable. She’s worked for clients like Disney, Mattel, Nick Jr., and Warner Bros., bringing her dynamic, expressive figures to animation and comics.
Pernille is no stranger to a month-long challenge like MerMay — last year, she published a book of her mermaids to an overwhelmingly positive reception. MerMay is already almost over, but the astounding variety of work from artists can be found making a splash across social media. We asked her about the process and what a month-long challenge can do for an artist’s practice:
What is most important to you when designing a character?
It depends on what I’m doing it for. For work, I mostly have a character description and a personality to work with, which also give the best designs in my opinion. Then you build the character up from within, and it’s easier and more fun to explore the design.
It’s another process when I’m designing my own little things for, for instance, MerMay. Then I use personal inspiration from what I see around me — colors and color combinations are my main source of inspiration.
What does your character design process look like?
For my personal work, I often start off with either playing with color combinations or rough sketching an idea. If I know where I’m going with the character, it is all about trying to communicate what I have in my mind.
Sometimes when I don’t have an idea I try to create interesting facial expressions and hand gestures and build a drawing from that. But that’s mostly when I just play around.
How has taking on a month-long challenge like MerMay affected your practice?
It combines two of my favorite things — mermaids and challenging yourself together with others. Last year was the first time I really did it, and it was such an amazing experience. It was fun coming up with different mermaid characters, and in the middle when I was losing momentum there was a good amount of support and a reason to keep going.
I’ve done many of these challenges, and they are the best way to improve your skills. It keeps you drawing every day. You are a part of a community so you don’t do it alone, and it’s easier to get noticed and notice other artists.
Unfortunately, this year I’m not taking fully part in it since I have tons of work and planning a wedding next month — it was just too much.
You published a book of your mermaids in 2018 — what was that experience like?
It was great. About halfway through I could see that I might be able to make a book out of this. Since my work is doing character designs it does take a lot to complete such a massive challenge on the side. Besides the accomplishment it’s nice to make it into something.
Any advice for artists taking on a challenge like this?
Do it. No matter how elaborate you want to go or how skilled you think you are. It’s a great motivation to keep drawing. Also having a list to follow makes it easier to keep on track, either follow the official list or create your own — it might even just be a list of colors.
I started out my career as a character designer doing challenges like this. I went to school to become an animator, and it wasn’t until after working in the business a bit and taking part in these challenges that I improved enough to start doing it professionally. So don’t hold back — and get started!
Pernille is releasing a new comic written by Kevin Smith, “Hit-Girl Season Two,” on June 18. You can find more of her work on her website, Instagram, and the latest cover of ImagineFX magazine. Pernille will be at Lightbox Expo in September, where you’ll also be able to meet the Adobe Drawing & Painting team.