My name is Roberta Laas and I’m an illustrator and an artist from a tiny Nordic country called Estonia. I grew up in a family of musicians, so we always had a lot of impulse to create in my household. Most of the Estonia is just forests and islands and the seaside, so that landscape, the silence and the short, sweet summers have definitely marked themselves strongly in my work. We look for sunlight, because there is so little of it, and for me, naive, light art is another way to feed the soul in the long, dark winters.
Everything I do starts with a pen and then mostly takes on muted colors and textures in Photoshop and Illustrator. My favorite thing to do though is to trace slow, meaningful lines with ink and pen on recycled paper. I feel there is more soul in old fashioned, handmade things.
Nordic patterns, nature and Scandinavian design. Being in the tropics, far from Northern Europe has actually strengthened the love for my roots.
Also, undoubtedly most of what I do is driven by music. I have synesthesia, which makes me see colors in music, letters and numbers, so in a way I feel like all art forms are just different ways of expressing the exact same thing. It’s like a translation process, when I listen to music that inspires me and put it down on paper in the form of patterns or colors. It’s energy taking different forms and it can feel very mighty to feel connected to creators from all over the world in this sense. It’s like this unspoken world that can only be felt when we manage to switch off our brain’s left hemispheres for a bit.
I usually create at night, because in the daytime the senses are overwhelmed with so much information, noise, light and other distractions. I often research folk patterns for commissions, which is a way of hiding little messages in seemingly naive art. Other than that, I don’t do much planning and just let things flow. I’ve found I rarely remember the creative process, it’s a kind of a trance and I’m often super surprised to wake up in the morning and see what I created the previous night! It’s like a kind of a visual breakfast and always gives me a lot of pleasure.
I look for new music, read new books and take time to be alone to recharge my battery. I also keep myself up to date on Scandinavian design. And eat endless amounts of chocolate, which totally makes me see colors better!
I’m working on some continuous little projects like books, postcards and other merchandise with some wonderful creative people for this tiny Estonian island my family originates from. And that feels wonderful. It’s a bigger mission to me that just creating art and it makes me feel double good to know I’m giving back to place I hold so dear to my heart. It’s a full circle, because I began on that island and my creative essence also has it’s roots in all the summers spent on that island.
I was always doing art as far as I can remember, but then I also always had interests in music, literature, languages, anthropology, religions, cultures and a whole bunch of other disciplines. I think the moment I fully dedicated myself to art was the moment I moved to Brazil. The contrast was just so huge. Being far from my home country, the Nordic culture and nature made me feel more connected to it and gave me a need to create. This was the outlet to express myself when I couldn’t do it with words and didn’t fit in anywhere all of a sudden. I think “saudades” as you call it in Brazil, is a wonderful driver of creativity. Strong feelings like yearning, sadness and homesickness need to get out of us somehow and there are people who will start writing diaries or books and then there are other people who will pour those feelings into colors. It helps us make better sense of ourselves.
Another big reason Brazil changed my trajectory in this sense, was the creative freedom I felt in a country that is so huge it makes people absolutely anonymous. In a tiny country like Estonia it can be hard to “come out of the closet” with your artwork, because you’re always exposed and the public has very high standards. So you don’t really get to fail too many times, because you will be in the spotlight from day one.
Hollie Chastain, Andrew Bannecker, Patricia Urquiola and all of the Marimekko designers, to name a few. I source a lot of minimalistic translations of the nature from Lotta Jansdotter’s work and Marimekko patterns. Hollie Chastain is this wonderful collage artist, who works with recycled paper and whimsical cut-out photographs and her work is just such a visual treat. I, too am an absolute lover of old paper texture scans, they add so much depth and meaning to artworks.
Andrew Bannecker was the first artist I really felt inspired by and aspired to. When I was younger, I kept changing professions a lot because there is just so much in the cultural world that inspires me! Until one day I understood art had just always been such a big part of who I am and I put down a landmark by getting a work by Bannecker tattooed on my arm. This has been a reminder to me to not lose track of who I am.
I come from a world with no suppression what so ever to women in art. Also, I’ve never really played by anyone else’s rules. So no, I don’t feel the bias, I think art world is perhaps the one place that women are very organically and freely taking over nowadays.
Colors coming together in a satisfying way. Good light. Music. The depth of feeling. Falling in love.
Don’t even think of yourself as a woman. Don’t identify. Just create. There’s nothing stopping you, if you learn to let go of the ego! I don’t think our constructed personas have anything to do with the source of all art. To me, art is the channeling of something bigger and pretty much the essence of the world, so the size of that doesn’t even begin to compare to our small “person” minds, where we have forcefully been compressed into some kind of a narrow social identity.
If we talk about women in Brazilian context, where perhaps there is still a lot of suppression and expectations gender-wise, then that, too, comes right down to self-image. The image of a woman as someone responsible for the household, this pretty, perfectly feminine creature still fighting for freedom – if women themselves stopped believing that myth, they would see there is really not much difference between gender or race or whatever they feel is stopping them from creating. You’ve just got to put your foot down!
I just ended this huge exhibition project called “100 Days of Jazz”, for which I created 100 portraits of jazz musicians throughout the times to pay homage to my father, who passed away a couple of years ago. He was a jazz musician. So after a year of working on this, I’m taking a moment to catch my breat a bit and let everything I learned through the process settle in. These were real, realistic works and had nothing to do with my own style, but I felt it was necessary to train my hand to dominate realism and then be able to carry that on to my minimalistic work. And I feel like I succeeded. The exhibition was up at the biggest jazz festival of the Baltics, so that felt pretty good.
Next in line I have a couple of book projects for both Estonia and Brazil and a whole lot of other, smaller works.