“Norway Fascinates Me”


Since the American illustrator Max Estes (38) packed his drawing gear and moved to Norway with his Norwegian wife in 2009, Norway has fascinated him and inspired him to make several children books and strips.

We have interviewed Max Estes on his fascinating life and work.

We understand that you moved to Norway in 2009. Please tell us a little about your background and how Norway has influenced your work?

I met my wife, a Norwegian writer, after she’d written a review of my first US picture book. She’d contacted me for a follow-up interview, and we simply kept talking. Not long after, we met, then we married, and I found myself living halfway around the world in Oslo.

I’d never imagined moving to Scandinavia, but was immediately taken by the rugged landscape and the traditional bright color palette of Norwegian houses. As an illustrator, the rugged and beautiful landscape was an immediate source of inspiration for me. Having grown up in the pan-flat American Midwest, Norway was a bold and exciting change of scenery.

Nusfjord, illustration by Max Estes
Nusfjord, illustration by Max Estes

After living in Oslo for five years, my wife and I decided to spend some time in Lofoten. We’re presently living in a rorbu (fishermen’s shack) from the 1850’s, in the tiny fishing village of Nusfjord (population of 38). We’ve traded sidewalks, bookstores and cafes for fjords, quiet solitude, and mountains – at least until this coming June when we return south.

This time in Lofoten has been an immensely inspiring chapter in my life. Having been able to exploring this immense, bold landscape at length, has deepened my appreciation and respect for my new homeland.

You are writing books in the Norwegian tongue. How good is your Norwegian?

Since arriving in 2009, I have written and illustrated over 15 bildeboker (picture books) and tegneserier (strips) for the Norwegian market. For a relatively small country, Norway is widely known for its high caliber children’s literature. I credit Norway’s large public support for Arts. Without such support, an outsider like me may have never been given a shot to publish in his non-native tongue.

150416-max-estes-grimstadAs for my language skills, after nearly seven years in Norway, my Norwegian is greatly lacking. It is a poor excuse for sure, but Norwegian’s overwhelming ability to speak English has greatly deflated my efforts to learn the language. In fact, my wife’s English grammar is probably more accurate than mine. I hope to tackle the language before I meet my 10 year mark. Oy!

Lucky for me, both my wife and my editor skillfully translate the text for my children’s books. I think and write in English, then work with Norwegians to find suitable translations.

What are you working on now? What are most important, images or words?

I’ve just completed a bildebok for my publisher Cappelen Damm, titled, Et brevs reise (Journey of a Letter). This picture book illustrates a posted letter’s journey from the United States to Norway. It’s a dizzyingly complex journey for a tiny letter to find its way from one side of the planet to another, and I thought that process would be great to illustrate. That book will be in stores in late August of 2016.

Cover illustration for 'Journey of a Letter'
Cover illustration for ‘Journey of a Letter’

Words or images? I see them as collaborators. We SEE images and we READ text, so we experience both quite differently. Images are immediate, while text reveals its message gradually. It helps me to approach a book as a Storyteller, as opposed to an Author or an Illustrator. The story usually dictates what needs to be shown and what needs to be written as I go.

Do you have a favorite among your works?

I’m very pleased with Vi flyr Sørover (Flying South), my bildebok from 2015. In this book, I illustrated myrsniper (dunlins’) annual migration south from coastal Norway to Mauritania. For birds no larger than the human hand, this 5,000 kilometer journey is that much more impressive. I’m amazed at this extraordinary flight, and had a great time imagining what they saw and observed on their flight south.

Cover for 'Flying Soith'
Cover for ‘Flying South’

Who is your typical reader?

I write for children in the 3 to 7 age group.

You may see more illustrations by Max Estes here.
“Norway Fascinates Me”, Max Estes was interviewed by Tor Kjolberg