Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Curse of Højse

By Jesper Ejsing

Norse mythology, Thor fishing for the Midgaard Wurm
I have been at the same studio for 18 years now. It is called “Embarrassing Company”. When most of us started out we were young fresh and new. We experimented a lot technically and grew together, exploring styles and materials, and shared the ups and downs sites of every new trodden ground. Now we all are greying at the sideburns and have sunken deep down and settled each in our own style. Everyone have switched to painting on computer, except for little me, who try to keep the banner of Acrylic blowing in the wind. (secretly trying to learn this new tool of computers).
Crystal clear details. All is build on knowledge, no short cuts
Over the years, the shared and mutual strive to become a better artist has been an enormous boost on my skills. One guy, in particular, has made me see the light, or turned me towards the dark side, depending on how you look at it: Christian Højgaard, better known as Højse (hoi-sir”)

When I started my professional career, I was going to color a very popular danish comic book. A couple of months before that was scheduled to start I moved to the big city Copenhagen to get a spot in the studio already filled with most of the well known danish comic book artists. To say I got a spot is more accurate than a seat.

I was going to color the originals of Christian Højgaard to speed up a very slow illustration project he had undertaken of illustration all of the Danish History, and that was turning into a year long venture for him. There wasn´t really room for me so we squeezed in a table next to his. The table had to be a very small one to be able to fit there, and Christian had one of those high tables with a chair with extra length. All in all this meant that I was almost sitting underneath his table coloring his drawings that literally dropped down from high above me. It was a tremendous learning process for me and also nerve wracking. All this took place way before the digital era, so the technique was very simple. Christian spent a lot of time sketching, transferring and then inking his very large illustrations on watercolor paper, 30 x 20 inches and then passed the original down to me. I used watercolor to paint on top of his very fine illustrations. Needless to say this was very hard. But because there was only this one chance, I learned how to make it work regardless. And I learned how important a color rough can be. I painted over a 100 of Christians originals, and without that experience it gave me, I would never have been able to do a good job on the comic book that came after. The comicbook job gave me the opportunity to color the covers of Fosters Prins Valiant, one of my all time favorites, and I felt I had reached into heaven.

Christian is perhaps the best skilled guy I know when it comes to drawing. He has a sense of space and 3d that I will never have and that never fail to amaze me. He is still the guy I take my sketches to and ask if something looks wrong. I remember one day when we worked on the history book, and Christian was doing the poster for the book. The poster was a large space of historic persons standing in a crowd. There was this one group of vikings pulling a rope attached to a ship. They were in the background, and only the heads and shoulders was visible above the crowd. But Højse was drawing the 5 figures in full figures, even the feet. My mind struck a cord of unexplainable dumbness.

"Why are you drawing all of the figures, you do not need to. We can barely see the faces?”

“I want to get a feel for how they put their weight into it, so that the areas that are visible looks right”, he replied.

“But isn´t that a lot of work for a very little bit of benefit? “

“Hmn...that is how I like it”.

Why anyone would chose to like that extra hardship kept pricking in my mind like an itch I couldn´t scratch.

Over the last 18 years I have been sharing the studio with Christian this seems to be his mantra: Do it right. Draw the best drawing you can, to show the clearest what the story is. No short cuts. It started to get in under my skin. You gotta remember I was a very sloppy artist back then ( to some extent I still am ) I couldn't place a figure standing behind another one in perspective. So, slowly I also started redrawing a figure if I felt it wasn't quite right. The moment you go from: “This is a very good drawing, the figure is great the face is fantastic” to : “But it is not acting right, I am gonna try again” is a very significant step. It is a journey of killing sprees, that will lay waste to darlings for the rest of your life. It is the reason why I still go back and resketch illustrations even after the art director has approved the sketch, even after I have transfered it and was about to start painting, even half way into a a painting. It is the Curse of Højse, and I cannot for the life of me shake it off.

But I guess the curse has a benefit as well. When looking at an illustration, a cursed person, cannot help to look with analytic glasses on. You pry and pick at every little detail to see if something could or should be done to enhance the little story the drawing is trying to tell. The worst is, you will almost never be able to NOT find anything, which will render most of your production of illustration insufficient. But the benefit is also that you constantly will look for improvements in your own and others work. You will be walking down a unending Road of Learning. Thanks for cursing me Højse...and damn you you for it!
This is a classic Viking Story. The king is having bad eyesight and asks his men to move him closer to the edge of the water. If his son looses the duel, that he can only listen to and not see clearly, he will throw himself into the water. I cannot help to notice of precise every gesture of every figure is drawn. 


  1. A very interesting post. I tend to struggle with having enough patience with my art, and taking the time to fix something that doesn't look right. People like Christian Højgaard who, with meticulous attention to detail, do things like draw an entire figure even when only their shoulders might be visible, command my highest respect. I would certainly consider the "curse" a blessing, and hope that one day I might catch it, too.

  2. Very interresting to hear your journey, being able to share a studio with other accomplished artists must be a blessing.

  3. Nice dragons he's got. This post appeared few days ago for a while and I missed it. Looked everywhere for it. What happened back then?

  4. "It is a journey of killing sprees, that will lay waste to darlings for the rest of your life."

    That totally sums it up, yep.