Rider’s Lens: Pedals and Posters with Pil Anna Tesdorpf
In this Rider’s Lens, we get to know Danish illustrator Pil Anna Tesdorpf, better known as PILAT, who shares a colorful selection of her work depicting bikes in the city, some thoughts on why posters are her favorite medium, the story of how her mom picked up bicycle touring at age 60, and more. Find it all here…
Words and illustrations by Pil Anna Tesdorpf (@pil_at)
I’m Pil Anna Tesdorpf, but I use the artist name PILAT, as people always misspell my last name. I work as a freelance illustrator, working on posters, packaging designs, visual identities, and murals. I work with digital illustration, acrylic paint, watercolor, and whatever medium I come across on my way. I like to use vibrant warm colors and illustrate scenes from my daily bike commute in Copenhagen and scenes from my travels.
I grew up in the countryside in Denmark with a family who loves to travel and throw theme parties. My parents dressed up in medieval outfits for their wedding, and my brother’s baptism was a ghost party. I have inherited my parents’ love for dressing up and not taking life too seriously. Like them, I also love telling stories, andI learned to accompany them with illustrations early on. In school, I would always get in trouble for drawing on the tables and pranking my teachers.
When I was 16, I went to a music festival and met a boy who told me about a school project called United World College, which gathers students from all around the world with different cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds. That sounded like a dream to me, so I applied in 2012 and ended up in United World College Red Cross Nordic.
The school is located at the foot of a mountain in a forest in Norway, and I spent two years living in a shared house with people from all over the world. My four roommates were from Kazakhstan, Egypt, El Salvador, and Sweden. It was in Norway that I realized I wanted to become an illustrator. I took visual arts as one of my subjects and realized I spent all my free time in the art class. At the time, I didn’t know that illustration could be a career, but I was fortunate to have a fantastic art teacher who pushed me in the right direction and convinced me to apply to art school.
After graduating from high school in Norway, I have used every possible chance to visit my friends in their home countries all over the world, and it has always been a source of inspiration for my illustrations. One of the places I keep coming back to is Cambodia. In order to feel less like a tourist, I have begun the hard process of learning Khmer (Cambodian), so every time I come back, it feels more like home.
In Cambodia, I learned the power of a bicycle. If you are a school kid and live far from school, having access to a bike can determine if you get to study or not. I remember one day, the NGO I volunteered for handed out 200 bikes to girls in the local community. Since that day, I saw more girls coming to school, often two or three of them on a single bike.
Since graduating from The Danish Design school in 2020, I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator. In school, I started making posters for my friends and later started selling them in stores due to the demand. My favourite medium is posters, and I especially love that they’re affordable, which makes them more accessible to a younger audience. People also don’t have to commit to a poster like they do when buying a painting. Posters can come in variable sizes and fit into spaces that paintings can’t. It’s great that posters are so easily interchangeable too.
This spring, I went to Yerevan (Armenia), Battambang (Cambodia), and Bangkok (Thailand) to give workshops in poster making. I ended up making murals along the way, and I met some incredible artists on my travels who were open to some fun collaborations. I feel so lucky that I can combine my love for travel with my passion for illustration and meet so many wonderful people on the way.
Bikes are a common theme for my illustrations. They are often an integrated part of my work, not necessarily the focal point. Growing up in Denmark, cycling is a part of everyday life, and I never gave too much thought to it as a kid. I have always biked everywhere, often with a big stack of posters on my front rack. Travelling abroad, however, has made me appreciate my bike and danish cycling culture even more.
I always notice bikes in other countries and like seeing the different styles and ways people handle and use them. I love to illustrate people on their daily commute in Copenhagen, especially in the summer when everyone dresses more colourfully, which is in beautiful contrast to the soft-coloured buildings.
Lately, female bikers have become a focus of my illustrations. My mother is the main reason for this. She began biking last year when she turned 60 and just biked from Prague to Istanbul. She’s helped me see the beauty of cycling as an activity, not only as a way to commute from A to B. I am planning to join her in one of her future journeys bringing along my sketchbook so I can sketch on the way.
Outside of making art, I have a ton of hobbies. After studying in Norway, I got used to having a full schedule, and I love learning new things. My favorite hobby is dancing, and I always try to pick up a few local moves when I travel. I went a little overboard with hobbies during the height of COVID, and I took Spanish classes, Khmer (Cambodian language) classes, bass classes, surf lessons, and got my hunting license. This summer, I want to spend more time on my new bike, so I can join my mother on one of her upcoming tours. I get a lot of inspiration from my hobbies, pick up trends from them, and incorporate them into my illustrations.
For now, I’m currently working on a small exhibition that will take place in Copenhagen in August. It will feature illustrations of cycling culture in Nordvest, the area of Copenhagen where I live. Looking toward the future, I would love to make some massive murals. A dream would be to make a gable painting. This winter, I made a big mural by a train station in Denmark. I love the process of making a mural, of turning a small sketch into a huge piece. I loved the fact that so many people interacted with me in the process of the mural; it was very encouraging to hear people’s reactions along the way. I also love the fact that murals are accessible to so many people for free. I’m beginning a postgraduate degree in illustration in Barcelona in October, so hopefully, I will be able to make some murals in Spain next year.
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